Like the Pictures? Buy the Prints. For more Ireland photos, visit Brian Eden’s gallery.
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 11, 2007
This morning, I stopped at Cork airport to pick up my new rental car.
I lifted it out of the parking lot and placed it on the road.
The Nissan Micra couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds. It was like driving a fanny pack.
I squished into the driver’s seat, turned the key and marveled as all twelve horses roared to life.
At least no one would accuse me of trying to compensate.
After sharing a hearty laugh at the expense of my new car, my Dad and I went our separate ways. He drove back to the Dublin suburb of Howth to play golf and then fly home. I pressed on to West Cork and County Kerry to explore Ireland’s West Coast.
Without much traffic to dodge, I could pull off the road at will to snap photos and be a tourist.
At one especially picturesque spot, I took some photos, jumped back into the car, buckled my seatbelt and heard a buzzing sound.
“What is that?” I looked around, expecting to see a bumblebee in the car.
But there wasn’t one.
“Is it outside?” I looked out the window. But saw nothing.
I shrugged and reached out to turn on the car.
Just then, a bee the size of a grapefruit flew from my chest and ricocheted angrily around the inside of the cabin. It was like a basketball in a broom closet.
Ever the trooper, I shrieked, leapt from the driver’s seat and did an elaborate “omigod-get-it-off” polka, hopping from one foot to the other, and swatting the air like invisible bongos.
Nearby, a cow chewed his cud and watched with mild interest as I convulsed on the roadside, smacking myself for no apparent reason and shouting “BEES! BEES!”
Meanwhile, the bee climbed casually to the outside of my car door and flew off into the afternoon sky. I’d like to think he was screaming “HUMANS! HUMANS! OMIGOD GET EM OFF!”
Ten miles south of Skibbereen at the southeast tip of Ireland is a tiny port town. In the Irish language, the town is called “Dun na Sead” or “Fort of the Jewels.”
In English, the town is simply called “Baltimore.”
Baltimore, Ireland is the indirect namesake of my hometown, Baltimore, Maryland. According to the BBC website:
“In 1625, King James I awarded the Barony of Baltimore [Ireland] to George Calvert, who became the first Lord Baltimore. In later years, Calvert and his successors were instrumental in establishing the State of Maryland in America, and in recognition of the Calvert family, the name Baltimore was given to one of America’s largest port cities.”
Like Baltimore, Maryland, Baltimore, Ireland is a picturesque harbor town. It’s a boater’s paradise and a popular summertime destination for fishing and water sports.
But Baltimore Ireland has a drastically different topography. The port is nestled at the tip of an inlet between fingers of cliffs that plunge into the crashing Atlantic surf.
Unlike Baltimore Maryland, Baltimore Ireland is tiny. The town has a total population of just 200 people.
To put that in perspective, 250 people are killed in Baltimore, Maryland annually.
In other words, we kill off the entire population of our Irish Counterpart every single year. With an extra 50 or so to set an example for next year’s crop.
The two Baltimores are not just in different countries. They’re in different worlds.
I pulled into Baltimore, Ireland with illusions of grandeur. I expected a hero’s welcome. A parade. Maybe even a key to the city.
I expected the entire town to come out in force and line the streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of the visitor from Baltimore, Maryland and his comically tiny car.
But I got nothing. Not a single banner. Not a shred of confetti.
In fact, there was hardly anyone around.
With the town to myself, I decided to do what any good Baltimorean would do.
Actually, that’s a lie. I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to loot even if I wanted to. I can’t even take extra ketchup packets without feeling guilty.
So, instead, I went sightseeing.
Baltimore Ireland’s most famous landmark is the Baltimore Beacon.
The Beacon is a large white stone structure that is shaped like unmentionables.
It was built in 1798 on the crest of a cliff. The beacon works like a lighthouse without the light. It welcomes visiting ships into port, where they can dock and be raided by angry leprechauns, who steal their gold, women and ketchup packets.
To reach the Beacon, you have to climb to the top of a cliff.
The view was spectacular. But the Beacon was disappointing.
There was no “Welcome Brian Eden!” flag hung from the top. No scantily clad girls waiting with bated breath to swoon, fan me with palm fronds and feed me grapes. And, needless to say, no trumpeters.
