I have a confession to make.
Around my fourth weekend in Dublin, I had begun to feel as if I wasn’t getting a taste of ‘real’ Ireland. My best idea was to leave behind Dublin's midnight fireworks (every. single. night.), prepubescent bike gangs (I wish I was kidding), and double-decker dances (these buses do NOT care if you are jaywalking), by getting out of the city for the day. Lucky for me, friends were visiting, and so I had an excuse to run for the hills. I knew just how I'd manage that, too.
Ireland is a small country, and so there are tons of 'day trip coaches' that are perfect for the explorative student without a car. Not only can you get a ride there, but you also get the driver, who will guide the tour just as they drive you along. There are a lot of options for such a thing, and I reluctantly elected for the 'Paddywagon'. I was turned off by the tour's name, but a local insisted to give them a chance; they had a ‘half-day’ tour for thirty-five euro, so I decided to give it a shot.
I still felt rather skeptical - if not cynical - when I stood on O’Connell street (at the crack of dawn) to wait on the bus. At least it was quiet. Dublin's palladian architecture is easiest to appreciate in the morning, when the pubs are closed and Irish fog is just peeling away. Closed shops and sleeping denizens give way to a crisp Irish sunrise that makes even a thousand tossed cigarette-butts seem tranquil.
Sure enough, just as I began to reach some sense of zen, a wheeled lime-green affront to Irish culture came barreling around the corner of Parnell Street. On its side was a Leprechaun, proudly brandishing the tour bus’s title. I could not fathom why this bus had been recommended to me. Everything about it screamed ‘tourist trap’. But I’d go ahead, with sleep stuck to my eyes, and present my tickets to the driver, a middle-aged man with rose-tinted sunglasses.
He took one looked at me and boomed, “MY, yer hair! Wit’ those colors in the mornin’, then!?” The driver’s arms were adorned with a canvas of tattoos, some faded, some still vibrant. A faded golden instrument dressed a leathered forearm which now gestured towards me dramatically.
I nodded and forced a laugh through COVID’s stuffy fabric. “The NECK on YE’!” he continued. Yes, yes, I concurred, hastily presenting my booking number and thinking of the Red Bull in my bag. I had little desire to fill the silence; I didn't mean to be rude, but I’d just woken up. Before I went to hit my seat, the driver said, "ah - that was a compliment." Thank you, Frank.
Frank didn't look too dissimilar from the average Hells Angel; I'd seen his type, I thought. Denim jackets, designer hats, and salt-and-peppered facial hair made for a proper Harley Davidson. I didn't necessarily have anything to think about him, but I wondered if he'd be pleasant. At least I was escaping Dublin for the day. This Leprechaun-adorned, shamrock-green affront to Irish culture, would be just fine for now. It was, and I’d hop on it again, - but only if Frank is the one that takes me.
I decided to chat him up after having been his captive audience. Frank swore up and down that he knew Daniel Day Lewis. "Lewis lived just there, there in Wicklow! We'd drink together, no matter what role the method-actor was preparin' for, I swear!" He also did a bit about how it was him alone that dared take us up to the pristine Guinness Lake (picture attached), against Paddywagon Inc's wishes. Frank seemed to be able to spin quite the yarn, and I needed interesting people to write about - whether or not I believed in their words or their coach's branding - so I'd interview him.
I caught him in Glendalough, just after he’d let off my fellow passengers. This time - "we'll be leavin' ya here in an hour! Best be here!" - was likely his lunch break, so I'd keep it brief. I'd decided just to ask him why he did these tours, and what all the tats were for. Once again, Frank hit the sowing wheel; each tattoo came from a country he'd visited. His favorite destination had been New York City, particularly in the eighties. Mustard yellow harps on his bicep paid homage to Ireland, and day tours paid mind to his thirst for movement. My earliest impression was clearly rather shortsighted of me: Harley Davidsons don’t travel overseas.
Glendalough’s fresh air had done me some good, and I enjoyed Frank’s company, as well. I wasn't sure how much of his storytelling I believed, but how much authenticity was I to expect of the ‘Paddywagon’? Just as my initial impression of Frank was challenged, so too was that idea of 'authenticity' when his voice later crackled over the Dublin-bound bus speakers. He informed us that 'Paddywagon' is an incredibly insulting term.
I was shocked to hear him address the company's branding like that. Frank followed this up by providing us with a detailed, personal history of "The Troubles'' which had occured in Irealand from the sixties to the nineties. He spoke frankly (I'm so sorry), leaving no emotion out, including the goriest and grimmest details of the decades-long fighting. This entire topic had felt like a very dramatic segway from the day's textbook touring, and so I absorbed every word. Frank told me exactly how it felt to be Irish during this time, and exactly why he was proud to be an Irishman.
I didn't doubt the severity that Frank communicated. This was no yarn. He'd left behind grandiosity at Glendalough. Even amongst my instructors, whom I appreciate and admire very much, the Paddywagon's Tour Guide provided the most compelling account of recent Irish tragedy that I'd ever heard. This, too, while nodding towards the tour company's questionable name. I got off the bus and felt immensely humbled; just that morning, I'd thought myself expert enough to call an Irish company an affront to themselves. And yet still I'd paid for a trip that I'd prejudiced as tacky. How better to fight that affront than to gather its perpetrators, two per row, and trap them for as long as it takes to get from Dublin to their idea of the 'real' Ireland?
P.S; Turns out, Frank is a famous local artist. One of his works is in a major museum here, and he was in the news a few years ago for it. The man barely mentioned that he did art! Maybe he really does drink with Daniel Day-Lewis...
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<p>Yo! My name is Wade Suarez. I'm an English Creative Writing major attending Augsburg University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am attending the Dublin Writer's Program in Fall of 2021, and my current plan is to not shut up about it the entire time I'm there. My favorite thing to do is to write (shocking, I know), but my next favorite hobbies are exploring, reading, and hunting down the best nooks and crannies I can find, wherever I am. My ultimate goal while I am in Ireland is to connect with a place and people that I've never known, so check it out if you want to see how that's going. I'm pretty pumped to share with you the things I learn and the connections I make while I am adventuring abroad this Fall.</p>