Mizen to Malin Rally, Part II

To call the Irish MINI Owners Club's Mizen to Malin event a "rally" is to misidentify it.  A rally implies competition.  The Mizen to Malin event is more like a three-day-long group hug.  And this year we got a chance to be part of it, as we chronicled last week in this column.

When we last left you, we were about to cross the River Shannon aboard a ferry that looked something like an oversized landing craft, and in the process we put aboard 70-plus MINIs -- some new, some of uncertain vintage -- along with more than 150 drivers, passengers and party-crashers.  Among those on the ferry were two fashionably dressed, attractive young women who seemed to stand out among the mostly working-class, salt-of-the-earth folk who composed the bulk of the rally participants.  Using the camera as our calling card, Rich (unmarried Rich) discovered they were British magazine journalists who were on the rally just as we were.  Nice work, buddy.  

Once we completed the windswept passage, most of the MINI drivers hit the ground running for the next milepost on the journey, while we paused to take stock of what was possible and advisable in our quest to capture the event on video.  One, we could drive like the hell-bent leaders of the rally pack, have a great time and come back with indifferent video or, two, we could hang back from the good-natured mayhem, shoot plenty of video and come away with a piece that looked like fun while actually being somewhat less so.

Though the former seemed very tempting -- after all when MINIs are roaring past you, the natural tendency is to join them -- we opted for the latter.  We would take our time poking about through the picturesque Irish countryside, while the others charged ahead.  And this is just what we did, videotaping our way through Quilty and Spanish Point, grabbing a pastry from a movie set-like storefront in Milltown Malbay and then hugging the western Irish coast to the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher.

The journey proved to be a time-warp back to a place where the highways are two lanes with no shoulders, the country roads are one lane-and-a-half and the secondary roads nothing but cowpaths. As befitting the Emerald Isle and its frequent rainfall, the countryside was a lush green, punctuated by stone fences that could have been erected while the United States was still a British colony.

On we drove into Galway, which turned out to be a bustling workaday city all the more busy because it was on the verge of a "bank holiday."  Asked by Rich to do a simple drive-by for the camera, I was inadvertently propelled into a maze of one-way streets, centuries-old buildings and indecipherable street signs, and after losing sight of my three compatriots I became immediately convinced I would never see them again.  Ten minutes later, when I had somehow negotiated my way back to where I had last seen my camera crew, they had vanished.  Then insistent traffic sent me on the great circle again, and twenty more minutes elapsed before I found my "mates" and we pressed onward.

The compressed urban downtown of Galway quickly gave way to more bucolic scenery as we wound our way past Lough Corrib and Lough Mask on our way to Rosses Point on a spit of land just north of Sligo.  There, looking out on the Atlantic Ocean, we settled into the Yeats County Hotel, where the party quickly began again.  (Parties seem to pop up in Ireland like tornados pop up in Nebraska in the summertime.)

Sandwiched around our video duties -- in this case it was our job to capture the frivolity of the drinking, dancing and lounging rather than partake ourselves -- Rich continued to angle for a connection with Sue, the German-born British writer/photographer whom we first met on the Shannon River ferry.  I, of course, watched this with the bemused effect of an older and distinctly married guy who had run this same course years before.

When morning dawned all too early, we bade a fond farewell to the Gerard O'Leary and the rally participants.  They were headed to Malin Head, the northernmost point in Ireland, while we and, to Rich's great delight, Sue and her driving mate, set our sights on Dublin, clear across Ireland on the Irish Sea.  This route put us on the N4, which seemed like a superhighway compared to what we had traversed the day before, but it still dallied charmingly in little burgs like Carrick-on-Shannon, Ballinalack and Roosky. 

Somehow the Irish sky had turned bright and sunshiny, not anything we expected, so the cruise into Dublin not only showed the excellent mettle of the MINI Cooper S that was our stallion, it also lifted our spirits still higher.  And Dublin proved a delight. 

We deposited our vehicles at The Fitzwilliam Hotel on St. Stephen's Green and made a lengthy foray onto the pedestrian mall called Grafton Street.  Crossing the River Liffey on the Millennium Bridge, we shared cigars (ah, male bonding) as Rich and I searched for toys for our children.  That evening, with Rich still in warm pursuit of the somewhat elusive German woman, we walked over to the Temple Bar area where we dined on traditional Irish fare with the fine group that MINI had invited to participate in the rally.  My corned beef and cabbage (could I have ordered anything else?) was truly spectacular.  Or was it just the aura of the whole event that colored my thinking?

Following the meal we walked up the street to a chic (as opposed to a traditional Irish-style) bar, where we threw back a little Irish whisky and Rich worked his American charms on Sue.  He seemed to be making decent headway, but when Sue's English companion suggested we go find a dance club, Rich and I wisely took a pass and joined the older crowd headed back to the hotel.

By then our MINI Cooper S was but a fond memory, as was the participation in the rally itself.  But as we prepared to leave Ireland, we immediately had a longing to return to spend more time with the remarkably hospitable people of the Emerald Isle.  And if we could do that while piloting a MINI Cooper S, ah, all the better.