Friday, July 1, 2016

Lost in ... wait, where are we again?

Ryan has a sense of direction so remarkable that it is nearly superhuman.

My grandmother loved to tell the story about how Ryan once picked up a Honeybaked Ham from the West Broad Street store in Columbus and dropped some ham off at Aunt Dee's townhouse one Christmas Eve. By himself. After having only been to Dee's house on one prior occasion. In a snowstorm. (Really, that last part is entirely true.)

In the States, Ryan abhors Google Maps (and not just because the government could be using it to track him). He thinks map reading is a lost art that should be taught in schools.

Credit: Mark Anderson/

I, on the other hand, can't get anywhere without some navigational assistance. One time I tried to get to a doctor's office in Paducah without looking it up first, and I got so turned around that I finally had to call from a McDonald's parking lot to cancel the appointment.

But this trip has forced me to admit the failings of electronic navigation. The Complete Road Atlas of Ireland is invaluable for the motorways but is hit-and-miss within cities. As we mentioned in an earlier post, the directions provided us to get from Dublin to our Kilkenny hotel were rather lacking. I attempted to remedy this for our trip to Cork by using Google Maps. If it's Google, it has to be correct, right?

Ryan had to drive down this street without hitting anyone. Multiple times.
Nope. We spent nearly 45 minutes driving around Cork trying to find our hotel on Friday. And one of us (Ryan) really needed to use a bathroom after an impromptu tea stop in Castlemartyr. Finally, Ryan pulled over to ask for directions in a shop. The clerk had never heard of our hotel, so she had to look it up online to show the map to Ryan.

These are the directions Google gave us:
  • Turn right onto Washington Street
  • Turn left onto Western Road
  • At the end of the road, turn right onto College Road
  • Turn left onto Perrott Avenue
  • The destination is on your right
These were the actual directions Ryan figured out to find the hotel by looking at the map:
  • Continue on Washington Street, which turns into Western Avenue
  • Turn left on Donovan's Street before the entrance to UCC
  • Turn right where this street dead ends, onto College Avenue
  • Make a quick left onto Perrott Avenue. This street turns into the Hayfield Manor entrance.
See the difference? An entire (major) street was missing!

Ryan's note: Elizabeth deserved a pint for her excellent navigational work.
Our navigation problems weren't restricted to driving. On Saturday, Ryan wanted to visit the house where Frank O'Connor was born. As we have learned, O'Connor is a bit out of fashion with modern Irish readers. His birthplace is home to the Munster Literature Centre. It's not even a museum. Basically it has a plaque and not much else.

The search proved tough. We spent about 20 minutes exploring and backtracking through a Cork neighborhood trying to find it. 

Ryan was at peak frustration over our inability to find the sought-after Douglas Street when we reached a major intersection. The street sign told us we had been on Douglas Street for at least two blocks without realizing it.

Rather than alternating odd and even house numbers on opposite sides of the street as we do in America, one side of Douglas Street had No. 1 through 60-something (not all houses had numbers), while the next number through No. 108 were on the other side of the street. Very confusing. So back up the street we went, looking for No. 84. Ryan believed the house was pink, and this time we found it with only two modest signs to mark its history.

Now we think we know the inspiration for U2's 1987 hit "Where the Streets Have No Name."
We learned our lesson though, and for the rest of our trip I made sure Ryan consulted a visual map and took screenshots of the streets around the final destination every time.

There was a momentary panic when I thought Dingle wasn't listed in our atlas (What I actually said: "We can't possibly be going some place too small to be on a map, can we?") Then Ryan had the brilliant realization that County Kerry is one of the parts of the republic that preserves the Irish language. We found Dingle listed under its Irish name, Daingean Uí Chúis, and plotted our route.

We survived a five-hour driving tour of the peninsula with a few minor misdirects and confusing signs. Later we found the Rock of Cashel with nearly no issues (I even took a nap in the car on that drive). Eventually we made it to the airport hotel for the night before our Wednesday flight home.

At the Rock of Cashel, an abandoned chapel and cathedral that previously was the home of the Kings of Munster (one of Ireland's four provinces).
That last morning in Ireland, Ryan suggested I ask the hotel clerk for directions to the airport.

As directed, we turned right out of the parking lot and then went left at the stoplight and were supposed to follow the highway signs from there.

