Ireland: My Garth Brooks Hell

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When people think of Ireland, they tend to think of Killarney. Magnificent Lough Leane sits beringed by mountains, including Ireland’s tallest peak, Carrauntoohil, meaning, if my dodgy Irish is correct, the Sickle of the Countryside, and the Purple Mountain, meaning, if my English is to be trusted, a mountain that is purple. The landscape around here is ten times greener than itself. In fact, this is the heart of the green myth in Ireland. As I drive towards Killarney, I see the circle of green unfolding all around me. Rain falls, green grass grows. Grass goes into sheep at one end, grass exits sheep in blacker state at the other end. Soil becomes richer, greener grass grows, sheep eat grass. This never-ending cycle of green is a prime example of nature at work. Sheep are, essentially, production lines of green.

The Macgiollacuddyreeks - taken while lying on my hotel bed looking out of the window

The Macgiollacuddyreeks – taken while lying on my hotel bed looking out of the window

I always like coming to Killarney. It gives me a different sense of what is fashionable in being Irish. What is happening in Killarney tends to be a good listening post for what is going on in the national culture.

It takes me a long time to get out of Dublin. The drive becomes more of a migration, turning into an epic five hour car trail on one. By the time I reach my hotel, I am exhausted. It takes me a while to find the hotel – Killarney has a multitude of them. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the collective noun for hotels is a ‘Killarney’.

I walk in to the hotel, dragging my suitcase wearily behind me. A man with a belly walks past me wearing a red flannel shirt and a stetson. Strange. As I try to find my way to the lobby, I hear something. Music. But not just any music. Bad music. Garth Brooks covers if I’m not mistaken. I take a peek inside a ballroom. Sure enough, on stage is another stetson-bedecked bellyman bending words into meaningless twangs and telling me about his friends in low places. The low places, I assume, is the dancefloor. Not only is it lower than the stage – it has people line-dancing on it. People with mustaches (men and women). People with cowskull neckties. People who seem to think that the only difference between normal weekday attire and good ‘going out’ clothes is the addition of a cowboy hat. Still though – I don’t think anything of it. It keeps them off the streets I suppose.

I reach the lobby only to be told that I am, in fact, in the wrong hotel. I am staying in the sister hotel across the carpark. Flagging and dejected from the travelling, I smile and try to negotiate my way back out of the hotel. A quick walk across the carpark though has me at the right hotel. As I walk in, a door flies open. There is a wedding on here tonight. There is a band on stage. I peer in as I walk past. But what I saw on the stage makes me stop and look again. “What the …?”

There, on stage, is a man wearing a flannel shirt and a stetson singing ‘Friends in Low Places’ by Garth Brooks. What’s more, when he finishes singing, he begins to talk – and he has a huge feckin’ Kerry accent about a million miles removed from the salty Wyoming twang that his singing voice appeared to be infected with. The people on the dancefloor are loving it, though. Their fancy wedding attire – despite being tight and inefficient for dancing, does not stop the dance line from forming.

I check in and decide to head to the bar for a quick drink – say hello to a few of the conference delegates that have arrived – before heading to bed for a much coveted sleep. However, as I walk in to the bar, my ears prick up, instantly recognising the song on the sound system. It is Garth Brooks himself and, as if underlining my nightmare I hear the words “ …And the thunder rolls …”

I buy a drink and engage in some polite chit chat – but in my brain, panic has stricken. Something I had seen before and had only barely lived through seemed to be happening again …

It was 1997. I was about to finish school and move on to university. The summer would have been decent enough but for one looming, dark Garth Brooks shaped cloud floating out over the sea from the US towards Ireland. That summer, Ireland went Garth Brooks mad. Zombie-like, the Irish public bought a million (yes – a million) tickets to see his shows at Croke Park. And there are only four million of us. This year, 2014, Brooks announced that he would have a come-back tour starting in – yes – you guessed it – Ireland. And the zombies were beginning to re-emerge. He has already sold over 400,000 tickets for his July shows. I will be re-living my summer of darkness all over again …

I had been aware that he was coming back – but seeing how Garth-Mania had started to grip the bell-weather town of Killarney has now sent me into full panic mode.

The next morning, I awoke only to realise that my clothes – neatly folded for inclusion in my suitcase – were still neatly folded – but not in my suitcase. They were back in Dublin. Dammit …

I make my way into town to buy some new clothes. I walk into the first shop having seen what I am looking for through the window. But I am not prepared for the horror that awaits me inside the shop …

There is a man – an employee – walking up and down the aisle with an armful of plaid shirts. He is wearing cowboy boots along with his normal workwear. A woman behind the till stands around with nothing to do. Nothing, that is, except listen to the radio. And listen she does – humming along, tapping her feet. And the song … the song … the beats of that hideous song …

Ireland I am coming home

I can see your rolling fields of green
And fences made of stone
I am reaching out won’t you take my hand
I’m coming home Ireland

Nooooo! Garth Brooks brain spiders have taken over not just the Killarney nights – but the Killarney days too! I grab what non-cowboy apparel I can find, pay, and make a quick exit.

When I sit back into my car, I realise that I am surrounded. That old woman pulling the shopping trolly – no doubt it’s filled with chaps that she’s bought for her eight cattle-rancher boys. That man with the carryall bag – there’s most likely an accordion in there. Ahead of me I can see two men wearing the hats – but Kerry is filled with sheep farms. All hat and no cattle … but it doesn’t matter … they’ve been Brooked.

I get through the rest of the day. The conference is being held in a concert venue that has been transformed into a conference centre for the day. No doubt at nighttime it turns back into a Garth Brooks tribute act centre of some description.

In the lobby, I see posters for coming musical acts. All – and I mean ALL – of the posters for the  male acts wear stetson hats. And the stage names … I swear one of them was called TR Dallas – not a very common Killarney name I would have thought …

The Gulf Stream is a flow of warm water that keeps Ireland ice-free in the winter. It starts out in the Gulf of Mexico before kissing off America’s Deep South coast. The next time it meets land is here – County Kerry. The Brooks winds are a blowin and have infected everyone in this town. The concerts are to take place in July. Killarney is about 60 Kilometers from the coast. That means that the mania is travelling at about a speed of 10km a week. By my calculations, it will hit Lucan some time in mid June.

Luckily, there is a post-conference dinner planned for later that night – something to take my mind off the panic…

Or so I thought …

I walk in and take my seat. I engage in conversation … but my ears notice something else … The background music … consists of instrumental versions … of Garth Brooks music.

There is no escape.

The next morning, as I drive back out of Killarney, I no longer see the scenery as a Dubliner. No longer do I see the majestic peaks of the Macgillycuddyreeks, fields filled with gamboling livestock or the ethereal waters of Lough Leane. Instead, just like a local, I see the mountain peaks in a row ready to line dance, fields of sheep skulls designed to inspire neckties and the lake itself – the worlds biggest upturned Stetson filled with the tears of those of us who live in dread of July …

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