Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Epic UK Road Trip: Volume 7 (part 2)

The last post had so many photos that I wanted to share with you, but I didn't want to lose your attention about this next part, because it is one of my favorite parts of the trip.

I only have one picture to share with you from this part, so here it is:

Above you'll see the Ballyeamon Camping Barn (Bally means "town" in Gaelic, so there are a lot of locations that start with "bally" in Ireland - Ballycastle, Ballymena, Ballymoney, etc). Anyway, we stayed at the Ballyeamon Camping Barn on our second night in Northern Ireland.

We thought the Camping Barn was going to be more like our first barn than like a hostel. But perhaps the note online that said there was wireless internet should have been our clue. (Incidentally, this was a mis-statement - the wireless was not working but Collin did some good work on the computers there anyway).

When we arrived, a number of people greeted us but the most suprising greeting came from a group of teensy, tiny, virtually invisible and yet completely not invisible bugs called Midges. These Midges announced their presence to us by swarming all over us and then biting us mercilessly. This was the first night (aside from our Barn stay) that we weren't out on the coast, instead, we were inland near the forest. Unfortunately, just like how mosquitos are more likely in the redwood forest than on venice beach, the midges were thick in those parts.

Later, after picking up the laundry, the boys returned to our gigantic four-person apartment (seriously) and in the brief moment the door was open, the apartment was infested. They spent the next 10 minutes swatting at midges in every room. Hilarious.

We were going to cook on the BBQ there at the hostel, but we didn't have a firepit, nor did we have charcoal to really get the BBQ going - so we ended up using the oven in the hostel to make our "hobo stew" (which is basically really a lot of vegetables with some ground meat and spices thrown in). We chatted with the volunteers running the hostel (an American gal, a Welsh guy, and an Irish (I think) guy) and learned about a variety of things - most of which I couldn't understand (when coming from the Irish guy). Collin says that the further north you go the harder the accents are to understand and this guy was a good indication of that. He gave us some suggestions of things to see in Belfast, and then gave us DIRECTIONS to those places, as though expecting us to remember it verbatim. It was hilarious. But as you will see in volume 8, it turned out well.

Well, midges and random conversations not withstanding, our stay at the Ballyeamon Camping Barn was one of the highlights for me, because of the owner, Liz Weir. Liz is a storyteller by trade, who also happens to run the camping barn. She had greeted us when we arrived, and then handed us off into the capable hands of the volunteers and disappeared. She reappeared just as we sat down to eat our dinner.

It was late, having taken some time to get the dinner cooked, and she had already eaten. She sat down at the table with us and made some conversation and then said,

"Oh, ya missed a great storytelling session last night."

We inquired about the session. 'Where was it?' (in the studio, below our apartment) 'How many people come? Are they always the same?' (no, it varies, there are some regulars but not all) 'What was it like?' ("oh, there's music and poems and stories") and finally....

'Um, Liz, would you tell us a story?'

Yes. We asked, even though it was getting onto 9pm and she had already mentioned that she had had a long day and was tired.

But she's a storyteller, and lets face it, what else could we have done?

She said, "OK, D'ya know how St. Patrick ran all the snakes out of Ireland? Well, this is a story of St. Pat." and she proceeded from memory to recite the poem at this link: St. Patrick and the Snakes. You won't be able to get the full impact of how cool it was to hear her tell that story, unless you can conjur up an Irish brogue or quickly Google some Irish video so that you have it in your mind.

So there we were, in Ireland, and there was this storyteller, telling us a story. In fact, at one point someone was washing dishes and she said, "lets leave that till I'm done." - this was a lady at work. It was exactly like I imagined Ireland to be in my head for my whole life.

We were irrepressible, though and enjoyed that tale so much, we asked for another.

I secretly think she was hoping we'd ask.

She said, "well what kind of stories do you like?" and looked around at the four of us and then the rest in the room, saying "mystery? romance?" and then after taking another look at me and Candice said, "Romance then."

Two more stories were told, one was the ancient story of Finvola, an Irish woman, who fell in love with Angus, a Scottish man (a variety of last names are attributed to Angus, according to the internets) and the other was a more modern story about a soldier and his pen pal and a rose. (called "The Rose").

After the third story, Liz left to go to bed and we rued the missed opportunity to take a photo of or with her. Instead, all we had left were our memories of this random night in Antrim County, Northern Ireland, at the Balleyeamon Camping Barn and stories told to us by a pro.

The next day would be my birthday and a great time was had, but this evening at the camping barn, sitting and listening to an Irishwoman tell us stories was a really terrific start to my birthday!