A hitchhiker’s guide to humanity
An Irishman’s Diary in which Frank McNally recalls lifts given and received
‘Maybe hitch-hikers are not so unusual where you live, but in my experience they’ve become as rare as corncrakes’. Photograph: Getty Images
Driving back from the Monaghan-Cavan football match in Clones earlier this summer, I saw a strange thing by the side of the road. Two strange things, actually: both hitch-hikers. Maybe hitch-hikers are not so unusual where you live, but in my experience they’ve become as rare as corncrakes. So without even thinking, I stopped and gave them a lift.
They were a young couple, it turned out. He was local. She was from the other side of the world – Thailand. They had met in London, where both worked. For him, this was a short visit home.
As is generally the case with hitch-hikers, they made pleasant company, happy to pay their fare in conversation. We talked about London, and Thailand, and the rising graph of Monaghan GAA. We discussed too our ancient tribal grudge with Cavan, including the question of whether the game just played would lead to an upsurge in tension along cross-community interfaces.
And I would have liked to explore another fascinating question – what on earth an Ulster football match looks like to a person from south-east Asia? But I never did hear my foreign guest’s insights into this weird cultural clash.
The effects of the long shifts she worked (as a nurse, I think), the warm weather, and a couple of post-match beers all took their toll. Or maybe it was just the Ulster football. In any case, after a few minutes, she fell asleep in the back seat.
It feels odd (unless you’re a taxi driver) having a stranger in your car. But a sleeping stranger is even odder. It’s like driving with a baby for the first time. You’re suddenly in a position of great trust. Not to the extent that you want to put a “sleeping hitch-hiker on board” sign in your back window. But it does make you consciously more careful.
Anyway, I was glad afterwards to have done a favour for a returning emigrant and an overseas visitor, simultaneously. I told myself this counted as double points on the life-long balance sheet of lifts given and received, although I fear the debits – mostly from the 1980s, before I had a car – still outnumber the credits, for which there are far fewer opportunities now.
I gather hitch-hiking is making some sort of comeback in downturn Ireland. At least that’s the claim of a website (hitchwiki.org) I found when googling the topic. I also found the interesting blog of Ruairi McKiernan (community.ie), a Cavan man and community organiser who embarked on a month-long hitching tour of Ireland this summer to find out what people were thinking.