The Kilkenny Boot Sale
“You know, I haven’t been to the boot sale in Kilkenny in a long time,” I said to to Mehal and Anna Mae. “Shall we go tomorrow? I’ll drive.”
I was hoping they’d bite on the offer. It had been over a year since we had a Sunday outing to the boot sales (flea markets) in Fethard or Kilkenny.
“Well, I suppose if you need to buy more rubbish we might go for the drive,” Mehal answered as he and Anna Mae exchanged an excited glance.
Now, rubbish to Mehal is pretty much anything in which I might have an interest. It’s true that over the years I have purchased a lot of shite for too much money, but to me an old, hand-cranked butter churn or an antique oil lamp is not shite at all, but a treasure to be lovingly brought back to the cottage and proudly displayed. I mean, everyone admires my collection of old fireside pots, oh, and my coal scuttle and my vintage whiskey jugs… how could these be rubbish?
Alright, so I have 5 whiskey jugs already, but a sixth will complete my set… unless of course, I discover just the right addition to bring the number to seven or eight or maybe twelve. Yes, twelve would be a grand number.
Do You Know the Road to Kilkenny?
On Sunday, the familiar, winding roads looked especially beautiful in the morning sun. The drive was lovely… and then we reached the Kilkenny roundabout in Thurles. The entire intersection had changed.
“Where the hell did Urlingford go…or Freshford?” All of a sudden, I was merging onto an “M” road. That’s “M” for motorway, the Irish version of a super highway. The entrance was clustered with signs warning details like minimum driving speeds and signs proclaiming “No learner permit drivers allowed.”
I understand that for commerce sake the motorways move goods and people more quickly and safely than driving through every little village and town, but I must admit, I miss the little villages we used to drive through on the way to Killkenny or Cahir or Cashel or a whole lot of other places in Ireland. Driving the motorways in Ireland is like driving down a luge run…high banks on either side and boring straight roads. They are much like American expressways…just with surprisingly short merge lanes.
It’s quite a contrast to Ireland’s curving, hilly roads in the countryside. The motorways are just another change I am going to have to accept. Sigh.
Let the Hunt Begin
The first few moments at the boot sale always give me a bit of an adrenaline rush… “Hmmm, will I find an antique chair or plate or picture.” On the way into the sale, I specifically told Anna Mae I was not going to buy anything. I had will power, and there was nothing I needed anyway.
Once inside the gates, I was shocked at how much bigger the Kilkenny boot sale had gotten. They were now serving a full hot lunch menu in their new restaurant, AND there was a new building full of vendor stalls. How could my will power compete with all of that?!?
The three of us agreed to split up. We all prefer to do make our purchases in private and lie about how much we spent later.
Twelve minutes on the grounds, and I spied an old book called “Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry.” It was written by an Englishman named W. Carleton. I had never heard of him or the book, but the Victorian-era binding and writing provided a very romanticized version of the jovial Irish peasant… ignorant, but oh, so happy… with ten happy, starving children and a wee one suckling on his mother’s breast… and a big willow basket overflowing with spuds… a drunken father in the corner of the cheery hovel humming “A Snowy Breasted Pearl.” How could I pass up this work of fiction that in its day was passed off as fact.
I overheard the vendor ask €15 for a large picture book, so I offered €12 for this antique. No questions asked, he took my money… I probably could have got it for less.
Three steps away from the book seller and BAM!… Flow blue plates for sale… ones I could turn into shard jewelry. “Oh, I hope they are broken.” I approached and could immediately see they were quite damaged. Trying to hide my excitement, I said, “How much for these old, CRACKED plates?”
The man in the stall had a mouth full of mis-sized dentures that looked like they were ready to jump out of his mouth. “These are very old plates… can’t find many of them anymore… They are €30,” he claimed as he pressed his tongue against the top of his mouth to hold his teeth in place.
As he spoke, I had to shift position to avoid the spit spraying from the gaps in his dentures. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Those dentures belonged to someone else, didn’t they?” I quickly snapped back into negotiation mode. “But they’re cracked.”
“Small, hairline cracks.”
I guess compared to spaces in his teeth, the cracks on the plate would qualify as hairline, but their condition was very poor. I held my own, “They wouldn’t hold water.”
“Maybe not, but they would make lovely display pieces,” he countered with more saliva shooting from his mouth.
“Alright, I’ll give you ten for the whole lot.”
Down went his head. He shifted his dentures with his tongue and came back up with, “Twenty euros, now that is a great deal.”
Quick as lightning, I said, “Fifteen.”
“Shall I wrap them up for you?”
It is a great feeling closing a deal at a boot sale. As I walked away, he was thinking he just sold some Yank a pile of rubbish plates for €15, and I was counting my blessings for the deal I got on three flow blue plates. We were both happy.
As I wandered around the sale, I spotted a most unusual site… a man in a gray three piece suit and a cowboy hat. Considering the sunshine and the record temperatures (75 F/23 C), his choice of dress was quite out of place. He seemed to stand out even more with the axe he was holding at his side. He looked like a character in a horror movie.
I don’t think it was so much that he was carrying an axe at the boot sale… lots of people had purchased tools and brooms and rugs, but rather the manner he held it… hanging from his arm as if it had always been there. It looked like he woke up this morning, put on his suit and cowboy hat, stuffed his coin bag in his pocket, secured his pocket watch and added the axe as his final accessory.
When I saw Mehal, we began our dance. Him drawing out information about my purchases and me trying to decide how much detail to share.
”Well, Liam, what treasure did you come upon?”
“Plates, Mehal…for making my jewelry…and a book.”
“Now what would something like those old pates cost ye?”
“Um…the book was five euro,” I lied, “…and the plates… only a couple of euro.” I knew Mehal thought the purchases at any price were a waste of money, so even with my deflated numbers, he rolled his eyes. At that moment, I doubted my bounty, but the deal was done, and deep down I was happy.
We met up with Anna Mae, the only one who came home empty-handed. Mehal bought a spraying head for his hose. Yes, it was a practical purchase, but not nearly as cool as my plates.
From the boot sale, we headed into town. It was tradition to eat dinner at Langtons Pub. Mehal is always pleased they serve basic food… chicken and ham, or lamb, but I’m always happy to spot their more contemporary dishes like spicy cajun something-or-other or a bacon ciabatta sandwich. Between our big meals with multiple sides of potatoes and mashed vegetables and the addition of dessert, we all walked out quite stuffed.
On the way back to Knockahopple, we took the old roads. No motorway! It was just like old times…like last summer.