Chalk and Cheese: Two Views of Ireland.

By: Bernd Wechner
© February 1, 1999

Chalk and Cheese: Two Views of Ireland.

Chalk and Cheese: Two Views of Ireland.

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: February 1, 1999

In 1990 Rosita Boland, hitch-hiked around the coast of Ireland. Some seven or eight years later Tony Hawks hitch-hiked around the coast of Ireland. Both had the most wonderful experiences, the source of memories they'll treasure a life long. They both wrote a book about the experience, but there the similarity ends.

Rosita went clockwise, Tony counter clockwise. She stuck faithfully to the coast, including Northern Ireland, he took shortcuts and skipped the Troubles. She was Irish, he English. She hitched in winter, he in spring. She took three months, he one. She stayed at hostels, he avoided them like plague. She was a she, he a he. She writes descriptively, historically, pensively, he comically, lively and entertainingly. She was alone, He brought his fridge ...

I read Hawks' recent book Round Ireland with a fridge just before I a recent trip to Ireland myself. It's a most eccentric, and entertaining read. In 1989 on his first visit to Ireland, he drove past a guy trying to hitch a ride in the company of his fridge! Only in Ireland could you expect to get a ride with your fridge in tow! He'd tell the story of the Fridge Man from time to time over the years that followed, and one pub night when no-one would believe it was possible, he made a drunken £100 bet that it was possible to hitch the circumference of Ireland with a fridge in one calendar month.

Well the bet itself wasn't any big deal, but Hawks is a comedian and it sparked a sense of comic adventure within him, so he flew to Dublin, spent £130 buying a fridge, and hit the road ... he was rightly rather worried it wouldn't work. He was cutting corners of course, bought a small bar fridge - the guy he saw in '89 had a full sized fridge - and caught a bus to the first country village north-west of Dublin, but all the same, it's easy to imagine his trepidation. There was a little pride involved after all. It wasn't just a personal gamble, he'd laid a bet. What if he couldn't get a ride? He'd lose the bet on the first day and a smidgen of pride with it.

Well, in the end his worry was, understandable, but somewhat misplaced. A friend of a friend, who'd organised a fridge and a B&B for the first night, suggested he let Gerry Ryan know about his bet. Gerry Ryan had a daytime talk show on national radio and was always interested in crazy ideas. The studio wasn't far from the B&B so Tony left a note about the plan and the phone number. Next morning Gerry called back …

Standing at the side of the road the next day, with his fridge, worried about a lift, Tony couldn't have imagined what this one little tip had meant. The rest of trip is a little let down for anyone seeking serious tales of adventure. Don't read me wrong, Tony experienced the most outrageous adventure, but probably not of the sort you're imaging, when you think of someone trying to hitch around Ireland with a Fridge. Gerry Ryan had him on air every morning on the talk show, and the nation was mobilised. People would just recognise him with his fridge and go out of their way to take him a little further. He was offered free accommodation, got a mobile phone from a television crew that shot an interview with him, and started fielding calls on his mobile from people wanting to put him up or take him along his way. In fact, to get a break from it all, he'd have to hide his fridge …

Rosita Boland's book Sea Legs: Hitch-hiking the Coast of Ireland Alone is a very different kettle of fish. She'd returned home to Ireland after years abroad, to try and discover some of her own country. She writes a wonderfully descriptive account of her trip around the island, by thumb. She even stayed in the same B&B in Bunbeg as Tony years later (Bunbeg House), and describes flying back fromm Tory island in a helicopter years before, something Hawks tried so hard to organise with Andy of Bunbeg House.

At times I have to confess Boland's style is a little over descriptive, put bluntly, boring, and difficult to read. But on the whole, her story is so beautifully typical of a hitch-hiking trip, so pickled with coincidence, adventure, humour that the book is a worthwhile read in the end. She has a lot off beautiful history to share, and wonderful descriptions of Ireland, that Hawks manages to side-step. She expresses so many sentiments close to my heart, her descriptions of home, of spontaneity, of waiting, of cities … Only her attitude to weather puzzles me.

She started in her home town of Ennis on October 1st and arrived there again on the Winter solstice (December 21st) to celebrate Christmas with her family. It was miserably wet and cold almost all the way. She chose winter deliberately she says to avoid the tourists, and yet of the weather, she writes at one stage "The next few days were so wretched that I felt like giving it all up" … I felt chilled to the bone just reading it. I love adventure believe me, but I wouldn't even venture this kind of adventure. I draw a fine line between adventure and steady misery. Well, she's Irish (and maybe used to it), and I'm Australian (and quite fond of sunshine), and in the end, I have to confess, in spite of the weather, or perhaps at times because of it, she collects some experiences she'll treasure for a lifetime.

Of particular note to me, she ran into Joe Dempsey an 84 year old man who'd been picking up hitch-hikers for the last six years, had a notebook full of addresses and two photo albums full of photos, letters and postcards the hitchers he'd picked up had sent him. I of course remember well Jim Sanderson in New Zealand, who picked me up in '97, with his dozens of photo albums and address books of the 1000's of hitchers he'd picked up over almost a decade. In fact this is but one of many similarities between Boland's experiences and my own, which certainly warms me to her tales that little bit more.

Two very different books, about very different things in the end, and yet both about a hitch around the circumference of Ireland.

Hawks makes for a fast and entertaining read, it's an outrageous and worthwhile tale, that should strike a chord of envy in every hitch-hikers heart, that they didn't think of this themselves. As Hawks himself notes, any similar stunt now, would win the copy-cat label rather justly. This is a gem of a book and I can heartily recommend it.

Boland makes for a rather more intensive, serious and at times laborious read. It's a story not as unique as Hawks, but all the same most beautiful in its unfolding, touched with a humour of its own at times, and certainly a wonderful insight into Ireland. If you were planning a hitch around Ireland, this would certainly be a more worthwhile read than Hawks.

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