My grandmother was born in Ireland. She sailed out of Cork for the United States when she was thirteen years old, and her family settled in Columbus, Ohio. My dad was born in Ohio, and although there are a few of us scattered around the States, most of his family still lives there. I grew up knowing we had Irish Roots, but until very recently, I didn’t truly appreciate what that meant.
This past month, my husband and I reached a milestone: Our Fifteenth Wedding Anniversary. To celebrate, he surprised me with a trip to Ireland—just Us. Because of my Irish roots, we both have always been intrigued with retracing those generational steps. But, it was one of those things on the “someday plan”, and not something I expected at this point in our journey. A trip like this was something we would have talked about, planned for, and worked toward. I was stunned, surprised, excited, and then a little apprehensive. We would be leaving the children for seven full days, and putting an entire ocean between them and us. An ocean. Of water. On top of that entire ocean, our international communication would be subpar at best. I would be inconsistently available to talk, to check in, or to blow kisses through the phone. To ease some of my concerns, I prepared a document giving grandparents notarized consent to take the kids to any emergency room available—with my youngest, I felt certain they would need it. I packed their bags with some extra tender loving care, stashing a few love notes and tokens for them to find throughout the week. We enlisted family to give them a fun week of activities in hopes that they would be so busy they didn’t even notice the ocean between us. Seven days seemed like an eternity to not see them, to hug them, and to tuck them into their beds. Plus, I worried they would have horrible manners, fight, whine, cry, or throw fits; I was certain they would probably have to be reminded to brush their teeth, hair, and when to flush; I predicted they would get annoying, loud, and even louder. It was a lot to ask, and by the end, I was afraid we might have used up all our credits with family babysitting. It felt strange leaving the kids behind for this adventure, something they are learning to love. But then, this was a time to celebrate just Us, and I tried to tell myself that was an important lesson to teach them, too. Little did I know the lessons I would learn in just one short week.
Coming from a hot, dry Texas summer, I was taken aback as I looked out the airplane window to the vast acres of rolling, green hills. Petunias, geraniums, daisies, and chrysanthemums spilled wildly from the fields to the roadways without any necessary watering or care. I was instantly jealous of the rain this little country seemed to hoard all to itself. In addition, as we stepped out of the airport in our shorts and sandals, we noticed the well-prepared Irish wearing scarves, boots, and jackets. It was like the twilight zone of August, but it wasn’t long before I was digging for my own layers to block out that crisp, rainy wind. The climate change was a small thing compared to the driving change that would plague our trip. As if driving on the “wrong” side of the road wasn’t enough, our Irish GPS didn’t recognize many of the places we’d hoped to go. So, as we maneuvered the single lane, overgrown, windy roads, and roundabouts, we also frantically read the road signs or buildings to grasp an idea of our locations—that was a theme throughout the week, but one that became the source of many laughs. A few times we did stop to ask for directions from locals, and with our mixture of Texas Twang and Irish Brogue we sometimes set off in the right general direction, sometimes not. But no matter which direction we drove, we were surrounded by awe-inspiring natural beauty.
As we drove, we read the history of the country, stopped at forts or burial tombs built in 3,000 B.C. churches built in 1108, and castles built between 1300-1600. We began to scoff at anything built in 1800 or later, laughing that the time period was trendy and modern. We saw castles ruined by Thomas Cromwell, churches built by the Catholic Church, and cottages pieced together during the potato famine. In simply seeing these buildings, we not only learned, but felt the history of this breath-taking country.
More than anything, it was the people we met that melted our hearts. There was the sheepherder in the mountains of Killarney. We spoke with him about his sheep, his dogs, and our little journey. At least, we think we did. Apparently even the Irish have difficulty understanding the Irish Sheepherder. There was the young college-bound carriage driver, and his horse Paddy. He was genuinely thankful for a barn full of hay for the winter, a beautiful sunny day in the park, and the fact that we were blessed with “two solid jobs.” He beamed as he hoped to see us again on the streets of New York City—where he plans to intern soon. And finally, there was the couple we met at dinner, who were “on holiday” for the weekend, taking in the sights of the country they love. We chatted about nightlife, culture, and economics. We learned of their friends, many of whom had left their country in search of jobs. We learned of their concern for America’s economic state, and how closely linked our economy is to theirs, hearing in their words “When America gets a cold, we get pneumonia.” They spoke of their family histories, and I spoke of mine. They were eager to hear of our day in Cork-the county of my grandmother’s birth, and promised to help find more information as we hugged goodbye and exchanged emails.
The last day of our trip, we tracked down the house where my grandmother was born. We stood outside the childhood homes of my great-great grandmother and grandfather. We walked the isles of the church where my great-great grandparents married, and my heart was light with happiness. Surprisingly, I didn’t cry. My sappy heart held it together as I bathed in all the experience that had brought me to that point.
As we stepped back into the hot Texas sun, and began digging for sandals as we stripped our layers of scarves and jackets, I looked for the kids. I couldn’t wait to hug them and tell them about Rock of Cashel, and the impact of St. Patrick’s Shamrock in the year 433. I wanted to paint the picture of the gorgeous green pastures where sheep graze with their quick-witted herder. I had my camera ready to show them pictures where their family worshiped, had Faith to marry, and to sail for America–away from their Home.
Now, safely tucked into our Texas Home, we marvel at our Irish Roots together, gazing on our shamrocks and hoping with a bit o’ luck we will always feel this blessed.