Our taxi detours to the Galway suburb of Salthill, where we stop at Blackrock, a concrete outcropping next to the Seapoint Promenade amusement park. Dominated by a cankerous yellow diving tower, this saltwater swimming hole is crawling with kids, who take turns cannonballing into the steely Atlantic. Once a year, when he was a child, the 11 members of Treacy’s family would squash into a borrowed car and head for this "leisure land" extravaganza, with its Ferris wheel, fish-and-chips shops, and amateur street performers. Now, the lanky blond sits incognito among the damp, jolly throng and contemplates the astonishing play of cloud and light on the bay. "I associate Galway with the sea. It smells so fresh," he says.
We pause for a nip outside Tigh Neachtain, one of Galway’s oldest pubs. Treacy is perfectly in his element on this hectic street corner; he’s equally at ease on Paul Allen’s yacht in St. Bart’s, at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, at Titian’s tomb at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, and at the Tramway Diner on Second Avenue in Manhattan (where he loves the French toast). When discussing his favorite hotels, some of which colored his notions for the G, he mentions iconoclastic hideaways such as Casa de Madrid in Spain and the obsessive-compulsive Madonna Inn at San Luis Obispo. "The G has elements of everything I’ve learned since I left Ireland," Treacy says.
While we’re inside ordering Irish coffees, an excited girl wearing a gaudy bucket hat works up the nerve to interrupt. "Are yis Philip?" she asks. He nods politely. Galwegians may have trouble recognizing Marilyn Monroe, but they can pick out one of their own.
Just before lunch, we load Treacy’s terriers, Harold and Archie, into the taxi and set out for Connemara. Northwest along Lough Corrib, toward the 4,900-acre national park, the view turns wild—a spine of black mountains, tumbled boulders, pink heather, flocks of sheep. We pull off the road to admire Killary Harbour, a narrow seaway between craggy bluffs. Treacy wanders into a mossy field, skillfully avoiding the soggy loam, following a path of lichen-crusted rocks. His spotlessly groomed puppies grab at the chance to run amok. They charge straight for a turf pit filled with tannic-looking water and, without hesitation, fling themselves in. "It’s just a bog," he laughs, hauling them out by the collar. The dogs’ white coats have turned peat green.
In Leenane, we order fried cheese and brown bread with smoked salmon at the Blackberry Café. Our oysters were harvested just outside the front door. The gray clouds that have mantled the higher elevations all afternoon are slowly descending to sea level. We’re way out in An Gaeltacht, where residents switch from English to Irish with ease. Road markers are printed in both languages, but the translation is often comically inaccurate, as we discover when the van reaches Port na Feadóige, which means Bay of Plovers. The sign reads "Dog’s Bay." That suits our canine companions. Treacy says he collects seashells, and sets off on a hunt for specimens. The light has turned a dark silver, which matches the tarnished sea lapping this sheltered cove. Treacy stands at water’s edge as little Archie bobs like a white buoy in the gentle swell, paddling furiously after a gnawed tennis ball. While playing catch on the shore, the shy Irishman finally forgets he is under scrutiny. He unzips his tight black windbreaker, loosens his royal-blue collar, and for an unguarded moment, reveals the emblem on his T-shirt underneath. It’s the Cat in the Hat.
"When Philip Met Isabella," Cranbrook Art Museum; Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; 877/462-7262; www.cranbrook.edu; June 4-August 13.
Shane Mitchell is a contributing editor for T+L.