Only hours after hours arriving off the airplane from Newark the wife was snoozing, taking a nap at our friends’ home in Doolin, north County Clare.
Wired from the overnight flight and struggling to settle into Irish time, I made my way to the heart of Doolin to McDermott’s for a quiet pint and maybe a local newspaper.
No newspaper appeared, but there was chat at the bar.
Two high stools down from me sat a gentleman a few years my senior. Turned out he was a publican from Tralee taking a break for a few days after the busy season.
“Our pipe band played the Rose Festival five years back,” I told him. “The Union County Police and Fire Pipes and Drums from New Jersey.”
“They were in my bar that year,” John O’Sullivan said. “We had a mighty night with them playing in the bar late.”
Mr. O’Sullivan owns The Munster Bar in Tralee near the roundabout you would encounter on the main road coming or going for Dingle.
“I have a contact for the band but I can’t remember his name at the moment,” he said. “I still have his card.”
“Was it Jimmy Keefe,” I asked.
He shook his head.
No. Then his face lit up.
“His name was Jim Lowney.”
Laughing hard and fast I hardly paused.
“I’m Jim Lowney.”
After roaring smiles there was another round and more talk on a wet Clare afternoon.
The next O’Sullivan we encountered proved to be an equally brilliant experience.
Tommy O’Sullivan owns Dingle’s newest “old” traditional pub with his wife Sandra, a former trauma nurse from Texas.
The sign outside their Courthouse bar reads like a beautiful poem:
No Juke Box
No Pool Table
But We Do Have
7 Nights a Week
This O’Sullivan is not only a publican but a madly brilliant Irish trad guitarist. Watching him play two nights with two different uilleann pipers he struck me as the Keith Richards of traditional music. He moved with the music pulsing through his veins.
Our week in County Kerry in fine warm sunny weather of an Indian summer gifted us much mighty music, tasty food (monkfish and chips in Ballydavid!), eye-candy scenery and many engaging people.
And one soul we met that truly stays in my mind and heart.
His name he didn’t offer. With the present seeming confusing, I doubt he could. But he was a Kerryman who somehow made it home for his final years.
A friend or relation let him out of a car on the walkway high over the men’s beach at Ballybunion. He wandered the path above the strand.
In a brief exchange, I mentioned my County Mayo connection, and this man spoke of being down and out in London, sleeping rough until a Mayo man gave him a job.
Then we parted ways, with him staring at the sea in the sunshine.
He carried on with his journey and we with ours with me wondering about the many more like him who didn’t make it home.