Kansas Comes to County Kerry, and the Years Melt Away

June 30, 2016
A 'soft' day in Ireland; even so our cruise was sold out - Image (c) Andrea Cleghorn, 2015 all rights reserved
A ‘soft’ day in Ireland. Even so, our Seafari cruise on Kenmare Bay was sold out – Image (c) Andrea Cleghorn, 2015 all rights reserved

By Andrea Cleghorn

Linda, Lydia, Suzy, Sherri and Andrea: University of Kansas coeds at the Wheel in Lawrence. (Photographer unknown)

Fifty years is a long time in anyone’s book. But somehow half a century evaporated in the mist when four University of Kansas roommates reconvened in the greener pastures of the West of Ireland.

There have been many reunions over the years and I must say I have attended none. At the last one I did not attend – about five years ago – we talked on the phone about the need to get together, just the four of us, for a small shindig at least. The other three live in Nashville, Kansas City and Denver. So why not Ireland?

A gallery of photographs of County Kerry by Andrea Cleghorn

Click each to see a larger image

Sherri was going to try to make it, but didn’t end up finding the right person to accompany her for the several weeks (or months) she was contemplating. She shelved the idea for another time.

Linda has been living in Denver for years, an outdoorsy adventurer who married a professional football player right after college, taught school, divorced, and has been single ever since, living and playing (skiing, kayaking, snowmobiling, hiking, camping) in Colorado. She is  now retired and playing fulltime.

Our friend Suzy married John right after they graduated, they had a business in Lawrence, moved to Kansas City, where they had a bigger business and on and on. Suzy went from selling wallpaper, to decorator showcase houses when she and John were featured in their fabulous his and her bathrooms in the Kansas City Star. Their four children are grown up and there are now five grandchildren. I knew John when he was living in the ATO House.

I was the first married and, you guessed it, also divorced eventually. I’ve been living in Bedford for the past 35 years, have always worked as a writer, and have two grown-up children with one grandchild on the way.

So there we were, planning to meet up in County Kerry. Aside from John filling in for Sherri, the gang was together again.

They would fly into Shannon Airport and I would meet them in Killarney and we could take the two cars to Kenmare where we were all staying.

Getting There

I was concerned when they asked me how long it would take to drive from the airport to Killarney. There is no easy answer to this simple question. There is not actually ever a quick answer to any question when you are asking an Irish person. It is actually just a jumping off point for a bit of a chat. Usually more than a bit.

That being explained (sort of), the plan was made. Their plane arrived in Shannon early in the morning after the red-eye flight out of Boston.  Because they would be new to the country, sleep deprived, and driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, I arranged to have a good lunch at a place that was a little hard to find, but told them thing would be to ask someone when they got to town.

The Europe Hotel isn’t historic, like one of the old railway hotels, or charming, or dusty in an Irish pub sort of way, but it has a killer view of the Lakes of Killarney and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range around it. I got there first, nabbing a table looking out on the boxwood hedges that sweep down to the water, the stainless steel sculptures that looked like giants’ wire bowling balls, the rows of lavender, the emerald green grass and the handsome outdoor tables unused on this foggy day.

When they arrived a few minutes after I did, their activities in the few hours they had been in Ireland blew me away. They had landed, gotten through customs, picked up their luggage, gotten through the rental car procedure and onto the road south.

As I soon found out, they had on gone to Killarney proper and visited Muckross House, Ross Castle, and the Torc Waterfall, before taking a ride in a jaunting car with a colorful driver that kept them laughing.  Did I worry I wasn’t there to guide them? They had done their homework. Despite the fun we had in the dorm, Suzy and Linda always did do their homework.  We had listened to the Turtles’ “Happy Together” that spring of freshman year.

It was easy to recognize them when they came in. They loved the Europe Hotel as a meeting place, enjoyed the drama of the dark clouds and the condensation rising off the water. They were undaunted by my lack of real directions to the town of Fossa, which was about three miles out of the center of Killarney town. We chatted as though we had all been together the week before. I had seen Suzy a few times in the passing years, but the last time I saw Linda was at my wedding in August, 1968.

Being There

Suzy, left, and Linda at Lissyclearig (Andrea Cleghorn photo)

After lunch and a bit of a walk around, they followed me out of the Europe Hotel and south to Kenmare, to a thatched cottage called Lissyclearig. Everything in their B&B was miniature — the Dutch door, the furniture in the breakfast room, the stairway, the beds.

