Thursday, August 14, 2014

Indiana Jones Adventure to Tully Cross

On the Monday morning train from Dublin back west to Galway, I gave some thought to how I would spend the next few days. My flight is Thursday at 11am, meaning that the least stressful way of dealing with my departure would be to return to Dublin on Wednesday. Padraig and I have loose plans to meet up for a drink on Wednesday evening and, considering his hospitality, I would like to honor that.

With that in mind, I gave myself Monday and Tuesday for adventuring, but needed to pencil Wednesday in as a travel back to Dublin day. How to spend Monday and Tuesday? I gave myself a few options: Galway is a happening city and, to quote Padraig, "there is always something on in Galway". The Cliffs of Moher, which have eluded me since Tralee, are another possibility as tour buses leave from Galway much like they do from Limerick. Another possibility, which I hadn't given much thought to until now, was to voyage to a town called Tully Cross, where my good friend from Michigan Rory Hughes claims to have been, and believes that there is a picture of his father hanging in a pub called Paddy Coins. Rory mentioned this to me as something he would like to see me do, and even mentioned in an email to me last week. I had googled the location over a week ago, and determined that Tully Cross was located in a very remote area, was inaccessible by train, and might even be inaccessible by bus.

I arrived in Galway around 10am, got a quick lay of the land by walking around the city centre, and thought more about what to do with myself. Somehow in my wanderings, I ended up back at the train/bus station, and decided to look into how I might get to Tully Cross. I asked the woman behind the ticket counter:

"Hello, I'd like to get to Tully Cross today. Is this possible?"

She had never heard of it before, and had to look on a chart to see if a bus went there. "Hmmmm...yes there's a bus that leaves in about 45 minutes that will take you right there. It will take 50 minutes to get there."

"Great! Thank you!"

I was surprised that Tully Cross was so accessible. Now, I thought, I'd be able to get to Tully Cross, snap a picture of me with the picture of Rory's dad, take a bus back to Galway, and still have time to figure out a way to get to the ever-elusive Cliffs of Moher. 49 minutes later, I boarded the bus and went to purchase my ticket from the bus driver.
"Hello, I'm trying to get to Tully Cross," I said confidently, like I've been there before.
"Hmmmm..." the bus driver looked perplexed. "Which Tully Cross are you trying to get to? There are two, you know."
Uh oh. The possibility of two towns with the same name in the same county hadn't crossed my mind, but from what I have learned about Ireland since I've been here, this did not come as a surprise. I needed to think long and hard about this, but considering the queue (line) of travelers lining up behind me to get on the bus, I was forced again to think short and soft. It was a 50/50 shot.
"I'm going to whatever Tully Cross you're going to," I responded, and handed him my money. This drew a chuckle from passengers within earshot of the interaction, and a cautious grin from the bus driver.
"Are you sure?"
"Yep, I'm feeling lucky."
I sat down on the bus and quickly pulled out my phone to do some research. Most buses have WiFi in Ireland, but the service is hit or miss. In the ensuing minutes (and kilometers), I frantically tried to figure out where Paddy Coins was, and whether or not it was in the Tully Cross that I was speeding towards. Think of the times that you've been impatient with a slow-loading web page, and that was me. Each moment that passed, and every "page failed to load" screen that I got (son of a B!!!), may very well have resulted in me being in an increasing distance towards nowhere.
After about 15 minutes and who knows how far, I figured it out. And I was indeed going to the wrong Tully Cross. Crap. I walked up to the bus driver and informed him of my folly. With that, he brought the whole bus to a stop and quickly tried to explain how I might get a different bus back to Galway so that I could try again. The route he explained sounded complicated, and I stopped paying attention.

