They came and stayed for three weeks
To tan their pale white cheeks
In Irish sun
That appeared for fun
And made us all feel like sheikhs
On May 22nd, the sliding doors opened at our beloved Shannon Airport, spewing out international travelers, when among them appeared Mom and Dad! Dad and Joe smiled, Mom and I cried, and we began our first adventure together: driving down the left side of the road. By the end of their trip, both Mom and Dad not only said they had a wonderful time, they had also decided on new careers if/when they move to Ireland…
During the first week, we toured the Bunratty Castle and folk park, just outside Limerick. I’m pretty sure Dad’s favorite part of that was finding the secret latch on the castle entrance floor, where they’d pour hot oil on the heads of intruders. Or learning the phrase “Céad míle fáilte” (pronounced: kade mee la fall cha) which is Gaelic for “A hundred thousand welcomes.” Mom’s must have been watching a sheep practice yoga in the middle of a pasture. We spent the weekend in Limerick, strolling through the Milk Market and the Hunt Museum, taking in a delicious lunch at the Curragower, overlooking King John’s Castle and going to church at our favorite local parish, Mary Magdalene.
I’m sure most 70-somethings would need to rest after an eventful weekend like that, and maybe mine did, but we took them on a roadtrip anyway! Traveling through the Burren, we stopped at an old portal tomb and a tea room for coffee and scones. The tea room is also the site of a perfumery, where perfume is made from mediterranean flowers which mysteriously grow in the Burren. Driving along narrow roads, we gazed out our windows at the intricate stone walls outlining our path. This would be the beginning of my dad’s inspiration to become a stone wall builder if/when he moves to Ireland. There’s a school for it and everything. Although he’s already got an engineering degree, that must count for something. Arriving in Galway, we went out for another tasty dinner, although I tried to warn them to save room for their first full Irish breakfast the following morning…
Okay, I know the Limerick I wrote above refers to three weeks of straight sunshine, and while that’s nearly true, it seriously poured in Galway. Mom and I were walking down Shop Street and finally decided to duck under an awning like all the locals were doing as they stared at us like we were nuts for walking through it. What, we’re from Seattle, and deep in conversation. After some real fish n’ chips, the four of us made way to the Galway Cathedral to light a few candles. Dad and I braved the windy mist and walked along the River Corrib, where we stopped to chat with four fishermen casting their lines. Just as we began to move on, one got a bite and there was all this excitement…until he lost the fish. To which another commented, “These hooks aren’t worth a shite.” Dad and I just smiled at each other. Shite, it sounds so pretty with an accent.
The following days, we visited a few sites around Limerick. In the village of Kilaloe, we took a boat cruise along the River Shannon, and Lough (lake) Derg. In Adare, we basked in the sun at the Adare Manor and Golf Course where we met Michael Flately, Lord of the Dance (who the course owner was referring to when he joked, “Just as well he can dance because he sure as hell can’t golf!”). A short drive out of town, after hiking through the Clare Glens, the Monks at the Glenstal Abbey performed vespers (chant) in an incense-filled church.
Time for another road trip. This time we travelled west to Lahinch (stopping for coffee, ice cream, and periwinkle sea snails), the Cliffs of Moher (a rainy foggy day just perfect for imagining Vikings getting shipwrecked on those cliffs), and we ended in Doolin, scoring a table next to the live trad. We feasted on mussles and Guinness stew, not to mention plenty of pints. As the old man belted out Whiskey in the Jar, we clinked our glasses together shouting “lawn chairs!” (a more memorable version of Slainte!). By the end of the evening, Dad was singing his way back to the B&B and Mom was doing fine imitations of Sid the Sloth from Ice Age. Have I mentioned how much I appreciate having parents who stand for integrity, justice, love and all the important things in life- but just as much value a good laugh (and several good pints)?
The following morning, we boarded our vessel out to the smallest of three Aran Islands, Inisheer. (This is where the Aran sweaters, or traditional Irish sweaters, come from.) While the other three enjoyed the ride, I felt like jumping off, well at least the previous night’s pints felt like jumping off. Anyway, once on land, we took a gentleman named Michael up on his offer for a horse-drawn tour of the island: stone wall mazes, a shipwrecked boat, ice cream from a local, a naked Irishman changing on shore, goats, horses, cows; this is Ireland. On the boat ride back to Doolin, we stopped under the Cliffs for a spectacular view, including hundreds of puffins and other birds chilling on the cliff ledges. Before heading home, Mom and I went shopping in Doolin (which consists of about 7 buildings on the main drag; I’m sure Joe and Dad figured it wouldn’t take us very long, but we did not cease to impress them with our shopping abilities even so…) Our favorite was the music shop where Mom bought me spoons and Joe a tin whistle.
“And it’s No, Nay, never,
No, nay never no more
Will I play the wild rover,
No never no more”
…thanks Mom, this is fun.
