Hitchhiking in Ireland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales   6 comments

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Back in September or October of 1980, I took a train and left Carlow, County Carlow in Ireland and headed north towards Dublin.  I had been working on a farm near Carlow for the past two months for Jim Foley and his family.  I got to Dublin and took a bus across the city center to this train station on the north side.  From there I took a train to Dundalk and then caught a bus to Kingscourt, County Cavan.

I had been told by some relatives back in the States that there was a Fr. Mackin who lived in Kingscourt.  He was staying at the Mackin Hotel.  Fr. Mackin was the priest at my grandparents’ parish in Red Oak, Iowa.  After he retired, he moved back to Ireland.

I arrived in Kingscourt and walked to the Mackin Hotel.  I met Fr. Mackin and he was very happy to see me and glad to hear that I was related to Dan and Bertha Shey of Red Oak.  (Grandma Shey died in Pharr, Texas in 1977; Grandpa Shey died in Houston in 1978).  His nephew and wife owned the Mackin Hotel and Fr. Mackin said that it would be all right if I stayed the night.

Later that evening, Fr. Mackin showed me a photograph of my grandparents when they were living back in Iowa.  I thought that was a nice detail:  I had travelled all the way to Ireland and met someone who knew my grandparents—and he still had a photograph of them.  Fr. Mackin spoke highly of my grandparents.

(A little side note:  Dan Shey’s grandfather (O’Shea) came from County Kerry; Bertha (Cruise) Shey’s father came from County Roscommon.)

So I stayed the night, packed my backpack the next morning, said goodbye to Fr. Mackin and hit the road.

I walked a few miles and this guy picked me up.  He said that maybe I shouldn’t be hitchhiking so close to the border with Northern Ireland.  Just a week before, this IRA (Irish Republican Army) gunman hijacked a car and drove into Northern Ireland.

We drove several miles and we stopped at this place where a construction company had its office—there was some road construction in the area.  The guy told me that the managing director of the construction company was there and that he might give me a ride into Northern Ireland.  A few minutes later, the managing director walked outside.  I was introduced to him by the other guy and I now had a ride towards Belfast.

I don’t remember the managing director’s name, but we had an intense talk about a lot of things.  He was raised in Wales and went to college at Cambridge.  He told me that he had played a lot of rugby as a young man and had hitchhiked all over England and France playing rugby.

Driving through Northern Ireland, I saw this military helicopter land near this farmhouse and these armed soldiers jumped out of the helicopter and ran towards the farmhouse.  I had a surprised look on my face.  The guy told me that you see the British Army a lot in Northern Ireland.

He originally was going to drop me off on the outskirts of Belfast, but we had such a great talk, he said that he would drop me off at the docks in Larne instead.  I told him that my plan was to take a ferry across to Scotland and travel to Dundee and look up the relatives of the Jim Foley family of Carlow.

He dropped me off in Larne and I got on a ferry to Stranraer, Scotland.

When I got to Stranraer, I met this guy from France.  He asked me, “Do you speak French?”

I shook my head and  said, “No.”

Then he asked, “London?”

I replied, “South.”  Then I pointed south.

The Frenchman walked to the highway and began to hitchhike.  I walked to the bus station and sat there for a while.  I walked outside an hour later and the Frenchman was gone—he had gotten a ride.  I went back inside the bus station and slept there that night.

The next day I got a bus to Glasgow.  From there I got on a bus to Stirling, Perth and then to Dundee.  I stayed at a motel that night in Dundee.  I then phoned the relatives of the Jim Foley family.  They said it would be all right to stay with them for a short while.  I stayed there a week and then got on a bus from Dundee to London.

I arrived at Victoria Station in London and then got on another bus to Southampton.  In Southampton, I walked around near the docks and visited four shipping companies.  I asked them if I could work for my passage to South Africa.  I wanted to eventually end up in Tanzania where a friend of my family, a Catholic priest, worked at a mission.  All four shipping companies turned me down; they said that they didn’t let people work for their passage anymore.

