This had been arranged in the heady midsummer month. A glamorous mini- break to rekindle friendships, relax, have fun and drink. In between arranging this break and the event itself one friend's father had died and the other had just finished with her long-term relationship. Both, quite rightly, would cry at various times throughout the day. Neither could sleep, and didn't want me to either. Dublin, so far, had been a blur.
A miserable-looking pub in Howth opened its doors. All pubs are miserable to me. I hate the unfriendly atmosphere of most, and the masculine dominance of the others. Sunday lunch-time in hell. The pub was empty, brown and cold.
I sat at a small, round table. It was one of two in an alcove. One friend went to the phone, the other to the bar. I toyed with my drinks mat. I noticed that the mat on the next table had a bit of paper on it saying "musicians". Last night must have seen wild fiddlers and much stomping. I imagined the scene. I sat with my large G and T. The other two drank Guinness. I was hoping to make the suggestion that daily flights home might be a rather special idea. My single friend shot back to the phone. I glanced towards the window. The mist was rolling in nicely now. Clouds were lurking around the lampposts. My tan was beginning to streak.
I was aware of some shuffling at the next table. Three dripping men arrived with instruments. The men shouted to the bar. Guinness appeared. Six pints of Guinness. Two glasses of water. I raised an eyebrow to my friend. Fiddles, drums, pipes, all like jewels in our alcove. Our hearts began to come out of hiding. The air was charged with exquisite notes. I rhythmically tapped the place mat on the table. My foot was drumming along to the beat of the fiddle. More Guinness arrived. The pub warmed. Customers flowed in.
An elderly, smartly dressed gentleman approached us. Could he and his party of two, his son and friend, join us at our table? We hitched along the bench. The son went to buy drinks. "I've brought my son here so that he can hear some proper music," the Canadian-accented father told me. I laughed. He laughed. Then a "shh" went hissing round the pub. A lament was poured out. I could see the tones gliding across the valleys to the woman sitting by the fire, bereft. A sharp jab in my side.
"Look, he's that actor". I squinted at the son. I certainly recognised his face. "From The Crying Game." She elbowed me again. "Well, what's his name?" I muttered. I hadn't seen The Crying Game. I carried on tapping. The father turned to me. "This is my son, Neil." Neil raised his glass and gave us a small, friendly wave. We knew the face. Even broken-hearted joined in. We silently scanned our personal directories of actors. No name fitted that face.
I stood up to buy a round. I knocked over the father's beer, apologised and offered to buy one for him. I looked at Neil, who was laughing. I headed for the bar. Half-way there, it hit me like a thunderbolt. I leapt back to our seat - sans drink - whispering wildly, "It's Neil Young, it's Neil Young." I knew he was touring. I'd nearly treated my partner to a ticket to the Phoenix to see him. Here he was, flesh and blood, at our table. I couldn't tear myself away to go back to the bar. "You don't even like Neil Young," my broken-hearted friend said. "I do now." She kindly went for drinks. The pub was heaving by this time. Some recognised Neil (as I like to call him now), and one tourist took a photo of our table. "That's his wife" she said, with great authority, looking straight at me. The third of their party was Billy Preston. They stayed for an hour or so before going off to lunch. We took Neil's beer glass. I wanted it engraved: "Neil Young's drinking vessel. July 1996".
That night, with me still insisting my friends call me "Mrs Young", we ate in Cook's Restaurant in Dublin. The wine and the food and our day made for a pleasurable cocktail of noises, delights and laughter. We drank too much. We were too loud. The waiters were kind. At 2am we sauntered into the heatwave of an early morning. All sign of rain had vanished. I was looking up to the sky. I was in heaven. A man bumped into me. We both laughed. A car then swallowed him up, along with his two friends. We three stood open-mouthed. "Ronnie Wood ... that was Ronnie Wood ... We'd know that nose anywhere."
The night was now full of Mick Jaggers and Daniel Day-Lewises. We were high as kites as we clambered into an open carriage outside St Stephen's Park, to be taken home. The driver and co-driver whipped the road and the horse clopped its way over bridges, across traffic lights, past lovely houses and greens. We arrived at our friend's flat. The driver handed me a piece of paper and a pen: "Will you sign this?". I asked why. "'Cos you're Britt Ekland, aren't you?"
Monica Troughton paid pounds 84 for a flight to Dublin from Birmingham on Aer Lingus.
CITY FACTS: DUBLIN
There is considerable competition on routes to the Irish capital from the UK; Apart from Aer Lingus (0645 737747), there is also British Airways Express (0345 222111), British Midland (0345 554554), Ryanair (0171-435 7101) and CityJet (0171-474 8888) departing from various UK airports, with fares beginning at pounds 64 including tax.
Eurolines (01582 404511) has a return coach fare of pounds 33 by day, pounds 39 by night from London, using the ferry from Holyhead. InterCity West Coast (0345 991995) charges pounds 65-pounds 70 for a train-sea return ticket from London. For further information, contact Bord Failte/Irish Tourist Board, 150 New Bond Street, London W1Y 0AQ (0171-493 3201).