The weekly to and fro, courtesy of Ryan Air, between my home in the UK and a rented apartment, has all but put paid to any Green credentials I might have been able to lay claim to. Virtually all my colleagues who had initially accompanied me to the Emerald Isle have now returned to UK, including my boss, with whom I shared an apartment. At a time when a return to the UK from my work at Intel in Ireland seemed imminent, I was moved onto a new project, thus prolonging my stay into 2014. Often faces that have become familiar in time develop into first-name acquaintances on this journey. This applies not least to the Ryan Air flight attendants, though I marvel at their ability to cope with the exceedingly repetitive nature of their work. I recently also became chatty with a man by the name of John Keyes, a volunteer social worker for Arsenal football club [see article], who does voluntary community work in Ireland and elsewhere as a Community Kickz Project Leader. In October he is off to South Africa and mentioned that he would be taking out used donated clothing. Football jerseys are the rage with African kids, as I discovered on my 46-day African overland experience in the mid 1990’s [link]. I managed to rustle up a contribution from some UK office colleagues, which included an old Stoke City outfit!

Destroying my Green credentials is one thing but an Indian HCL colleague from the UK who brought his expensive sports car over to Ireland by ferry went to great pains to suggest that Ryan Air hold a dubious record on the question of safety. In fact just over a year ago, as outlined in this article, the airline was ordered to ‘review’ its fuel policy after after three of its planes were forced to make ‘Mayday’ emergency landings. They were being accused of operating with a level of fuel that was ‘close to the minimum’ required in the case of a diversion. Perhaps that’s a question for the captain on my next flight – have you got enough fuel on board, as we glide high above the fluffy white clouds?

Whilst the privilege of an exit row seat with additional leg-room would always be my preference, I once had the unique experience of sitting in the front row of a Ryan Air flight with a somewhat controlling chief stewardess, whom I assumed to be Polish, barking out orders to her colleagues, correcting their every action. To her credit, she was never rude, ensuring that each sentence was terminated with the word ‘please’. Yes, she was doing her job but it was painful to watch. One of the regular attendants, an Egyptian, who bore the brunt of her regimented management style, smiled, shrugged his shoulders and reluctantly got on with it.

On regular occasions sniffer dogs are deployed at Shannon Airport in the arrivals hall. One morning a spaniel took particular interest in my rucksack and proceeded to bury it’s nose with such intensity into one of the side pockets that I became slightly alarmed for a moment that I might have been caught in possession of some illegal contraband. The dog handler seemed unperturbed but struggled to wrench the animal away. It turned out that the enticing odour of a salami sandwich had attracted his attention.

In the course of the summer I had shipped my road bicycle over on a flight to Shannon at a cost of £50. This afforded a slightly greater sense of freedom as to what to do with myself after work in this rather uninspiring Irish town somewhat hemmed in by surrounding development including the airport and the river that bear the same name. I soon developed a favourite route that headed around the back of the airport and north towards the Quin turn-off on the M18 near Dromoland, largely on country roads, before winding back through the town of Newmarket-on-Fergus. On one occasion I agreed to join a group of colleagues at a pub in Bunratty, a historic town only some 7km from Shannon, if accessed via a short section of the N18 highway.  Leaving Newmarket on the Sixmilebridge R470, I discovered the only alternative route, substantially longer, part of which has now been incorporated in my regular route.

On a ride a couple of weeks ago, I almost got run over by a car turning in front of me as I returned through Shannon, the incident being witnessed by a passing motorist. In recent weeks saffron and blue flags have adorned almost every car in County Clare and a number of homes and buildings, which I couldn’t help but notice on my cycle route. The sport of hurling, native to Ireland, along with Gaelic football, are the rage in Ireland and upwards of 80.000 attended the recent 2013 All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final first match (drawn) and replay between County Clare and County Cork, at Croke Park in Dublin. Irish colleague Pat was horrified that I hadn’t watched the game on TV. Raised in Cork but resident in Clare, he found himself somewhat caught betwixt and between in terms of loyalties.

You can’t say the Irish aren’t different. As if the hurling final hadn’t succeeded in consuming their sporting lives, a ploughing competition would. The National Ploughing Championship [link] was born in 1931 as a result of an argument between two farmers from Kildare and Wexford. This was at a time where the Republic of Ireland had suffered the impact of the War of Independence in the early 1920’s and the dreadful wounds of its own subsequent Civil War still festered. The show, which boasts on average 1,300 exhibitors, attracted 80,000 visitors on the first of three days, whilst RTE reported 100,000 had passed through the gates on the second day, illustrating that it is more than just an event about a few farmers churning up some soil and deciding who did the best job [photos]. It is one of Europe’s largest Outdoor Exhibitions and Agricultural Trade Shows. This year’s National Ploughing Championships took place from 24th – 26th September at Ratheniska, County Laois [clip].

Would you trust an Irish surgeon? Well, I am in the process of doing so, after having had one recommended by Gerry McIntyre, a physio I had been seeing, whom I subconsciously kept referring to as Gerry McGuire, for some reason. I made my way in a hired car to Galway Clinic, about an hour’s drive from Shannon, for an initial appointment with a Dr Paraic Murray, a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, who, having reviewed the results of an MRI scan on my left knee in November, 2012, has, not surprisingly, recommended arthroscopic or so-called keyhole surgery [link] to repair a torn cartilage, this being scheduled towards the end of October. The injury has been dogging me for well over a year. A character as well as a vastly experienced surgeon, who’s opening line in a letter to my GP who had referred me, read as follows in describing my injury: “Thank you very much for asking me to see this healthy man. He is about the same age as myself and is a keen hill walker”, He has rated the chances of success at between 95 and 98%, with a low risk from infection, so I guess I have cause for optimism. My biggest concern however is going to be getting to and from the clinic on the day of the operation.