Archive for the ‘Northern Ireland’ Tag

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


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


County Carlow



Posted September 22, 2014 by Tim Shey in Uncategorized

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May 1981: Northern Ireland and Bob Jamieson of NBC News   1 comment

This story is about my traveling to England, Wales and Ireland when I was twenty-one years old. I was an observer at the Francis Hughes (a hunger striker) funeral in Bellaghy, County Derry, Northern Ireland.

Back in 1980, 1981 and 1982 I lived in Ireland for a total of thirteen months. My dad paid for two trips and I paid for one trip to Ireland. In May of 1981, I took my hard-earned money and flew from Minneapolis to London (Gatwick Airport). I took a bus to Brighton and then to Southampton. In Southampton, I stopped by the police department and thanked the policeman who helped me the previous fall when I was temporarily down and out in Southampton; he helped me get a room at the Salvation Army.

From Southampton I took a bus into Wales, took the ferry across to Ireland (Wexford) and took a bus to Carlow. In Carlow I stopped at the local college to see if there were any notices for rooms for rent. Somehow I bumped into this guy named Brian. Brian was an instructor at the college and he said I could stay at his place for the summer, because he was going to Africa on a mission trip in about a week.

Brian lived in Athy*, County Kildare and we drove to his place; he let me sleep on the couch. The next day, Brian and I were watching the news and there was a story about Francis Hughes, a hunger striker, who had died at the prison in Long Kesh in Northern Ireland. Brian knew Francis Hughes’ family very well. Brian was originally from Northern Ireland. Brian’s first reaction to the news was that there could be riots in Northern Ireland. Bobby Sands, another hunger striker, had died a week before. This was all big news in Ireland; I later learned that the deaths of Sands and Hughes were big news in the United States as well.

So Brian looked at me and asked me if I wanted to go on a road trip into Northern Ireland. I said, no problem. So we headed north and Brian and I had an intense discussion about the troubles in the North. We stayed at his sister’s place, I believe, in Antrim, County Antrim. The funeral of Francis Hughes would be in a day or so. Funerals in Irish culture are very important–everybody goes to funerals.

The day of the Francis Hughes funeral, we drove out to Bellaghy, County Antrim. There were tons of people lining the roads. There were one or two British Army helicopters circling the neighborhood. Brian parked his car in a pasture maybe a mile or two from the Hughes family farm. We met a pretty reporter from the London Times newspaper–I think her name was Linda Melvern. Since she was English and she was in Republican (IRA) territory (historically, there have been tensions between the English and the Irish), she decided to hang out with us for most of the day–I think she felt safe being with us. It seemed like she was glad that there was an American in the outfit. She was really beautiful. A Northern Irishman, an English woman and an American: we were quite the team.

We walked to the Hughes farmhouse and walked inside. I met Francis Hughes’ dad and mom and relatives.

Brian, who knew the Hughes family well, said, “This is Tim Shey from the United States.” Mr. Hughes smiled and we shook hands.

I said something like, “I am sorry for the loss of your son, Mr. Hughes.”

We met a few more people and then walked over to the casket to see the body. The body of Francis Hughes was very thin, emaciated. I think he died after forty-some days without food.

Brian told me that before Francis Hughes was captured by the British Army, he had dyed his hair blond and met these two British SAS (Special Air Services) men in a field. Hughes killed one SAS man and wounded the other; Hughes was wounded in the exchange of gunfire.

There was one story about Francis Hughes where he was in this farm house; it was surrounded by British soldiers. Hughes managed to get a British Army uniform and put it on. Hughes walked out of the house disguised as a British soldier and walked up to the British and said, “Be careful. Hughes is inside the house.” Then he walked off and escaped.

Before the funeral procession to the local cemetery, Brian gave me a black armband [looking at a video of the funeral, we were actually wearing white armbands; it was a long time ago–sometimes it is hard to remember all of the details]–we were “stewards”–we were supposed to help keep back the crowds of people from the funeral procession. The British Army helicopters kept circling the area. Brian said that they were taking photographs of the people in the funeral.

