6: Hang Loose in Ireland
1991 Drive to Blarney, Brinny and Cork
July 30-Aug. 11, 1991
Updated July 11, 2009
By LEWIS NOLAN
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Tuesday, Aug. 6, 1991 – (Casey’s account)
Today we traveled to and around Cork. First we went to a drug plant in Brinny that is part of the company my father works for (Schering-Plough, a U.S. pharmaceutical and consumer products organization that manufactures and sells leading products around the world). There we became acquainted with Sean Ward, a very nice and important guy. He talked to my father forever and treated us to an excellent meal in the cafeteria. Next we ventured on to the Cork suburb of Douglas, where we met Mary Foley, the sister of the executive secretary to my father’s boss’ boss. (Mary’s sister was Kathy Jones, who worked for David E. Collins, President of Schering-Plough HealthCare Products.) Mary Foley was a very nice lady who had evidently kissed the Blarney Stone, or maybe swallowed it. (Kissing the Blarney Stone is an Irish phrase meaning people with the gift of gab.) We went to Blarney Castle today. Perhaps tomorrow will be a more exciting day.
Tuesday, Aug. 6, 1992 – (Buzz’s account)
Arising before 8 a.m., we had a fine Irish breakfast at our rental cottage at Killarney and then drove east through Macroom and Bandon to the Schering-Plough plant at Brinny, County Cork. Our host, Sean Ward, rolled out the red carpet and arranged for an interesting tour of the interferon and GM-CSG fermentation facilities. I learned that E-coli, the bacteria found in human fecal material, are used as feedstock for interferon. I was somewhat amazed to see how young the Brinny workforce is. Sean told us that S-P is a premier employer in Ireland and attracts very bright, well educated people to all levels of its 200 or so jobs.
The government of Ireland had made it very attractive for the global pharmaceutical research company of Schering-Plough to establish a manufacturing plant in the rolling hills of Southern Ireland, part of the government’s high-tech recruiting efforts that are transforming the economy and Ireland’s place in the world. A well-educated workforce with a strong work ethic – motivated by the country’s high unemployment and relatively low wages in native industry – are strong selling points to recruit multinational pharmaceutical and computer manufacturing companies to Ireland.
S-P is in the midst of a $100-million expansion of the Brinny plant and our board of directors will meet in Ireland and tour the plant in 1992. Our company is fortunate to have Sean handling its public affairs in Ireland. He has been with S-P for eight years, mostly in New Jersey in the manufacturing area. Early in his career he worked for the Irish government before moving to the U.S., I learned.
After a big lunch in the company-subsidized cafeteria, we drove to Blarney, where we visited the medieval castle. We passed on fighting the crowds that stand in line to climb the stone steps to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. Actually, my family pleaded with me to not do it since they think I’m already overly talkative. We walked around the magnificent, park-like grounds around the ancient castle estate. We enjoyed seeing the manicured laws, flower beds and a surprisingly large herd of tamed deer. Many tourists were about. Betty and Casey went inside the spacious Blarney Woolen Mills shop for souvenirs. I try to avoid fabric stores since a finishing chemical used in some materials and garments makes my eyes water.
Then it was on to Cork and the nearby residential community of Douglas, home of Mary Foley. She is the sister of my pal Kathy Jones of New Jersey, who is executive secretary to the big boss (David E. Collins, President) of my employer, Schering-Plough HealthCare Products. Kathy had graciously made arrangements for me to visit a part of her family who still reside in Ireland. Kathy had immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager.
Mary’s address is 112 Travbeg Avenue, Belvedere Lawn, Douglas, Co. Cork, Ireland. Her phone is 011-353-021-295-275. She was a wonderful hostess and a fan of onetime great entertainer Memphian Elvis Presley; I must send her a record or tape along with my thanks for treating us to a wonderful lunch. I must also send Sean Ward some company goodies including ‘Ol Hawg’s Breath (our company barbeque team based in Memphis) brochures, annual reports and some consumer products we manufacture in Memphis.
Mary Foley has five children who range in age from 20 to 29; among them is daughter Cirmell, a beautiful young woman who works in a gift shop. Mary lives in what is a typical, middle-class house. It is snug and seems to be well-equipped. A great cook, she served us lunch of poached salmon – making this the seventh straight day I’ve had this heavenly, fresh fish – along with homemade breads, delicious potato salad, tea and a measure of Irish coffee.
Mary is a widow and a nurse who works seven 12-hour days in succession before getting a week off. I suspect that much of her deeply felt philosophy about Ireland and life there is shared by other members of the Irish middle class. Underneath her extraordinarily likeable personality, she harbors a deep-seated anger over the historic and current British treatment of the Irish. This well-concealed anger is similar to that I had earlier sensed from my rather lengthy conversation with a priest, Father Joe Flanagan in Ballinasloe. My suspicion is that the old anger continues to be passed down the generations with interest.
We spent nearly a half day with Mary in her home. I was struck by the strength of her personality and her knowledge about Irish history and current events. I was also impressed by the depth of her feelings about the rightfulness of the native Irish position on “The Troubles.” When I mentioned to her that we had driven by an IRA (Irish Republican Army) monument near Brinny, Mary volunteered information about its commemoration of “The Ambush,” a great victory by a small IRA force against British troops in the 1920s. She dismissed the perpetrators of violence on both sides of the current conflict in Northern Ireland (which legally is a province of Great Britain) as “murderers, simple as that.”
