The Republic of Ireland - First stop Shannon

It’s my last morning in Shannon, believing we would leave for Dublin at 7:30am I awoke at 6:30 and half asleep I dragged my suitcase through the sleepy little town to Kathleen’s aunt Kathleen (not a typo Kathleen’s aunt in Shannon is also named Kathleen there are lots of doubles in the family because as per tradition they are named after each other which gets really confusing when the family are altogether) When I arrived there was an empty house waiting for me, it appeared that I was the most gung- ho about waking up, which is almost never the case.

It has become apparent to me that more memorable than the rolling hills, the green grass and the fresh air of Ireland - the things that stay with me here and many other places I have seen are the people and my interactions with them. Like little Luke Kathleen’s 10 month old cousin who took a shine to me and my dress in particular, he made himself known by running around the house in his little walker and squealing and laughing at us each morning. He had a brush that he kept shoving in his mouth and we took it off him thinking we were doing the right thing and he started to cry. Then we decided to give it back to him he took one look at it then looked at us like a boy much older than his years as is if to say ‘well I don’t want it now’ and started crying again.

Our first day was quite relaxed; we emerged from the house hungry and as a team made a pilgrimage to the local shopping centre for food and other supplies. It’s a new currency – it’s all about the euro so we discovered a whole new world of discount shopping in Euro land Euro stretcher etc.

Our first night out in Shannon we went to the local pub (Shannon’s Knights) it was a Tuesday night so understandably the only people that were out were the old regulars.  We sat down to have a few pints with Kathleen’s cousin Paul and her brother Sean. We were all sitting around discussing with Sean details of his itinerary for the next few days as he was coming home much earlier than us when out of nowhere he crossed his arms and had this little hissy fit in front of everyone ‘It’s my holiday I’ll plan it myself! I’m sick of people telling me what to do!’ What followed was an awkward silence ala The Office.

It was quiet in the pub but it wasn’t always the case here in Shannon ever since the economic recession people only go out of a Friday or Saturday evening here. The stress of this can be felt in this little town as shops in the little shopping centre are closing down left, right and centre and I saw ads for the local gym offering special prices for the unemployed to try and coax people in. I must say I do feel guilty leaving a job in Sydney to come halfway around the world to a place where there is 14 per cent unemployment but the Irish are resilient people – that’s one of the things I like most about these people. They don’t have much but they will give you the shirt off their back if they could.

I think the exhaustion of all the travelling is starting to get to Kathleen and she has been getting headaches since we arrived. The first night when we were out we had to leave the bar to go across the road to the supermarket to grab Panadol. The guy behind the counter asked us for ID – we think he may have been joking but it was difficult to tell at the time as he was so dry.

Another thing that I love is that people do talk to you here – I imagine that, that wouldn’t happen in London. I was standing at the bar waiting to be served and the locals will happily chat with me. Even though they are there every week and see the same people day in day out they still have a smile for a stranger. Two of the older gentleman I spoke to have sons and daughters in Australia in what seems like a growing trend in the Irish moving out of the country for work.

Our last full day in Shannon we visited Bunratty castle which is the local tourist spot. You can easily spend a full day in there. We were lucky enough to have semi decent weather. It was like old Sydney town the way it was set up except the houses and buildings were authentic and were much older than the ones in Old Sydney Town. As we walked around the perimeter of the castle Kathleen remarked about the nice smell in the air. I just thought it was the smell of fresh air but it turned out to be Irish stew – so then we joked about Ireland’s air smelling like stew when you get off the plane. You really had to be there for that joke (I am presuming anyone reading that anecdote wouldn’t find it funny)

We had a nosy in some colonial houses and sampled the homemade apple pie that was being made there on the recommendation of a random American tourist who overheard us discussing whether or not to get it. We joked that he was an Irishman employed by the castle to pretend he was an impartial guest recommending the pie to guests and being commissioned one euro for each tourist who purchased the pie.

Last night was our last night in Shannon; Kathleen was unwell again so stayed at home while we went out for another drink. We ended up chatting to a Hungarian girl and a Spanish girl who were friends with Paul and were learning English. We chatted and laughed about the time when Kathleen her mother and Sean helped out a drunk man who had fallen over in the street in Lakemba. Sean and Kathleen had one arm each and were tugging on them to help him up and all the guy could say was ‘You’re ripping me fucking arms off!’ and then Kathleen’s mum tripped over his feet and fell flat on top of him and after she managed to get up he simply stood up and walked off. This story was even more amusing when retold to Laura the Spanish girl. I also retold – the infamous exorcist story, it’s good to know my foot in mouth syndrome could actually lead to a story told again and again. I won’t retell it here for those Luna Park friends reading this I am sure Kathleen will happily retell the worst thing that anyone has ever said at a wake said by yours truly. I am sure it will become urban legend soon enough.

The taxis here are quite an experience; I can’t speak for Shannon but in Belfast everyone rides around in taxis everywhere as it’s cheaper if you’re in a group to travel that way. We have the Black taxis which are ones that you can share with anybody they will drive past you and if they have room to take you as well and happen to be going the same way they will take you. Then there’s the private taxis which are basically just ordinary cars and can often be difficult to discern from ordinary vehicles on the road. One particularly funny experience was when we called up for a taxi only to find a woman of her 30’s pulled up in a red car outside fixing her hair and swigging an energy drink. We approached with caution as we were unsure if she was a complete random or not. We got in the car with her and on closer inspection she had these major hair extensions, caked on makeup and arms covered in bangles that clinked every time she changed a gears, that’s right our cabdriver was Snooki! It appeared. She barely said two words to us and Kathleen told me she went to text on her phone while she was driving us! But luckily for us she changed her mind; as the radio pumped Smooth FM we felt as though we were on our way to a night out with her not getting dropped off by a taxi. Then I imagined what would happen if she wasn’t really a taxi driver and she just picked us up to get some cash. Or maybe her good for nothing partner was too drunk again so she begrudgingly cancelled her night out with the girls in order to do his shift for him.We have since had her but there is no other indication in her car that she is a driver, there is no sign no meter no taxi driver ID. I love how casual it all is – perhaps we will end up being BFF’s with her.

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