If you think all of the great travel tales that come out of Ireland are all Blarney, you’re quite mistaken. My favorite Irish travel story is about the time I got into a bit of traveler’s trouble on the Emerald Isle. It’s a great adventure and there’s not one word of Blarney in it.
It all began when I drove away from Dublin Airport in a rental car, heading for The Burren, a glorious natural national treasure in northern County Clare, on Ireland’s west coast, Driving was a challenge because I was tired from my transatlantic flight and, even more so, because I was on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. But, I was all for the challenge and the adventure.
As I sped along, I began to wonder--and eventually worry--whether I’d taken a wrong turn, Nothing looked like the directions I’d been given and, about an hour into the drive, I thought it best to make sure I hadn’t veered of track by following the wrong road at one of the many roundabouts I’d passed. I stopped to ask for directions.
I pulled in to a petrol station, hopped out of my compact and approached the attendant, a lad who was washing a mud-covered car.
“Hello,” I said, “Can you help me with some directions? I think I may have taken a wrong turn.”
“Where are you heading?,” asked the lad.
“Towards The Burren,” I said. “I’m looking for a bed and breakfast that’s expecting me. It’s before I get to The Burren. But I’m not sure at this point that I’m even going in the right direction at all.”
“Oh, that’s quite a ways from here,” said a red headed middle aged women, who suddenly appeared from behind the car that was being washed. “And you did miss a turn off. But the directions are tricky. Do you have a map?”
“I do,” I said. “But I’m having trouble (there’s that word) keeping track of the map and the road signs, and driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.”
“Right,” she said. “Are you from America, then?”
“I am,” I answered, fearing that I was about to enter into a long discussion that would keep me from getting to my bed and breakfast for a quick nap before my walk on The Burren. Still, I wanted to be polite. “I’m from New York.”
“Oh, lovely. I’ve always wanted to go to New York,” she said. “What brings you here? Are you going to County Clare to visit relations?”
“No relatives, I’m afraid. I’ve just wanted to see The Burren for a long time. It sounds like a magical place--unlike anywhere else in the world, and I like to see such places. I suppose you’ve seen it. Is it as special as I expect?”
“Oh yes. Beautiful. You’ll like it, I’m sure. But it’s tricky going, and such a long drive,” she said. “Look, are you in much of a rush? I’ll lead you there if you can wait ‘til my car is cleaned. Will that do? We can have a cup of tea while we wait. My name‘s Maureen.”
“Wow,” I said. “That would be great. But really? I mean it’s a long way, and I’m worried that it’s an imposition--unless you’re going there anyway.’
“No, but today’s my day off, and it’s an easy day. And I don’t mind,” said Maureen, steering me in the direction of an Irish version of a Seven-Eleven. “So, how do you like your tea?”
Maureen and I sipped tea and chatted for another twenty minutes or so, during which time I learned that she’s a housewife and mom who works part time as a sales clerk and likes to garden. She prefers her tea with milk and very sweet.
Just as we finished exchanging basic information about ourselves and our lives, Maureen’s car was road-ready and we set off--a caravan of two--in the direction of The Burren.
Maureen was quite right--the road had many roundabouts. But she slowed down, indicating directions in plenty of time for me to follow her. The drive was going well. The landscape was very rural and pretty.
Then, we entered a stretch of blacktop unlike any I’d ever seen before. The road was so narrow it was barely possible for two cars going in opposite directions to pass each other. The blacktop was bordered on both sides by steep rock embankments about fifteen feet tall, and there were so many hairpin turns that you could barely see a car’s length in front of or behind you.
Maureen’s car went around a curve and disappeared from view. I was suddenly alone on a dangerous trail. But I figured if I drove carefully, clinging to the left (‘wrong’) embankment, I’d eventually get to the end of this Disneyland-esque scary ride gone amuck.
I was progressing at a crawl, when there was what sounded like an explosion, and my compact veered to the left. Luckily my foot found the brake pedal before I crashed into the embankment. I hopped out of the compact and took a look-see, and found my front left tire in shreds. A complete blowout left metal resting against blacktop.
Maureen was somewhere ahead, completely out of sight, hidden by the curves that also obscured me from oncoming traffic. My car was disabled, and I was a terrified sitting duck.
After what seemed an eternity, but was probably just fifteen minutes, a car roared around the bend from behind me, and edged passed me without stopping.
Another ten minutes, another car approached from behind. It slowed while the driver ogled me. Then, without stopping, it sped away.
After a fifth car passed without stopping, I believed I’d entered traveler’s purgatory. How could people not stop to help?
I was scared and--I admit it--angry. I was about to begin walking back in hope of finding help, when a car approached from in front of me. It was Maureen. She pulled up and explained that when I hadn’t emerged from the turns she’d figured something had gone wrong and had come back for me.
The road was so narrow she couldn’t turn around, so she drove to the point at which we’d entered this treacherously curvaceous stretch of blacktop, then turned around and came back so she could push me to the end, past the final curve.
It was two hours before we emerged from that patch of road, with sparks coming off the metal where my left front tire had been. Maureen was saintly.
I don’t know how a traveler’s trouble could be better abated. But, there’s more.
When Maureen pushed me around the last curve, waiting there for us were all the people who’s been in the cars that had passed me by. They apologized for not stopping, explaining that it was too dangerous. But they all waited around to make sure I was alright.
Then they teamed up to rig the spare tire so I could drive the car the rest of the way to The Burren. Once the tire was rigged, Maureen stuck with me all the way to my bed and breakfast. When we got there, I had to convince her to let me buy her lunch.
Then, without further ado, Maureen was off to complete her easy day. I don’t even know her last name. But, this wonderfully kind and generous Irish women let me know in no uncertain terms that if you’re going to run into traveler’s trouble -- as you often do -- Ireland is a very good place to have it happen. No Barney, I thank my lucky four leaf clover for one of my favorite personal travel tales.