One of Mary’s sons has been working in England for four years, after failing to find suitable employment in Ireland. Daughter Cirmell, an intelligent and well-educated young beauty, seems to be underemployed now. Perhaps something better will come along for her other than work in a gift shop (I learned later she landed a good job in marketing.)
Mary allowed as how her son and other Irish citizens working in England must be careful about what they say, especially after an IRA attack on the British. She blames the English policies over the country they ruled for centuries for horrendously unjust jailing of Irish citizens.
We talked at length about everyday life in Ireland, opening as Kathy had predicted a window for us into the true character and admirable lifestyle of the Irish not often seen by casual tourists. We chatted about the medical care delivery system in Ireland, the sport of hurling, intra-country sports rivalries (which often put Ireland at a disadvantage due to its small population and lack of wealthy sports sponsors) and assorted topics dealing with the Irish economy and the generally tough time bright, hard-working young people have in earning their way into wealth of consequence.
Tuesday, Aug. 6, 1992 – (Betty’s account)
We drove to Co. Cork and the Schering-Plough interferon drug plant at Brinny this morning. Our route took us down a long, narrow and winding road to Bandon, where we stopped to ask for directions. A friendly chap gave us excellent advice on the proper road, using an Irish phrase meaning to ignore something: “Take no notice, take no notice.” His accent was heavy and his manner of speaking was interesting.
We were given an abbreviated tour of the interferon plant, as arranged by Sean Ward, who holds a communications and community-government relations job similar to that of Buzz in Memphis. A young, microbiology technician was interrupted from his work to conduct the tour. We had to put on lab coats, mob caps (similar to hospital headgear) and safety glasses. We definitely looked like the Nolan Nerds. There was an interesting shoe-cleaner that removed the dust from our feet before entering the plant. Adding to that in the ultra-sterile plant was a sticky floor mat that took away any traces of dust on our shoes.
We really didn’t see much since compounding was underway in closed containers. The filling of the glass vials with interferon (used to fight cancer and other serious illnesses) would take place in the afternoon. The vials are then freeze-dried for 14 hours before shipment to doctors and hospitals around the world. Interferon is reconstituted with sterile water before it is injected in patients suffering with terrible diseases. With the freeze-drying, the drug has a shelf-life of about three years.
Sean Ward treated to a nice lunch in the company cafeteria. It was large, clean and offered a nice assortment of salads, meats and vegetables. It appeared to us that most of the plant’s work force are young people – attracted by the higher pay a successful American pharmaceutical company is willing to pay for talent and dedication. We were told the plant is now expanding, providing a doubling of good and bringing more American dollars into a somewhat distressed economy.
Our visit to the plant was interesting and pleasant. The scenery and countryside outside the plant is beautiful, with pastures of grazing sheep on the nearby hillsides.
From Brinny we went on to see the heavily promoted Blarney Castle and its gardens. The castle was too crowded for us to wait in line to climb 100-plus steps to get to the top where the legendary Blarney Stone is located. Besides, I don’t believe I needed to kiss the stone to get the gift of gab, anyway.
The gardens around the Blarney manor house were splendid. Many beautiful shrubs, roses and flowering plants were around the house and the lawn looked like a golf course green. In a pasture adjacent to the house were beautiful deer. It would be frustrating for a hunter to see all the beautiful bucks that couldn’t be killed.
We left Blarney for the drive to Douglas in the southern part of Co. Cork, where Mary Foley lives. Mary is the sister of Kathy Jones, who is executive secretary to Dave Collins for Schering-Plough in New Jersey. Mary prepared a delicious fresh poached salmon plate for us, with potato salad, carrots, homemade brown bread and tea. For dessert she prepared Irish coffee and sweet bread – similar to our fruit cake and cookies.
Mary’s youngest daughter, Cirmell (pronounced Karmel as in the California coastal town), age 20, came home from work about 6:15 p.m. and joined us to eat after we had already started. It was either a late lunch or an early supper for us on Irish time since we had to drive back to Killarney that evening. Cirmell, with beautiful blue eyes and raven-black hair, made Casey’s day when she asked him if he was in college. He is just 15 and will enter high school this fall. She told him about the different driving age laws in Ireland, which effectively keep most teenagers off the road.
Mary was very gracious, hospitable and entertaining. She has a real gift of gab. She, Cirmell, and dog Bob (who resembles Benji of the movies) drove ahead of us to show us the way from the Foley home to the main Cork-Killarney road. I could see that Bob really loved the ride as he was ready to jump in the car as soon as Mary got the car keys off a hook near the door. Also, the ride helped Bob forget that Mary had put him outside while she entertained guests.
The drive back to Killarney did not take as long was we thought it would since traffic was lighter on the way back and we didn’t have to swing down to visit Brinny. The weather was good, with no rain and lots of sun. We stopped in Macroom just before the market closed at 8 p.m. to buy breakfast foods and snacks. All in all, it was a good day.
Also, we had in the car a Larry Leprechaun doll Casey had purchased to give to Katie Nolan later. She is Buzz’s niece who lives in Sacramento, Calif., with Uncle Bill. It seems that Casey wants a souvenir like it now if we should see another one at a stop or at the Shannon Airport. Tomorrow, the men play golf at Killarney. I guess I’ll shop and sightsee.