The Inn at Laragh
LYNHAM’S BAR, GLENDALOUGH – PART ONE
Climbed aboard the train and travelled west towards Rathdrum. It was a ten-minute journey through idyllic countryside made even pleasanter by the fact that it was free. There was nowhere to buy a ticket and no inspector.
Browsed through a leaflet about the potential destination, Glendalough. Back in the eighth century it had been a monastic city founded by a gentleman called St Kevin. It had thrived until the Vikings had decided on some drastic property development.
St Kevin was an ascetic celibate who had once been the object of the unwanted attentions of a local girl. The leaflet offered two explanations of how he had dampened her ardour: firstly, that he had thrown her off a cliff into the lake below, and secondly, that ‘he had whipped her unmercifully with stinging nettles’.
Hmm? Anyway, it seemed to have done the trick and he was able to continue his meditations in peace. The lady in question went on to open a sado-masochist club in Dorking. No, she didn’t.
Alighted at Rathdrum station and dragged Bosie up to the hilltop village. Crossed through a small park dominated by a statue of Charles Stuart Parnell himself.
It turned out that Parnell had lived nearby at Avondale House. He had been one of the great political figures of his time and had nearly achieved a peaceful Irish independence back in the 1880’s. However, his career had been destroyed when it became known that he was living in sin with a woman called Kitty O’Shea. It was also the ruin of his political initiatives. If he had taken a (nettle) leaf out of St Kevin’s book, maybe Ireland might have been saved a hell of a lot of trouble.
Arrived in the centre of the village and found an information office next door to the curiously named Cartoon Inn. The woman behind the counter gave a chuckle when I asked about public transport. As predicted, there was none.
“You could take a taxi?”
Taxi? Good God, this was meant to be the great hitch-hiking adventure! Turned down the suggestion and set off resolutely with Bosie to walk out to the edge of town. Stood with upraised thumb for half an hour with no result, then walked on for a mile into the countryside.
As I came round a bend in the road, the Vale of Clara lay sprawled ahead. The Vale of Avoca was world famous but Clara, its equally lovely sister, was relatively unknown. Climbed over a stile into a field and ate a ham roll meal while luxuriating in the sheer rural splendour of the view. The morning sun played across the soft-focus hills and on to the hamlets nestling under the woods. Lay back in the grass – it was one of those moments when you feel like never moving on again.
Nonetheless, at 11.30am, resumed hitching. With absolutely no luck at all. The only traffic consisted of flat-back timber lorries with dwarf log cranes, some crammed tourist cars, and a few very local locals. Another infallible rule of the thumb; the more beautiful the road, the lousier the hitching.
By 1.30pm, after a fruitless two hours, I’d had enough and walked back to Rathdrum. Deliberated over the next move. This was a bad position: no public transport, no hitching and walking the seven miles to Laragh with Bosie in tow was out of the question. The wider problem was that if both the Laragh pub and the Glendalough hotel turned me down, I was stuck in the middle of the Wicklow Hills with no venue and no way out. As for Plan B…? For once, I simply could not think of a Plan B.
Finally decided that there was no alternative but to take a taxi to Laragh and risk the chance of being stranded there. Re-entered the Tourist Information Office where the woman greeted my return with a total lack of surprise. Presumably I was not the first person to be trapped in Rathdrum. She told me that I’d find the village taxi driver in the Cartoon Inn.
“He’s usually there.”
Had some misgivings about the advisability of being driven by someone who could only be accessed via a pub. However, the barmaid told me to wait on the Square and “he’ll be right with you when he’s finished his drink. About ten minutes.”
Forty minutes later, an old car drew up. The driver was a silent leathery man who struggled to insert Bosie into the boot with no success. I up-ended it onto the back seat and set off with the wheels wedged neatly around my ears.
Continued on along the length of the Vale of Clara under entwined tree tunnels and alongside rushing streams tumbling over lichened rocks. Whatever else, you could not fault the decor.
The taxi driver dropped me at the Laragh crossroads within twenty minutes; it cost eight pounds. Looked around and wondered whether I might have been better off staying in Rathdrum. Laragh, although set in a beautiful valley, consisted of a few houses round a village green. Admittedly there was a pub here but the village was far and away the smallest place in which I’d even thought of performing. It looked doubtful whether there were enough people here to provide even a minimal theatre audience. Pessimism returned with a rush.
Then I looked more closely. The pub, Lynhams, was certainly a large establishment with a café and a hostel attached. It was worth a try anyway. This time I had to reverse the usual strategy; I’d have to find a venue before finding accommodation. Went inside and the barmaid directed me over to the landlord, a very large, slightly forbidding man called Mick. Set out the case before him. He listened, his face immobile.
Then he said:
“Did you know that Oscar Wilde used to stay near here on holiday when he was a kid? At Glencree over the Sally Gap?”
“No, I’d no idea.”
He nodded thoughtfully, then looked up.
