As published in The Providence Sunday Journal, March 21, 2021. Above, scene by the side of the road in Caherdaniel, Ireland. [JOHN WALSH]
Dan Slattery and I stood on the side of the road, 19 miles from Killarney, where our train was scheduled to depart in less than two hours. On break from school in Dublin, we had spent a week hitchhiking around the Ring of Kerry, the famed route on Ireland’s southwestern coast. A slate-gray sky was quickly turning charcoal; soon it would be dark.
The rev of a car engine teased us; the green Escort was traveling in the wrong direction for our purposes. As it barreled by, the driver and passenger waved out of open windows. “Good luck!” one shouted.
“I guess we could go to the church,” I said, pointing to a solemn steeple rising above the town of Kenmare in the distance.
Dan wiped the afternoon’s “soft rain” from his glasses with a handkerchief. “They’d have to take us in, right?” he said. He didn’t sound convinced.
I’d found myself marooned in Ireland before. In September, on the first day of classes, I had been standing at a curb in Dublin for 20 minutes when a white compact car pulled up.
“Waiting for the bus, are you?” the man at the wheel said, craning his head out the window. I nodded.
“Drivers went on strike last night,” he said. “Where are you going?”
The kindly Dubliner gave me a lift to school. When I asked him if the bus drivers had announced the strike beforehand, he cackled.
“Why would they do a thing like that?” he said out of the side of his mouth, his lit cigarette waving at me like a teacher’s ruler. “Defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?”
It had been my very own “We’re not in Kansas anymore” moment.
Back on the side of the road with Dan, time passed, but few cars did. A cow mooed from a nearby pasture.
“She’s mocking us,” I said. “Moooove!”
It had taken us two days to hitch our way out of Caherdaniel, a small village on the outer reaches of the Ring, and we had to break the law to do it. After our repeated pleadings for a ride, a lorry driver delivering milk to the village’s only store finally relented.
“Lie down in back and keep your heads low,” he said, pointing to his truck bed. He told us the Gardai – Ireland’s national police – would revoke his license if they caught him transporting anyone.
The milkman brought us to his next stop, a chic hotel. There, Dan and I pooled our last soggy pound notes and hired a taxi. We had enough fare to reach Kenmare, one town short of our destination. The unsmiling driver opened the back doors of his black Mercedes Benz for us, bedraggled as we were. The car’s warm cabin and soft leather seats were an instant narcoleptic.
“Here you go,” the driver said half an hour later, waking Dan and me. We clambered out of our temporary sanctuary and onto the roadside again.
It was 1980. There were no cell phones, no Zipcars, no public transportation circling the Ring of Kerry. At this point, Dan and I were wholly dependent on the kindness of strangers.
And then two appeared. The green Escort that had sped past us in the wrong direction now returned.
“Still here, are you?” the driver said, his car idling.
We explained our predicament.
“Hop in,” he said. “We’ll get you to your train alright. Might even have time to stop for a jar.”
Before dropping us at the quaint Killarney railway station, our rescuers treated us to pints of Guinness at a nearby pub.
Dan and I raised our glasses – to the lorry driver, to the black Mercedes, and especially to the fine lads sitting across from us.