Illustration by Caty Bartholomew

Hello again! Greetings to all. I'm recovering from an incredible week of craic and I'm in great form.

It is genuine Indian Summer in Clare today, and as soon as I finish this I'm away to the spa town of Lisdoonvarna to catch one of the last evenings of the famed Matchmaking Festival in that North Clare town.

I was too busy earlier. Maybe that was just as well because I might have encountered poor Sinead O'Connor when she was there.

Poor Sinead of the soaring voice from heaven and the face of a fallen angel. Let us be gentle with her. Let us leave her alone.

Let us hope  that she has a few genuine friends left that will rally around her one of these days and help contain her pain. They should have rallied already.

It is in the back of my mind that Sinead herself did a very good turn for Shane MacGowan, her friend, when he was in the hurting place some years ago that she is clearly in now.

God bless her kindly in the certain knowledge that the Pope will never come to any harm from this wee tormented genius.  Let all but her real friends leave her alone now.

But anyway back to the craic. I said a few weeks  ago that my meanderings were over for the year.
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Then, however, I had to go to North Donegal for a family funeral on the edge of Lough Swilly. That is a long car journey by Irish standards, and I was reflecting on the way home that I had left behind the Clare village called Inch which is just a few minutes away from Maisie's Cottage and had actually been in the Inch area of Donegal, in fleeting sight of the Inch Island in the Swilly.

And that bred the thought I should leave the car at home, deploy the free travel pass which you qualify for here when you reach pension age, and visit the other two Inches of Ireland in Wexford and Kerry using only the pension and the pass.

I sold the story easily and off I went under my kangaroo-hide hat, my bag on my back, my pass  and pension in my jeans pocket.

Lads and lassies, I could fill the Irish Voice with all the dimensions of the craic I had on my four day adventure! It was mighty. I've not enjoyed myself so much in years.

There is such a huge freedom to view and experience when you are not driving a car
and are seated instead in a front seat of a comfortable Bus Eireann coach driven by men who have to be the most courteous drivers on Earth.

And it is amazing how long a State pension of about €220 lasts -- even in a recession -- when you don't have to tank up the car. I had more than enough left at the end of the trip to bring home a  good bottle of red wine (and a glossy brown horse chestnut from Enniscorthy!) to the patient Dutch Nation.

Do you know what B&B cost me in Toss Byrne's pub in the heart of Inch in Wexford? It cost just €25, about half the normal peak season rate, and I had a splendid dinner of bacon and turnip and colcannon after I arrived for a mere €7! And a huge breakfast at the bar the next morning before departure!

And the special lady called Marita and bar manager Paul looked after me like I was an old friend.  In between the lively hours I made a host of new ones, and there was a hugely enjoyable singsong before bedtime including, inevitably, a rousing version of "Boolavogue" from a man called Jojo.

And my drinking buddy for the evening was a Tom O'Donnell, who once ran the family pub above in North Clare and whose mother was the midwife working for the fabled musician-politician Dr. Bill Loughnane. And I discovered you can eat the glossy little laurelberries I always thought were deadly poison.

And it was powerfully hammered home again that you so often find in rural pubs that real Cead Mile Failte which is the unique best of what we are at our best.

This is not a simple raw "plug" for Toss Byrne's pub. It is a reflection of the rural reality in all the Inches of (let's not forget it) a noble little warm island. I did not want to leave Inch.

But I had to follow the story. That led me via Cork (and a gorgeous evening there with my equally  gorgeous daughter Ciara), and then on to Killarney and Tralee to the bus for Dingle via Inch of Kerry.

Would ye believe we traveled through the heart of an old-style sheep fair in the village of Camp along the way? It was a vivid timewarp.

It was windy and raining heavily, but Camp was  packed with pens of curlihorned sheep in wooden  pens against the wet frontage, a solitary Garda (policeman) controlling the traffic, and oil skinned  farmers dealing away calmly despite the weather.

Exactly like a scene from the film Ryan's Daughter shot down the road at the Inch Strand to which I was heading.

The coaches bypass Inch nowadays in autumn. The closest village is Anascaul about three scenic miles away.

"Drop me off, please, at a pub that will keep me out of the storm,” I asked the driver.
He dropped me off opposite a pub called -- I kid ye not – called the South Pole.

I ran across through the rain to discover it was established in the thirties by the famous Antarctic explorer Tom Crean. A lovely pub, busy with American walkers, and another genuine Cead Mile Failte fortified by a coffee and hot whiskey as the charming Tracey O'Sullivan behind the bar organized local woman Anne Kennedy to drop me down to Inch.

She only charged me €10 for heaven's sake, and she dropped me at Sammy's cafe and bar right on the fabled beach which is never empty, never without hand-in-hand lovers, paragliders, kite surfers, fishermen, mothers with buggied babies and, nowadays, host Mahmood told me later, skies full of gliders launched by jeeps racing down the infinite strand.

The windows were full of powerful scenery in all directions as I chat with an English couple bearing the surname England, and veteran Jack Daly who survived the London blitz before returning home again, and who is philosophical about the Kerry footballers' defeat in Croke Park only hours earlier.

And I dine in a merry atmosphere on cod goujons and salad, and does Mahmood stand me a drink? Of course he does.

And I  have a great chat in the gift shop with  breathtakingly beautiful Noreen O'Sullivan, who looks far too youthful to have her youngest daughter in university, and who has enjoyed the season immensely. Every glance at the Atlantic's majesty eases out any residual vestiges of real world stress.

And does songwriter brother Mickie and his Maura  not come out from Listowel to collect me in a few hours? He does indeed.

And the rest of that evening, featuring fabled John B. Keane's pub and Sheehans, and our bedtime too, is domestic stuff and not for publication. Except the first two lines of Mickie's latest song:

"Hemingway drank whiskey and so did Franklin D/ If its good enough for men like them it's good enough for me....”

I coached home the next afternoon by way of Limerick and Shannon almost as fresh as a daisy.

Is that meandering on a grand scale or is it not?  The year is not over yet. It is just coming into itself.

Postscript: Some of you over there are in good form too I hear. My neighbor and friend Sean O'Ceallacain called inside the last hour, just back from a family wedding in Morristown, New Jersey and sessions in the Dublin House which I warmly remember myself.

"They do great weddings over there,” says Sean. "The wedding between Ronan Kennedy and
Cathy Tucker was on Friday, but there was a full rehearsal plus dinner on the Thursday and a mighty brunch on the Saturday hosted by the father of the bride.”

And because there was some kind of mixup over a jacket on the wedding day, balladeer Sean produced an instant ballad called "The Brother-in-Law's Jacket" to mark the occasion!

We Irish are all mad in a harmless way. Sean is coming over to Lisdoonvarna with me in a few hours time! We'll  all be dead long enough!

I'll say farewell now for the moment...
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