8: Hang Loose in Ireland
1991 Waterville Golf & Drive around Ring of Kerry
July 30-Aug. 11, 1991
Updated July 20, 2009
By LEWIS NOLAN
To view photos email firstname.lastname@example.org so he can send you a link to the website.
Friday, Aug. 9, 1991 – (Betty’s account)
I got up at 6:30 a.m. to allow myself time to dress before making breakfast and leaving for Waterville.
After breakfast in our rented cottage at Lakeland Cottages just outside of Killarney, we left about 8 a.m. for the Waterville Golf Course and the drive around Ireland’s famous Ring of Kerry. We drove counterclockwise, taking the east side first. We enjoyed the foggy, misty views of the Atlantic Ocean. We had hoped that it would be sunny, but we quickly learned that you have to take Ireland’s damp and cool weather as it is.
We arrived in Waterville earlier than planned, at 9:35 a.m., and the golf course management allowed Buzz and Casey to tee off early. As they started their half-day of play, I went into town to see if there was anything there to occupy me for four and a half hours. There wasn’t. And it was misty and rainy outside. So I came back to the clubhouse to read and stay dry. After taking a few pictures of Buzz, Casey and Dominic (Buzz’s 14-year-old caddy), I retired to the restaurant and lounge.
I met a very nice Irish mother and her three sons. Her name was Kathy O’Callahan and her sons were Philip, 10, Ronen, 8, and Frank, 5. They live in the midlands of Ireland and are on holiday near here.
There were quite a few French people staying at the new Club Med on the other side of Waterville. A few Americans were present among the many Irish who came to play the Waterville links.
Buzz, Casey and Dominic came in to the clubhouse to have a drink and a snack at the end of the first nine holes. All but Dominic, who had on a rain suit, were wet due to the constant mist and fog. They are not shooting well. But they may never get the opportunity to play this course again so they are going back out in the rain to finish the round.
Friday, Aug. 9, 1991 – (Buzz’s account)
It was a long and somewhat disappointing day. We drove around the 110-mile Ring of Kerry, but light rain and heavy fog along the coast and at the mountain tops obscured many views.
We played the famous Waterville golf course, which is rightfully called “the monster.” Many of the Par 4’s were over 400 yards long and I didn’t make a single GIR (green in regulation), nor even a par. I think my final score was a horrific 114, a dismal performance that was not at all helped by a stiff back and sore arms from cycling the previous day.
Casey also had a bad round, but at least he made three pars. The course had spectacular ocean views from atop the beachside dunes. A tidal race showed a huge expanse of sand at low tide. The fairways were often extremely tight and all the Par 3’s had expanses of knee-high grass between the tee and the short grass around the green. If the ball wasn’t hit either on or just barely off the green, it was lost.
Each hole had a name. There is a fascinating story behind the “Mass Hole.” There is a metal plaque marking the pit-like depression amid the dunes, which was used by priests to celebrate Mass in the 1700s, during a dark period in Irish history when the ruling English tried to totally break the subjugated Irish by denying them their religious life. Celebrating Mass was a crime punishable by death. The “Mass hole” was used by the Irish in the area because they could worship there out of the sight of the feared and hated English.
When the Waterville course was designed, the Mass Hole was planned to be incorporated into a green. However, the workmen said it was a sacred site and they refused to continue construction. A compromise was struck, resulting in the Mass Hole lying undisturbed and the green being moved a few yards.
As it worked out, I hit a fat iron off the tee and put my ball squarely into the Mass Hole, where I was finally able to blast out with a high wedge shot up to the green 40 or so feet above me.
We had a fine lunch at the clubhouse (of course I had fresh salmon), We bought some souvenir golf towels and then pushed in the rented Renault around the rest of the Ring of Kerry. We couldn’t see much and by the time we got back to our cottage in Killarney we were all cranky. After some dispute, we ate in and spent the evening getting ready to check out in the morning. It’s been a hassle today and I’m sorry to see our last full day in Ireland end so unsatisfactorily.
