I am pleased to report that I have once again landed in a climate where winter feels closer to springtime. I’ve had the lucky pleasure of multiple “pet” days as they call them here in Dublin where the sun is shining, the green grass is frost-less in the morning, and the showers are brief. Saturday’s stretch of cold and rain was the only damper on a week of lovely weather, and even that afforded me the excuse to sit on the couch and read Dublin native Roddy Doyle’s novels for the majority of the day.
Ireland is my homeland in some senses—though only 25% of my blood runs green, I happily claim it as my heritage. The week I’ve had here with Aidan and Rita feels so close to normal that I almost forget I’m an ocean away from home!
As I sat back and thought about this week and all that had passed it became quite clear that though the sites were beautiful, the food top-flight, and the sport matches riveting, the real star of the show were the people I enjoyed these things with.
Aidan and Rita Gallagher: I must start by saying that it would give me a great headache to try to figure out just how many “cousins-removed” we are. Suffice it to say that when we call each other cousins, that’s not even the half of it. The fact that we’re even still in contact is wholly credited to Aidan and Rita and Aidan’s father who have done extensive research on the family genealogy.
Much of that research came from Aidan’s grandmother whose apparent photographic memory made her the unofficial expert on everything Arranmore (the island from which we descend). Here’s a brief story to illustrate this that Aidan shared with me last morning on our walk in Bushy Park:
Some time ago when Aidan was in California for a work-related trip, he met a man who was a spitting image of the Gallaghers from the distinctive nose and ears to his rounded shoulders. When Aidan asked if he had Irish connections, he vehemently and somewhat bitterly denied it. Aidan returned home and told Granny the story. It was with amusement that she told him that during the gold rush, a Gallagher went over to California and had done a bit of “cavorting”. Whether he claimed it or not, Aidan’s new acquaintance was most certainly Irish.
And as long as you claim it, you’re part of the family. “Megan the American from Chicago” is warmly welcomed by neighbors we stop to chat with on our daily walks, by the St. Pius the 10th parish members I meet in the pew and over coffee and biscuits, by folks who lived down the road 18 years ago and recognized Aidan and Rita during a meal at their local restaurant Howard’s Way, and by the various other locals.
The real treat, though, has been getting to spend more time with Aidan and Rita’s relations. It is common here to “call on” family members or friends. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Josie, one of Rita’s cousins, as well as Aidan’s cousin Paddy and his wife Mary. On Friday we drove down to Kilkenny where Paddy and Mary gave us a tour of the city—highlights include the St. Cornice Cathedral and Kilkenny Castle. As we sat over clam chowder, brown bread, coffee and a delicious dessert I heard stories of Aidan and Paddy’s youth and tales from in-between. The yarns Aidan spins are loads of fun—remind me to tell you about the talking dog when I get home…
I’ll save my stories about visiting with their children and grandchildren for the next post—there’s just too many good things to say!
Now a crash course in the goings on: Most days involve a walk (or a jog if I’m feeling ambitious) through Bushy Park, lots of coffee and tea (as well as these lovely little marzipan treats), listening to the news on the radio, and usually evening sport—we’ve been watching the Heineken cup for rugby as well as some soccer and American football. Some favorite outings were a walk along the pier in Dublin bay in Dun Laoghaire and a Sunday drive to the summit at Howth with a walk along the ridge as we watched the sunset paint the sea pink and gray and turquoise.
Today was spent at Trinity College in Dublin where I revisited the Book of Kells and Long Hall—there one of the security guards Benny and I struck up conversation. Half an hour later he was taking down books from the shelf- a 15th century Bible written in Aramaic whose pages he let me touch nearly brought me to tears. A former professional singer whose career took him all around the world, Benny was full of stories and encouragement—he sent me off with a few passes to the museum so that I could return in the next couple weeks to say hello. When Benny left, another jaw-dropped, awe-struck student and I traded turns taking pictures of each other in the beautiful library. A Netherlands native studying in Belfast, Merjink (I have no idea how to spell his name actually) and I finished the exhibit together and walked around the beautiful campus trading stories of home and time abroad. He was bravely taking Dublin on solo and after an hour or so we parted ways with a final “See you in Belfast!?” and a good chuckle knowing our brief partnership had reached its end.
After catching the 1 pm mass and shooting the breeze with a Rhode Island native in his fourth year at Trinity and the local chaplain, I made my way up the road to the National Library where the friendly front desk worker let me surrender my tea to him for the duration of my stay. After exploring the W.B. Yeats exhibit and wandering through the book filled rooms wherever the doors were unlocked, I made my way back to that friendly security guard, retrieved my tea, and went on my way as he quipped “Why are all you Chicagoans so nice?” Hear that? The Windy City, home of the nicest visitors in the Midwest. Who woulda thunk it.
The excitement today is that we’re off to Arranmore, the island where my Irish ancestors descended from. And by “we’re off” I mean at any minute. So for now, no pictures, but upon my return to Dublin I’ll add them, fear not.