Going to the Dogs

                I don’t know what prompted us to accept our neighbours’ invitation to go to the dog track, but perhaps it was the aftermath of incarceration at Cahersiveen, where squalls had kept us banged up for an entire day and even a soaking walk to the nearest bar was scant relief. Admittedly, the proprietor of Mannix Point, award-winning site, one Mortimer Moriarti, mindful of the weather has done what he can to mitigate it for hapless tent campers. He has provided classical music ‘piped’ in the showers [!], a well equipped kitchen, washers and dryers and a comfortable sitting room with a peat log fire, squashy sofas, a piano, piles of magazines, card and board games and two, enormous, sleepy marmalade cats. Many had availed themselves of this facility, sprawling across the sofas, wet trekking boots abandoned on the wooden floor. Sadly, the site cannot win awards for weather. After a second damp and windy night we set off to see the Ring of Kerry.

                The morning was at last dry with some promise of blue sky. We followed the convoy of cars, motorhomes and coaches around the ‘Ring’, taking in Skellig Rocks, Ladies’ View and Moll’s Gap, then on to Tralee. Here in the West of Ireland tourism has drenched the countryside in a glow of affluence; the homes bearing the mark of architect’s pen, the hotels upmarket. We were persuaded to spend a second night in Tralee and take in the sights of the Dingle peninsula, allegedly more rugged and less tourist trodden. In the event, the road was just as clogged with sightseers as the Ring of Kerry, the lay-bys and viewpoints as crowded, the fellow travellers as irritating-as I’m sure we are to them. Here on Dingle we climbed to see the most westerly point of Europe, and yes, the scenery was spectacular.

                Foregoing the ‘dining package’ at the dog track we opted instead for fish and chips at Quinlan’s in the town, a happy choice,  then to the stadium, where we mingled with the hardcore regulars in the bar and attempted to make sense of the informative brochure. Groups of men clustered around the screens clutching race newspapers. I pushed what I knew of greyhound racing and its sharp practices firmly into a cupboard in my brain, having recently read a Roald Dahl story on the subject. I studied the names of the dogs, the ‘form’-all written in a mysterious code that may just as well have been the Gaelic that is widely spoken in the area as anything else. For Race 1 I selected ‘Christie’s Ashes’. I went to the desk with my 2 euros clutched in my hot hand, returning with a slip of paper. Outside the dogs were having a pre race stroll, some padding sedately, others prancing skittishly. My selected runner differed from the other five only in his wearing of a blue jacket, but had, by now become the favourite. The dogs seemed happy enough-enthusiastic, even. They were put into the starting boxes, there was a mechanical hum as the ‘hare’ started around then as it came level the dogs burst out in a tumbling blur, flashing past us and on around the track. A portly, florid gent brandished his programme and yelled encouragement, “Gaan, gaan!”

It was over in seconds. Christie’s Ashes had won. I went to the desk with my slip to claim my winnings and returned to our table flushed with success.  A whole 7 euros!

                The result of race one, however was beginners luck. I was to win nothing more-worse I was significantly lighter in the pocket by the end of the evening. This, of course is how the addicted become so in gambling. For us it was an experience and a fun evening though I doubt it will embed into my social life as a regular feature.

The Road West

                “Bacon and cabbage now, that’d be the thing,”

                We were in ‘Brendan’s Bar, Clogheen. It was our second night, and second attempt to find some life. The first evening we’d walked into the village, a single, long street of terraced houses broken only by the ‘supermarket’-an exaggeration, a grocer’s shop, a pharmacy, a diminutive fire department, a takeaway [the only remotely animated spot in the street] and three bars. It had been a gloomy day and continued a gloomy evening. There was little sign of habitation and I fully expected to see tumbleweed whisking down the long sweep of the street. We squinted into the window of the first bar-‘Nerdeen’s’-and detected a light, and yes, the door opened when pushed. A teenage barman, distracted by his mobile phone, managed to serve us. Sky Sports News played to the empty bar. We sat in a corner of the desultory space with our drinks. A man came in to sit at the bar, staring morosely into his cider, then one other. The landlady came in, talking on her phone.

                I know that Husband is seeking wild, folksy nights with impromptu musicians and perhaps some spontaneous dancers leaping about with ramrod backs and high kicking feet.  This was definitely not the ‘craic’.

                Brendan’s Bar was distinguished in having a lone, redundant, ancient petrol pump outside, growing out of the pavement. Brendan, sitting on a stool, arms folded, was a fountain of Irish knowledge, backed up by his friend-the only other customer in the pub. I quizzed him on Irish cuisine; and why was the petrol pump there? The friend mumbled that perhaps it should have been taken away. ‘The tank’s in the middle of the road there’, Brendan affirmed, as if in explanation. He urged us to visit all the places he recommended, even ringing his wife [who may have been upstairs], when a name escaped him.

                Next morning as we left Clogheen I felt I’d warmed to the place. We drove into the centre to find our onward road, past a wandering, stray donkey strolling along the pavement.

                It was relentlessly wet. We stopped only to make a visit to Blarney Castle, running the gauntlet of a swathe of visitors from all parts of the globe, their enthusiasm not dampened. We queued to climb the spiral stone staircase to the top of the keep, queued again for an unceremonious tipping back in the rain to kiss the famous stone for the gift of the gab. Husband, I feel, hopes that by brushing my lips against the damp slab, the opposite may occur.

                Then on to Kerry-wild, wet, windy and a tourist magnet, judging by the abundance of hand woven garment, pottery, craft, fudge, woodwork and local art outlets. We find our site at Cahersiveen with a prime view across to Valentia and the prospect of some spectacular sunsets-if there is ever any sun!