As I wrap-up this column this week and next, I have a few leftovers worth mentioning that didn’t make the cut on previous editions, as well as some final observations. It has been about 150 years since a bulk of this region’s first Irish settlers arrived, and in that time many components of our respective cultures have diverged despite the common origin, as I have described all along. Therefore, sometimes it comes as a surprise when you find such striking similarities.
Driving around the countryside we had ample time to scan the Irish radio stations. A couple of times we stumbled upon some traditional Irish music, but more frequently the stations were playing American music, including John Denver and Bob Dylan interspersed between more contemporary artists like Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus.
There are a few Irish “country/western” performers, including the young and popular Nathan Carter, performing a combination of Irish country music and covers of familiar American Pop and Country tunes like “Fishing in the Dark,” “Delta Dawn” and “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses.” Featuring electric guitar, fiddle and accordion, he gives these tunes a modern/Irish spin, but most of his music might better fit with 90s country music than that heard on American country radio today.
He also does a cover of “Wagon Wheel,” a tune originally recorded here by the folk band Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) and recently brought to widespread popularity by Darius Rucker’s version on country radio. It is equally popular in Ireland as we heard it played on Radio Kerry at least half a dozen times.
Most surprising, however, is when the traditional guitar/accordion/spoons trio in a small town pub transitioned from a rowdy pub song to “Wagon Wheel” late one evening. Even the 70-year-old man sitting next to me was grinning ear to ear and singing along to every word between sips from his pint.
I found this Irish obsession with “Wagon Wheel” humorous for a few reasons. First, the entire song is about a hitchhiking journey from New England to Raleigh, North Carolina, with lesser-known American destinations in between. Secondly, the chorus makes little sense and that’s because Bob Dylan wrote it long ago. The guys from OCMS wrote the verses around it but the simple lyrics and catchy instrumentation was enough to perk up ears. Most impressively, this song grew to international fame out of complete obscurity, entirely by word of mouth from college students across America long before it first received radio airplay once Rucker cut it. Now even the pub bands and country singers in Ireland are getting significant mileage out of it.
While describing the driving experience, I didn’t say much about roundabouts. Because they are quickly becoming more common in the Midwest, and are likely to increase in prevalence, I briefly mention them now. To the amateur they seem silly and confusing — like how you end up taking the long way counter-clockwise around the circle only to make what would have been a simple left hand turn. But once you understand how they work and how to properly navigate them, it suddenly seems silly to waste time constructing traditional signal controlled intersections, not to mention the time motorists waste waiting at red lights thereafter.
Getting to the point to where you understand them, however, can take some practice. I was honked at three times by my count for improper signaling, lane changing or other blunders I still don’t know I made. One can assume that for every honk drivers politely ignored two or three other incidences in which honking was merited. Regardless, by the end I no longer broke into a sweat upon seeing one approaching and suggest we would be wise to continue to take a tip from our European brethren on this one by incorporating them into more of our roads.
Fuel for our small diesel cars averaged about €1.50 at the pump. At first glance that seems like a bargain until you consider one Euro is currently equivalent to $1.33, and more importantly, that fuel is sold in liters rather than gallons. 3.79 liters in a gallon multiplied by €1.50 multiplied by $1.33 for the exchange rate equals approximately $7.56 per gallon of diesel.
Travelers must be careful, as sometimes fuel stations can be few and far between, or even closed. Driving the motorway back to Dublin I miscalculated the amount of fuel we would need and eventually realized we weren’t going to make it. We consulted the GPS for the nearest gas station and I took the next exit. As the directions continued to lead us down narrower and narrower roads, my skepticism we were going to find a station at trail’s end widened. Concern grew as I saw the digital readout continue to tick off the remaining kilometers of fuel left while we continued to pass cattle and sheep, but little else.
When we did come to our calculated “destination” I turned the car around in the driveway of the small farm we were facing, which probably didn’t even have a fuel barrel and, of course, showed no resemblance of ever serving as a fuel station.
Luck has it that I did eventually find a small country store before we had to thumb a ride. In this instance, small means one pump, a display cooler that had for sale fewer items than found in my fridge on an average day and an old lady attendant crocheting to pass the time between infrequent afternoon sales.
Finally, speaking of leftovers, what do you do when you clean out the rental car while packing your bags for the trip to the airport only to discover there are still three pints of Guinness and half a bottle of Baily’s Irish Cream left? You shove them in your already bulging suitcase and hope the FSA agent who randomly searches your bag doesn’t decide he or she need a drink after work — and with a job like that, they probably do.
Slán go foil.
Greg Schieber is a Caledonia native and recent graduate of Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa