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."