My cousin’s daughter who carries my namesake, Colleen, got married in Ireland this summer. Her uncle, my cousin Gerry, posted photos on Facebook of the wedding, along with pictures of his visits to the town our grandmother was born in, Youghal, County Cork, and Roscrea, Tipperary, where our great-grandfather was born. Gerry’s postings prompted me to scan some photos from Joe’s and my trip to Ireland in 1999. We also visited Youghal, as well as the county Joe’s family hails from, Monaghan, and more. I also found the stream-of-consciousness travelogue I wrote for our Floyd community newsletter, the Museletter, which I am reposting here.
Did you know that the Scottish and Irish mountain range was once a part of the Appalachian Mountains pre-ice-age? No wonder many people of Scotch/Irish descent settled and felt at home here. Immersed in a mass production of laundry, gardening, dirty toilets, basketfuls of mail and JET LAG, after two magical weeks in Ireland, let me get this down before the sleep of too many daily routines wipes it from my memory.
We landed in Shannon airport, having missed a whole night’s sleep, to the shock of driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Leaving the airport we saw a “Tinker” settlement, aka “Travelers,” Ireland’s gypsy-like poor and once nomadic people. We arrived in Ballyvaughn for two nights in a very comfortable B&B with internet access (one of the comforts of our trip was being able to talk to (son) Dylan occasionally through e-mail).
The bread is better in Ireland, and so is the beer, and the bathtubs (They’re bigger!). We mostly stayed in B&BS that offered full Irish breakfasts, which we happily ate and then made sandwiches with the leftovers for lunch. Supper usually consisted of “pub food” (not to be confused with bar food because it’s quite good and the pubs are like personal parlors). Usually they were simple meals of Irish stew or salmon salad plates. You could live on brown bread, Guinness and tea in Ireland. For luxury we bought “tea brack bread” (a sort of dark fruitcake) that we ate while we drove. The food is less processed there and the Guinness is a different animal. The head taste like cream and it’s nourishing.
Joe played golf and I hiked around pressing shamrocks into my journal, stopping for tea, and meeting friendly Irish people. The people really moved me, especially those in the countryside, where we spent the bulk of our trip. The Irish are an informal and unpretentious people and they risk talking freely to each other. I felt less timid there and very at home. Connecting with the people helped me to know myself better. With very strong Irish roots in my family, I understood better who I am and why. All along the way we met people who seemed to be there as guides for us, like Ronan in Youghal who offered to take our picture under the Clock Tower and stayed and talked to us for an hour on Youghal history, like the men from Dublin who I met while having tea. We shared some craic (fun/good talk) and they ended up inviting Joe to go rock climbing, like the 18 year old boys from Belfast that I met in a pub and struck up a conversation because I was missing my sons, or like the town amateur historian walking the “Hill of Slane” with his walking stick and 2 dogs who told us ghost stories and oral histories of the town.
We loved Doolin, a traditional Irish music town with a great seaside and castle. At the “Cliffs of Moher” (mother) we hiked and took in the breathtaking coastline view from very high up. Nearby was St. Bridget’s Well, a holy pilgrimage place of prayer that had such an effect on me that I wept. There was a gentle waterfall above the well and a passageway below that was full of devotional items, momentums and pictures of loved ones. All through Ireland there are holy wells. The Irish recognize the sacredness of pure water and its connection with spirituality and healing.
The drinking water throughout Ireland is good. The roads are often narrow and windy and we found this out especially on the Dingle Peninsula while traveling the coastline and visiting sacred ruins, which are scattered all through-out the country on the side of the roads. Dingle is where the movie “Ryan’s Daughter” was filmed and the scenery is beyond description, which is why we took pictures.
Following Dingle, we went to Youghal, where my paternal grandmother was born. Youghal, a hilled beach town with a small amusement park, had some uncanny parallels to Hull, the beach town in the South Shore of Boston where I grew up. We made an appointment with the St. Mary’s parish priest and he showed us of my grandmother’s baptismal record, where she lived with her family and records of her siblings and other relatives. Her mother was Ellen Murray, daughter of Lawrence Murray and Margaret Cashman. Murray and Cashman are still local names in Youghal
Then it was on to Glendalough in the beautiful Wicklow Mountains. Most of Ireland is ROCK (everything that’s not green) with stone walls, fences and houses, but the “Veil of Avoca” in the Wicklow Mountans is lush, not unlike Virginia. We visited and hiked the valley with two lakes, an old monastery site and mingled with sheep. (We later wore sheep, as we bought some wool sweaters of which Ireland is famous for, along with linen). Glendalough inspired poetry. We stayed overnight at a hostel and had the run of the place as the tourist season hadn’t quite started yet.
In County Monaghan we met with Joe’s mom’s first cousin Seamus Mooney. I get a smile on my face thinking about him and his Irish charm. He took us to Joe’s grandfather’s family homestead (which is now a barn on the back of a house), the town cemetery. We visited lots of cemeteries while in Ireland/Celtic crosses are as common as rain. Seamus also took us to his son’s Gaelic football game (like soccer with hands), and out to eat at a pub. Monaghan is a border town of Belfast and there is much Republican (means something completely different there) sentiment and IRA history there. Many of Joe’s family fought for the IRA and we saw the gravestones to prove it. Peter Kavanaugh, an Irish country poet we like, is from Monaghan and we visited his birthplace and museum.
In Dublin we stayed with Patty and Tommy MacSweeney, friends of Joe’s family who were very friendly and fun people. It was nice to be in a regular home for a change and watch some Irish TV, which reminds me of earlier in the trip when Joe and I stopped to take pictures of a wedding party in front of the pub “Fitzgeralds.” We thought it was okay because there was a sign out front that said “Food served all day.” We were told, “Oh, that sign’s just for the film crew.” We came to find out that we had stumbled across a very famous pub (which is why people get married there) because it is a set for a famous Irish TV drama called Bally Kiss Angel!
Dublin was fun even though I resisted it because it was a big city. (Joe did all the driving, thank you). We saw an excellent Irish play at the famous Abbey Theater. Ireland is famous for its writers and poets. We went on a “literary pub crawl,” complete with actors who did bits from famous works. We met some people who had disabilities who were out raising money for their home. We briefly attended a NATO bombing protest, heard street musicians, went to the National Library to do genealogy research, and to the carvery (Irish word for cafeteria/buffet). St. Stephens Green, and all the little girls in their First Communion dresses, was a treat, as was the gourmet food at “Mystic Celtic,” a restaurant in Dingle.
Newgrange was a highlight. It’s a pre-historic burial tomb with a long passage way into a small room where the sunlight lines up perfectly to shine in only on the Winter Solstice. The precisely built mound with passages under it and huge decorated rocks with spirals and other abstract art all around it is older than the pyramids, 3000yrs BC!
Now what have I left out? If I asked Joe maybe he’d say “golf.” Golf courses are called “links” and are windy with great views. Yes, it did rain, but never all day. A day in Ireland is like many days broke up into one as far as the weather goes. It doesn’t get dark till 10 p.m. There are palm trees in the south of the island and the water, while not Caribbean blue is bluer than what I’m use to. Yes, it’s green there. Yes, we had a great time. It’s a land of great history and mystery. We didn’t see any fairies (this time).
Love, Cailin Redman Bergin Murray Dineen Cashman Manning Mooney