By that time, it was getting dark and I didn’t know where to go.  I went to this St. James Shelter for homeless men, but they didn’t let me in because I told them that I had some money on me (they only allowed men who were penniless).

I walked and walked all over downtown Southampton.  It started to rain and I was getting cold and wet.  I started to get down in the dumps.  I then walked to the police station and asked a policeman there if I could stay in the jail overnight.  He said absolutely not; the jail was for criminals only.  Then I really became dejected.  The jailer later told me that I could go to the Salvation Army and they would put me up for the night for five pounds.  I thanked him and walked to the Salvation Army where I had a warm bed to sleep in that night.

The next day after breakfast, I walked to the edge of this highway on the west side of Southampton.  I waited an hour and got a ride.  We drove through Salisbury and stopped at this pub where the guy bought me a pint of beer.  He told me that he had been to America before and thought that the beer in America tasted terrible.

We then drove through Bath, past Bristol and into Wales.  He dropped me off and then I got a ride with this guy and we went through Abergavenny, Llandovery, Llandeilo and Carmarthen.  I got another ride to Haverfordwest and then got dropped off around fifteen miles from Fishguard.

It was raining and past sundown and I sat at this bus stop for awhile and tried to sleep, but couldn’t.  I saw this little shed behind the bus stop, so I walked to the shed, found some hay and covered myself up with the hay and slept there that night.

The next day I walked to Fishguard and then to the docks.

I had a little money on me, but not enough to take the ferry across to Ireland.  At the docks, I met this Englishman and this Irishman.  The Englishman asked me if I could help the Irishman.  The Irishman hitchhiked from London to Dover thinking that he wanted to go to France.  He changed his mind and then hitchhiked to Fishguard.  He had no money on him.  Well, to make a long story short, the Englishman, the Irishman and myself put our heads together, put our money together and we all three were able to get on the ferry to Ireland.

The ferry took us from Fishguard to Rosslare Harbor in County Wexford.  The Irishman thanked me and thanked me and thanked me for helping him out.  He said that I could stay with his family in Wexford for the night, but I declined the offer.  We shook hands and I began walking down the highway.

I walked several miles and it was way past sundown.  I saw this shed in a pasture, so I jumped over the fence and slept in the hay bales of that shed that night.

The next day I hitchhiked back up to Carlow and phoned the Foley family.  I stayed there with the Foley family and helped with the sugar beet harvest.  I then flew back to the States around the 1st of November.

May 1981:  Northern Ireland and Bob Jamieson of NBC News
Setting Sail:  Irish Immigration During the Potato Famine
Born Fighting:  How the Scots-Irish Shaped America
Athy, County Kildare, Ireland
Revival in Ireland?
Hitchhiking Stories from Digihitch

map-of-carlow-hotels

County Carlow

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Ireland

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6 responses to “Hitchhiking in Ireland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales

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  1. Sounds like a dream… I mean seriously, your experience would be a dream come true for me!! I want to go to Ireland so badly… 🙂 God bless you brother!

  2. A lot happened on that hitchhiking trip—I couldn’t write about all of it. Even though I was not a Christian at the time, I did pray to God a lot and put my faith in Him. Look at what happened at the docks at Fishguard, Wales. That was a miracle: the Englishman, the Irishman and an American (sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?); there is a lot more that happened there which I didn’t write about, but the hand of God was totally in it. I was grateful to be back on Irish soil again when the ferry reached Rosslare.

  3. Always something interesting in your writing, in your experiences. Thank you for the blessings, brother!

  4. thelostkerryman: Thanks for the comment. I was hoping you would read it and notice that my great great grandfather came from Kerry. We are both a part of the Kerry Diaspora. Later in 1981, I used my own money, flew back to Ireland, wrote a novella and then worked on a farm near Killorglin, County Kerry for a month.

  5. I enjoyed reading your adventures in Ireland and UK. Though my mom was from Scotland we also have an Irish connection on my Grandfather’s side. My Gr grandfather was born in Galway. Thanks for your visit to my blog as well.

  6. Nice read man. I’ve spent much time hitchhiking around this land in my younger days. Tis fun for sure.

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