Paddy Woods tending bar in Galway.
The richest travels in Ireland tend to be on side paths and paths crossed.

Our latest visit back was more of a small town tour than seeing the big sights save some days in Galway City which were more than rewarding.

In the City of Tribes, our wanderings began with a Saturday lunch at The Quays with friends from Westfield, New Jersey. Rich and Mary Brautigam happened to be visiting the West at the same time.

We discovered our similar travel plans thanks to social media. Facebook and the like, with the free wifi in most pubs and hotels in Ireland, was a handy tool for communication during our stay.

A man of many talents, Rich is a brilliant traditional Irish musician and great for smart conversation.

It’s always a pleasure to spend hours with him and his lovely wife. This last time was over creamy seafood chowder and a pint at a window table in Galway as a stag party of lads from the North drunkenly roared too early in the bar behind us.

A few days later during our quieter midweek stay in the city we met up with the cousins Sean and Eilis King. Earlier that day offered the best encounter in ages.

Near Eyre Square we were walking when Honey Badger decided on a bit of shopping. I told her of the pub around the corner where she could find me when she was done.

In The Skeff, I settled my cameras on the bar and myself on a high stool and called for a pint. The barman was a big friendly lad up for a chat.

“Where are you from,” he asked.

“The States,” said I. “New Jersey.”

“Where in New Jersey?”

“Not far from Newark Airport,” I replied, giving my standard answer thinking few know our small town.

“What town?”

“Kenilworth,” I answered and his face changed, offering a hint of knowledge.

“My girlfriend is from Fanwood and goes to college near Bloomfield.”

“And her name is Kerry Plante,” I said. “And you’re from Belfast.”

Your man nearly fell over.

Once Paddy Woods straightened up and recovered a bit, I explained I work with his girlfriend’s poet father, Thomas.

I had heard about the romance brewed in Galway when Kerry did some time at university there last year. But I hadn’t a clue he was a barman or a notion of where he worked. I didn’t even have his name until he and I met that afternoon.

That’s always been the beauty of my travel experience over the decades. From the Garden State to Eire to Bosnia to Cambodia and back, I always seem to trip into some Irish or New Jersey connection. Sometimes the link is both.

So if you are visiting Ireland for The Gathering this year, be sure to speak up and chat away with all around in your travels. You may just make a fun and surprising connection. If not, you’ll have a brilliant time trying.