His mother never made it to the cow-flecked hills, majestic cliffs, friendly pubs and potato-rich meals of her Irish roots. But, finally, he did.
My mother left yesterday, and again I am reminded why living abroad for all its excitement is hard. I am not sure when I will see her next. We had such a whirlwind visit of road trips and I wanted to write this post before autumn gets swallowed up by the holidays and it is the end of the year.
We have officially entered what I call “the drift:” the original term of Sascha’s contract is up, and yet we are still in Ireland for various reasons, mostly summed up as it is much easier to stay put until work forces the next relocation. Not that it’s a complaint. When I’m healthy, I love Ireland. It is an absolutely beautiful place to live and I know we are so lucky. It is complicated to be without a plan, but we have so many opportunities we might never have otherwise.
One of those opportunities was the chance to meet my late grandmother’s first cousin and family, who live about 2 hours from Dublin. So two weeks ago, when Sascha was in NYC and my mother was here, we packed up the Micra and strapped in the boys and hit the road to meet our Irish relatives.
I don’t know if we would have gone to the Killaloe/Ballina area were it not for the family, but I am so glad we did. The area is rich in history, with Killaloe being the birth place of Brian Boru, the last high king. Killaloe and Ballina are villages opposite each other on the River Shannon, which forms a watery border between the counties of Tipperary and Clare. They are connected by a stone bridge, which is over 300 years old. I mostly have iPhone snaps, so the quality isn’t amazing compared to our new camera, but at least you have some idea.
The bridge is too narrow to allow two-way traffic so a light at either end regulates the flow. The river here is wider than the Liffey and it empties into Lough Derg, the biggest lake in the Republic of Ireland. Rimming the lake are the Slieve Bernagh Mountains (Co. Clare) and the Arra Mountains (Co. Tipperary).
We passed under the bridge on the boat tour. It being off-season, we were the only people on board, so James let the boys (and me) drive the boat. G really grabbed the wheel and enthusiastically turned it back and forth, so the boat fishtailed a bit. I actually got a bit nervous that while the captain took our photo G would run us aground.
We met Michael, his sister Nellie, and his wife, Nancy, at our hotel on our first night and then we made a plan to visit them at the farm the following day. My mother had not seen Michael and Nancy since the 70s, when they visited the U.S. before I was born. She remembers having them over for a barbecue but they didn’t want to eat corn on the cob. They called it “horse food.”
Apparently, after I went back to the room to put the boys to bed, my mom got excited about the potential for a secret smoke. Michael invited her out for a smoke, but she was disappointed to discover it was a pipe, not cigarettes. “Well, I’d've given you a pull or two,” he said.
Because the farm is not on the GPS, we were to meet Michael at a place called “The Lookout.” Around this vast lake, you might imagine there are many lookouts, and we spent some time driving on the wrong side of the lake before I figured it out. We did enjoy the unplanned tour of the Clare County side of Lough Derg and were grateful for Michael’s patience.
Michael took us down to the graveyard where his grandfather and father are buried. Over the years, it had been neglected and he and some other volunteers did a lot of work to restore the grounds and they even won awards for it. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, resting at the bottom of a graceful green slope to the shores of the lake.
After walking the wet grounds of the graveyard, everyone’s feet were soaked. At the house they had a fire going in the sitting room and we were happy to take our shoes off. Out in the country, Nancy says, it seems like things never really dry.
The house they live in is a new house built around the original two-room home where seven children were raised, including my great grandmother. Michael’s son now runs the thriving dairy farm.
I really enjoyed spending time with them.
“Oh to be young again,” Nancy said to me when I looked at her wedding photos. “Some years really make all the difference, don’t they?”
Nancy told me she would have done things differently if she could go back.
Like what? I asked.
I would have traveled, she said.
The last few days of my mom’s visit we’re spending down in Wexford County at Kelly’s. It was beautiful this morning on the beach.
It’s hard to believe we are now into our second year in Ireland. The boys have grown so much. I wish I had done a better job of maintaining the blog for them.
Hope you are all well and I hope to catch you up on these very busy weeks in which I visited the Irish President’s House, met my very distant Irish relatives, and went to Powerscourt. No tonsillitis since August (all fingers crossed.)
While we were driving for the boys’ nap the other day, en route to Hook Lighthouse, this spooky house arose from the flats of Hook Peninsula. We veered off course to check it out. (The goth teen in me lives on.)
This is Loftus Hall, which sits on a lonely finger of land poking into the sea. The wind rushes in from the water (not much in the way of cliffs here to buffer) and whispers through the surrounding grass fields. Eerie!
Today began our planned holiday, so of course that means we found ourselves running to an emergency vet appointment, and Sascha sitting on top of our toy car trying to get the lid of the luggage carrier to close. (Sashi is fine, but she had an infected cut, possibly from a rumble with a lane cat. Also, to those of you who think my cat is a bitch, the vet said “there’s something royal about her.” So there. She can’t help being superior.)