I sighed, snapped a few pictures, and climbed back down the cliff to my car.
Back in town I found a pub called Casey’s of Baltimore. So I stopped in for some breakfast.
The bartender, a tall redhead in his early 20s, walked over to take my order.
“I’m from Baltimore.” I told him. “In the United States.”
Maybe he hadn’t heard I was coming.
“Mmm.” He scratched his shoulder. “Is it a very big city?”
“Yeah. A few million people.”
“That’s much bigger than here.”
“Yup.” I nodded. “It’s big.”
He poured a glass of water and slid it across the table. “Tea and toast then?”
And that was that.
No offer to rename the pub “Brian Eden’s.” No request to put my portrait on the wall. Not even an excited call back to the kitchen to say, “Lads! This fella is from Baltimore! Come see!”
Just a polite smile, ham and eggs.
Suddenly, I was feeling considerably less triumphant. Little Baltimore seemed quite content to go about its daily routine without paying any notice to its visitor from that other Baltimore.
I finished my breakfast, sighed and hopped back in my car to press on to the town of Skibereen.
Before leaving Baltimore, I stopped at the waterfront. I knelt down and collected some seashells to bring back home. I dropped them one-by-one into a Ziplock bag, folded it closed and pressed it into my coat pocket.
Suddenly, I heard footsteps. And then, something else.
It wasn’t a trumpet blast per se. Or even a cheer.
But it was a yap.
I turned around. Finally, someone was excited to see me.
The terrier pranced and wagged his stumpy tail so hard his whole body shook.
“Hi buddy!” I knelt down and ruffled the fur on his head.
He slapped the pavement with his paws and waved his butt in the air.
It was a miniature victory parade. A one-mutt marching band. If he could’ve shot fireworks, he surely would have.
“That’s rags.” A man said, walking alongside of the road. “He’s the welcoming committee.”
“Hi Rags.” I said, scratching him behind the ear. (The dog. Not the man.)
It was the most fitting hero’s welcome the town could have given me.
I thanked Rags for saying hi, and promised I’d tell Natty about him when I got back home.
He licked my hand and offered his paw. I shook it, told him he was a good boy, then climbed back in my car and rode off into the sunset.
Here are some other pictures from in and around Baltimore, Ireland:
When I reached Baltimore, I stopped to use the restroom. But these were my choices:
I decided to go with “mna”, in hopes that they accidentally misspelled “man.” There were no urinals. So I don’t know if I picked right.
Apparently the drivers in Baltimore, Ireland are just like the ones back home:
I stopped briefly in Skibereen to take some pictures. By now, many of the small towns were beginning to blur together. Colorful buildings? Quaint shops? Lots of pubs? Check, check and check.
This was a sign on a paint store:
Next came Bantry. A small town between Bantry Bay and the mountains.
The photo store on main street posted the town prom pictures in the window. If it’s any consolation, adolescence in County Cork looks every bit as awkward as it is in America.
In Glengariff, the rain let up just long enough for the sun to peek through and shine a rainbow across the sky. It ended just on the other side of town. So I pulled over, got out and followed the rainbow.
As I got closer, I heard cheering. There was a field. A crowd of people gathered in a circle. A man shouted, “Pull! Pull, lads!”
I reached the field, stood on tiptoes and peered over shoulders to see what the excitement was about. And there, in the middle of the circle was an extremely muddy tug-of-war.
The five-on-five tournament pitted teams from area pubs. They pulled for pride and bragging rights. Laundry be damned.
The rain fell harder, but no one dared to leave. Myself included. I stayed in Glengariff for well over an hour. In a field. In a downpour. With the entire town cheering on their friends.
The competitors laughed and kidded. They gripped the rope. They dug their heels into the muck. And then, they tugged as hard as they could.
I looked down at my waterlogged shoes, squishing in the mud and smiled.
So this is Ireland.
I checked into the Kenmare Bay Hotel, changed into some dry clothes and walked around Kenmare to find dinner. I chose Foley’s Pub and ordered the Beef and Guinness Pie. Does Phyllo Dough count as a vegetable?
Like the Pictures? Buy the Prints. For more Ireland photos, visit Brian Eden’s gallery.