Back in Limerick, Dad and Joe golfed at the Castletroy Golf Club across the road from our apartment, while Mom and I showed off our mad tennis skills at the University courts. Joe got an email from Fr. Cobb, the priest who married us, saying he was touring Ireland with a group of regents, so we met him for lunch in town- small world.
It’s been nearly a year since Joe and I were married, and closer to 55 for my parents, who celebrated in Ireland. A while back, I was looking up Anniversary symbols online and discovered that the first year’s symbol is a clock. Cool, we’ll go to the Rack and pick out a couple of watches, done. Then I looked up the year 55 symbol, and guess what: it’s an Emerald. Where better place for them to celebrate than on the Emerald Isle? They renewed their vows after mass at Mary Magdalene church in Limerick with Fr. Neenan, in front of a few locals who congratulated them afterwards. And we were off for our final road trip, south to Killarney.
On June 7th, their anniversary, the four of us went fishing in Lough Leane, and although we did not reel in any fish, we did witness real-life swan dives. Following lunch at the Muckross House, we took a horse carriage jaunt through the Gap of Dunloe. Mom and I, after spotting the lovely carriages in town the night before, thought it might be fun to bring along some wine and cheese and crackers. Good thing we forgot to, because as we were bumping up and down in the tiniest carriage I’ve ever half-sat in (not the same type as the ones in town), could you imagine red wine being involved? Regardless, it was far more magnifiscent than any city tour. Joe and I went for a trail run around Killarney while Mom and Dad napped. They woke up in time for a fancy shmancy dinner at Hotel Europe: while the sun set on their 55th year together, we sipped and munched as Joe and I watched them exchange gifts- feeling grateful to have such solid examples to look up to and learn from.
Next day we were up and at em for a scenic drive of the Ring of Kerry. First stop: Valentia Island, where we boarded a three-car ferry to see Cromwell’s lighthouse, a Grotto of St. Bernadette and Mary, and the Skellig Rocks (which early Christian monks made their home off shore, and carved 600 steps by hand up to a monastery at the top). Departing Valentia, we continued on, when off the side of the highway, two young lads were herding a group of sheep into a small enclosed area next to their van; time for the annual woolcut. Mom asked us to pull over so she could watch, which I’m sorry we didn’t do due to the tour busses in front of and behind us at the time. It was on this drive that Mom decided to become a sheep shearer if/when she moves to Ireland. I’m sure there’s a school for that too, but her days in beauty school would likely make her a skilled shearer anyway. We stopped at Ladies View (Joe and Dad closed their eyes) and the Torc Waterfall (they looked this time), ending back in Killarney.
Two more days- what else could we cram into the itinerary? Dingle! Traveling northwest from Killarney, we reached my new favorite town- mainly because I discovered a dolphin shop there: dolphin keychains, jewelry, textiles, books, videos…I should be careful this doesn’t turn into something weird, although I think it already has (I have 2 keychains already, a couple t-shirts, several nic-nacs, just need a tattoo). Dad enjoyed seeing the boats in the harbor and we watched two fellas paint the underneath of a large vessel, from their dingy using a long-handled paint brush. We stopped in a music shop and met Michael Herlihy, the owner, who gave us a demonstration on his sqeezebox, and told us where to go that evening to catch the best trad. After pub hopping for a couple hours, we ended up settling in at An Droichead Beag (The Small Bridge). Michael and the other musicians poured their hearts into every song. As Dingle Bay was being sung, you could feel the energy right down to your feet, which tapped so willingly.
One last day in Ireland: We drove around the Dingle Peninsula, on which you could count a half-million sheep. We all fell asleep in the process; except Joe who was driving. We made a few stops- The Gallarus Oratory (an early Christian church built about 1,300 years ago) beehive huts, and an island that appears to look like a sleeping giant. Then back to Limerick for one last Irish meal, packing and a night’s rest before their trip back to Seattle.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for coming to experience this beautiful country with us. You were fantastic travel buddies! …so, where to next?
The sun was sinking oer the westward
The fleet is leaving Dingle shore
I watch the men row in their curraghs
As they mark the fishing grounds near Scellig Mor
All through the night men toil until the daybreak
while at home their wives and sweethearts kneel and pray
That God might guard them and protect them
and bring them safely back to Dingle Bay
I see the green Isle of Valencia
I mind the days around Lough Lein
The gannets swinging with abandon
As they watch the silver store that comes their way
I also see a ship on the horizon
She is sailing to a country far away
on board are exiles feeling lonely
As they wave a fond farewell to Dingle Bay
Now years have passed as I came homeward
And time has left me old and grey
I sit and muse about my childhood
And the happy times I spent near Dingle Bay
I see again the green isle of Valencia
And the Isle of Inishmore seems far away
And I’m always dreaming of my childhood
And the happy days I spent near Dingle Bay