"Ok, I'll do just that. Thank you!"
I got off the bus and looked around, feeling surprisingly delighted with how things had unfolded. The other Tully Cross is situated right on the Galway Bay, and the scenery around me on my hour long walk back to Galway was brilliant:

As I walked back into town, I pondered why I was so happy with my predicament, and why I wasn't more frustrated with the mix-up. Although I was initially pleased that Tully Cross was so accessible, I realized a part of me wanted to have to work for it. Getting bused directly there seemed almost too easy. Then I thought about why I wasn't more disappointed with the Cliffs of Moher trip being in jeopardy, and I realized that riding in an air-conditioned bus with other tourists wearing fanny-packs and Reeboks just wasn't what I was in the mood for. Perhaps it was because I knew my Irish Adventure was drawing to a close, and perhaps it was because I had been pampered by the Hourigans in Tipperary and Dublin for the past few days. Whatever the reason, I was hungry for one more more challenge. And now I had found it. This picture of Rory's dad, however irrelevant it seemed earlier on in my trip, had now become the Holy Grail and I was Indiana Jones in a Detroit Tigers hat. I decided that I simply must get to the other Tully Cross, find Paddy Coins, meet Gerry Coin (the owner of the pub who Rory says is a great guy), and find that photograph.

At long last, I got back to the Galway bus/train station (it's about 12:45pm now), and explained my story to the woman behind the counter. She had to look up the other Tully Cross on a map.

"I'm sorry, but we don't service that area. There's no bus that goes to that Tully Cross." Great, I was hoping for this.
"How close can you get me?" She paused, almost thinking it was a ridiculous question.
"There's a bus that leaves for Clifden in about 20 minutes...and you would probably have to hire a taxi from there."

I couldn't have been more pleased with this, and there was no way in hell I was hiring a taxi (in Ireland, you don't rent things, you hire them). You ever see Indiana Jones in a taxi? I quickly decided I'd take this bus to Clifden (wherever the hell that was), and figure it out on the fly.
"Perfect. Clifden it is!"

I boarded the bus to Clifden, chose a seat by the window, and pondered how I would cover the remaining ground to Tully Cross when I got off the bus. I carefully opened my now-dry, but severely damaged map of Ireland, and was pleased to see that the County Galway section was largely readable. I could tell that the land between Clifden and Tully Cross was mountainous, and it appeared that the windy roads I'd be navigating went through a Connemara National Park. By my calculations, the distance from Clifden to Tully Cross was about 20 kilometers (that's 12.4 miles to you Americans), so if all else failed I'd be able to spend the night in Clifden, then get up at the crack of dawn and walk (maybe even run) to my destination. As the bus meandered through the lonely, mountainous region north of Galway, I snapped a few pictures of the landscape:

IMPORTANT: Before reading the next few paragraphs, please open this link in a new tab and crank the volume. It will help you to feel the energy.

As I got off the bus in Clifden, I asked the bus driver if he had any recommendations for how to get to Tully Cross. He told me about a "City Link" bus that could get me to Letterfrack, which was 15km closer to where I wanted to go. I checked the bus schedule, and determined that I would have to wait around in Clifden another four hours before that bus departed. I put that option on the call-back list, and wandered around Clifden, hoping another option would somehow find me. At some point in my wanderings, passed a bicycle rental shop and considered that option. The only problem with that was, the roads in Ireland are amazingly narrow, with two-lane roads about as wide as a single lane in the states, no shoulders, and thick hedges often on both sides of the road. My initial thought on the bicycle: Might be too dangerous (but I kinda wanted danger).

After a less than fruitful walk through the rest of town, I sat on a bench to consider my options:

1. Wait for the bus to Letterfrack, then cover the remaining 5km on foot

2. Face my fear of narrow lanes and potentially distracted drivers and rent a bicycle

3. Hitchhike (which I had heard is commonplace in Ireland, but had yet to see any hitchers on this trip)

I then asked myself, "What would Indiana Jones do in a situation like this?" While a stolen Nazi motorcycle with Sean Connery in the sidecar wasn't immediately available, I decided that renting a bicycle was the next-best option. It was late afternoon at this point, and I needed to make a move. I went into the bike shop, explained my mission to the chap behind the counter, and he helped me determine the best route to Tully Cross.

