Come on, Hound, I say. Let’s go to Aran. They must surely have forgotten you by now, and they probably got new cats. And cows. And other dogs. And postmen.
The Hound of Satan looks at me sceptically. Forgot? Moi?
I know. I know, but unfortunately, these days nobody is willing to host the Canine from Hell, so I have no choice. My next challenge is getting the bastard on a plane, but that’s for another day. Right now, I’ll be happy if they take it on the ferry without first performing an exorcism.
We’re going to Inis Mór, a place of calm, of peace, of inner tranquillity, right?
Wrong. We’re going to Inis Mór, a place of lunatics, a place from which I never return in one piece.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. The natural unspoilt beauty, na Fíor-Ghaeil never ceasing from chess-playing and reciting melodious Irish, leading a simple but honest life, right?
Well, eh, no Ted. Not really.
I usually go from Ros a’Mhíl, for no good reason apart from my chronic tendency towards sea sickness, but I’m re-thinking that plan because it’s a bastard of a drive from Limerick — over eighty miles each way — when I could much more easily go from Doolin, even if it involves a little island hopping. In the flat calm of the last few weeks that would be no hardship. Sit back and enjoy an over-priced can of beer, say hello to Inis Oirr and Inis Meain, arrive eventually at Inis Mór and Robert is your parent’s brother.
Ros a’Mhíl is looking a lot swisher than it was the last time I was here, two or three years ago. Now they have these floating pontoons for boarding the ferries. They rise up and down with the tide so that you can always board the ferry by the same door without having to bother dragging your bags up and down the stairs. Good idea, right?
Well, it would be a great idea if they had the same pontoons at the far side but of course, they don’t. This is Ireland, after all. We don’t do planning in Ireland, and that’s why, over at Cill Ronáin, they have no floating pontoons even though the redevelopment of the harbour there cost €35 million or so. Therefore, depending on the tides, you still have to drag your luggage and perhaps your Hound of Satan up and down the stairs.
Why is this? Well you see, originally the money was there for the pontoons at Aran, but then the Department of No Admittance realised they had to put up four million signs forbidding everything and that was the end of the money for real things. I met a local on the ferry who was in uncharacteristically cheerful form, having received news that a mutually-detested old relative had passed away. Do not drive off the pier, he said. We’ve been driving on piers all our fucking lives, but now we have a sign to remind us.
Jesus, I’m not standing on Aran soil yet, and already the aggravation is growing. What will it be like when we hit Joe Mac’s?
I needn’t worry. Within seconds of the Rockhoppper strangling the engine and ordering two delicious pints and an ashtray of water for the Hound, I’m confronted by a drunken Frenchman I never met in my life. You are Bock the Robber, he accuses.
J’Accuse, he almost says, but he’s too drunk.
Mais, je ne suis pas M. Bocque, I protest in a futile attempt to maintain secrecy, but it’s too late. My cover is blown, so I nod at Satan, who rips the Frenchman’s trachea from his throat like an old bicycle tube and spits it at the horrified German opposite us.
I am horrified, the German laughs, to the disgust of the Slovakian arriving with two small whiskies: one for himself and the other for the extremely drunken old local who happens to be screaming at me to go back where I came from. Luckily I know him and don’t take it personally.
Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú, a Mháirtín? I inquire.
Fuck off, he responds, in the traditional Aran manner.
It’s good to be back. Jesus I love this place.
I suppose we should have no more than six pints before heading home, suggests the Rockhopper. After all, I have to drive.
Applauding his sense of restraint and civic responsibility, I concur. You should certainly have no more than six pints but I’m not getting in that ratbag of a car sober.
This is murder. This is simply murder, sitting here with a cold beer, even if the Hound of Satan is gnawing at a decapitated Frenchman. Welcome back to Aran.
Cats. Now, see there’s the thing.Cats don’t like Satan and Satan doesn’t like cats but normally they arrive at some sort of an accommodation.
Not on Aran. The second we arrive at the house, Satan goes straight for the nearest of the many felines, who split in a hundred directions at once in a living illustration of the term herding cats. The felines are laughing at my dog, and his Satanic master isn’t much help. It can’t be great for a dog trying to chase supremely athletic ruthless killers through a bush. What he doesn’t know: catch ’em and live the rest of your life with one eye if you’re lucky.
I love this place. I’ve always loved this place and in truth, there is a sort of tranquillity here, even if it happens to be mediated through a bunch of lunatics. They’re smart lunatics, all running their houses on solar and geothermal power. They pull two or three tables together in the garden for huge barbecue dinners where everyone eats their fill and gets hammered on fíon dearg. They take time off when they don’t feel like working, and then they work all night to make up the difference. They’ve travelled the world and yet manage to stay local, though not parochial.
The house is full of visitors already but nobody minds. Here, they say, kicking a child out of a bed. Sleep on that.
I realise I’m a little bit like that myself, but it’s a great comfort to know there are others in the world with a similar outlook. Fuck it, come on in. Did you bring wine?
I did. And beer. And a nice assortment of frozen Indian grub I made the night before, because you can’t be turning up with one arm longer than the other, can you? Two hands hanging. Not a good look.
Would you like to see a few pictures from Aran? All right then. I know we’ve had some over the years, but hey, what the hell?
We had a plan to head over to Inis Meain on a boat but somehow, in time-honoured Aran fashion, it just didn’t work out. Who knew that anything could go wrong on Aran?
Not to worry. We can always sit around and watch the Hound of Satan terrorising small animals and postmen, though I wasn’t too happy when he charged into the middle of these guys, causing mayhem. Full marks to Gabriel, the proprietor, for not shooting the horrible animal stone dead. I know I would have, but that’s the testament to the placid and peaceful nature of the islanders. Pity all the same that they don’t just pull out a shotgun and whack things like the Hound of Satan.
He had less success with these guys.
Not everything is afraid of a Satanic hound, as the Hound discovered, painfully.
I love going to Aran. I end up talking a ridiculous mixture of Irish and English, just like the natives do themselves, and it’s a bit two-fingers to the language purists who brought us to our current sorry pass of fringe Gaeltachts and mid-Atlantic-accented Dublin-based naoionraí that should have been strangled at birth but instead are populated and run by Irish-language Nazis, including the one who harangued my native-speaking buddy a few years back for his bad pronunciation.
Where’s the Hound of Satan when you need him?
Cé chaoi a bhfuil tú, a mhaicín? An bhfuil tú all right? inquires my solicitous rockhopping friend the morning after a savage night on the piss, with me groaning and banging my face against a doorpost.
Oh Jesus, tá mo head stractha as a chéile, I reply, and he laughs at me.
Cool bath required.