From the moment I stepped out of the terminal at Dublin Airport, it was there. A feeling of connection and belonging so profound, I knew I had come home. I arrived in the country that holds my heritage and in spite of having no specific “where or when” information, my heart knew there had been stories and long ago secrets kept by family I would never meet.
I could feel the pull of these long ago tales in the air all around me. From the looks on the faces of the relatives traveling with me, they must have felt it too. Even after a sleepless night with far too little legroom, we immediately set out to explore our Motherland, stopping only for a drive-by at the hotel to drop our luggage. There would be plenty of time to sleep when we got back to the States.
Within an hour, we had a true Irish breakfast under our belts, belts thankfully with additional notches beyond the usual ones, as we definitely would be letting them out by the trips end. Hot buttered scones with jam, eggs, slabs of bacon, black and white pudding, huge mounds of toasted breads, fried tomato, salmon and crocks of oatmeal with raisins and heavy cream. Thank heavens for the caffeine from several pots of delicious tea which kicked in after this meal. When we were finished, we set out to see the place we knew held our roots, but which we knew little about.
Sure, we had all grown up with St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage, with Irish soda bread, Danny Boy and pints of Guinness. We had heard about kissing the Blarney Stone and even had photos somewhere of both mom and grandma doing so. I sported my Claddagh necklace and my son’s girlfriend wore her ring, and we all wore what we felt were appropriate plaid and woolen accessories. Yes, our group could surely claim Irish genetics, but prior to this trip, each of us remained unaware of how our lineage had unfolded or even what the countryside in Eire was truly like.
In fact, it was spectacular. The sheep-filled fields appeared to be the greenest of greens I had ever seen, broken up of course by the blankets of white fur that seemed to be everywhere. Colors at the shore were shades of everything imaginable: purples, blues, grays and rusts fused all together, yet remained separately boundaried all around us. I happily claimed a perfect heart-shaped purple rock as we walked on the beach and it sits on the desk in front of me now as paperweight.
I consistently tried to capture the views before me with my camera, but the colors got lost in translation as they sometimes do when you try to catch them by photo. None of the shots I reviewed after each day’s excursions did justice to what my eyes had seen earlier.
Taking it all in, as soon as my breaths exhaled, I wanted to take them back. This, because with each release of air it meant that time was passing and I knew there would not possibly be enough moments to see and do all that I wanted to while I was there. Every second I stood on that soil made me long for another. Even within the first hour of day one, I knew I would have to come back again. There was no doubt.
Above many of the doorways we entered hung placards with Cead Mille Failte, or “a thousand welcomes.” Above others were horseshoes, hung with their heels facing up to the heavens for good luck as well as to steer the devil clear from entering. I loved the significance of both, because they summed up how it felt to be there in this country of my ancestry, welcomed, blessed and safe.
We spent much of our time after exploring, in cozy pubs, not so much for beverages, but because the meals there were delicious. We found the local fare offered in these establishments to be excellent and luckily for me, hot tea was as much a staple in each one of them as whiskey, so each of us in the group were able to get our fill of whatever we chose. For me, it was gallons of yummy Irish tea.
On the second day, I found a woolen cap as a souvenir for my son. He wore it every day afterwards and it certainly suited the dark Irish looks he gets from his father’s Donegal relatives. Watching him take it all in, through the crystal blue eyes he gets from the O’Brien and Kiernan clans on my side, I couldn’t help but wonder if someday his children might want me to tell them about their heritage, in the same way I always wanted my grandparents to share with me about theirs. I must make a point to talk to them about all I remember of their relatives as soon as they are born.
I had always hoped my mom and grandmother would have told me all their family stories before they died, but there always seemed to be tomorrow. Tomorrow and tomorrow would surely come, so we never stopped to pin it all down the way we talked about doing so many times. I never jotted down any of the funny tales they tried to tell me, although I certainly meant to take notes. Yes, I must remember to share the memory of this trip as well as everything I can recall about my mother, grandmother, dad and grandfather with my grandchildren someday.
Actually, I think maybe I will start doing it now, with my son, while there is still time.