Emerald Isle Hopping

August 17, 2003

In Ireland, when a caddie says, "Yer too farty," he does not mean
that you're excessively flatulent but rather that you're 240
yards from the green. Unless you're my brother Tom, in which case
he means both. Or so my family and I learned during seven
sweltering days in Ireland, playing golf courses that sounded
like draft beers (Old Head) and drinking draft beers that sounded
like golf courses (Smithwick).

In truth, not all our time was spent golfing or drinking. No,
much of it was spent golfing and drinking. In Tralee, I abstained
while my caddie shotgunned cider. An older man with twin mushroom
clouds of white hair billowing from his ears, he had to be
chauffeured, by a ranger on a golf cart, over much of the back
nine. This allowed him to do drive-by readings of my putting
line. On most shots he simply sighed on impact, "Oh, Jaysis, no."

Not that I could blame him. Over the week I sprayed more balls
than Cruex. When I asked my caddie at Old Head what the course
record was, he said, "Safe."

In the evening my brothers and I sneaked onto the course at the
Killarney Golf & Fishing Club, pulling a cooler full of Harps
packed, in ice-bereft Ireland, in frozen bags of Birds Eye garden
peas. We played until dark, at which time we could just make out,
circling us in the gloaming, a dozen predatory pack animals. When
a bus made a U-turn in the parking lot, sweeping the course with
its headlights, we saw, to our horror, what these creatures
really were: 12 other cheap bastards, also playing Killarney for
free, their beers packed in frozen-broccoli bags.

Mostly, they were other Americans. On the hottest day in a decade
in Ireland, the locals were all on the beach at Ballybunion,
where the only thing bronzed was the statue of Bill Clinton,
driver in hand, in the center of town. The alabaster natives were
turning pink, shellacked though they were in sunscreen.

Rounds of golf succumbed to rounds of Guinness. At Oscar
Madison's in Kinsale we drank to America's greatest sportswriter.
(And, in a manner of speaking, with him: The bar is festooned
with photos of Jack Klugman.) In every pub we found ourselves
playing--in time to the music, against our better judgment--air
accordion.

With a hired bus and driver the eight of us traversed the breadth
of counties Kerry, Clare and Cork, from which my
great-great-grandfather, James Boyle, emigrated to Cincinnati 150
years ago. And so, if you riffle past ALOU and just beyond BOYER
in The Baseball Encyclopedia, you'll find another big league
baseball family: The two sets of Boyle brothers, Jack and Eddie
and their nephews Buzz and Jim. Jim Boyle, my grandfather, played
catcher for a single inning of a single game at the Polo Grounds
for the 1926 New York Giants.

His 62-year-old son, my uncle Pat, came with us to Ireland, but
Pat's wife, my aunt Sandy, did not. Nor did any wives. "It gets
real old saying, 'Nice shot,' 150 times a round," explained Uncle
Pat, who still parties like it's 1899.

Uncle Pat bunked all week with my dad, who unburdened himself at
breakfast on the third day, whispering to us--with a deeply
disquieted look on his face--"Pat sleeps in the nude." This was
not a good swing thought to take to Old Head. Eight miles off its
fairways, along with countless souls and a few hundred thousand
Maxfli Noodles, rests the Lusitania. One of its three salvaged
propellers was bought by a company in the British Virgin Islands
and forged into 3,500 sets of golf clubs.

In Ireland money and sports remain strange bedfellows, not unlike
my dad and Uncle Pat. Each of the Irish football quarterfinal
matches last week drew--in a nation of 3.9 million--70,000
spectators to Croke Park in Dublin. It's the per capita
equivalent of five million Americans attending an AFC wild-card
game. And yet the players--national celebrities--aren't paid.
"They play for pride of county," said Johnny, my caddie at
Waterville, "and they go back to work on Monday morning."

In one quarterfinal, Laois manager Mick O'Dwyer screamed so hard
at his squad that his dentures flew out, tracing a perfect
parabola in midair, a photograph that ran in all the Irish
dailies the next day. For all I know, the disencraniumed teeth
are still going, like those novelty windup chattering choppers,
chewing on the ass of some poor Laois midfielder even now.

"I'd like to see yer man, the average American footballer--guy
six-tree, tree-turty-five, wit all tem pads and whatsit--have a
go at one of our lads," said Keith, our diminutive bus driver
from Tipperary, with a sardonic laugh. Our padded NFL behemoth,
Keith suggested quite convincingly, would be turned into lumpy
mashed potaytoes by his boys.

Even so, the toughest man in Ireland last week was Jim Rushin--my
bunkmate and brother, 12 weeks removed from a bone-marrow
transplant--playing seven rounds in six days in 90° heat on a
cruel, doctor-imposed ration of one beer a day. No matter.
Guinness is good for you. But golf, it turns out, is even better.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

The headlights revealed 12 other cheap bastards also playing
Killarney for free, their beers packed in frozen broccoli bags.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)