4:14pm, Saturday afternoon, September 7th, 2002
Well, the rain was beating down on the tent this morning so I had another lie on. Not too late, I was on the road by about 11. My new phone’s alarm just isn’t waking me up, either. I might have solved that problem today. I bought a packet of Denny’s sliced ham and there was a free travel alarm clock with it. What a bizarre combination, but perfect for me. Jaysus, am I part of a demographic?
Anne-marie let me use the shop’s facilities to freshen up, fill up my water bottle etc. What a little gem she was. Warm, kind, helpful and welcoming. Now that’s what I’ve been hoping to find that we haven’t lost in this consumer, property, dot-com world. The people I’ve met so far couldn’t have been more helpful or friendly.
It had cleared up by the time I set off, but I didn’t have to wait long for a fresh shower. And there’s been plenty of them along the way today. They’ve all been pretty heavy and driving, but short-lived. At one point I saw ahead of me a heavy downpour drive out of a field to my left and go across the road. I just had time to think ‘wow that’s amazing’ before I had to ride through it and all beauty fled the scene. That’s been the style though, short bursts moving west to east, and the forecast is for more persistent rains. All centred exactly where I’m heading.
I stopped in Athlone for an hour and did indeed manage to get the local Garda station to charge up my phone for me. Fair play to them. While it was charging I strolled around the old port of Athlone. The castle is very impressive up close. A solid, squat mound of granite. right beside the Shannon river.
I went into what looked like an interesting little bookshop by the banks of the Shannon, behind the castle. I was looking to see if I could find a copy of Rambles in Eireann, but no dice. It would have been nice to have a copy I bought on the trip. It turned out to be a right little find of a shop. There were some 1st editions of Dominick Behan books I’d not heard of before. I prefer him to Brendan in a some ways. The shop’s owner, John, took my email and will contact me if any copies come in. Turns out that he grew up not far from me and we went to the same school. We had a good auld chat there while my phone was charging and he gave me some pointers for the road ahead. Mostly, it has to be said, which pubs I should drop into. Grogan’s in Glassan is one, and something like Morrisey’s in Maghera. That second one sounds like somewhere I’d like to see. An authentic shebeen with a corrugated metal roof and no till, just a shoebox under the counter. A dying breed of country pub. A local ballroom of romance, by all accounts. I’m sure shed of romance would be a better description. The old dear who runs it is into her 80’s. She surprised everyone by giving up the drink after last New Year’s Eve, because she couldn’t remember going to bed, and worse: woke up naked!
‘There’s an incline to Ballymahon’, John had said. Now there’s an understatement. There’s a glacial esker than runs from Dublin to Galway and Ballymahon is on the wrong side of it. Well, it was, but not any more, because I’m in Ballymahon right now. I’m sitting in Jill’s restaurant with a feed of burger and chips in me. Hopefully from here it’ll be a good roll into Roscommon. (Ha!). I crossed the Longford border about an hour ago. That’s my 16th county and the half-way point, I’m sort of hoping that the northern road network will speed me on my way for the second half of this cycle. For the next two days or so in the republic will be tough. I’m back into mountains in the north-west.
My map is disintegrating in the rain, I hope it makes the journey. I’ll go now, have a smoke and make tracks. Hopefully the next entry will be in Roscommon, in the sunshine!