Meeting Garrett Fitzgerald

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In Ireland 1990

I was doing well on my bike. I had my tent and other essentials rolled up and balanced carefully on the back – the chain was oiled, the wheels were fat, I was enjoying myself.

It was the second week of a cycle trip around southern Ireland. It had rained a lot, but the scenery was glorious and a lot of the time I had the road to myself and could freewheel in a satisfying zig zag pattern down one of the many hills. Arriving at the crossroads to the ring of Kerry, I was told by the friendly lady in the cafe that the campsite was closed, but if I was really stuck I could stay in her garden.

‘There’s the big family down from Dublin, staying in the house,’ she told me, ‘but I’m sure they won’t mind sharing the yard.’ I biked over and was busily engaged in putting my tent up when a couple of children appeared to say hi. I was invited in for tea, which turned into supper, which turned into an all night drinking session. I hadn’t spoken to anyone much since my bike journey had begun, but I more than made up for it that night, endlessly whittering on about politics that I knew little about.  I got into the Anglo/Irish agreement.  They let me talk – then told me that the elderly gentleman now slumbering gently in the big chair, their father  was actually Garret Fitzgerald, ex-Taoiseach of Ireland, the man who signed the Anglo/Irish agreement.  I staggered out into the night in an agony of embarrassment.

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I packed up early the next morning, the sky barely pink. I was still too embarrassed to say goodbye, so I left a thank you note on the back door step and pedalled off. I made my slow way out of the village and immediately found myself at the base of the highest mountain in Kerry. It took a long time to get to the top. I struggled. I got off several times to pace about and mutter, my legs hurt, my head thumped from a crushing hangover. But finally I made it and could look out at the view. The sea nearly encircled the mountain, glittering in the noonday sun. Somewhere out there the Dingle dolphin was busy doing tricks for tourist boats.

A young cyclist came over to talk to me. He was from Poland and we shared lunch. ‘Meet you at the bottom,’ he called as we both cycled to the beginning of the road which led down the mountain. He crouched low, professional and went off very fast. I hummed. I stared out to sea. There was no traffic on the road, so I began weaving, looping from one side to the other. I began to sing a Bee Gees song There was a sudden terrifying whoosh of wind and I found myself bouncing off the bonnet of a large silver car. I remember staring in the front windscreen at a man’s vague outline and then crashing on to the road, my bike screeching out from under me. I remember a stiff pain and then I must have passed out.

I woke up some time later with an arm under me and water in my face. I opened my eyes to see the young Polish guy. ‘Hi,’ I said, ‘Hi,’ he replied. I looked about me. I was on the side of the road, my bike a twisted mess beside me. My face hurt.

‘I think someone drove into me.’ I told him.

‘You didn’t show up, so I had to bike back up – because of you I’ve had to cycle twice up this hill today.’

I laughed, I couldn’t quite tell if he was joking or not. He was marvellous this guy. He draped me over his bike and wheeled me down the hill to the nearest village, where he managed to locate the local doctor and deposit me on his sofa. The doctor broke off from his Sunday lunch to stitch up my eye and tend to my head. I lay back and bled all over his white couch. Meanwhile my Polish friend cycled back up the hill again, collected the bits of my bike and when I woke up again in the afternoon, had managed to nearly reassemble it. My face was very large and shiny, one eye had been covered with dressing and I’d lost a tooth. The Polish guy stayed long enough to make sure I was fine before cycling off into the sunset on his 12 gear steed. I was very sorry to see him go.

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