Sunday, Aug. 11, 1991 – (Buzz’s account)
We drove from Killarney to Rathkeale yesterday, where we found a non-touristy, working-class slice of Ireland. It is the site of a “quaint” hotel mentioned in a guidebook we consulted back in the tourist office in Killarney, so we took two rooms. Happily, we found that the place really isn’t too bad even though it is inexpensive – 15 Irish Pounds per person, including breakfast. The owner, Gerry Fitzgerald, is a pleasant fellow who owns 27 racing greyhound dogs. (Ironically, many years later the Nolans acquired the first of their retired racing greyhounds, who proved to be wonderful pets.)
During the drive to Rathkeale, we happened upon some men with leashed greyhounds walking alongside the road near Limerick. We stopped to take a picture and were told that time trials were being conducted nearby, so we went to have a look. Could those dogs ever run! They chased after a motorized, stuffed rabbit mounted on a rail that circled the track, which was a quarter-mile long or so. It was a drizzly day but that didn’t slow down the dogs or us.
Later, I was told that in some rural areas they use live rabbits to spark the best runs out of the greyhound dogs. The rabbits are given a head start and almost all are quick enough to scamper into a safe area before the frantic dogs can catch them. Hearing that, I thought at the time that the animal rights activitists back home would go crazy. (I had occasional dealings with some of the most zealous of the activists who would publicly wear rabbit costumes and march protest over Schering-Plough’s occasional use of rabbits in carefully controlled circumstances for drug testing.)
We poked around Rathkeale, which doesn’t have much to offer tourists other than the ruins of a medieval Augustinian priory and a tower castle. We had lunch in a pub populated by some tough-looking young men, who were probably “on the dole,” the Irish term for a combination unemployment insurance/welfare system that provides basic sustenance for 20 percent of Ireland’s population. No wonder wages are so low here and out-migration so high.
We then headed north for an excursion to Adare, site of a medieval church and abbey, and some picturesque restaurants and thatch-roof shoots and dwellings. Casey declined a chance to play golf on a course by a ruin and we pushed on to Bunratty, site of a fine castle from the 15th Century and a reconstructed folk village that draws a lot of tourists. The village featured a half-dozen transplanted 19th Century cottages from various parts of Ireland. They ranged from a simple, one-room hovel that housed a tenant farmer up to a spacious, story-and-a-half cottage with a tile floor and lots of heavy furniture once owned by a prosperous farming family.
We were told that it was common for 12 or 13 children to sleep on the floors of these cottages in the 19th Century. I believe it likely that my great-grandfather John Nolan was raised in a cottage like one of the ones that have been preserved in Bunratty. The folk village was nicely done and I would recommend it to anybody in the vicinity, which is not far from the Shannon airport.
We ate soup and fancy sandwiches at the Arches Restaurant in Adare and listened there to the recorded music of Memphian Elvis and another great rock-n-roller from our hometown, Jerry Lee Lewis. It was a terrific place for us expatriates.
Back in the hotel in Rathkeale, we watched the two channels on the lounge TV and had drinks. A man at the bar told me about the “Travelers,” an indigenous population of Gypsy-like Irish, who live in skuzzy travel trailers parked alongside the road and make their living by their wits. I was told they will not rob anybody, but they will cheat and connive to beat the system at every opportunity. A branch of the self-sufficient, sustaining Travelers are based in Rathkeale, probably the source of some pushy, raggedy children who swarmed as at the Augustinian ruin, begging and wanting to pose for photos for pay. That was the only time during our trip to Ireland that we saw anything distasteful; however, we also encountered begging children in Dublin five years earlier, whom we had luckily been warned were probably pickpockets trained by their Traveler parents.
The hotel bar was a social center in Rathkeale and several families came in to drink and watch TV. An older man peddling IRA (Irish Republican Army) newspapers worked the crowd. I bought one, as did a local man at the bar, suggesting to me that the IRA is still alive or at least has sympathizers in Rathkeale.
