Book Picture Mary O’Connor and the Tinker uprising

We were desperate to find lodging in Galway as it was getting dark and B&Bs are not crazy about taking people after dark although I have done it more often than I would have liked. The bar tender at the Hoffman Arms Hotel said it was no longer a hotel but he had heard that 2 Nun's Island was a good B&B and was jut the other side of the road. I was looking for an island when I notice the street sign high on a building said Nun's Island. It was a very narrow lane way but we parked up on the narrow walkway on the same side of the street like the other cars. The street was lined with solid houses but we found one that had a 2 on it and another small sign that said B&B, however we could barely read it since it was getting dark. Our knock brought a young boy after a long wait. We asked if this was a B&B and he answered by yelling "MA" in a very strong voice for such a small boy.

Ma replaced him at the door and we repeated the question plus did she have a room for weary travelers. Mary "O'Connor" Saxton ushered us in and we were shown a nice room with two twin beds and a very old fashioned radio on a night stand between them. I had a window that looked out on the river but it was high enough up the wall that you had to stand to see out. We thanked her and asked if she could recommend a restaurant. Hungry we wandered out for a meal and found a fresh fish restaurant that was a little short on décor but the sea food was fresh and delicious. Patricia had mussels and brown bread and I tried a monk fish for the first time.

When we returned to 2 Nun’s Island Mary and her guests were in the sitting room talking and watching TV with a fire flickering away. Mary introduced us to her guests Carmel, a nun from Clare and another woman, a PhD candidate from Milan. Carmel told all these jokes including the chocolate cake just for visitors (it was actually green with mold) and a joke about the car starting with holy water. She was a nun by herself since her current status was unclear. We drank tea with something red added. I should research the red addition. We talked for quite awhile about social issues. Interestingly I read about the relocation of Tinkers or Travelers as the current politically correct term in the Wall Street Journal a few days before leaving for Ireland. It was an extensive discussion of the desire to relocate the Tinkers from housing in Dublin to the countryside where populations were waning so much so that the schools were falling below head counts required to keep the local schools open and operating.

For a long time efforts had been underway to settle the Tinkers in permanent housing. So far the results have been less than satisfactory. Now with young people leaving the country for the city, houses were being abandoned and schools were forced to close. Relocating the Tinkers seemed like a solution to all concerns. Carmel was right in the middle of it and she was encouraged to know that Americans were aware of the effort and that a paper with the reputation of the Wall Street Journal would carry the story. We wished them well before we left for the pubs Tigh Neachtain and then Psin, Duogh both suggestions of Lliam Omanlai. We spent the night listening to Irish music from a banjo, fiddles, Uilleann pipes and Sharon Shannon's sister on accordion. All of the musicians were young and good. While we sitting there absorbing the music when a well dressed older gentleman came in carrying a fiddle case. We watched as he made his way along the bar to a fiddle in case locked above the bar. He asked the bar tender for the key. Taking out the fiddle he strummed it and after a while put it backed, locked the case and gave the key back to the bar tender. We watched this and wondered – why was the fiddle locked in a case and what was the history or story. We never learned but soon Bill as he introduced himself set down with the young players. In Ireland during sessions anyone can set in. Bill apparently knew this. He basically sat amongst the players seldom lifting his fiddle. The young players played fast and furious. Finally one of the young players asked what he would like to play. He said “The Tennessee Waltz”. Sadly most of the good fast players got up to “freshen” their drinks. He played well and left shortly afterwards whereupon the young players were back from the bar. I felt sorry for Bill but perhaps his dream was complete – to play in Ireland in a pub session - a thrill of a lifetime. Sharon Shannon’s sister continued to play and for that somehow I was thankful.

We were almost late for breakfast. Mary had prepared a fine breakfast of egg, sausage, bacon, cereal and toast. Some more talk to Sister Carmel and then off to shop. Kenny's book store was full of old Irish books - great! After walking the city all day long we went to a play called Illusions which was totally outrageous. It attacked all of the religious and sexist sensitive issues without mercy. We had coffee in the Left Bank Cafe. Afterward we went to Tigh Neachtain for music and Guinness. We visited the Spanish Arches. Along the wall, beached and across the small inlet was a Galway Hooker, a small boat that worked the coasts around Galway. I had bought a model earlier and was surprised at the likeness to the real thing with a black bulbous prow and a red sail. We turned in early and while lying in bed with covers up to my neck Mary came bursting into the room – lifted my covers and threw in a hot water bottle with the comments that it would be cold tonight and then she was gone. Patricia was not too happy in that she was not given a hot water bottle. I did not learn this until much later but she was right – why was I given such a treat and yes it was warm.

Early mornings being rare in Ireland, there was Mary again while we were asleep bursting into the room saying you must listen to this – the Tinkers are going wild in Glenmaddy and she turned on the old radio – surprisingly it worked well. I thought it was a decorative piece – an antique. I listened to the interview of a mother who was up in a tree with her three children, chased there by the citizens of Glenmaddy. It seems that the Tinkers had come into town and began a bit of light fingered shopping that infuriated the locals who began to stone them to drive them out of town. The Garda had been called in and they were trying to sort it all out. Needless to say it was sensational news.

Up at 9:00 and off to the cathedral, but first some of Mary's breakfast. Eating breakfast looking out of Mary's back window at flowers and grass in front of the river is picture perfect. We talked about the Tinkers, the problem at and the Four Roads Pub, the problems of priests and marriage and how women were the problem especially as in the case of Galway's Bishop Casey. The women according to Mary are supposed to fade away. It was an interesting perspective but a good way to begin a morning. Realizing that I was not going to able to solve even minor problems in Ireland they became merely curious things to think about.

If you would like to read more about my observtions on Tinkers click here.

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