That advice landed us in a private Dublin residential neighborhood and facing an Irish version of a "No outlet" sign.

Ryan grumbled mightily as he reversed. "The Irish make great beer," he said. "But they sure need lessons in signage and directions."

Interview with a cab driver: Making sense of Irish sports edition

When taxi drivers in the United States discuss hurling, it's usually in the context of "please don't inside the cab."

In Ireland, it's more likely that the topic is the sport of hurling (although the former still applies.)

Early on during my studies in Ireland, we had to take taxis from the University College Dublin one afternoon because a marathon had shut down the main road and all bus service from UCD. As a result, I and the others in the taxi were treated to an incredibly valuable introductory tutorial about Irish sports – and diplomacy – from our cab driver, Michael.

A shot of a hurling match we watched at Galway pub.
For instance, he called hurling the "fastest game on turf" – a brilliant blend of lacrosse, football (soccer), field hockey, rugby and possibly a few other sports thrown in there too. The sticks looked like sawed off field hockey sticks and they can whip a baseball-sized leather ball at 90 mph. There is some combination of passing and blocking and scrum-like pile-ups. And a team can score by hitting the ball through field-goal uprights (one point) or into a soccer-like goal below the uprights (three points).

He wasn't kidding. While we were in Galway, a group of us went to a pub and caught the second half of a hurling match between Dublin and Kilkenny after which I decided the sport got its name from the fact that bats, balls and elbows are being hurled in all directions all the time. The field is huge and the players will randomly hit the ball toward the uprights from literally anywhere on the field. One Kilkenny player cracked one from three-quarters of the field away dead-center through the uprights. There are rules about passing and dribbling that I don't understand yet.

Even if the TV weren't blurry, I still would struggle to explain it.
The other prominent Irish sport is Gaelic football. Like hurling, it's played with a soccer goal/field goal combination (one point for kicking the ball through the uprights, three points for a goal).

The scores in both sports, by the way, require some math because the format separates goals from field goals. For instance, in the Dublin-Kilkenny hurling match, Kilkenny had 1-25 (one goal and 25 field goals) to Dublin's 0-16. So actually, Kilkenny won in points 28-16. It took us a while to figure that out.

In Gaelic football, the rules about dribbling and passing and how many steps you can take are equally obtuse.

Michael, our cab driver, played for Dublin's top club, the Kilmacud Crokes and said some of the sport remains a mystery to me. "I played for nearly 30 years, and I still don't understand all the rules," he said. All the Gaelic football and hurling players are amateurs, he said. "But they're totally committed and train as hard as any pro player," Michael told us.

Gaelic football looks a lot like rugby at first, but there are fewer scrums and it seems to put a premium on good passes and the finesse of soccer rather than tackling and blocking of football or rugby.

The two sports experienced a renaissance in Ireland in the late 1800s as Irish nationalism increased. The Gaelic Athletic Association formed as a way to further promote these truly Irish sports and, thus, Irish culture. But for nearly a century, the rules about participating in the GAA were particularly strict. Michael told us that when he was a young player, GAA members were forbidden from playing non-Irish sports, such as rugby or soccer. If they were caught participating in some "foreign" sport, they'd get kicked off their GAA team.

"I still played all the sports anyway," Michael said. "I believe sports are meant to unify, not divide."

So I asked Michael, our philosopher/diplomat/cab driver, whether he and other Irish sports fans root for or against England in big tournaments, such as the Euro 2016 football tournament that's been going on this month.

He laughed. It's a rivalry, he said. "If Ireland were playing England in chess we'd all watch it," he said.

Michael said he has an English friend who roots for Ireland if England isn't playing and once asked him if Michael would root for England after Ireland was eliminated in a European tournament. Michael told him that he would support England right up to the championship game and then would root for the Brits to lose. "It's like big brother versus little brother," he said. And the little brother is tired of seeing the big brother win everything.

But what we've found is that not everyone in Ireland is as generous toward English teams. In fact there was more than a bit of schadenfreude Monday night when England played Iceland in the round of eight of the Euro 2016 championship – a match that Iceland went on to win 2-1. Murphy's Pub in Dingle erupted in cheers as the clock ran out on England.

Iceland, which has more volcanoes than people as the commentators kept pointing out, celebrated its upset in style.
My only regret is that we didn't get to see any matches in person, which I contend is a worthy excuse to have to return to Ireland one day.