John and his poitin, making it a double (Andrea Cleghorn photo)

Suzy and Linda are average height, but John is 6’5. Lissyclearig was John’s first chance to show that he was a good sport.

There would be several more.

The second time was the next morning when they drove their rental car around the Ring of Kerry. I ran a writing workshop and drank coffee in the bookshop next door to my house while they put their lives on the line on the foggy and therefore treacherous Ring of Kerry.

As John put it, “I had the choice of hitting a tour bus or a rock.” He chose the rock.  He changed the flat tire himself.

They continued on, considered going out to hike up Skellig Michael (as seen at the end of the new Star Wars movie), but the boats to the rocky island were not running that day. The only thing that was running was the water that cascaded in rivulets down the rocks on the Ring and onto the road.

At some point the clutch went out on the car with the newly-replaced tire. John couldn’t fix that himself, so the threesome took shelter in the one shop nearby and waited for the rental company to come with a replacement car. It took hours. Finally they were on their way back to town.

After dinner we visited several pubs and listened to music ranging from trad Irish to songs like “Galway Girl” and “The Fields of Athenry” and “Homes of Donegal.” We also heard some rock and roll. Musically speaking, Kenmare has a catholic music scene. The soundtrack of our times at K.U. consisted of a combination of British Invasion ( “Kind of a Drag,” “Penny Lane,” “All You Need is Love”); Motown ( “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “The Midnight Hour”); and of course, “I’m a Believer,” “Light My Fire,” “Scarborough Fair” and “I Am a Rock.”

The last time we were drinking together it was 3.2 (alcohol percentage) Coors, at the Red Dog Inn or The Wheel in Lawrence.  “I guess drinking beer is something you never forget, like riding a bicycle,” Suzy commented. One night she asked for the much-touted Jameson and ginger drink at a nice restaurant. The waitress said they didn’t have any ginger ale but she would go to the pub next door and get a bottle.


Seals inhabit almost all of the small islands in Kenmare Bay - Image (c) Andrea Cleghorn, 2015 all rights reserved
Seals inhabit almost all of the small islands in Kenmare Bay – Image (c) Andrea Cleghorn, 2015 all rights reserved
Using stuffed animals, Ross demonstrated the way mother seals transport their young. Image (c) Andrea Cleghorn, 2015 all rights reserved

We went on a Seafari boat ride and scoped out the seals with their newborns on the rocks on Kenmare Bay.

Ray Ross, a 25-year veteran ship captain/tour guide with a background in marine biology and on practically first name basis with the estimated 300 seals in the 10-mile harbor giving passengers a full Irish experience, with heavy blankets to keep everyone warm on a cool drizzly day, binoculars, sing-alongs, sweets, and eventually mugs of coffee and tea with an optional splash of something a bit stronger.


A Sheep Farm in Kissane

Sheep scatter along the rocky hillside at Kissane – Image (c) Andrea Cleghorn, 2015 all rights reserved
Sheep, ready to be sheared – Image (c) Andrea Cleghorn, 2015 all rights reserved

We went to Kissane, a working sheep farm in Moll’s Gap just a short drive through the mountains north of Kenmare. Kissane’s has been in the family for 150 years.

The two herding dogs did their best herding the mountain sheep.

Captain was the seasoned one, a purebred, slower in gait and the thinker who conserved his energy. The taller Dash was, as his name implied, faster, never stopped moving. He was the younger, long-legged one.


Coming Full Circle

Dinner followed a poitin-making demonstration at Molly Gallivan’s – Image (c) Andrea Cleghorn, 2015 all rights reserved

I took them to all my favorite places and we walked around town.

The crowning moment came at Molly Gallivan’s in nearby Bonane, the Irish version of dinner theater. Stephen O’Sullivan, the proprietor, stage manager and actor put on an extra performance, just for us.

There were the four Kansas friends, four of my Kenmare friends, and a mother-daughter duo. We had the poitin (Ireland’s moonshine-making) demo, then a typical Irish stew dinner at one long table, and were part of that night’s performance with a stepdancer, and musicians with a guitar and harp. We were the butt of jokes by Kerry County’s answer to Billy Crystal, and Suzy did her “hambone” routine which was a big hit with audience and actors alike.

Too soon it was over and the intrepid trio drove off to Killarney City in the county of the same name, then on to Dublin and home.

The sky wept practically unrelieved rain the entire week, but we couldn’t have had a sunnier time.

We will have to get together again before 2066.

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