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Robert A. Mills

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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

BARBERSTOWN CASTLE
1/22/2011 7:44:50 AM

If you have never stayed — or at least dined — at Barberstown Castle just outside Dublin, I’m inclined to think you’ve only bragged you’ve been to Ireland, but in truth you’ve never set foot on the old sod. Of course, there are those who say that unless you’ve eaten at Le Grand Véfour in Paris, you’ve never been to France. Bullpuckies. That’s like saying you’re not a homosexual until you’ve marched in a gay–rights parade.

Well, to be fair, I’m neither — not a homosexual, but I did pass on Le Grand Véfour in favor of the more pedestrian Bateau Mouche. Although I’ve been to Paris several times, whenever someone asks me if I’ve been there, I say “No!” having never dined at Le Grand Véfour.

Let me be clear: my first of several evenings at Barberstown Castle was a genuine adventure that stamped my credentials as a true Son of Erin.

It was in the ‘70s and I was dining with an associate while staying at Jury’s Hotel, and he suggested we try Barberstown Castle, about thirty minutes from Dublin. I was engrossed in their tender broiled “place de jour” and a delicate Kilkenny white wine when I noticed a rather charming young damsel at a table not twenty feet away.

“Look over your shoulder,” I suggested, “in a surreptious manner. See the lass in the beige suit — the Tinker’s daughter with the red hair? Notice the pinkie ring she’s wearing.”

My companion rotated his ample rump sufficiently to bring the prey into focus, and when he turned back, he said, soto voce, as if she might miraculously hear him, “Appears to be a gold signet coin, or some such.”

During a dessert of sticky, toffee-like Dulse and Yellowman, curiosity got the better of me, and, Foyne’s Irish coffee in hand, I ventured across the dining room and brazenly addressed the young woman. “Hi, there,” I said, with just a hint of urban sophistication. “I’m an American.”

She glanced up at me with no visible signs of annoyance. “I would never have guessed,” she smiled, and her faint brogue was common and yet fairly educated and a shade cosmopolitan.

“I was admiring your ring,” I told her. She examined it and confided it was a British half-sovereign, an uncirculated coin of 24karat gold. It was mounted in a delicate enclosure suitable for a feminine pinkie.

“I’d love to have one like it,” I admitted, “perhaps with my birth year under the bas relief of whatshisface stabbing the dragon.”

“St. George,” she informed. “But they stopped minting these in the 1920s — I seriously doubt you’re that old.”

The lady’s name, it turned out, was Jenny Looney, and she was an assistant manager for Tittley’s Car Rental at Dublin Airport — Aerofort Bhaile Àtha Cliath, to the GU. Her dining companion, whose name was Dorothy Somethingorother, worked with her.

“Would you and your friend,” she suggested with the hospitable innocence bred solely in Irish females, “care to join us?”

“Strictly aprè-prandial,” I, a married man, quickly insisted, incorrectly using the term but sounding as sophisticated as my Western New York heritage would allow.

“I — yes, sure, of course, whatever.” I think she wanted to assure me their dining tariff was taken care of, not that I, on a company expense account, gave a wit. Viva la compañia was our traveling mantra!

During the course of an evening, which consisted of much laughter, Paddy and whites, singing Irish and American ballads around the restaurant’s piano bar, and exchanging unabashed lies, Jenny and I and Dorothy, egged on by my associate, became fast friends.

“Tell you what,” Jenny said, as we bid farewell in the parking lot, “I’ll run by Sean Reilly’s place near the Liffey. He’s something of a numismatisist, and if we can find a decent half-sovereign, I’ll send it on.”

I gave her my business card and watched as she and Dorothy drove down the narrow road away from Barberstown Castle, hedges hovering like attendant sentinals on both sides, and disappeared forever into the black hole of my life.

Or so I thought. Many months went by as I returned to my mundane existence of travel entrepenuerism and commercial broadcasting; I completely forgot about Jenny Looney and her British half-soverign ring. Then, one day in May, I was in my office when the mail arrived.

“This is for you,” an agent announced, handing over a picture postcard from Tittley’s Car Rental, along with the usual circulars, bills, trade papers and commission checks. I looked at the postcard; the picture was of O’Connell Street in downtown Dublin. I turned it over. It was from Jenny and it read:

“Stroke of sheer luck! Sean managed to find a [sic] uncirculated Limey half-sovrin [sic] but it’s 1903, not anywhere near 1931. But if it’s ok please send me a [sic] international bank cheque for ten ponds [sic]. I’d be most greatful [sic]. Best to all, cheers, enjoy the ring, Slainte! Jenny Looney”


Scotch-taped to the postcard, at the bottom, was my 24karat solid gold British half-sovereign!

I took the coin to Scheer’s Jewelers on Main Street, and for $75 Bill mounted the British half-sovereiegn — King Edward V face down and St. George heroically slaying the dragon face-up — in a gold masculine setting that I still wear on my third finger right hand to this day.

It was two years later that I again saw Jenny Looney, now married and promoted to a full managership at Tittley’s. I was in Ireland for a few days, and when we picked up a car at the airport, she handed me the keys and tenderly touched my ring.

“What a handsome setting!” she exclaimed. “It’s often I’ve wondered what you did with the coin.”

“I was lucky to receive it. I can’t believe you Scotch-taped it to a postcard, and it made it all the way across the Atlantic.”

She shook her crimson curls. “Nor can I, lad. I was concerned about the Irish Postal Office, but of course, no one in the States would heist it. . . . Would they, now?”


Copyright©2011 by Robert Mills

A Reminder: Mr. Mills’s second novel—AURA LEE—a Civil War tale, is now available for ordering at www.authorsden.com/robertmills. It can be ordered on line and delivered promptly to your door.


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