This essay came from a letter written to my parents from Middle Mille, Wales. It was completed from memories of what I left out. Back then, I was too embarrassed to tell Mom and Dad the rest of the story.
April 24, 1978
Dear Mom & Dad:
Well, it’s been some time since I last wrote so I thought to dash off a few lines to keep you up to date. By the time you receive this letter, Scott (Hamilton) should be back in the States, although not necessarily in Washington. I’ve been here at Scott’s since my last letter, save for a brief sojourn to Ireland where I met up with a Welsh rugby team and toured around with them. They were really friendly and a lot of fun. I got to see my first rugby match and did a heck of a lot of something that Welsh rugby clubs do best – drink beer.
Actually, it was a very strange week. I met these guys my first night in a pub after I’d ferried from Fishguard, Wales and made my way to the town of Wexford on the southeast coast of Ireland. They were staying in a big hotel and one of the mates said, “There’s plenty of room at our hotel, so why not come stay with us and go on tour?” That sounded fine so I did.
I kind of became their mascot and they all called me “Yank,” never bothering to learn my name. I endeared myself to the club (guys about my age) after their first match. We were all sitting in the opposing Irish team’s pub. We were drinking beer, lots of Irish-made Guinness, and eating sandwiches and drinking more beer and singing songs, and having a cracking good time.
The Welsh love to sing and we sang almost every song they knew (no not really, there is no end to the number of songs they know). So, one of the Tonna boys (as they called themselves being from Tonna, Wales near Neath Port Talbot) challenged me to lead the guys in song. He was a big, fat, long-haired, red-headed oaf named Daffy, but a heck of a nice guy too.
With cheering and jostling they stood me atop this heavy wooden table. I had to do something and started singing the one song I was guaranteed to remember all the lyrics. I led them in a rousing rendition of “If I Had a Hammer,” which they all got the biggest kick out of. After that, I became “one of the boys,” as they’re fond of saying.
Note: The letter to Mom and Dad describing my time with the rugby team ended here, leaving out the untold story of the rest of my week.
We continued traveling up the east coast of Ireland stopping at small towns along the way. They played rugby in the late morning; we drank beer in pubs each afternoon; then back to our hotel for more drinking and some nights playing poker. I even taught them a game or two. The pattern continued for several days: big hotel breakfasts, sandwiches and Guinness at pubs, then more frivolity until falling to bed. By this time everybody liked me so much I was almost one of the team, primarily as ‘Yank’ their lucky charm.
Our final destination was Dublin where they’d catch a ferry back to Wales and I’d tour the Irish capital. So far, my sightseeing in Ireland consisted of rugby pitches and public houses. In Dublin fair city we found ourselves in Temple Bar, a lively district where patrons poured themselves from one pub to the next. Many have street-side windows which open fully guaranteeing easy camaraderie between those in pubs and those passing by.
We’d been good mates for several days and planted ourselves for a sendoff glass to conclude our camaraderie. After a couple pints, I begged forgiveness and bid farewell. With travel bag in hand, I said my goodbyes to each and wandered the streets of Dublin in search of lodging for the night. Temple Bar has a confusing hodgepodge of meandering streets and alleys where it’s easy to circle back around. After surveying several cheap hotels and B & Bs, I found myself walking past the very pub I’d left an hour before. Cries of “Hey Yank!” were shouted and I laughingly saluted my old friends. They waved me in and no sooner seated than a pint appeared. One led to another, and soon I was thoroughly soused.
The hours rolled by as we laughed and drank into the night. They’d be catching the midnight ferry to Holyhead for the long bus ride back to Tonna. My mind was a muddle – do I leave the pub, drunk as a skunk to find lodging? Or cast my lot with this scrum and travel back to Wales? It was late Saturday night and frankly, I was in no position to walk a straight line let alone find shelter. Choosing the path of least resistance, I stumbled on the bus for a short ride to the ferry.
The Irish seas were choppy that night. The ferryboat listed in rhythmic patterns perfectly calibrated to agitate a drunk’s equilibrium. The details of my seasickness are as shabby as I felt and shan’t be detailed here. The ferry landed and we were back on the bus for the 200-mile journey south along twisting roads to Tonna. The all-night trip was gruelingly slow and sleep agonizingly fitful.
Upon arrival, Richard, one of the footballers offered a room in the row house where he lived with his folks. We hit the rack that morning and slept until 2 pm. I awoke that afternoon with a monstrous hangover. I drank plenty of water trying to salve my aching brain. Richard’s mum was a sweet lady who fixed us tea and biscuits. It was the finest cup of tea I’ve ever tasted. Oh, that lovely cup of tea, how it soothed my throbbing skull.
In small Welsh towns, locals gravitate to their clubs for the evening’s entertainment. Richard, his dad, and I wandered along to the Tonna RFC clubhouse. It’s somewhat akin to an Eagles lodge in the U.S. The largest room was filled with trophies in display cases surrounding tables where young and old rugby players socialized. Not just the boys I’d traveled with, but their fathers, uncles, and townsfolk who played the sport a generation before. Another pint of ale was probably the last thing I needed, but being a polite young man I good-naturedly accepted and thus began another evening of drinking. Being Sunday night we left at a reasonable hour. Early the next morning I bid adieu to Richard who was off to work. I then enjoyed a pleasant cup of tea with his mum before heading to the town’s station.
My week with this Welsh rugby team thankfully came to an end. It was time for me to dry out and find my bearings. I caught a bus to Haverfordwest and made the one-mile walk to Middle Mille for several more days with Scott before his planned departure and mine. My next stop was London town.
Postscript: Seven years later, I realized alcohol was not my friend. The story of May 26, 1985, the day I quit drinking is still being lived. It was the second-best decision I ever made.