The Liverdance Tour...
O’Hare, Terminal 5, 2nd of April, 3:30 pm
The McNally’s Pub Tour of Ireland was gathering at the Aer Lingus check in line. Thirty-two of us and my anxiety is in full gallop. Will they all be here in time? Mary Pat Flanagan from CIE Tours is there and in control. We are a motley crew of travelers from Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Arizona, Georgia and the Chicago suburbs with McNally’s Irish Pub in St. Charles as a common denominator. I have met or spoken to most of them as I promised them a memorable jaunt around Ireland with pubs and music and some great sightseeing – and now I must deliver.
We have a comfortable overnight flight courtesy of Aer Lingus and arrive safe in Dublin airport at the newly opened Terminal Two, where we meet Harry Crofton, our CIE driver and guide for the week. The sun was shining on this beautiful spring morning as the smokers among us burst out of the terminal on to the sidewalk for our first smoke since checking in at O’Hare. We gathered our luggage, found the four members of our group who had flown to Dublin ahead of us and got on the bus, tired but happy to be there at last and heading to the Man of War Pub for our first Irish Breakfast and indeed, our first pint on the Holy Ground. Breakfast was brilliant, so were the pints and I was delighted when my daughter Sharon, along with her husband Damien, along with my two precious grandchildren, Josh & Alex, arrived to welcome their grandad home. But it was back on the bus with Harry and on the road to Galway through the Midlands, with a stop at Lockes Distillery in the Westmeath town of Kilbeggan, to sample their whiskey. Harry was a GEM. He entertained and educated and I knew that we were in good hands for our tour.
Galway was bustling with people as we arrived; they were enjoying the sunshine and walking the promenade. The Salthill Hotel was full of families celebrating Mothers Day and watching Gaelic Football and we first heard Harry issue the instructions, “Dinner at 6 turty and bags outside your rooms at 8 am.
We hit the music pubs of Galway that night and were joined by some Blarney on the Air listeners from the States and even John Cullinane came up from Waterford to visit and party with us. There was music coming out of every pub and we visited quite a few. The Quay’s Pub was packed with revellers, and we made it our headquarters as we scouted the music bars of Galway. I wimped out about 10:30 on that first night, but I’m proud of those who carried on into the wee hours.
That was day one and as the week went on, the scenery changed as did the hotels and pubs. We walked the Cliffs of Moher, we kissed the Blarney Stone, we ate the chowder in Dingle, shopped the Blarney Woolen Mills and the English Market in Cork City. We toured the cities of Cork, Dublin and Galway and the towns of Kinsale, Cashel and Killarney. We had tea, scones and the most amazing homemade blackcurrant jam at a farmhouse in Tipperary where we saw newborn lambs. We did the Rock of Cashel and the Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and by the end of the week we had coalesced into a group of hardy Celtic Road Warriors enriched by the shared experience and enlightened by Harry on the history of my Dear Old Ireland.
And yes, there was music and plenty of it, everywhere we went. Tim O’Riordan entertained us royally in Killarney and in Kinsale with his music. He sang haunting versions of Kilkelly and Beeswing along with some really great songs of his own. Irish soprano, Emma Kate Tobia came to see us at the Trident Hotel in Kinsale and shared her talent too. What a treat to hear her sing for us in her own town. The Merry Ploughboys in Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin put on a great dinner and show and I’m looking forward to seeing them all here in Chicago this summer. There were other musicians of course whose names I never got and again, my crew knew the words of most of the popular Irish ballads by the end of the week.
The Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks, and Bulmers flowed and shots of Baby Guinness became our signature late night drink as we partied the week away and I’m proud of my group and eternally grateful that they put their trust in me for what I believed was a well put together tour.
Everywhere we went the food was exceptional. Hearty Irish breakfast with brown bread and Irish butter to start the day, pub lunches of fresh vegetable soup or seafood chowder and perhaps a sandwich for lunch and dinners of prime Irish beef, salmon, lamb, trout, mussels, all in season, were on our menus most nights. The selection of cheese was unbelievable as were the desserts, profiteroles and meringues and strawberry soufflé were enjoyed by all of us, before going on the town each night.
Thank you all – Paul & Kathleen, Leon, Shawn, Kevin & Terry, Maureen, Jamie & Marianne, Matt, Dena, Katie & Kimberley, Jean & Kathryn, Toni Jo & Danielle, Mary Alice & Peg, Nancy K & Maureen, Chip & Charles, Ed & Kim, and the Arizona gang, Paul, Lynn, Robert, Mary Ellen, Michael & Patricia. You were a great group and a pleasure to travel with.
Thanks to CIE Tours International, Mary Pat Flanagan and Jim Meyers. Thanks to all at McNally’s Traditional Irish Pub in St. Charles for allowing me to put the tour together and supporting me all the way. Thanks to family and friends for showing up along the way, it was great to see you all. But most of all, it was Harry Crofton, our CIE driver and guide who truly made this trip memorable with his wit, wisdom and guidance. For the first few days Harry walked around with a large brown envelope under his arm and eventually he told me that they were the nametags for our group. We agreed that they were totally unnecessary and dumped them somewhere on the West coast. Harry my friend; you are a national treasure and a credit to your profession, your company and to Ireland. We will travel together again next year, Please God.
Like most holidays it was over all too quickly and it’s only in retrospect that we enjoyed all of the experiences that we had shared together in that wild week but in the shared photographs on Facebook I can see that we had the “craic”.
I’m already planning next year’s adventure…the Liverdance Tour 2012 will feature a week in Ireland and a week in Italy. We can call it the “Gaelic and Garlic Tour” or the “Pasta and Potato Tour”.