The people in Ireland are great. I should know, I now have in-laws who live there. I also have 10 nieces and nephews who call me Uncle T. Yes, that’s right – I married an Irish girl. In fact, the day I arrived in Ireland in 1993 I met my future wife. She was the girlfriend of one of the Irish brothers. The Irish brothers were 2 lads I met during the summer of 1989. I left the Florida heat to work at an old resort deep in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There, I would meet about 30 Irish college students, 2 of which I would become very good friends. At the end of the summer, I told the lads I’d see them when I got out of college. That is exactly what I did. Once graduated, I saved up my money and headed out to explore the world, starting with Ireland, a place where most Americans claim to have an ancestral connection.
I’ll never forget that day when I stepped off the plane with my Florida tan and white shorts. They made fun of me. Apparently, the days of wearing shorts are few and far between. That would be the last day I ever wore shorts in that country. The brothers were there to pick me up at the airport and boy was I going through a culture shock. It was my first time in Europe and I was loving it. An hour later, we were on the course and drinking tall-boys. Man, I will never forget the smell of the Irish countryside, so fresh, so pure –with a touch of manure. Mix that with some beer and hitting a few golf balls and you have something close to paradise.
On our way to the course, we stopped by James’ girlfriend’s house to pick her up and take her to work. She looked good and I remember telling James, “Way to go, man”. Little did I know that I would be exchanging marriage vows with her a little less than six years later. But of course I had to get it all out of my system before then. That is one of the keys to a successful marriage: preparation. You must get all crazy, youthful, single experiences out of the system before marriage. If you don’t, you will be doing both you and your lovely new spouse a disservice.
My plan was to spend a couple of weeks with the boys and then head off to the mainland. 9 months later I got back on a plane bound for FLA without ever stepping foot on any other country besides the Emerald Isle. For the first 2 months, we burned through my cash reserves playing golf everyday and hitting the black stuff at night. I was staying in their family home and giving a little bit of cash each month to the mother. I also began to date the younger sister. This was ultimately a bad move on my part. It would later create a rift between me and the brothers, that lasts to this day. At the time I figured what the hell. This wasn’t Florida, this was Ireland and I could get away with just about anything.
So there I was, taking full advantage of what Ireland had to offer me in every respect. By the third month I was forced to get a job. I also wanted to get my own flat. Patrick and I got a flat together in flat-city and were offered the job of running a bistro on Merrion Row. Bad move on the owner’s part. Sure we made the place some money, but we also ate filet mignon every night, as well as helping ourselves to all the Smithwicks we could drink. Before you knew it, the Christmas season rolled around and we got the ax. We partied through the holidays and when the New Year came around, we were back hitting the pavement looking for a job.
With 20% unemployment encompassing the land, I barely managed to land myself a job at a posh restaurant. (illegally, of course) My goal now was to make enough money to get back home in time for my (real) brother’s wedding in the spring of ’94. To do that, I would have to save enough money for airfare and spare cash once I got home. Also, I only had 3 months to do it. The restaurant was in the middle of Dublin across from the city manager’s house. It was the place to be seen and all of the celebrities stopped by for a bite. The staff was also a microcosm of the United Nations. There were the token Yanks like myself. There were also a few Canadians, Brits, Aussies and South Africans. It was a great crew and we all had fun doing our job and we were actually making decent tips from the patrons. The Irish aren’t used to tipping the usual 15-20%. They usually tip between 5-10% or many times not at all. So to work in a fancy restaurant for good tips was definitely a good situation to be in.
Over the next 3 months, I worked extra shifts to make the cash I needed to get back home. Even though I managed to party a few nights away with the staff, I had to decline more often than not to keep on my saving schedule. To save money, I would often walk home instead of taking a cab or bus. It was a 30-minute walk through a few tough neighborhoods, but I kept my eyes peeled, ready to run at a moment’s notice.
The best thing about working at the restaurant was the celebrity sightings. Almost every night, someone famous would walk though the door. You would see mostly rock stars and actors. It appeared that Dublin had always been a mecca for the stars. One reason they loved Dublin and Ireland was because the local people would leave them alone. Mick Jagger could be walking down the street and the locals would look the other way. They essentially wanted to respect their privacy by not making a fuss over them. In the States, Mick would obviously have been mobbed. One time I was walking down the street and I saw the Edge from U2 coming in my direction. He was taking a casual stroll and doing a little window-shopping. Nobody even looked in his direction. In fact, they went out of their way to not look at him. This astonished me to no end. I, of course, started acting like the typical tourist. I started jumping around and pointing him out to my friend. He told me to take it easy, which I soon did.
After awhile I started acting like the locals and ignoring the stars. But when they came into the restaurant, the place was buzzing. We would all get the word at the beginning of the night about who was coming in. At that time, the lucky waiters would be chosen to serve them. It was always one of the older waiters who got to serve them and never any of the new guys like me. The likes of U2, Gabriel Byrne, Alan Rickman, Leslie Nielsen, The Rolling Stones, and even Jerry Lee Lewis stopped by for dinner. Jerry Lee even went over to the piano in the bar to play a few notes on the piano. It was quite a show.
Well, one night I got my chance to wait on a star. The top waiters were off that night, so I got the call. The luck celebrity was none other than Albert Finney. He was one cool cat. He was in town filming a new flick and was out for a quick bite with Rufus Sewall. These guys were having fun, drinking a few cocktails and even buying drinks for a few of the female patrons. He even told me to call him “Al”. That was definitely the highlight of the night. He left a good tip too.
Before I knew it the 3 months had flown by and it was time for me to leave the lovely Emerald Isle. This land had been good to me over the last 9 months. I had left the States in search of new adventures abroad and Ireland had come through. Even though my initial goal was to travel all over Europe, I felt satisfied with my experiences in Ireland. I now had a better sense of the European lifestyle and felt more at ease in my own skin. I knew that I would be back one day and my future travels would go beyond Dublin. Yet, I would never forget my first European landing with my shorts, sandals and Florida tan leading the way.