How to visit an Irish peninsula in the 1970s

Mary Byrne

Take the long way around a coastal promontory on a Sunday afternoon. Floor the accelerator in vain when the clutch cable snaps. Get out of the car and wait a while in the hope that another vehicle will appear, then realise that no one else has any reason to take this road. Recall, as you were taking photos yesterday, a man walking the road, who, in reply to your gushing over the view, said, ‘That’s all we get out of it.’ Finally, take a few essential items, secure the car, and start walking across a small mountain towards the nearest centre of civilisation. Observe the way the bog has invaded. Notice that where turf has been cut, the hole is about the same shape as a coffin and is filled with black water. Contemplate how you will manage when it gets too dark to see the road. After a long darkening walk, arrive down into a small town and enquire about transport to your B&B, not a hundred miles away. Express surprise that no taxi service is available. Recover your calm and thank your informer, who will direct you towards the dance hall. Hang around outside the door, hunting up anyone who’ll be driving in the direction of your B&B. As the ballroom’s double doors slap outwards with parting dancers, consider the contrast between inner and outer air, between the darkness without and the whirling lights within, between the cold calm outside and the swirling sweating noise within. Wait for a driver who’s going your way to dance to his heart’s content until the music stops. Pile into his car with him and a friend of his plus girlfriend that you’ll all be dropping off at her house. Wait in the now steamed-up car as the lovers say goodnight and the young man gives her a good ‘court’ somewhere near her front door. Try not to get upset by the information from the driver, that you could have stuck ‘her’ (the car) in second gear and driven it to a garage. Don’t look in the direction of the lovers – anyway you can’t see them in the dark. Get dropped off eventually at your B&B in the early hours. Set your alarm to catch the fish truck leaving early tomorrow morning for the trip to find a garage and rescue your car. Laugh about it all, when it’s well and truly over, as you recount it to the man running the B&B whose wife is spending the long weekend away at a pilgrimage in their only car. Wonder what he means by ‘Anyways’ which he says as he fills the kettle for more tea.

Mary Byrne is the author of the short-story collection set in France, Plugging the Causal Breach (Regal House 2019). Her short fiction has been published, broadcast and anthologised widely. She was born in Ireland, lives in France, and tweets @BrigitteLOignon.