“I think you’re fecking mad but, yes, sure you can play here. And seeing that you’re a performer you can stay at the hostel free of charge. Oh, and you can have drinks on the house tomorrow night when you do your show.”
He stood up and walked out.
Talk about falling on your feet! How incredible? In the space of two minutes, all the problems solved – and free booze as well! Half an hour earlier, I had been floundering around in Rathdrum; now every difficulty for the next thirty six hours had evaporated. Crossed to the hostel and introduced myself to the proprietress, Ann. She led me up to a dormitory and indicated a bottom bunk.
“That’s the only spare one. It’s quite comfortable. There’ll only be one person on top of you.”
Dumped Bosie and went down to the fairly crowded café. Although Laragh was tiny, it was obviously geared to pan-European tourism. My hopes about the audience size tomorrow night began to rise. Still, if it was going to work, I needed some new posters. Ann directed me to a porta-kabin down by a small river. It had a streamlined IT logo over the door. Inside, an elderly gentleman and his dog sat surrounded by a phalanx of computers.
I coughed then said:
“Good afternoon. I was told that I could get some photocopies printed here?”
He reluctantly abandoned his computer and came over to the counter. The dog remained crouched on a chair staring intently at the screen.
“Well, in theory that is possible” he replied. “In practice, however, I’m afraid I don’t know how to work the scanner.”
As there were no other machines in the valley, or probably in the Wicklow Hills, he advised me to return in the evening and moved speedily back to rejoin his dog in their silent contemplation of the screen. Left them to it.
There was now really nothing else to do so I went for a stroll around Laragh. This took about eight and a half minutes so I sat on the village green and ordered a pot of tea from a nearby cottage. Almost every house in Laragh advertised ‘Olde Cream Teas’. Behind them, the conifer wooded hills stretched up to the blue sky, while the valley lazed in the warm sunshine. It looked rather like a few acres of the Cotswolds dumped in the middle of Switzerland. Retired for a siesta at the hostel.
Back in action at 7pm and settled in the kitchen for a dinner consisting of a Chicken Pot Noodle and a Raspberry Yoghurt, both eaten straight from their plastic tubs. Two American youths from Chicago, with long hair and under-chin beards that made them resemble Amish preachers, looked at my cuisine with disdain. As if in reproach, they made a meal that would have done justice to the Savoy Grill.
Half an hour later, having printed the posters, I set off to plaster them over Glendalough. Doubted whether St Kevin would have approved – illicit bill-sticking over a monastic site was probably about as popular as the Vikings.
The Royal Hotel was about a mile away and I reached it just as dusk was falling. It was not so much a hotel as a leisure complex; very large with two enormous bars, fronted by a recently constructed Olde Crafts Souvenir Shop. In my experience of pubs, those that are attached to Olde Crafts shops that still smell of fresh paint have an inbuilt disadvantage.
The lounge bar was jam-packed with over one hundred men in suits. It looked like a sales conference until I noticed that Mick from Laragh was in the midst of it. Suddenly, as if at a signal, the whole hundred, still carrying their pints, walked out of the rear exit. Within the space of one minute, I was the only customer left in the bar. Very odd. Turned to the barman:
“Was it something I said?”
He laughed but did not reveal the cause of the exodus. As the price of a pint of beer was not far off that of a Ritz cocktail, decided to return to Laragh.
Successfully negotiated the pitch black lane with the small torch and reached Lynhams bar at 10pm. It was crowded and quite raucous – reckoned that this could prove to be a trickier place to play than I had thought at first. I could perform in either the main section or a quieter sub bar area. If I chose the latter it would mean that I had no control over the main sector, they would continue the racket unabated. Couldn’t chicken out – I’d have to play the main sector in order to kill the noise. Sat on the quieter side and planned stage tactics.
There was a jukebox that would have to be quelled. It seemed to play only country and western music. The east coast of Ireland appeared to concentrate on C&W, while the west kept mostly to traditional music. As if to blow this theory out of the water immediately, some traditional musicians came in, sat next to me, and tuned up their instruments. The guitarist was a French Breton and the banjoist was American.
They started playing some superb instrumentals and I wondered, not for the first time, why Irish music had ever been considered to be a minor art form. At its best, it could be breath-taking. The banjo player of the Dubliners group, Barney McKenna, had once recorded a tune called ‘The Masons Apron’ that could leave any classical soloist standing. And it could be complex as well.
Admittedly, on occasion it could be too complex. There was a story about a very grand dinner that was given in Dublin in honour of the French Ambassador. Someone played the ‘Marseillaise’ on the Uillan pipes and the dinner guests rose to their feet. Except for the French Ambassador who had not recognised the tune.
Settled back and drank the fifth pint of the evening. Then Bryan Ferry walked in, closely followed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh shit, I’d got another attack of the lookalikes. Walked over to the hostel at midnight. Half the sky bulged with stars, the other half was obscured by cloud. Crashed out in the dormitory at 12.30am. The proprietress had been correct – there was ‘only one person on top of me’.
Chapel at Glendalough