Andrea Mara

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Tell them the one about the fish

It was eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, and we’d been chatting to and entertained by our hosts, Jean and Dónal, for about an hour at that stage. We’d only met Dónal that morning but we’d meet Jean two days earlier when we’d arrived in her Airbnb in Ballybunion. She had welcomed us like old friends, although having said that, even old friends don’t get homemade scones with cream and jam in my house (sorry, old friends). And by the time we headed out for a walk on beautiful Ballybunion beach, my friend Sadhbh and I were grinning like the cats who got the cream (and jam) – we’d somehow found the best B&B in Ireland.

The following morning, over an amazing cooked breakfast and more lovely chats, Jean suggested we leave the car – she’d drop us from Ballybunion to Listowel so we could have glass of wine that night and get a taxi home. “I know what it’s like,” she said, “when you’ve small kids and you don’t get away often.”

In true Irish style, and because it’s a good 15 km, we said not-at-all and oh-no-we-couldn’t for at least ten minutes before giving in to her extraordinarily kind offer. And by the time we got to Listowel, we both knew we wanted Jean to adopt us.

The Kerry hospitality continued right through the weekend at Listowel Writers’ Week – from the woman in the boutique who called us both darling in her gorgeous Kerry lilt, to the staff in the Listowel Arms hotel who ferried coffee and chips and gin with never-faltering smiles no matter how busy it got. The hospitality and inclusiveness was infectious – every time we walked past any writer or festival attendee we even half knew, they invited us to join them. Our seats changed more often than the weather,  as we gathered our ever-growing armfuls of books and, erm, dresses (well, she called us darling and after all, we were on our holidays).

Late that night, as we wondered where to get a taxi, hotel staff ushered us towards another taxi-to-Ballybunion seeker, and a couple I’ll call Mary and Des. “Des will drive you,” said Mary, “as long as you don’t mind a farmer’s car – watch out for cow syringes.” And just like that, we found ourselves on the road home to Ballybunion, thanks to these people we’d never met. Mary told us she has a ninety-minute commute to work every day because of her re-location to Kerry. “See what I gave up to marry you, Des,” she grinned at her husband. “Well, I could hardly move to you, I couldn’t lift the animals,” said Des, deadpan. In the back, we marvelled at luck and the kindness of strangers.

And suddenly it was 11am Sunday morning and we were eating (AGAIN) and listening to stories of American tourists, and the priest who used to make sure the ladies stayed on the ladies’ beach, and the minefield of Airbnb reviews, and local tourism (if you’re looking for somewhere to go in Ireland, I can highly recommend the beautiful beaches of Ballybunion.) “Tell them the one about the fish,” Jean said to Dónal and he did and we laughed our heads off and I can’t tell you the story, but if you’re ever in Lartigue Lodge in Ballybunion, I bet Dónal will tell it again. And since Sadhbh and I are still hoping they’ll adopt us, you might see us there too.






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