We are in the “sunniest corner” of Ireland and it was beautiful when we finally arrived. Here’s to summer vacations (with no wi-fi). What are your plans?
There was a funny email going around Sascha’s office last week about what it means to be Irish:
I got a good laugh over most of them. I also laughed over Frank McCourt’s explanation. He was writing about Limerick in this quote from Angela’s Ashes, but it’s still applicable:
Above all — we were wet.
Out in the Atlantic Ocean great sheets of rain gathered….The rain dampened the city from the Feast of the Circumcision to New Year’s Eve. It created a cacophony of hacking coughs, bronchial rattles, asthmatic wheezes, consumptive croaks. It turned noses into fountains, lungs into bacterial sponges.
This past weekend was perhaps the most recognizable celebration around the world of being Irish–St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t know why in the U.S. it is St. Patty’s Day, and here it is very definitely St. Paddy’s Day, but it is. After three sinus infections (something I’ve never had a problem with), and some pharyngitis, laryngitis, and conjunctivitis, I’m pretty sure my respiratory tract looks something like this:
So I did not attend the parade. Sascha took the boys and braved the crowd of 500,000 revelers to see the parade in Dublin. Some had been there for hours to reserve a spot. Many had brought ladders to stand on; others climbed atop the monuments and statues in the city centre to get a glimpse. The boys could see only when their dad hoisted them onto his shoulders.
On Sunday, we drove south to Bray and visited the The National Sea Life Centre, a small aquarium.
Bray has the slightly faded, dilapidated feel of seaside resort towns that have seen better days, like spots along the Jersey Shore or Coney Island, which is part of its charm. There was a carnival along the water so we rode the carousel. The boys had great fun digging on the beach and the sea air helped clear my head for a few hours.
We are very fortunate that one set of G & C’s many aunts and uncles are touring musicians. This means no matter where we live, they come through eventually. We don’t see them for stretches and then we’ll have a few days to pack in family time. It also means G & C can readily identify banjos but not guitars.
When Abby and Bela were here, S took the day off so we could go hiking in the morning while the boys were in crèche. Ireland has stunning hill walks and hiking, but the two very short humans usually with us + plunging cliffs is not a good combination. This was our first hike, south of Dublin along the eastern coast of Ireland.
After driving the wrong way through a roundabout exit (close enough to see the stunned expression on the other driver’s face), we made it to Greystones. There’s probably a bigger metaphor/life lesson about roundabouts (traffic circles for you in the U.S.) and the fact that if you miss the exit, you can always go ‘round again that I’ll leave that for you to unpack. Then again, Abby told us about a time she was driving with a band mate and spent fifteen increasingly nauseating minutes circling in a roundabout until their friend rescued them.
The Cliffwalk at Greystones trail head was a bit difficult to find; the marina is under construction so after parking and checking in with a local pub, we maneuvered along chain link fences until we found it.The first part is flat and wide, and then there’s a gradual incline as you go towards the headlands.
Many people enjoy the two-hour walk from Bray to Greystones (or Greystones to Bray) by starting in one village and then hopping on the DART train to return.
When my mother was visiting in January, Sascha took the day off one day so he could pick up the boys from crèche and we could head out on one of the daylong tours that depart from Dublin.
We got picked up at a nearby hotel and set out about 45 minutes north, into County Meath to get a glimpse of Ireland’s pre-Christian history and its Viking blood.
I do not recommend the tour for young families, because it cannot accommodate a buggy/stroller. The terrain is extremely hilly and mucky (both mud and sheep excrement) and thus very slippery. Also, our tour guide took herself very seriously. There was an 18 month-old girl (in a pink coat and purple boots, with a rosebud hat) babbling happily in the seat in front of us, until the tour guide turned around and mentioned to the parents that they should take “him” to the back of the bus, where “he” might be more comfortable, because “he” was sitting close to the microphone and it was her show.
The first stop was the hill of Tara, the ancient capital. That morning there was an incredible fog and a bright coin of sun trying to bore through it. As we wedged into a cut in a stonewall to walk out to the site, everything was shrouded in mist. It truly felt other-worldly, making our way over grassy trenches and mounds, underneath of which were several thousand year-old unexcavated earthworks, included a royal house and passage tombs.
One of the most famous things on the hill is believed to be the Lia Fall or Stone of Destiny, the coronation stone for some 142 kings. Showing how much does not change in politics, it is priapic and attached to a legend: it was said that ancient conquering people of Ireland, the Tuatha De Danaan, brought the pillarstone and it would roar when the true king stood on it. The stone was moved from its original location on the site and ringed with contemporary stonework.
A more modern mythical object is a “Fairy Tree” – a leafless hawthorn whose black branches were covered with ribbons, bits of fabric, and even a USB cable. People make the pilgrimage for luck and good health.
Part 2 (in a few days) will feature Newgrange, a 5000 year-old passage tomb and astrological observatory