Happy, um, Half St. Patrick’s Day!
That’s right! In about six months, the Chicago River will flow bright green again, a parade will bubble through the streets of Boston, and my favorite local pub will temporarily charge a cover. Erin go Bragh!
Alright, so I’m not that keen on the cover charge thing – but I have my own ways of connecting with Ireland anyhow. Continuing the theme of my last Tesserology post, here are a few more personal reminders of why I unexpectedly – and quite enduringly – succumbed to the charms of the Emerald Isle:
If I pay that cover in March and raise a glass to all things Irish, I’ll be able not just to enjoy the glow from my spirit of choice, but also to ride that glowy feeling across the waves to all the places in Ireland where I’ve been lucky enough to share toasts with the dearest of family and friends!
For instance, when I savor a froth-topped glass of Guinness, I might find myself recalling the pints I downed with old and new friends in Dublin where I entered (and lost…) a pub quiz. Or I might remember how the stout seemed just a bit more satisfying at a tavern in Wexford when served up with Dad’s delightful discourse on the family’s travels that day!
But it’s not just beer that transports me to Ireland (or to a general state of silliness…). A smooth shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream causes my brain to settle into a booth at a nautically (and perhaps precariously) decorated tavern in the town of Narin.
And on the odd chilly day here in LA, I’m partial to the drink that was first served to me at an inn in Ardpatrick in County Limerick!
I was staying nearby with a group of friends (in Castle Oliver as covered in my last post) and some of us decided to do some exploring. It was a cold day by my standards – and after climbing a local hill to view ruins of an early Christian monastic settlement (thought to have been founded by St. Patrick, himself!), I felt awed, inspired and thoroughly frozen to the bone…
We decided to warm up in the bar of the Greenwood Inn where its proprietor welcomed our bedraggled band and kindly offered to find all of us dates for the dance there that night! I bet it would have been terrific – but, what with prior plans to celebrate our friend Judy’s birthday and all, I asked if he’d instead introduce me to a drink that would coax the feeling back into my fingers and toes.
Without hesitation, the gentleman recommended hot whiskey – a warm and pleasing combination of whiskey, water, sugar, lemon and cloves that did positive wonders for me either by restoring me to a comfortable temperature or helping me not to care one way or the other!
So when it’s brisk back here at home (and sometimes even when it’s not), I’m apt to fix my own hot whiskey and offer a toast to St. Patrick – as well as to that friendly and knowledgeable barkeep!
And in fairness, it’s also not booze alone that brings on a warm feeling for Ireland. While Mum became quite partial to extra creamy soups during our travels there, my favorite item remains a dish I was lucky enough to start my day with on two memorable occasions!
My pal Judy seemed to love introducing friends to her adoptive home of Ireland. On my first visit, she drove us southwest from Dublin to tackle this dramatically winding road (complete with signs reminding American and German tourists to drive on its left side) that took us to the beautiful – albeit, blustery – Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry.
We stayed at a bed and breakfast place called Greenmount House that sits on a rise overlooking Dingle Bay. As invitingly gorgeous as the local vistas were, the Greenmount’s warm and syrupy bread pudding made it difficult for me to get going and take them in! I must have indulged in shovelfuls before tearing myself away – all with the slightly guilty and definitely decadent feeling I was getting to eat dessert for breakfast!
When Judy wanted to return to Dingle on another of my visits, I should have been looking forward to another view of that wonderfully rugged coastline, to driving around those electric green hillsides and to finding more ancient stone buildings to scramble around –
But my thoughts were all bread pudding!
As I once again sat happily devouring my “breakfast” (wink, wink) while gazing at the landscape, I gushed to the b&b owner about how much I’d been anticipating both! She told me she didn’t always serve bread pudding anymore but had decided to make it that day.
Whew! And that’s how close I’d come to taking a blow I’m afraid no stunning ocean view would have softened. But, in the end, I had a bit of luck – and another perfectly delicious time!
I try to see the luck in it too when good friends like Judy move away by thinking of it not as the loss of a pal but more the gaining of a travel destination. Like when another friend Coeli moved to D.C. I figured I’d combine visiting her with taking my first-ever tour of the Capital – little did I know that the trip would include a poignant reminder of Ireland…
I had a fantastic time catching up with Coeli, touring the historic buildings and monuments of D.C. and taking a marvelous day trip to Harper’s Ferry and the Civil War battlefield of Antietam.
In 1862, this tranquil Maryland farmland became the site of the bloodiest day in our history. Coeli and I solemnly wandered the rolling battlefield terrain, pausing to check out its many monuments to individuals, regiments and states, and lamenting the fact that despite all the bloodshed there, the war would drag on for three more dreadful years.
One monument we came across was dedicated to Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher and his Irish Brigade. According to the National Park Service website, the Irish Brigade included members from New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and saw action in each of the Army of the Potomac’s war campaigns.
Through my travels, I knew very well parts of the country that some men from this brigade had once called home. And I found an inscription indicating the stone for their monument had been quarried in the part I’d probably come to know best of all – County Wicklow.
Ah, Wicklow! On an otherwise somber outing, it was a relief to turn my thoughts from war for just a moment and drift over the Atlantic to recall the days I’d spent rambling through the countryside from which that stone had come.
I’ve strolled, shopped and dined at Mount Usher Gardens in Ashford. I’ve watched Avoca’s expert weavers hard at work. And I’ve wandered the gentle beaches of Greystones.
But my very favorite spot is Glendalough – a picturesque section of Wicklow (which doesn’t really narrow it down) full of atmosphere and charm that I’ve been lucky enough to share on several occasions with some lovely people! Nestled in a stunning glacier-carved valley among gorgeously verdant mountainsides, two enchanting lakes make ideal destinations for hiking and hanging out!
The Halloween season always makes me think of my first visit to Glendalough! On a certain All Hallows’ Eve eve, Judy and I found ourselves still hiking and hanging out there well after dark – and we had fun getting freaked out as we passed a very old churchyard complete with its own black cat. Talk about atmosphere!
After Halloween, as fall gives way to winter, musings on the shortest day of the year also send my mind on a journey back to a particular place in Ireland. I think of the prehistoric monument of Newgrange:
One of three burial mounds at this UNESCO World Heritage Site in County Meath (the others being Knowth and Dowth), this Neolithic structure includes chambers accessed by a passageway that’s aligned with the rising sun at the Winter Solstice. Each year, a handful of lottery winners can witness this alignment first hand (weather permitting – and I do doubt that it always permits…).
That’s why every Winter Solstice, I find myself wondering if the skies are clear over the Boyne Valley and wishing those observers luck.
Ireland offers so many unique experiences like that – and it seems to call to people in so many different ways!
I’ve shared just some of the reasons that Ireland beckons to me – and why even though my last trip there was only in 2011, it feels like a distant day.
But like the County Donegal tide waters that flow between the town of Narin and the island of Inishkeel with its brooding church ruins, fortune and circumstance can flow in and strand people when they don’t expect it. In less artsy terms, I mean I don’t know when I’ll get there again – and I do know, regrettably, the experience could never again be as it was…
As I said in Part 1, the funny thing is I hadn’t planned to visit Ireland in the first place (much less, the sixth)! But cherished friends and family kept leading me to those shores – and now joyful memories of them and of that isle are forever wonderfully entwined!
Then again, maybe it was inevitable that I’d fall under the country’s spell. According to a DNA test I recently took, I’m 16% Irish – something else I didn’t expect!
In the end, whether through DNA or destiny, it turns out that my touchstone – my measure of grand adventures with the grandest of souls – is certainly an emerald!