Ireland - Traditional Ireland (August 14th - August 19th)
Ballaghaderreen - Castlebar - Galway  

Distance biked so far:  (444.5 km)

I am in the west coast town of Galway after spending 4 wonderful days with Laurence, Irenee, Brendan (age 5 ) and Sarah Jane (age almost 4). It's funny how kids add fractions to their names to appear older. I wonder what age we lose that and start hanging on to our age as long as we can.
I arrived to their home in Castlebar on Saturday August 14th in the early afternoon.  It took about 4 hours to get there from Ballaghaderreen and as I was biking I thought that so far I have essentially only biked west but the Philippines are 20,000 miles to the East. I have a long way to go.

As I pulled in Laurence and Sarah Jane were just stepping out of the front door.  I recognized Laurence right away despite the 9 years that have passed since I first met him in Bermuda. I was welcomed in with a cup of tea and a short time later Irenee arrived; it was great to see her again, she hasn't changed a bit, the same happy and friendly girl I knew years ago. We left Bermuda on the same day back in March 2002, time sure goes quickly. In the years Irenee and Laurence were married and now have 2 beautiful children.
It didn't take me long to once again realize that people around the world have far more in common than differences. The overwhelming majority simply want to raise their families, be productive in a job, live safely and in peace. The ones interested in harm or destruction make the headlines but are in the vast minority. The second thing I realized was the similarity in children.

I stayed with Ed, Pat, Daniel and Ava for 3 weeks in July and it was deja-vu staying here. Both families have an older boy with a sister a few years his junior, they have many of the same toys around the house. They watch the same shows in limited amounts (the Wiggles, Dora) which will come as no surprise to those with kids but it was new to me. I didn't watch the Wiggles in Bermuda but their songs are catchy.  In both cases, the boy is now facing a spirited challenge to their former superiority from a younger sister, and the boys don't like it one bit. The other amusing similarity is that both Ed and Laurence drive the same model and colour of car and before Pat bought a new vehicle recently, she and Irenee had the same car model and colour. I felt like I was living in a parallel world.

It was no real surprise to me but Irenee and Laurence spoiled me rotten. No surprise because Irenee has always been very generous to her friends and was always willing to go out of her way to treat them well. You can also tell a lot about a man by the way he treats the women in his life and Laurence has always been extremely thoughtful and kind to his mother (now almost 96 and still as sharp as a tack) and treats Irenee with respect. Brendan and Sarah Jane have a great home.

On Saturday night, I experienced an incredible evening of traditional Irish culture. Laurence and Irenee treated me to a dinner in the popular town of Westport and we then went to a pub that was one of the highlights of my trip. The live band was composed of 2 violins (fiddles), 2 flutes, an accordion, piano and a Bodhran (an Irish hand held drum you beat with a beater).  As is typical in these sessions, the playing would stop and someone would sing a song or recite a poem, often lamenting the old days, lost loves or the emigration of family to foreign countries. It was lively and sombre at the same time with a wonderful mix of music, poetry and singing. Many people in pubs are not there to drink but to socialize and spend time with family and friends. It was a memorable night and one I will never forget so thank you both very much for organizing the evening.

Sunday was one of those rare cloudless Irish days that make you think that this is the greatest place in the world. We all piled into the car with Irenee forcing herself  between the two car seats in the back with me stretched out in comfort in the front. The good thing about sitting in the back seat is that she can help Laurence with his driving. We drove to Laurence's hometown of Geesala on the far west coast. The scenery was rugged, windswept and barren with colourful flowers mixed in with the long grass. There are mountains in the distance and ocean all around. It reminded me a little of the east coast of Canada with friendly but hardy people. We were there to see a series of horse races with a twist; they ran on an oval track on the beach.