5: Hang Loose in Ireland
1991 Great Golf with Casey at Ballybunion Course
July 30-Aug. 11, 1991
Updated July 7, 2009
By LEWIS NOLAN
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Saturday, Aug. 3, 1991 – Visit to Ballybunion Golf Course, Killarney, Ireland (Casey’s account)
Today my dad and I played 18 holes at the New Golf Course at Ballybunion. I carried my own bag, while my father got a caddy. The caddy, Fergol Buckley, was 14 years old. (At the time, Casey was age 14 and his father, Lewis “Buzz” Nolan was 53.)
Off the No. One tee, we both had good drives and landed in the middle of the tight fairway, right at the turn for the right dogleg. The first few holes were beautiful as they were next to the Atlantic Ocean. I managed to get one par, on a Par Three hole, on the front nine. I shot a 48 while my father shot a 51. On the back nine, I was six over par after three holes, while my father was even. In the end I shot a very honest 97; my father shot a 94.
In match play I won six and five. I managed to lose three balls in the rough and one ball out-of-bounds. I found out how rough the rough was on the first hole. My second shot was only a few yards wide of the fairway, but I couldn’t find it. My father managed to hook a ball to the left of the fairway, over the rough and well onto the beach.
Even though it misted and rained off and on all day, this has been the best day. Carrying my bag up and over many dunes was difficult, but I think I could get used to it if I played here more often. I hope my score will be at least 10 strokes lower at Killarney on Wednesday.
Monday, Aug. 5, 1991 (Buzz’ account)
After a fitful night of sleep and thinking about the Nolans who never left Ireland and what I might do to get a line on them, we arose early as planned. Betty cooked a “proper” Irish breakfast of Irish bacon, scrambled eggs, whole wheat toast with real butter and orange juice from France. After having some fun taking pictures of our “grass-cutters,” sheep which had gotten through the fence to munch on the grass just outside our door, we left at 9 a.m. for Ballybunion. We encountered very little traffic due to today being a bank holiday.
We drove through Tralee and Listowel, reaching Ballybunion about 10:30 a.m., where we dropped Betty off in the central village while Casey and I played golf. It cost 40 pounds (or roughly $60), plus 10 pounds for a young caddy, named Fergol, who told us he was the youngest of 10 boys and 3 girls in his family. He studies German, French, Irish and English, along with math and other subjects.
I shot fairly good, making a 94 with only three “Mulligans,” with each Mulligan (or second chance shot) scored as a one-stroke penalty. The course we were assigned was the “new” course, due to a local tournament being played on the famous “old course.” It lived up to its billing as being as being the tougher of the new courses. But it was spectacular. Hole after hole played alongside the ocean, unlike the U.S. courses I’ve played where you usually get only a turning or two near the shoreline. The U.S. designers must be under the gun to get the most they can out of the very limited ocean frontage. The Irish designers don’t have that handicap.
At Ballybunion, the real beach is a hazard on many holes. Some of the rough-covered dunes are 25-to-75 feet high. A caddy is essential for a first-time player, not only to point out the way to the green but also to lead the way through the dunes from the green to the next tee. The greens are quite small, not much bigger than the winter greens at the municipal course at Overton Park in Memphis which caters to youngsters. I was fortunate and shot some uncommonly lucky approach shots, with my ball careening off the rough-covered dunes surrounding most greens, to land on the green or just off. There were three terrible exceptions to that general greens outcome when I topped my tee shots. But overall, my drives had excellent distance for me and reasonable accuracy, an appreciated but usually rare result when I play a new course.
All in all, it was a great day on the links with Casey, who also played well. Unlike me, he took no Mulligans. We joined up with Betty at the end of the round and had lunch in the clubhouse. My salmon sandwich might have been caught by the village fishermen, who go out in pairs of small rowing boats called Curraghs (in the old days made of tanned hides stretched tight over a hand-made frame of wooden poles). On a good day, our young caddy told us, these boats may catch 40 salmon, worth perhaps 10-to-15 pounds each. (An Irish pound is worth about $1.50 at current exchange rates, a bit less than the trade for a British Pound.)
Driving back to Killarney, we passed a roadside market for a “famine cemetery,” a memorial to some of the hundreds of thousands of Irishmen, Irishwomen and Irish children who were starved to death by the heartless policies of the English in the 1840s and 1850s. What a horrible period in the history of man – fully comparable in my mind to the awful Holocaust inflicted on the Jews by the Nazis during World War II. The big difference is that the perpetrators of the Holocaust, the Germans, lost, while the perpetrators of the famine, the English, won their war against a people their citizens viewed as less desirable. The ensuring history is always written by the winners.
The English propagandists have successfully kept public understanding of the English government’s role in creating and maintaining the famine to a minimum over the generations. The British PR machine rolls on without much challenge today and “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland are reported in the press from the English point of view. (Years later, sitting British Prime Minister Tony Blair tried to reverse the non-culpability veneer of his country and freely admitted to an American audience its horrendous mistakes and apologized.) Back in the early 1970s, a New York Times bureau reporter admitted to his worldwide audience that he had been hoodwinked for years.
The scar tissue I encountered among the Irish over the centuries-old conflict between their country and England is thick beyond belief and I fear repair. I am convinced there can never be a complete healing. The Irish with an eye on history truly and utterly despise the English and the same goes on the reverse; I’m afraid it will ever be thus.
As James Callahan, a former British Prime Minister in the 1970s, once told journalist me before he spoke to a club I belong to in Memphis, “there is no way to deal with people who remember something that happened 200 or 1200 years ago.” I fear that one day there may well be a terrible reckoning of old scores and the current, ugly incidents by the IRA may just be a two-bit precursor. The Irish, I’ve learned, are a brave and unforgiving people who’ve had their manhood all but snuffed out by the English until fairly recently.