The publication was called An Phoblacht Republican News and claimed to be the biggest selling, political weekly in Ireland. Sample headlines:
These stories were covered in a way that Ireland and the conflict with Great Britain is never covered in the U.S. The advocacy stories seemed generally well-written to this former newspaperman (I served as Business Editor of the Scripps-Howard chain’s newspaper in Memphis, The Commercial Appeal, and as a regional stringer for The Wall Street Journal untiI I made a career change in favor of corporate communications in 1984). But I didn’t have enough background on Ireland’s current affairs to separate the truth from the propaganda. I did wonder about one page of the newspaper being entirely in Irish Gaelic and a listing of various protest events around the country and at the U.S. Embassy as hardly being non-partisan.
The tabloid paper also contained a recruitment coupon for Sinn Fein, the above-ground political arm of the IRA, which says the party is “dedicated to forcing a British withdrawal from the occupied Six Counties, the re-unification of our country and the establishment of a democratic socialist republic.”
Monday, Aug. 11, 1991 - (Buzz’s account)
We’re airborne somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean and on the way home. We departed the hotel at Rathkeale, Ireland, at 9:15 a.m. this morning and had a leisurely drive to Shannon Airport, where going through the VAT (Value Added Tax) refund procedure was more of a hassle than it should have been. (Several months later, Betty got a check for $15 or $20, refunding a portion of the taxes paid on several sweaters and other purchases made in Ireland.)
The Air Lingus jet took off 30 minutes later for the 6-and-a-half hour flight to New York’s Kennedy Airport. It was a full plane. The Irish stewardesses seem much more accommodating to young children than do their American counterparts, possibly because they are accustomed to big Irish families and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The Irish flight attendants seem to be generally pretty and younger than those we normally see on American airline flights. They speak in soft Irish brogues and are altogether charming.
The plane was equipped with “baby boxes,” specially made cardboard boxes that can fit onto special folding shelves on the interior bulkheads. Parents carrying infants on their laps are seated in the front rows of each compartment so they can have the free use of the shelves for baby naps and changings. It seemed to us to be a very nice touch for traveling families that we’ve seen on no other airline.
As the plane climbed and flew westward over the blue water and white surf of the Irish coast, I reflected on my impressions of Ireland and its wonderful people. What I saw and experienced has given me a much greater appreciation of their character and customs. Some observations about a few of the people I haven’t dwelt upon earlier in this travelogue, but who helped form my new insights, follow:
Those Irish citizens and others we had fleeting contacts with made for a wonderful trip.
Monday, Aug. 11, 1991 – (Casey’s account)
As I sit in the airplane seat on my way back home I am attempting to gather my thoughts and impressions on this journey to Ireland. The first thing that pops into my mind is all the golf I have gotten to play. I realize now that I have played on three of the finest golf courses in the world.
I hope to always remember the very last hole played in Ireland, on No. 18 at the tough Waterville course. I courageously decided to play this monstrous, 582-year Par 5 hole from the Blue Tees (reserved at most courses for long-hitting, skilled men). After hitting a mulish drive, I hit a mediocre three-wood, leaving me 175 yards from the hole. After muffing a three-iron, I stuck my next shot on the green with my eight-iron, about 10 or 12 feet from the hole. I then tapped in the putt for par.
I will also remember how warm and friendly the Irish people are. There were many times the Irish would treat my father as a close friend as he asked for directions. And now I come to think of Mary Foley. Not having ever met anyone in our family, she treated us as her own family – always talking to us, serving us a homemade meal and giving us a gift.
Now my thoughts turn to driving in Ireland. I found it remarkable that we did not see any wrecks. Even though all the cars are small, the streets are as narrow as the alleys back home. Instead of roads going from one city to the next in a straight line as at home, their roads tend to go around hills and blend in with the contours of the land. I can understand why a person cannot have a driver’s license in Ireland at the age of 16, as we can in Tennessee. This has been an enjoyable trip.
Saturday, Aug. 10, 1991 – (Betty’s account)
We got up and had our Irish breakfast of Irish back bacon (similar to Canadian bacon), toast, pastries from a bakery and juice. We put our luggage that had been packed Friday night into the rental car, washed dishes and paid Mr. Brian O’Shea for the utilities we had used in the rental cottage. We were then off to Rathkeale. We found that Rathkeale, where we were to spend out last night in Ireland, was a small village of regular Irish folk – not tourists. We went on from there to Adare to see the sights.
In Adare there was an old Abbey we visited and we also saw the Adare Manor House and church. We decided to drive to Bunratty and visit the castle and folk village there.
The castle at Bunratty was interesting, but very tight in its tiny, winding stairs (designed for defense against attackers, not tourist egress and ingress). The Irish don’t seem to be as organized in these kinds of things as are the British. It would have made sense to have different entrances and exits to avoid backlogs of people trying to get in and out of the same small door and up and down the tight stairs at the same time. I don’t believe I would have enjoyed living in such as castle, even as a queen.
The folk village was very interesting, with people doing things in the cottages similar to that demonstrated in the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas, back home. The cottages were very small. We learned that they had 12 or 13 children in a family over a century ago and they still lived in a one or two-bedroom, stone, thatched roof cottage. Similar cottages to those on display seem to have been in use throughout the portions of Ireland we have seen. One lady from a rural area said her neighbors only got electricity last year.
Perhaps Buzz’s great-grandfather (John Nolan) grew up in a cottage like one of these before he came to
America in 1843. If I had grown up in such a crowded, primitive cottage as these, I would have wanted to leave also.
Two ladies were making demonstration apple pies in one of the larger cottages, using a wood-burning stove and methods in practice 100 years ago. The pies smelled good. Peat, or turf as they call it, provided heat for the cottages. We burned pressed peat to take the chill out of our rented cottage back in Killarney.
There was a re-created village at Bunratty that included a pub, where we stopped to have tea and drinks. An Irish lady said her young son had landed in Memphis the previous Friday, on his way to Mississippi State University in Starkville where he was going to teach American history. He has an assistantship to work on a master of arts degree. Small world, but that is where Buzz graduated with a bachelor of arts in English and History in 1967. She was inquisitive as to how her son would be accepted. I tried to assure her that we Southerners are warm, outgoing and very hospitable, much like the Irish.
We went back toward Rathkeale for the evening, but stopped to eat dinner at The Arches Restaurant in Adare. Adare is a very old, touristy village. The restaurant was new but had wonderful homemade soup and desserts out of this world!
At Rathkeale we retired to the communal TV lounge for drinks and Irish television programming, which includes some American re-runs. After going to bed early, we could hear the hum of chatter below in the bar since Irish people seem to socialize in the pubs and bars and definitely stay up late.
Sunday, Aug. 11, 1991 – (Betty’s account)
We got up earlier than planned and had the Irish breakfast that was included in the price of our stay at the hotel. We then left for the drive to Shannon and the airport.
We went through the routine of VAT (Value Added Tax) tax refund paperwork, which definitely is not worth the trouble. We shopped for gifts in the duty free shop and at last went through immigration to board the plane.
On Aer Lingus, it seems the flight attendants all have some shade of blue eyes and are very nice. They even got a special cardboard box and lined it with a wood tweed blanket for the baby on the aisle seat across from us. The Catholic faith of the Irish resulting in many children and kindness toward little ones was evident in all the attendants.
The meal on the flight home was better than most we’ve had on domestic flights. Or maybe I was more hungry since I’d not eaten since 8:30 a.m.
We are on our journey to New York from Ireland and hopefully we’ll make our connection in New York to get home tonight (the connecting flight to Nashville was already boarding by the time we got to the gate, but we made it to Memphis on time.)
This has been a great trip. The Irish people are friendly, the country is beautiful and the flowers, especially the roses, are beautiful. I would not mind coming back again. Renting a cottage was really the way to go and a car is a necessity.
January 19, 1992 – (Buzz’s account)
That concludes the Nolan family’s travel journal from our grand trip to Ireland in August, 1991.
Six months later, I’ve done all the follow-up I’d intended. I’ve written all the Nolan’s listed in the phone directory for Athlone, a source of much Nolan family history verbally handed down the generations. I was pleased to hear back from some of them, whose comments were incorporated into my book, “Nolan-Miller Family History” published later. But I’ve yet to definitely locate my great-grandfather, John Nolan, and his family to a precise location in Ireland.
Of course, that’s all the more reason for yet another trip to this beautiful and magical land.
# # #