Ireland (part 2)

December 25, 1969 …

The day before I left Ireland, Barry drove us to Newry, about 15 miles south of Banbridge and almost on the border of Ulster and Eire. I was slightly nervous about the prospect of getting so close to the border area, but Barry assured me we’d be perfectly safe.

The drama that unfolded that night, however, had nothing to do with rifle-toting soldiers!

Kay’s long-time friend Linda was in the Newry hospital awaiting the birth of twins. She wasn’t due for another month, but the doctor had ordered complete bed rest, so her husband Noel came too.

Poor Linda was under strict instructions to remain flat on her back, and of course, she was bored silly. Originally an Irish lass, she had migrated to Australia with her parents, but in early 1968 the girls boarded the Australis and headed off to visit Linda’s relatives in Banbridge. They did more than visit! They both married local boys and had been living there for almost 2 years, so Linda welcomed news from home and the chance to hear a good old Aussie accent again.

After noisy visit (with so much to catch up on, we 3 girls barely took a breath!) we left Noel at the hospital to spend some quality time with his wife (and give him the chance to actually talk to her at last), promised to return to collect him at 9pm, then headed back to Banbridge and an Irish pub called Campbell’s.

It was early evening as we entered the small crowded room, and I couldn’t believe my ears! Everyone was singing Irish songs!

Some were gathered around the bar, a few were off to one side playing darts, others were seated at tables, but all were swaying back and forth, waving their glasses in the air as they sang ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’, ‘Molly Molone’, ‘Too-ra Loo-ra Loo’.

Had I stumbled onto a movie set, or had Barry and Kay somehow contacted the entire population of Newry and arranged for them to stage a special performance just for me?  Surely this wasn’t typical!

Barry assured me that indeed it was typical of Irish pubs, so I very enthusiastically joined in. I suspect I even impressed a few locals by knowing all the words. After all, they’d been my lullabies as a babe when we’d lived with my Irish grandmother.

What a wonderful evening!

At 8.30 we reluctantly said our farewells. Little did we know that while we were there … someone stole Newry!

During the 20 minute drive back to collect Noel, Kay and I were still pumped and continued our sing-a-long, no doubt to Barry’s annoyance. We’re not the most tuneful singers, especially after a few drinks! But as we approached the outskirts of Newry, our voices fell silent. Almost without warning, we found ourselves in the midst of a wall of impenetrable fog that appeared to have swallowed up the entire town!

Barry slowed to a crawl, leaning his head out the window in a vain attempt to see the road. I wound the passenger side window down and tried to locate the gutter or alert him to any parked cars.

It was hopeless. We couldn’t even see the white line. Soon, even the front of the car disappeared! We had no idea if we were on the right or wrong side of the road, the middle of the road, or even ON the road!

Barry finally accepted defeat and let the car roll to the left until we hit the gutter. At least, we assumed it was the gutter! We might just as well have driven into a parked car or a drunk pedestrian having a brief but necessary nap on the way home! Perhaps we’d rolled into someone’s front yard or were precariously teetering on the edge of the canal!

Kay’s fearless and intrepid husband decided to make his way to the hospital on foot, leaving two very nervous females alone in the car.

Would he ever find us again?

Kay and I sat, shivered and whispered. I’m not sure why we whispered, but it seemed appropriate at the time. Who knew who or what was ‘out there’! This was the stuff of Jack the Ripper!

Occasionally we’d hear muffled voices. Once or twice, the owners of voices bumped into the car and made it shake. When that happened, we watched with alarm as disembodied hands crawled tentatively along side windows. It was like something out of a horror movie. 

Almost an hour after Barry left to walk to the hospital (would he ever find it?) we strained our ears trying to identify a distant but muffled echo.

“Ssshhh. Listen. Was that Barry’s voice?  Was that Noel calling our names?”

We opened the car doors and a blast of freezing air rushed in.

Yes! It was them. “Kay? Sandy? Can you hear us?”

“Yes” we shouted back in unison. “Here. We’re here! We’re here!”

“We hear you! Keep calling.”

“We can hear YOU. Keep walking.”

Their voices seemed to come from every direction at once, as did ours to them. Somehow, and with great difficulty, we were able to guide them to the car. Barry climbed into the driver’s seat, Noel volunteered to walk in front with his hand on the car’s bonnet and communicate with Barry through sign language.

We could see nothing more than a vague shadow of his form. Hand signals were useless.

I climbed out, holding firmly to the door, and groped for Noel’s hand. Then I reached back through the window and took Kay’s hand.

“Whatever you do,” Barry warned, “don’t let go! These fogs distort sound. If you get disoriented, you might not find each other again!”

That was hardly encouraging. I tightened my grips.

Noel edged his foot along the gutter. Barry began driving. Very, very slowly.

A few times, Noel walked into the back of a parked car. Each time, the message had to be quickly relayed from Noel to me to Kay then to Barry. He would stop and slowly reverse while Noel and I performed a little dance called The Shuffling Backsteps.

Once we reached the edge of town, the fog began to lift. Driving was still hazardous, but at least we could almost see the road again.

It was only then that Noel broke the news.  Linda had gone into labour. What a surprise, as the twins weren’t due for another month. (No doubt it was the excitement of our visit that brought it on!)

Gerard and Paul arrived safely on December 27, 1969.

Linda (left) returned to Australia with her new family and the boys grew up as ‘dinkum Aussies’. They have since made her a grandmother.

Kay (right) migrated back to Australia over a year later with Barry and their new baby daughter. Yes, my little sister became a 10-pound pom, or at least the Irish equivalent. Kay is now a GREAT grandmother.

Love the minis, girls!

Beautiful Newry …. when it emerges from its Brigadoon fog!