It was Christmas week. The jostling crowds of returning migrants making their seasonal pilgrimage home, and foreign-born kin eager to explore their cultural roots, gave Dublin airport the appearance and feel of a refugee transit camp.
The party started as soon as Corrigan and Evelyn came through the exit from customs into the arrivals hall and were spotted by a boisterous trio of Corrigan's former student colleagues sent to intercept them.
"There's yer man!"
"Will ye look what he's brought back with him! Are there many more like that back there, Joe?"
"You're looking just great, Joe. It's good to have you back."
They were showered with rice, which they had avoided in Reno since the ceremony had been a simple, civic one, and draped with streamers. Corrigan was treated to a swig of Bushmills from a hip flask and presented with a wrapped bottle of something. Evelyn got a bouquet and was introduced to "Mick," "Dermot," and "Kathleen."
"Ah, Mick won't be so bad, once you get used to him," Dermot assured her.
"Dermot's all right, really. He doesn't say things like that when he's sober," Mick explained.
"Evelyn, ye can expect no sense at all out of any of them, now that the three are together again," Kathleen warned.
"She's probably right," Dermot agreed.
"And it'll get worse," Mick guessed.
The laughing, taunting and back-slapping continued as they trundled the baggage cart out of the terminal building and across to the parking levels. The air was chilly after California and Nevada, but Corrigan had had the foresight to invest in some warm clothes before they left.
"And what possessed you to end up with the likes of him?" Mick asked Evelyn. He was a hefty and solid six-footer, with the complexion of a radish, and prize-fighter features. "America must be getting hard-up for men these days, since the last I heard of it."
"Ah, it's his blarney," Dermot told them. "You didn't swallow the line about his uncle owning Aer Lingus, did you?" he said to Evelyn.
"There's a long line of sorry women who are after hearing that one."
"Wasn't that how he got chased out of Ireland in the first place?"
"I thought that was to do with the wealthy widow-woman that he was sponging off."
"The one with the mustache and the warts on the nose, was it?"
"Not her, at all, at all. Another one."
"Well, shame on the man."
"It'll do you no good. Sure, he never knew the meaning of the word."
"My friends," Corrigan sighed, grinning.
"Well shame on the two of you," Kathleen declared. She slipped an arm through Evelyn's. "You just stick close to me, and I'll show you who the decent people are. We do have a few left over here, you know."
"And what would you know about them?" Mick challenged. "She's away over the water and gets herself a Brit for a boyfriend, and then comes back to preach at us about decent people! Did you ever hear the like of it?"
"Don't listen to them," Kathleen advised.
"Joe didn't listen to us either, and look what happened to him," Dermot said. "He's come back a Yank. It's the end of him."
"America's great," Corrigan told them. "A great place if you want to make some money."
"Maybe so," Mick agreed cheerfully. "But Ireland's the place to spend it."
They piled into Mick's Toyota wagon, and after negotiating the succession of traffic "roundabouts" to exit the airport, they were soon heading south into the city. The road, still wet from rain earlier that morning, was congested by slow-moving crawls of traffic interspersed with Atha Cliath's bright-green, double-decker busses. Despite the gray sky, the chill and the damp in the air, and the sooty countenances of the old buildings, after Boston, Pittsburgh, and the West Coast, Corrigan found it exhilarating to be back among the narrow streets with their lines of shop-fronts and busy sidewalks. There were trees and Christmas lights in the windows, pubs carrying signs for Guinness stout and Harp lager, local branches of the Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks; and the "To-Let" signs had names of auctioneers, not realtors.
"You know, this old city might be showing its age and crumbling in parts, but it's nice to be back in a place that was built for people to live in, not automobiles to drive through," he remarked fondly as he took it all in. "It's a good thing that they never let too many planners loose to improve it."
"The only way you could improve this mess would be by bombing it," Mick growled as the lights turned back to red a second time without the line moving.
