It’s a long way to Tipperary

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 village of Killaloe

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).

Top picture is a plaque on the bridge looking toward Lough Derg that commemorates four men shot by Auxiliaries in 1920. The middle picture shows Killaloe Bridge, with some of the original arches from over three hundred years ago.

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.

A rare picture of the four of us!

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. Some islands in Lough Derg are visible in the background

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.

Nancy and some other women planted many of the flowers in the foreground of the first photo. Michael helped restore the ironwork on the church ruins.

This is the grave of Michael’s grandfather, who was my mother’s grand uncle

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.

Michael, my mom, Nancy, and Nellie

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.

The boys were mad for the tractors. Millie the dog was mad for them

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?”

Michael and Nancy recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I love the confetti on his shoulder

Nancy told me she would have done things differently if she could go back.

Like what? I asked.

I would have traveled, she said.

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Thankful

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Thanksgiving has long been one of my favorite holidays. Some version of Christmas exists nearly anywhere you go, but not Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the one you must create, wherever you are, the one that makes you American and makes you … Continue reading

Grand Canal Theatre and a glimpse of the Dublin Docklands

We can’t thank Jerry and Jill enough for thinking of us and giving me a reason to leave the cuckoo’s nest of parenting last week. Jerry was in town with Alison Krauss and Union Station, and they played the Grand Canal Theatre. It was also a wonderful excuse to see a bit of the Docklands area, which had money poured into it during the Celtic Tiger years, much like the resurgence in Brooklyn’s Columbia St. Waterfront and Gowanus Canal areas. It is an interesting area of Dublin, where the Grand Canal empties into the Liffey River, which divides the city into north and south.

The Grand Canal Theatre. Parts of it remind me of L.A.'s Disney Hall, but the stage area is quite different.

The Samuel Beckett Bridge.

The Dublin Convention Center. Its lights change at regular intervals and reflect off the inky river.

The Dublin Wheel. Beyond it, the river winds it way to the port and out into the dark harbor. The boat all lit up houses a restaurant where Sascha and Jerry ate pre-show.

The sold-out show was fantastic. The band received standing ovations. Their tour buses were headed out later that evening, bound for Glasgow on the ferries. So after the concert ended, fittingly, we headed over to the Ferryman Pub.

Amid the gleaming glass and brushed steel and bright lights of the Docklands revitalization project, the Ferryman is a relic.

Rumor has it that the owner believed he would be shut down and kicked out during all the new construction, so he started giving away the pub's memorabilia. Like many things people say here, I'm not entirely sure it's true but it's a good story.

The Ferryman feels like everything a pub should be at this point in Ireland’s history. A young band was shoved up in corner, playing traditional music and the line to the bar was three people thick at every turn. Poured Guinesses sat atop awaiting their settling. It was crowded with suits, hipsters, old people and young people. It was low-ceilinged and lively, and we even ran into Maura’s sister and her husband.

They remembered going to NYC for their honeymoon and my father-in-law driving them through Harlem. They also remembered young Sascha had posted a sign (as part of his campaign for getting his parents to quit) reading, “NO SMOKING. LUNGS IN ACTION” and so they hung out the window of his room on 76th and blew smoke into the NYC air.

Here's something for you CT folk.

Thanks again, Jerry & Jill. And as for Samuel Beckett, he’s probably rolling in his wormy grave, but I think this is pretty solid advice for motherhood: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Time, time, time

When Gramby and Papa P. visited, we all went to the Natural History Museum at the National Museum of Ireland, or as locals call it, “The Dead Museum.” Things there are preserved in all sorts of ways—in sealed glass, in jars of liquid, pinned to panels, stuffed and mounted.

For kids–even toddlers like G & C–it’s a fantastic place. Not only is admission free, but also the guards were very relaxed. I am used to hovering museum guards telling me, “ma’am, behind the line” as I inch closer to examine something. Even the grounds were open to run around.

The boys are now 21 months old, marching rapidly toward two and the time we will no longer measure their age by months but instead by years.

The boys loved kicking up the fallen leaves, gathering bunches and tossing them, and trying to mount the topiary reindeers. They also enjoyed rapping (bang! bang!) against the oxidized copper on the statues to hear the vibration.

Inside, the museum is like an impressive relic of museums themselves. (Sort of the way The Museum of Jurassic Technology harkens back to another time in museum-going.) It was built in 1857 by the Royal Dublin Society and Sascha and I thought it seemed almost exactly like the Natural History Museum in Paris, though somewhat smaller in scale, that we visited with Joey, Marion, & N.  (Speaking of which, I have to add Joey’s Dad’s book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, to my “to read” list.  Have any of you read it?)

The lower floor is dedicated to all creatures found (or once found) in Ireland—so many insects! I picked up G so we could peer over a student’s shoulder as he sketched a beetle. We gently folded back leather covers over the glass to look in the cabinets, and there were many drawers for the boys to pull open and close. Having done my battle in various cities with cockroaches, bees, and spiders, I prefer the insects motionless under glass. The sea life in their aqueous tombs (some specimens dating from the early 1900’s) were a bit disgusting, and make me question whether I would ever enter the waters around Ireland.

Up a tough flight of stairs was the impressive hall of mammals, and looking at animal anatomies without skin and fur and eyes, you see just how similar mammal-kind is when you are down to bones. For the preserved animals, you could see the stitching on their bellies, and touch their leathered skin. Across an aisle: a giraffe and then its skeleton with magnificent leg bones towering above you.

According to brain science, the boys won’t be able to access what they experience here. Though each moment is filled with a hundred new discoveries, and every day they lay tracks through their brains as they orient themselves in the world, we will function as their memory of what their time here was like.

We have bits and bytes of so many moments—cell phone videos, video camera videos, cell phone pictures, voice memos, camera photos—we are doing our best to capture and hold on to these fragments of time.

If you could preserve memories--suspend moments in time--what would you house in the museum of your mind?