Augher, United Kingdom
One of the best parts of visiting friends overseas is getting the inside scoop that, as a tourist, you’d never have access to (not that Augher has been overrun by the tourist trade quite yet though word at the supermarket is that there’s an Australian in town!). None the less, today I had the pleasure and privilege of tagging along with Brenda and Christine as they went visiting friends and family giving me a taste of true Northern Irish hospitality.
Our first stop was in Enniskillen in neighbouring County Fermanagh where Brenda’s friend, Nicola, has curated an exhibition of historical costumes on display at Enniskillen Castle. After a private tour of the collection, we headed into town for lunch where we were also met by Christine’s friend, Michelle. Although I had no idea who or what they were talking about, I was enthralled by the drama of it all and the introduction to characters who I’d meet across the course of the day.
We then popped in to Uncle Michael’s for a cup of tea and a chat as various family members (including Lisa-Marie – one of ‘the aunties’) came and went, each stopping long enough to regale us with more stories. As we sat in their kitchen, complete with its Catholic shrine in one corner, I was impressed by the ease of the intergenerational relationships where no subject or language seemed to be taboo. It made me wonder if I should feel more free to swear at my own aunts and uncles.
What was meant to be a 30 minute pop-in lasted over an hour throwing us off schedule for our next visit – we’d promised Michelle earlier in the day that we’d swing by her place on the way home. She was hosting a BBQ but Christine gave us strict instructions that we were on a tight schedule so by no means should we accept cups of tea or food of any sort… determined to get back on track, we walked through the gate to find ourselves in an episode of Father Ted where somehow our protestations only caused our cups of tea to runneth over and our plates to be piled higher with not with just one, but FIVE pieces of cake… each! Our allotted time of 30 minutes quickly doubled in size and it took our collective might to get out of there without two cakes and three bottles of wine under each arm.
By this stage, our best laid plans had gone so far astray, it looked like we might never catch up with them but we wound our way back to Augher through a host of hilariously named towns (Clabby is the only one that immediately springs to mind) and back to Gormley Mile to pay a final visit to Ann’s parents Eugene and Monica. We were given the traditional welcome of more tea and cake and I felt immediately at home in the company of another family that felt so similiar to my own. We were joined by Ann’s brother Shane and sister-in-law, Brenda and children Megan and Darragh as our tea cups were replaced with glasses of wine. We happily wiled away the allotted 30 minutes in a cool hour and a half before heading back up the road to the farm which was still a hive of activity even after midnight.
They say travel broadens the mind and exposes racial stereotypes as being unfounded and unhelpful but then you have a day like today where every person you meet, though vastly different to each other, is the absolute embodiment of that fabled Irish charm, wit and generosity. But beware of the ancient power that hides behind those smiling eyes because today a terrible spell was cast – all my coffee was turned into tea… and I didn’t mind at all!