Couldn't get this....

So I got this!

My father is an avid cyclist, and has seen (and been involved in) his share of bicycle accidents and otherwise unfortunate encounters between bicycles and automobiles. His advice to me (aside from "wear a helmet") was to "own your lane". In other words, when cyclists try to get as far to the edge of the road as possible to let cars pass is when accidents happen. It is safer to ride in the center of the lane, let the cars wait behind you, and let them pass you like they would another car (when oncoming traffic is clear). So that's what I did (thanks Dad), even if it meant that cars were lining up behind me as I climbed some of the mountainous sections at a snail's pace.

I got rained on a few times, endured some tough climbs, but rolled through Letterfrack en route to Tully Cross otherwise unscathed. And my, was the scenery breathtaking:

As late afternoon became evening, I rolled into Tully Cross, briefly doubted myself (what if it really was the OTHER Tully Cross??), and saw the sign for Paddy Coyne's (not Paddy Coins, as I had initially spelled it). I had made it! Now the question was, would the picture of Rory's dad be there, and would Gerry Coyne, the man who Rory told me owns the place and would know the picture I sought, be there as well?

I got off my bike and stood outside the pub for a moment. I was covered in sweat (and rain), and I wondered what I would say when I went in there. I realized this was the exact situation I had been in in front of Gally's about a week before.

I walked inside to find a handful of locals, who all turned at looked at me. I could tell from their expressions that they could tell that I was not from around there.

"Hello, everyone." I received a less than enthusiastic greeting back from them.

"I'm thrilled to be here...I've traveled a long way to get here." Still very little response.

"I started in Dublin this morning, and I've traveled by train, bus, and now bicycle to come here and see a certain picture that I'm hoping is on one of these walls." I tried my best to smile and look them all in the eye. Finally, a young female bartender addressed me. "Really? What picture are you looking for?"

"Well, I'm not really sure. It's a picture of my good friend's father. I'm from the states, and I when I told my friend I was planning a trip to Ireland. He requested that I come to this pub to see if the picture of his father is still on the wall." Now I had her attention, and the attitudes among the locals seemed to be shifting in my favor.

"Is your friend's father living?"

"Yes. I've met a him a few times. Jim Hughes...good dude." I could tell the bartender wanted to help me, and she quickly disappeared into a back room for a moment. She reemerged with a thin, white haired fellow who introduced himself.

"Hi there, I'm Gerry Coyne." Yes! This was the guy I needed! I explained to him the story of my travels, of my friend Rory Hughes, and of the Holy Grail of a photograph that I was hoping to find.

"Rory Hughes?" He responded. "Never heard of him." Over the next few minutes, I learned that Gerry Coyne was quite the joker. He let me sit with that last statement for a few seconds, then gave me a soft punch to the shoulder. "Yes, I know Rory. But it isn't a picture of his father. It is a picture of his grandfather, and it's right over here."

Evidently, I hadn't listened to Rory very well. I had remember a few important parts of his story (name of town, name of pub, name of guy who owns it), but had missed quite a few details (an ensuing text conversation with Rory also determined that he had warned me of the two Tully Crosses. I need to work on my listening skills).

Nonetheless, I was thrilled to find the pub, find Gerry, and find my Holy Grail. I couldn't wait to take a photo of me and Gerry by the photo and send it to Rory. I made it!!

Me with Gerry Goyne. The Holy Grail is just between and above our heads.

After I told Gerry of my journey to get to his pub, including the part about the wrong Tully Cross, he told me to sit down and poured me a pint. I had so many questions for him. Who was Rory's grandfather? Was he from Tully Cross? Why had Rory asked Gerry to hang the photo?