There is clearly something afoot in Ireland as seen by the Irish rededication to separatism – witness Irish language schools, many roadsides are in Gaelic Irish language and the main ones are in both English and Irish. Across the country, I’ve seen what appears to be a rekindling of interest in traditional Irish names being given Irish children.
The all-Irish hurling championships have dominated television the last few days. Hurling is a competition that combines football, soccer, hockey and baseball into a semi-organized riot, with sticks and goalposts. Casey and I have been enjoying it on TV very much and have been impressed by the absolute fearlessness displayed by the players in the face of bruising blocks, punches and swinging sticks. Casey quipped that the best players must have flunked the rigorous college entrance exams.
I think I could get involved as a hurling fan. The game is fast-moving, exciting, high-scoring, raw and rough – a real test of skill, physical power and courage.
There was a bit of mist and 30 minutes or so of light rain today. But it was a very good day, nonetheless.
Sunday, Aug. 4, 1991, Betty’s account:
Most of the day was spent driving around the beautiful lakes within the northern segment of the Ring of Kerry and there was an abundance of magnificent views. Many people were bicycling or walking sections of roadway and paths in and around the lakes or in the Killarney National Park. Pony carts were also transporting tourists around the sights at Muckross.
The town of Killarney was very congested due to the bank holiday weekend. Many tourists seemed to be German and French. There were also a few English and, of course, people from other parts of Ireland spending the weekend in this scenic area. There seemed to be very few Americans.
During our drive, we saw many horned sheep grazing alongside the road and they seemed to be quite unconcerned by the passing cars and people. One could almost reach out a car window and touch the sheep since they were so close. The roads here are so narrow that they have little if any shoulders.
We also made a trip into town to do some shopping at Clifford’s Food Store, where the proprietor had been most friendly and helpful in giving us directions the other day to the golf course and in giving us his personal recommendations of the best sights to see.
When we returned to town later to find Dingle’s Restaurant for dinner, which had been suggested by the owner of Lakeland Cottages, the traffic was awful. We finally found the restaurant, and as advertised, dinner was very good. The owners had placed bunches of miniature roses on the tables. On the mantle and shelves were bouquets of large, beautiful, pink roses, sweet peas and a variety of flowers and greenery.
The flowers in Ireland are very beautiful, especially the roses. The cool, damp weather is probably one of the main reasons the roses and various flowers do so well, plus the availability of rich manure from all the sheep, cows and ponies.
The remainder of the day was spent doing laundry in a pay facility at Killarney’s Lakeland Cottages – not very pleasant, but necessary. A token costing 2.5 Irish Pounds had to be purchased for each load of clothes and fed into a programmed, German (Miele) machine. The capacity was very small, so I had to do two loads. The dryer was American-made. It was a large Speed Queen and took 50 pence for each short cycle. If one has ever been in a coin-operated laundry (where Betty spent much time early in her marriage to Buzz, when he was in the U.S. Marine Corps at Quantico, VA), they know what a time-consuming process it can be to wash and dry family clothes. It is obvious here that the owners of the machines want to make as much money as possible. And they do.
Buzz and Casey had already bathed and gone to bed. They had fallen asleep by the time I finished trekking back and forth from our tiny cottage to the laundry area in the rain and mist to attend to our clothes. I finally gave up on the laborious process about 11 p.m., deciding to spread out the remaining damp clothes in our cottage living room, near the pathetic, little peat fire Buzz had built earlier. After taking a hot bath, I fell into bed about 11:30 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 5, 1991 – Betty’s account:
I got up at 7:30 a.m. so I could dress while Buzz and Casey still slept. I made breakfast and afterwards washed dishes, with Casey drying. We left for Ballybunion about 9 a.m. There was very little traffic even though it was a holiday. It seems that most Irish like to stay up late and don’t get going very early in the mornings unless they are farmers. We did meet several farmers pulling their milk tanks with tractors. It’s quite common to meet a slow-moving tractor pulling a hay wagon on the road or just going to and fro. The tractors carry license plates.
We arrived at Ballybunion ahead of schedule, got directions to the golf course and checked on tee times for Buzz and Casey. They took me into the village of Ballybunion and drove back to the clubhouse.
Ballybunion has nothing to brag about except its golf course (it is listed as one of the top 100 in the world by some golf magazines). There is a beach – actually two beaches, one section for men and one for women, the ruins of a castle and a park. One interesting thing I saw were the hot seaweed baths that claim to be therapeutic. These were on the Men’s Beach at Ballybunion. I talked briefly with a man at Daly’s Hot Seaweed Baths, who told me the baths were seasonal – May-October – and were good for health because of the iodine from seaweed and seawater. However, I don’t think I would be too fond of all that seaweed over me in a hot soak!
There wasn’t much of interest in the town except for a few shops, bakery, hotels, arcades, betting office and a golf antique store, where I purchased some small, claddagh earrings and a silver, claddagh pinky ring. Nonetheless, the town was crowded with young tourists and locals since it was a holiday weekend. The lady at the golf antique store referred them as the “factory crowd in for a good time.”
After shopping, I walked back to the Ballybunion Golf Clubhouse, about one mile from the village. I chatted with a young boy walking his dog, a sort of collie. I walked by the village football (soccer) field and helped out an Irishman who had hit his golf ball across the road from the course and over a fence. I stopped to look around a very old cemetery on the edge of the golf course, but didn’t find the any Nolan names among the faded tombstones. I had a sandwich and tea at the elegant clubhouse and then sat outside to read and look at the ocean while Buzz and Casey finished their round of golf. It was a fair day – not real exciting, but scenic.