Evelyn had wanted to see Trinity College, where Corrigan had earned his degree. He had warned that the wrong end of an eastbound trans-Atlantic redeye flight would not be the best time for satisfying that kind of curiosity, and by now she was in full agreement. Postponing that item for another day, they crossed the Liffey via the East Link toll bridge in the heart of Dublin's dockland to follow the coast road to Corrigan's home town of Dun Laoghaire. Apparently, more people were gathering there to greet them.
"I didn't realize I was so popular," Corrigan said, permitting himself a small dash of self-flattery when he was told.
"And who said you were?" Mick retorted. "It's just a good excuse for a party. Sure, they don't even remember who you are."
Evelyn smiled to herself in the back with Kathleen. Evidently, immodesty did not sit well with the Irish.
Then came the cross-examination on Corrigan's work and what he had been doing--wearying after the journey, but to be expected. But behind the banter and the digs that never let up, Evelyn detected sincere curiosity and a genuine respect for his achievements overseas. Then it was Corrigan's turn to ask the questions, and the talk degenerated into a cataloging of names, and who was where and doing what these days, most of which meant nothing to her.
Mick, despite the wild-bachelor image that Evelyn had formed, was now married and working with the European Economic Community on economic modeling. Dermot said that the one thing he had in common with economists was that he didn't understand economics. "Ah, what would the likes of you know about anything?" Mick asked him.
Kathleen was a systems analyst with British Aircraft Corporation, come back to Ireland for the holidays and the "crack." As far as Evelyn could make out, this was something of a catchall term for generally having a good time. Corrigan told her that along with reproduction and education, it made up most of the country's export industry.
Dermot seemed to have worked the most closely with Corrigan in former years. He was still with their former professor, Brendan Maguire, who had moved away from Dublin's urban environs to set up an EEC-funded research outpost of Trinity at what sounded like a remote spot, called Ballygarven, near Galway on the west coast.
"What's Brendan doing there?" Corrigan asked.
"What he's always been interested in: a bottom-up approach to AI," Dermot replied. "Your kind of thing, Joe. Now that he's got himself away from all the bureaucracy and the politics, he's able to do things his own way. Basically, he's defining clusters of agents as elementary software entities and letting them evolve. We call them his `insects.'"
"A Minsky approach," Corrigan said.
"I worked with Minsky for a bit while I was at MIT."
"I know. That's why I think you'd be interested. We'll have to try and get you over while you're here."
"I'll try and work it in," Corrigan promised.
"Brendan would never forgive you if he found out you were back and didn't go over there to say hello to him."
"How are you finding it over there yourself?" Corrigan asked.
"I like it."
"Isn't it a bit quiet after Dublin?"
"Ah, I've had me fill of this smelly city. Anyhow, there's good crack in Galway, which isn't too far away. The scenery is grand, the women are fine . . . and the pints are as good as you'll find anywhere. That's the main thing."
"Now there speaks an Irishman," Corrigan pronounced.
"What's it like over in the west?" Evelyn asked curiously.
"Ah, sure, there's nowhere to touch it," Brendan told her, turning in his seat and extending an arm toward the window, as if it were all outside. "The winds come in off the sea and over the cliffs as fresh as the day the world was created. The mountains are wild and unspoiled, and the lakes as clear as pools of spring water."
"My God, he's getting lyrical," Kathleen muttered beside Evelyn.
"Let's do go an see it," Evelyn said to Corrigan.
"We'll fit it in somehow," Corrigan promised Dermot.
"But it's so out-of-the-way," Mick said over his shoulder from the driver's seat. "What do you do when you want to go anywhere?"
"Why would I want to go anywhere?" Brendan asked him.
"You have to, sometimes. After all, you're here now, aren't you?"
"Well, I got here, didn't I? So it's obviously possible."
"I'll still take Dublin, meself," Mick declared. "Look at the bay out there, and Howth on the other side. You can't beat that."
"It's an open sewer," Dermot sneered. "Sure, you wouldn't have to be Jesus Christ to walk across to Howth. You couldn't sink through the pollution."
"Who has to walk, anyhow? We've got the DART."
"You need it. Walking would be quicker than this traffic."
"Do they argue all the time?" Evelyn asked Kathleen.
"Not all the time. When they do start really arguing, you'll know it.