After Gerry explained it to me, everything started to make sense. Rory's grandfather, H. William Hughes, was an Irish American who always wanted to visit Ireland, but passed away before he could ever make the trip. To honor his late grandfather, Rory had come to Tully Cross, fell in love with Paddy Coyne's, and asked Gerry to honor his grandfather by hanging the photo in his pub. That way, he could finally see Ireland. Gerry went into the back room to get some work done, and I returned to look at the photo more closely. I recognized Rory's handwriting on the photograph:

I sat back down, and allowed this new information to sink in. The Holy Grail was much holier than I had initially thought. As I began to understand what this pub and this picture meant to my friend and his family, it made sense to me why he would want me to come here, and my emotions swelled. In that moment, all the emotions I have felt throughout the trip--the generosity, hospitality, family connections, friendships, beauty of the land--everything rushed to me at once. It was overwhelming, and I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes, and I knew I wouldn't be able to blink them away or put on sunglasses like I'd done a few other times earlier in the trip (it's been emotional, man). I mumbled something like "I'll be right back" to the locals, walked out of pub, sat down on a bench, and sobbed.

I hadn't had a good cry like that in a long time. I mean, I let it ALL out right there in front of Paddy Coyne's. Then, as my tear ducts ran dry, I looked up and realized this was the first time I'd seen the sun setting over the Atlantic.

Once I pulled myself together, I realized that I had a half a pint to finish back in the pub, and I still didn't have a place to sleep that night. I walked back inside to find that Gerry had already handled my accommodation for the night, setting me up with a friend of his who owned a B&B 2km down the road. I could see why Rory liked him. Gerry implored me to come back to the pub that night, telling me that he'd have live music going on, and that it would behoove me to come back. I promised him I would.

I rode my bike down the hill to the B&B, checked in, and took a shower. When I returned to the pub an hour later, the energy had picked up and the place was packed. By that point, the story of my adventurous day had circulated through the pub, and I was welcomed like some sort of a celebrity. It seemed like everyone in the pub wanted to buy me a pint, shake my hand, and hear the story first hand. I got better and better at telling the story as time went on, and when I explained to people that I had chosen to come see a photograph in this pub over the Cliffs of Moher, everyone wanted to see the picture. I was like a tour guide. Rory, you'll be pleased to know that, despite live music and some American bloke who claimed to be Indiana Jones, the picture of your grandfather was the biggest attraction in the pub that night.

I didn't pay for a single drink at Paddy Coyne's. My biggest problem was that I had a hard time keeping pace with the frequency in which locals were buying me pints. I'd only get a few sips into a Guinness before a fresh one was set down next to me. At one point, the bartender told me that there was a backlog of pints with my name on them, he didn't want them to get warm, and to just let him know when I was ready for another. It was surreal.

Mixing it up with the locals at Paddy Coyne's

At a certain point in the night, the fresh pints started to become fresh whiskeys, and I knew that was trouble. I went to the men's room, had a mirror-conversation with myself (out loud), and decided to quit while I was ahead. If I stayed any longer, the night and the next day would be shot. I told Gerry thank you for everything, but it is time for me to head down the hill and live to fight another day. He had witnessed the festival of pints that surrounded me that night, and understood.

But he didn't want me riding my bike home in the dark, and didn't want me walking my bike either. He insisted on driving me down the hill with my bike in the back of his Jeep.

Tough to make it out, but that's my bike dangling out the back of Gerry's car

What a guy!

You might expect that I crashed out as soon as I walked into my room, but I was so amazed at how the day went that I stayed up for over an hour. I was pulling up maps of the Connemara area, retracing my journey, and re-reading all the posts on this blog. Also, I drank about 4 liters of water in an effort to minimize the next morning's headache.


  1. Hi Sean,
    Not sure if my last comment went through but love the blog and posting it on our facebook page


  2. Siobhan-
    Thanks for reading! I had a great time at Paddy Coyne's (obviously), and look forward to returning one day.