If you have come upon this page other than via the previous entry then I suggest you read my entry for 1st June, 2018 as that explains how I had unexpectedly ended up in a Dublin hostel en route to my family home in Northern Ireland.
I may have dozed for a few minutes during the night but that was it and I was up again by about 0500. Going outside for a smoke, I noticed that security should not be a problem for the hostel as it is right next door to a Gardai (police) station, so yet another plus for what was an excellent venue in a great location. I had planned to get the first train North but a quick e-mail exchange with my brother let me know that it was not necessary as we would not be heading to our planned family reunion until mid-afternoon. I contented myself with doing a bit of internet work and then making the five minute walk back to Connolly Station.
I was going to catch a train about 1000 for the 90 odd minute journey to Portadown which is the nearest railhead to my home. I spoke to yet another helpful chap on the information desk who informed me that my ticket from the previous day was not valid even though it was not my fault I could not use it due to Irish Ferries failure. A new ticket cost me €29 which, added to the €36 I had forked out for my bed the previous night was making for an expensive journey and totally negating any savings on a scheduled flight but the railwayman told me that if I kept all my receipts then the ferry company were obliged to reimburse me. I have not put that to the test yet but I’ll let the reader know how it goes.
A journey on a comfortable train, complete with onboard wifi passed quickly and I was soon back in the country of my birth, crossing the border back into the UK somewhere between Dundalk and Newry. The Enterprise, as it is known, is jointly run by Northern Ireland Railways and what I still refer to as CIE, the rail service of the Republic. Since I have been home I have read in the newspapers that they are looking for a huge investment to update the Enterprise as the service is known but it seemed quite OK to me.
There was quite an interesting episode between Dundalk and Newry where I was joined by a young couple who obviously had slightly special needs and were great fun. The young lady asked me if I would use her ‘phone to take a few images of them which I was happy to attempt but there was a slight problem. I have mentioned that I am completely useless with technology and cannot even manage to take an image with my own ‘phone let alone one I do not even know but she very patiently explained it to me and I duly obliged. I was quite pleased with myself. Alighting at Portadown I was again pressed into service as “duty photographer” but I had the knack of it by now and again produced a couple of images that were pronounced passable.
As I had the luggage I decided to use the lift to cross the footbridge and had a rather ribald laugh and a joke with three elderly women out for a day shopping. Exiting the station I was greeted by another elderly female who I have never been before who engaged me in a conversation about the weather and I was struck again by the differences in Northern Ireland and London. Everyone talks to everyone else here whereas in London people just do not do it. Crossing the carpark I was making a beeline for one particular venue, Bennett’s Bar.
It is a habit of mine that the first thing I do when getting home is to go into this fine hostelry for a pint. Rounding the corner I was aghast to see that the pub was completely enclosed by scaffolding. Oh no, surely not. I know from the evidence of my own village that pubs are closing down hand over fist but not Bennett’s which is one of the more popular watering holes in town. Hurrying to investigate I noticed a sign indicating the bar was open upstairs and this was confirmed by a burly young builder who came out of the main bar where there was obviously some serious refurbishment going on.
OK, up we go, luggage and all and it was hard going as it was absolutely pitch black, I mean proper coalhole but I was not going to be deterred. Feeling my way to a door I went in to find a completely empty and barely lit bar with a young lady in the corner working at her mobile ‘phone. Not wishing to startle her I gently cleared my throat and enquired if the bar was open. Technically not for another few minutes but she bid me come in and she’d get me a drink. In all the years I had been drinking in Bennett’s I had never been up here before as it is only used as a nightclub at the weekends and even in my younger days I was never much of a one for that kind of thing. The young lady started me off a pint of Guinness and then off to the DJ decks to put on some music which was of the boom boom “dance variety” although thankfully not too loud. The pint came up, well-kept and poured as I would expect here and which prompted another small ritual of mine which is to take a picture of the first drink I have in any country when I (re)visit it. You can see it here.
Whilst the barmaid was scurrying about getting ready for what she expected to be a busy lunchtime food service (the food here is very good) we were snatching pieces of conversation and she told me that the pub was still owned by the eponymous Bennett brothers, Niall and Tony, whom I have known for about 35 years. I was telling the young lady about some of the things we used to get up to when, as if on cue, in walked Tony who took one look at me, called me by name and asked if I still lived in London. Bear in mind that he has not seen me for about three years and it was an impressive feat of memory. He was quickly hard at work but we managed a few reminiscences including the pub charity rugby side we used to organise every season. Speaking of rugby I ended up having an impromptu rugby training session with a small boy using a soft toy as a ball. Long story for another time.
The bus service to Tandragee is pretty appalling on weekdays, worse on Saturdays when there are only three in each direction and non-existent on Sunday so it was round the corner to get a taxi the five or six miles to my brother’s house. Greetings duly exchanged and I was somewhat amazed by my 20-year-old nephew who has taken to going to the gym and is about twice as broad as the last time I saw him! To quote the late Sandy Denny / Fairport Convention, “Who knows where the time goes”? My only regret is that he does not play rugby! After that, it was up the road a short distance to my Father’s house where I would be staying, drop my kit and say hello and then off we went to “meet the family”.
We were heading for the little village of Castlederg in County Tyrone which is the area my late Mother came from. Northern Ireland is a relatively small country and I lived there for the first 28 years of my life so I thought I knew it pretty well but I cannot remember ever having stopped there although I know I have driven through it. My Mother was the youngest of a large family which for various reasons, including World War Two ended up dispersed all over the place which means I had uncles and aunts I had never met and even, at the age of 58, first cousins in the same situation. Time to fix all that.
We were foregathering in the Derg Arms, which proved to be an excellent choice as you will find out. It is a big premises which serves as bar, restaurant and hotel and several of my relatives were staying there, all speaking very highly of it.
There were 13 cousins there and along with husbands, wives and partners there were over 20 of us who sat down for dinner. I chose the chilli beef with noodles and, this being Northern Ireland, had to choose a side dish of potatoes which seems odd but we do like our spuds where I come from. Everyone seemed very pleased with their meals and I did have a chance to compliment the chef when I bumped into her out the back whilst having a smoke later on. She said it had been a busy night and it must have been as they also had a football (soccer) club dinner which seemed to be well attended in addition to the usual Saturday evening diners. Despite all this, service was good and very friendly in that typically Northern Ireland fashion.
After the meal we all retired to a lovely room which was actually the private dining room of the owners, which I thought was very decent of them, and which kept us separate from the slightly boisterous football crowd and young locals complete with pumping dance music. I include one image here merely to show how homely it was.
I do not intend to bore the reader with a family occasion but one cousin who serves as the family historian produced a family tree, there were all sorts of old photos including some of my late Mother that I had never seen and plenty of chat. I met cousins I had not seen since the 1960’s which did make me feel rather old. One of the highlights was the attendance of what I believe is a second cousin of mine. I am no expert on these things but he was a first cousin of my late Mother’s and was the ripe old age of 100, he was great.
All too soon it was time to go as we had about a 90 minute drive back to Tandragee so it was pretty late when I turned in and was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. It had been a long day and a great evening and I am really glad I went.
Stay tuned and spread the word.