Interview with RedBull.com
So, Ruairi, what inspired you to hitchhike around Ireland?
I dreamed up the idea of going around Ireland on what I called a listening tour, recording people’s voices, visions, and hopes for Ireland. I used to hitch when I was younger but hadn’t done it for 18 years. I was also craving an adventure to get me away from sitting at the computer so much.
What kind of people did you meet on the road?
80% of the lifts I got were from men. I got picked by people from all walks of life including a barrister, a butcher, a fish monger, and a beekeeper, and all were mad to chat.
What kind of stories did you hear?
People really open up to you when you’re hitching. One guy that made a huge impression on me was an ex priest who is now a sociology lecturer and was on his way to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He talked about the importance of following your dreams and never giving up. I think he knew what he was talking about.
What was the best lift you got?
One guy who picked me up from the Wexford to Waterford ferry at Passage East asked me where I was going. I told him I wasn’t sure. He offered me a place to camp in a field near an amazing secluded beach. It turned out his friends were there and I ended up sharing food, a campfire and a beer with them while my accommodation turned out to be an old horse drawn trailer which was pretty cool.
How long would you have to wait?
My average waiting time was 5 minutes. My longest was 40 minutes.
Did you meet or see any other hitchhikers?
I only saw two during the whole month. One was outside Sligo and unbelievably he started hitching up the road in front of me which is a big no no in hitch-hiking etiquette. I passed another outside Limerick and the driver of the car remarked ‘I wouldn’t pick that fella up. He looks fairly dodgy’. He might have been right.
Tell us what you had in your backpack.
I had a smartphone, a small laptop, camera, mobile internet dongle, audio recorder, a few books, a notebook, a water bottle, some snacks, a sleeping bag, a one man tent, a travel towel, a rain jacket, underwear, good socks, some warm clothes, some summer clothes, and sandals. I wore a pair of Merrell hiking runners that were really comfy, light and rain-proof.
Did you listen to music, if so what?
I brought music but I didn’t end up listening to much for some reason, probably because I was with people from 8am to 9pm most days. I tend to like indie, folk and reggae and my favourites recently are Bon Iver, The National and Colm Mac Con Iomaire.
Did you take any books on the road, if so what?
I took Dan Breen’s ‘My Fight For Irish Freedom’ and ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl.
Did you hold a sign?
I did make one up at the start that just said ‘hitching for hope’ but then I was afraid people might think it was a religious thing so I abandoned it. I also preferred that people just picked me up without an idea of who I was, what I was doing or where I was going.
Where is the best place to hitch?
Smaller country roads are the best. I avoided motorways. When picking a spot to throw out the thumb, you need to make sure the cars coming can see you in the distance and that they have enough space to safely pull over if they decide to stop.
How did it feel being a hitchhiker?
It definitely gave me a renewed sense of adventure and freedom. I think freedom was a key theme and something many of the drivers talked about when remembering their youthful days hitching or adventures they have had.
Did you face any problems on the road? Any crazy people like they show in the movies?!
I got one lift from a guy who kind of scared me when I got in. He had a skin head and tattoos, talked fast and drove fast. However, he ended up being a lovely fella, a great character and a real gentle soul. Situations like this teach you not to judge people in the same way I don’t want people to judge me.
What’s the stupidest thing to do as a hitchhiker?
Not trust your gut instinct or intuition.
What should a hitchhiker wear?
Depends on the weather forecast really. I think wearing layers is good so you can chop and change based on the temperature. Rain gear is good to have handy and bright clothes so you’re
visible and look a little more friendly than standing there all in black.
How did you mentally prepare for it? Like, did you do any self prepping?
I didn’t do any prep whatsoever, which was a bad idea and a good idea. I was too busy sorting out packing and equipment. However, the lack of plans also led to the sense of freedom, mystery and possibility.
What advice did you receive from others?
I didn’t really get any advice except a few people telling me to be careful and others saying ‘I’d never get a lift’ or that it’s very dangerous out there. I understand why people would be worried
or cautious but it’s equally important that we support each other’s dreams regardless. Sometimes people project their own fears onto you.
What’s the toughest thing about being a hitchhiker?
Having to listen to people going on about murderers. I haven’t seen any but there must be a lot of movies out there where the hitchhiker is either murdered or does the murdering. In saying that, I know bad things have happened to some people in the past. But it’s like life, 99% of it is good and positive so you can’t live in fear.
What’s the best thing?
The best thing for me is meeting strangers and hearing stories, as well as the sense of freedom it gives you when you are roaming around without a route or a schedule. I think we are all craving freedom, financial freedom, political freedom but also a kind of soul freedom to be ourselves. Too much of life keeps us safe and conforming. It is boring and it is driving people mad.
Great Ruairi, thanks for the interview, will we see you on the road again soon?
I’ve no immediate plans but that could change within days. I got an email from a German documentary maker the other day asking me to come hitching with him and another from an erotic fiction writer asking me to review her book. There’s never a dull moment! First things first I’m planning to write my own book. Lovely chatting to you!
It's easy to forget to say thanks to people who have helped you out along the way, especially people who are older and no longer in your life. That's why I'm happy to have the opportunity to say thanks (via an Irish Times article today on 'teachers that have inspired') to the legendary Hugh Barney O'Brien, my old history and English teacher. Hugh continues to power on as a huge voice for justice, rattling cages, volunteering, teaching history in the community, publishing books, being part of the drama scene, helping others, and enjoying life along the way. He also survived having me as a student (not easy I'm sure). 'Some man for one man!'. Here's what I said in the paper: >>
Inspirational teachers, Irish Times
Ruairí McKiernan on Hugh Barney O'Brien
"I particularly enjoyed history", says Ruairí McKiernan of his days at St. Aidan's Comprehensive in Cootehill, Co. Cavan. "I had a phenomenal teacher called Hugh Barney O'Brien. He is a local historian and dramatist. He had a small part in Father Ted at one stage." McKiernan recalls "He was stern, but he was also fun. A great character who wasn't afraid to provide a bit of comedy to engage the class. It was so obvious that he enjoyed what he was doing. His animation made us excited about history. So many teachers aren't into what they are teaching and it becomes clear to the student".l
The lessons have stayed with McKiernan. "He basically taught us critical inquiry. To question the source and the accuracy of everything. That's been invaluable for me...He gave me a great interest in history, politics, and media, and how the worldworks. This in turn has influenced me in my campaigning and understanding the importance of making your own media and getting your voice heard."
McKiernan is worried about talk of removing history as a compulsory Junior Cert subject. "It takes away a fundamental tenet of any society, which is to understand your history. Politically, it is quite dangerous as well. To understand politics, you need to understand history. If we all had a bit of that, we'd have a much healthier society and people would be more engaged in how the country is run."
McKieran continues to be inspired by his former teacher. "He's retired now and is a community activist who still campaigns, teaches and publishes. He's influenced me hugely and my main message to him would be 'Thank you'. Thanks for serving me and inspiring me and serving the community at large beyond the walls of the classroom"
- Article by Joanne Hunt, Irish Times (Back to School supplement).
A selection of Ruairí's articles published in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Times, the Huffington Post, and other publications.