Journal (28Jul11)by Tourguide on Thu 28 Jul 2011, 12 AM CET, Views: 1395
Your mission, if you choose to accept it. Leave Pamplona, Spain, “swing through” Germany, pick up your wife and make your way to the west coast of Ireland for a family reunion by last call. Seems challenging, but not *impossible* right? Well, let’s see how our blog-tagonist pulled this off.
Ron’s Itinerary: Stay up all night (see previous video about band playing below our room), hail a taxi at 4:30 am, get to local airport. Fly to Madrid, then Frankfurt. Take a train to Manheim, catch connection to Kaiserslautern, and then to Landstuhl. Get taxi home. Repack bags, shower *finally*, scoop up the Mrs and drive to another airport. Fly to Dublin, rent car. Figure out how to drive a stick shift from the passenger seat while sorting out driving on the left side of the road. Drive 4 hours through rural Ireland with a malfunctioning GPS and arrive in Enniscrone by 2am, …and have a well deserved Guinness.
Nailed it, piece of cake. No, it was actually an absolute miracle that my shoestrings plans didn’t tatter apart on at least seven occasions, or that I didn’t drive headlong into a semi trying to get onto the interstate outside Dublin, …but that’s not how I’ll tell it.
Now, while this itinerary was truly insane, it wasn’t the craziest journey I’ve ever made. That award would still have to be how I pulled off making it to Mt Fuji, Japan by sunset for an all night climb. I believe that I had 12 connections when that was all said and done. And then I still had a friggen’ mountain to climb (full story).
I tell ya, though, coming out of a five day 100,000 person Spanish street festival, on no sleep, into an Irish family reunion is like going from fifth gear into first with no clutch. Exit rampaging bulls and sangria showers, enter Irish Catholicism stage right. From rosé wines to rosary beeds, from hailing taxies to Hail Mary’s, from …well, you get the idea.
But such is the life of a road warrior. Our time overseas is finite, they’ll be plenty of chances to sleep in when we return home for good. Plus, this was a chance to see family. The trials and tribulations of roads traveled pales in comparison to the chance to be with your own. Plus, by next month all of Rachel’s family will have visited here *twice*, while my side of the tree is a big goose egg. So, as they say, “if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammed.“
Now, as the family reunion was in Ireland, the mountain didn’t have too go far. Plus, there would be close to 50 of us there, ½ still living in Ireland, ½ visiting from America. But, wow, after a week long San Fermin festival, this mountain was peaked (see what I did there). And to be completely honest, while having to culminate the trip with a 4 hour drive on the wrong side of the road did seem a little intimidating, it never occurred to me that I’d have to deal with trying to drive a manual transmission rental car, with a stick shift on my left. That was a show.
So for those, looking to visit one of the 64 left-lane driving countries of the world, here is a primer for you to review before attempting such a venture. It’s tougher than you think, and your insurance will *not* cover you there.
But, alas Rachel and I prevailed, and we puttered into the Oceans Sands hotel in quaint Enniscrone, Ireland by 2am that night. Rachel and I quietly pulled in and carried our luggage into the lobby. A sleepy rural town at 2am, we didn’t want to start things off by waking anyone up. Well, we opened the reception area doors and a wall of live music hit me square in the chest. Oh, ya, …this is Ireland.
Turning the corner, I immediately saw several of my first cousins spilling out of the hotel bar. “Tim, Kaitlin, ….Jamie!!!” Running over to them, I was immediately greeted with cheers of “Toro, Toro!”, …see you can always count on your family to read your blog ;). By the time the bar door had even swung closed, a round of Guinness and Jameson shots were being lined up. God bless our Irish blood.
Rachel looked around the bar, it was packed. The band was playing Irish tunes and people of all ages were swinging past the crowds performing their jigs and reels. At every turn there was groups of people belting out lyrics and swaying too and fro. The sound of the fiddle, the foot stomping rhythms were infectious. I was instantly recharged.
“So, Ron, who here are you related too?”
Stepping back and looking across all the faces strewn about this place I felt a giant grin broaden across my face.
“…everyone Rachel, …Everyone.”
An hour and a half later, Rachel decided it was time I at least attempt getting some legitimate sleep this week (my powernaps in the corners of various Pamplona cantinas not withstanding), and pulled me back out into the lobby. And there was a funny site waiting for us in the middle of the floor, …our bags. Right where I had dropped them the moment I had stepped foot inside the hotel. Yikes, maybe some sleep would do me good after all.
Waking the next morning from what must be as medically close to a coma as I’ve ever been, was a little …disorienting. Hmm, where am I? The signs on the wall were in English, check. But the wall outlets were neither American nor standard European, oh ya …I’m in Ireland now.
I pulled open the window and immediately the sound of crashing waves and the smell of sea salts came drifting in. Looking out I saw the ocean of the Irish coast laid out as far as the eye could see. I just love the smell of Ireland. The scent of burning peat in the air, like that of wood, but sweeter, with a hint of spent fireworks. County Sligo, Ireland, with your green valleys and soaring cliffs.…how many thousands of Irish songs have been written about your beauty?
