The west of Ireland – with all its wind and rain and general bi-polar weather – holds a special place in my heart. It’s where I had my first weekend getaway (a mini-break, as Bridget Jones would say) with Mountaineering Man and where he proposed to me in February of last year.
So to celebrate our engagement anniversary and both of our birthdays (he’s a Valentine’s baby, just like my mom!), we headed west. We first hit Galway, where we strolled around the cobblestone streets, caught an impromptu show by some talented buskers and then feasted on beautiful salads at Kai. MM had a smoked chicken salad, which came with rustic field greens, smoked almonds, red cabbage. I opted for the goat cheese curd salad with blood oranges, toasted hazelnuts and lots of lovely greens. Both came with Kai’s addictive moist-on-the-inside, crusty-on-the-outside brown bread. The food was fresh and innovative and the décor was rustic and charming. We’ll be back!
“Lady, where ya from?”
His voice was raspy. And from the redness of his watery eyes and deep lines across his leathery skin, it was obvious he was from around these parts – these parts being the remote and blustery reaches of Leenane, a tiny village surrounded by mountains somewhere on the long inland road between Galway and Westport. He caught a trace of my accent as I ordered at the bar and he wanted to know from where it originated.
A few minutes after I’d satisfied his curiosity and returned to our table by the fireplace, the old man came over and pulled up a chair. It was about two in the afternoon, and Tom (he formally introduced himself shortly before hunkering down next to Mountaineering Man) had probably been at Gaynors pub most of the morning along with the half-dozen other men who lined the bar drinking and chatting up the middle-aged woman who pulled the pints there. We assumed he and the gang warmed the barstools at Gaynors most days, and any new folk was a welcome distraction to the same ol’ same old.
Me at Gaynors Pub. You can see Tom sitting behind me on the barstool to the left; moments later he came and sat with us.
“Lady, are you married?” Tom asked. When I told him no, he turned to Mountaineering Man and asked, “Are you gonna marry her?”
“Please God, one of these days!” MM replied, laughing out loud at the bravado of this complete stranger. With that, MM finished his Guinness and we bid farewell to Tom before heading on our way. In the car we chuckled about the inquisitive, funny man and chatted about the odd bunch of regulars at the bar. We’d stopped at Gaynors last year on our way to Westport and enjoyed a quiet pint, fantastic toasted cheese sandwiches and bowls of homemade vegetable soup. The bar is actually well-known in the area; scenes from the 1990 film The Field were shot here. But more than anything we fell in love with the warmth of the rustic pub and the authentic locals who frequent the place.
The village of Leenane; The Gaynors’ incredible toasties!
About 20 minutes later we parked on a shoulder along the windy road back to Westport and strapped on our hiking boots for a ramble. MM wanted me to see a hidden beach at the base of the Mweelrea mountains, one of his favourite areas to climb. He promised it would be lovely, despite the muddy bog we had to trudge through to reach it. With a pole to keep me steady I dutifully slogged through the flooded grass and followed MM, who occasionally turned around to see if I was still upright.
Skipping stones; the only witness was a lone sheep in the distance.
About 15 minutes later we reached the tiny shore, which was as breathtaking as he’d described. I immediately started looking for flat stones to skip across the glassy water, something I loved doing as a child. In fact I was so distracted with my search for the perfect skipping stone I didn’t pay much attention to what MM was doing; he had his back to me and seemed to be fiddling with something. Next thing I knew he appeared in front of me, with a blue satin box in one hand and said, “I need to ask you a question.”
And then, after getting down on one knee, “Will you marry me?”
The small beach area where MM proposed – what a view!
Though I’d imagined this moment in various incarnations over the last few months, I never thought I’d burst into a ball of tears – but that’s exactly what I did. After a few more sobs I managed a quiet but firm “Yes.”
Maybe auld Tom is psychic, it’s hard to say. I certainly could not have predicted that a mere 23 months after I moved from Los Angeles to Ireland – a single girl taking a leap of faith – I would be engaged to Cormac, the love of my life.