Then several masked men appeared wearing black balaclavas (face masks); they escorted the coffin of Francis Hughes to the hearse. They followed the hearse to the cemetary. When they marched, they would chant, “Cle deas cle, cle deas cle.” It sounded like “clay jazz clay”, which means “left right left” in Gaelic (native Irish language).

The funeral procession walked for a while and was blocked at some intersection. Brian and I had to help push these people out of the way. There was this Canadian news cameraman right there filming everything; I may have made it on the nightly news in Canada. So the procession was diverted to another route to the cemetery somewhere in or around Bellaghy.

I don’t remember too many details about the cemetery and what went on there. I think the masked men fired a few volleys from their rifles at the grave of Francis Hughes. After the cemetery, the crowds eventually dispersed. The beautiful English reporter caught up with us; somehow she strayed-off and lost sight of us. The three of us walked through the town of Bellaghy. There were these Scottish Highlanders (soldiers) sitting down, lounging around, smoking cigarettes, talking–they didn’t seem too concerned about what was going on. There were no riots; there was a little trouble at the intersection where Brian and I were; I don’t know of any other trouble during the funeral.

We said goodbye to Miss Melvern, got in the car and drove back towards Antrim. (Years later I read Linda Melvern’s article on the Francis Hughes funeral at the Iowa State University Library in Ames, Iowa.) On the way, we noticed this car on the side of the road. It looked like they were broke down: both men were outside the car looking at a flat tire. So Brian pulled over and asked them if they needed any help.

They said something like, “Our car is broke down and we need to get to Belfast.”

Brian said, “Hop in. We’ll take you to Belfast.” Belfast wasn’t that far away from Antrim.

They both climbed into the back seat of Brian’s car. One guy was older than the other: his name was Bob Jamieson of NBC News. The other, younger guy was the cameraman. They were in Northern Ireland covering the Francis Hughes funeral. The cameraman said he was very tired: he had to carry that heavy camera all over the place all day long. Bob Jamieson looked familiar; I am sure I had seen him on TV before.

So Brian drove them to Belfast to the Europa Hotel. Bob Jamieson and his cameraman were very grateful and thanked us.

Later that summer, in July, I took a train to Belfast and stayed for two or three days and attended a funeral of another hunger striker in West Belfast–somewhere near the Falls Road. I had bought these Army surplus jungle boots back in the States before I came to Ireland. I was walking back from the funeral and these kids noticed my Army jungle boots and said, “Must be with the IRA.” I later was stopped by some British soldiers armed with rifles and they asked me a few questions. One soldier said, “Ah, my first American.” Another soldier looked at my boots and asked me if I had been in the military in the States. We had a short, friendly chat and then I proceeded to walk back to downtown Belfast.

Brian and I drove back to Antrim and we stayed with his sister’s family for another day or two and then we drove back to Athy. Brian soon left for Africa and I stayed in Athy where I soon began to write my first novella: a story about a thirty-something man named Johnny O’Sullivan from County Kerry who wanders and works in Ireland and England; I incorporated my experience of the Francis Hughes funeral into the story. I was twenty-one years old at the time and was heavily influenced by William Shakespeare, James Joyce and William Faulkner. The novella came to 73 pages in length. I sent it to several publishers, but it was never accepted for publication.

I ended up staying in Ireland that time for nine and a half months. After I finished writing and typing the manuscript (it took me seven weeks), I worked on a farm in Killorglin, County Kerry and then a farm in County Laoish and County Kildare for a short time. I later flew back to the States in February 1982.

[Originally published by]

Francis Hughes Funeral on YouTube
Francis Hughes–Wikipedia
Linda Melvern
Bob Jamieson–Wikipedia
*Athy Town, Co. Kildare, Ireland
**Barge on River Barrow
Vanderbilt Television News Archive:  Northern Ireland
Athy, County Kildare, Ireland
Chris Harper Mercer, Terrorist? Umpqua Gunman Fan of the Irish Republican Army