Rachel was already up, and soon we made our way down to breakfast, and outside to take a proper look at where we were with the sun up. So why Enniscrone you wonder? Why come so far west in Ireland? Well, it’s because this is where my Mother’s side of the family is from, and this is where many of my second cousins still call home. Both my mom’s parents were born near here, and every 5 or so years this is where we all gather together. This is my first trip back here since the passing of my grandmother, Winifred McKernan, but it still seemed like the right place to be.
Family together, it was time to go to …church. Yep, did I mention the Irish Catholic part. I can’t say we were the most devout group you ever saw, but Catholicism (and the right to practice it) is a big deal here in Ireland (I’ll go into that a bit more next week, when we take the Dublin History tour), and, more importantly, it was important to my Grandmother (and her 11 brothers and sisters). It’s part of the big 3 F’s of Ireland: Faith, Family and Friends. And, as I told Rachel, who is Jewish, “…it’s all part of the experience.”
To make moving our large group easier, one of my second cousins, Joe Kennedy, had arranged for a private bus to take us around. It also wheeled us to and from the pubs, and various dinner parties that all been arranged for us. A brilliant idea all around. I tell ya, there is a reason the Irish are renowned as being the world’s best hosts. The subtleties of being so accommodating is truly is an artform.
From there we took a trip to a branch of Mayo University to meet and have a picture with, yep, …the local Bishop. And then from there we went down to the city of Knock to see, yep, another church. There were actually three churches here as Knock was the site of a proclaimed miracle in 1879. The Mother Mary, a Lamb and several angels appeared there for two hours to a group of 15 people. Several church inquires were made, and they actually signed off on it as an official miracle. Since then, the town of Knock has been a pilgrimage site for Catholics all over the world. The Pope even came here a few years back to pray here.
While there, I got some Holy water for my mom, and toured Rachel around. Its interesting the perspective she has on all this coming from a Jewish family. To me this is second nature, but to Rachel the various rituals of Catholic mass and its associated traditions seemed like pages from a science fiction novel. “So, now everyone goes up and drinks wine from the same cup? That doesn’t seem very hygienic, even if it is supposed to be blood.”
Hilarious. Oh, and later that night, our cousin Patrick Duffy came by our table at the restaurant looking for someone, “excuse me, have you guys seen Mary?” To which Rachel seriously replied “…ya, isn’t she still supposed to be in Knock over that church?”
Oh from the mouth of babes, …and Jews.
On the way back from Knock, with all our Knock Knick-Knacks (thanks cousin Tim), we stopped off at the Gilmartin (my Grandmother’s maiden name) family homestead, …the site of at least six generations of my family. The property is still in our bloodline, and relatives still live there. Albeit they’ve moved out of the one room building where my Grandmother and her ancestors we’re all born into a more modern house. Like we did in 1999, during my last visit, we took a first cousins picture out front.
After exploring our religious and ancestral roots, it was time to meet up at Joe Kennedy’s restaurant for the evening festivities. Entering the pub side we were greeted with a giant sign over the bar, “Welcome Home Cousins.” Like I said, the Irish know how to make anyone feel welcome.
Now, for an Irish party you don’t hire a band as much as an MC who doubles as a back up musician. In a real Irish get together, it is expected that people from the crowd will be the primary entertainment. Outside having a genetic predisposition for being ideal hosts, the Irish are raised to sing, dance, and tell stories with the best of them. Most didn’t have TVs growing up, so you had to entertain each other somehow. And boy did our Irish cousins do just that. At each of our nightly get-togethers, they took turns serenading, telling jokes, and step-dancing their hearts out. Even the kids got up there, and boy, were they entertaining. They even managed to drag a few of us American’s onto the stage for a song our two.
To understand the Irish, you need only listen to their songs. Like I said before, it’s all about the Irish big 3 F’s. They sing of lost loves and the lands, cliffs and shores around them. This is what matters to them, this is the kind of people they are. The Irish keep it simple and know what truly matters. They my not be the most ambitious people, they may be leading the world in scientific breakthroughs, but they have, at their core, a heart that is warm, and compassionate. As they say here, “in Ireland, a new friend is only a Guinness away.”
One performance this week really stuck with, though. A young girl got up to sing. Her grandfather had just died and she wanted to sing his favorite song. Tears streamed down her face as she remembered her grandfather. After some coaxing from the crowd, she closed her eyes and began to sing. And this …amazing voice just came out. Angels in heaven must have paused to listen to this little girl.
Everything that is amazing about the Irish people came our in her song. Their courage, their longing, their heartache. Eventually the little girl was too overcome with grief to continue. There wasn’t a dry eye in the restaurant, or the heavens I’m sure. That is how I’ll remember county Sligo, Ireland.
Next week, Rachel and I visit Dublin to see the capitol of Ireland and its metropolitan city center. But a city, is a city, is a city. To know the people, you have to get away from it’s capital and its cities. And get away we have. And while we all looked forward to seeing Dublin, after several days of exploring my own roots here, and spending time awash in the culture of my Irish cousins, there is no doubt that the heart of Ireland is not in Dublin.
The heart of Ireland is right here, in Enniscrone.