An altogether perfect day. Our son being offered the civil service job for which he had so long waited; lunch in the town in which I was born; a visit to my aunt on the farm on which I spent my early years; a run to the supermarket for things needed for the journey to France; and, to complete the package, it is 35 years since Katharine and I met in an unlikely place.
The story has been told here, once, twice, maybe three times, but, sure, it’s a story I like.
Catching a morning bus from Kinsale, my companion and namesake and I arrived in the city of Cork where we found a bus heading for Killarney. The road was rough at times; one section appeared to have had the surface removed and nothing put in its place. A third bus took us westwards, the driver announcing when we had reached the point where we left the bus to walk the road to the youth hostel at Aghadoe.
It was late afternoon when we arrived and the hostel was clearly going to be jammed; it was said that the hostel warden would turn no-one away and if there were insufficient bunks, then there would be mattresses on the floor. The gathering was multinational, numerous Germans and Dutch as well as those who were English like ourselves. In front of us in the queue, three girls talked about university; a mix of accents, London, maybe the Midlands, and the strong strains of Ulster. We chatted as we waited and then the doors were opened and we went to check in.
Heading towards the dormitories, the group of three girls went up the wide wooden staircase ahead of us, the one with the Ulster accent carried a paper bag which suddenly split, scattering potatoes down the stairs. Ian, my namesake, and I were travelling with one rucksack between us, which he was carrying at that moment, meaning I was called upon to be chivalrous and gather the loose potatoes. We laughed and went our separate ways.
The girls undoubted had a meal more healthy than Ian and I; we survived on the cheap and easy. After the meal, we found them sitting at a table in the hostel’s big lounge, with a German who was sorting through camera lenses. Asking if we might sit down, a fateful moment came. The Irish autumn had left a wasp lying half dead on the table, a wasp that I didn’t see until I rested my arm on the table and it stung me.
Having various allergies, the sting was worrying. By the next morning, my arm was so swollen that a member of the hostel staff drove me to Killarney hospital. Anti-histamine injections were administered and the arm put into a sling. “There is a lot of fluid there, you must keep the arm up,” said the doctor who told me that I could put my wallet away as there was no charge for the hospital service.
Returning to Aghadoe, we walked up to the Gap of Dunloe in the afternoon, people asking what I had done to break my arm.
At evening time, the three girls were back in the hostel. They thought it amusing that a wasp sting should necessitate a sling and asked us where we were going the next day. We took out our map of Ireland, it was the centre fold of the pocket sized An Oige handbook, “we are going to Galway.”
“Galway is miles”, they said.
“No”, I said, “it’s not too far, it’s just in the fold of the page.”
“You’re not really fit to travel. How are you going to cope with one arm? Why don’t you come with us?”
“Where are you going?”
“Around the Ring of Kerry to Valentia Island.”
Being twenty years old, itineraries didn’t matter too much. We got on the CIE bus for Cahirciveen and under the influence of the anti-histamines, I fell asleep; but my journey into the future had begun.
Two years and two days later, the Ulster girl and I were married; an event that would not have happened were it not for a bag of spuds and a dying wasp.