Ah, St Patrick’s day, when everyone celebrates the Irish- my people. So my DNA results show I’m only 55.7% Irish. My aunt is less than 10% Ashkenazi Jew but she’s identified with Israel and our Jewish heritage since she was a little girl. For me, when people have asked, I’m Irish.
My mother’s got the Quinns on one side and the Dohertys on the other. My father proudly thought he was mostly Scottish until he received a family reunion invitation for the Ward family reunion- in Ireland. Turns out he’s still got Scottish, just not as much as he thought. Through my ancestry.com research I learned that the name Ward comes from the term “Mac an Bháird” which means “son of the bard.” Looks like writing truly is in the genes. Also, I found that he is descended from Niall. No, not that twerp from One Direction. Niall Noígíallach also known as Niall of the nine hostages. Niall was a conquering king of Ireland, who, according to accounts, was responsible for the kidnapping of several people off the coasts of Britain and France.
One of these people was a young boy named Patrick.
Most people don’t realize that Patrick was British and not Irish. Patrick was a slave in Ireland. He escaped and went back to England. After entering church ministry, he felt God lead him back to Ireland as a missionary to the very people who had enslaved him.
How this hero of the faith became an excuse for getting drunk, I have no idea. I guess because people are always looking for any reason to throw back a pint or two.
Back in late 2000 my husband and I were at lunch when he casually dropped this into our conversation:
“Hey, so did I tell you that I am leading a group of timeshare owners through Ireland in a few months?
Me: (blank stare and long pause) Uh, no. Pretty sure I would have remembered that.
Him: Yeah, it’s a guided tour and they need a company rep to go along.
Me: Are you serious?
Him: Yeah, why?
I stared at him again.
Me: You. Who has no Irish heritage (turns out he has like 17%) get to go to Ireland. Where I have wanted to go my whole life. Because I’m like 90% Irish. (55.7)
Him: You have? I mean, I know you have the Irish temper…
Me: Are you kidding me? Have you listened to a word I have said over the course of the entire time you’ve known me? I’m Irish. Every year I make you choke down corned beef and cabbage. I decorate the table with shamrocks and gold coins and rainbows. I’m so Irish I pretended to be a leprechaun for 2 weeks when I was in junior high.
Him: Why would you pretend you were a leprechaun, and weren’t you a little old for that?
Me: Not the point.( “Moonlighting” had just done an episode about a leprechaun and her pot of gold.) The point is, I have always wanted to go to Ireland.
Him: Maybe you can go.
Me: When is it?
Him: I’ll have to look at exact dates. I know it ends with the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin.
Me: (Nearly hyperventilating) I have to go on this trip. You have to make this happen.
Well, for some reason, whoever was in charge of the trip insisted I couldn’t go on it. My husband, sensing the danger of what might happen to him if he didn’t take me to Ireland, suggested flying in a week early with me, having me fly out the day before the tour was set to arrive. They didn’t have an issue with that.
In hindsight, it might have been better to have me fly in after he had spent the week on a guided tour. Instead, we flew into Dublin with two nights hotel booked and no idea what we were doing or where we were going. We fancied ourselves explorers, and imagined happening upon charming bed and breakfasts along the way. No schedule of having to be at a certain place at a certain time.
We made plans to fly to Seattle for my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary party, and then we were going to leave the kids with the grandparents. The day we were supposed to fly out, there was a massive earthquake in Seattle. We checked the flight times, and it showed on time. By the time we got checked in and to our gate, the flight was delayed. After 4 hours of sitting in the airport with 6 year old Sydney and 2 year old Nathan, they cancelled the flight. It turned out that the tower for air traffic control had been badly damaged and they couldn’t guarantee we would get a flight there in the next several days.
We got picked back up from the airport, packed up our car and started the 14 hour drive from Salt Lake City to Seattle. Through the night. In a snow storm. But we made it. And a few days later we were on a plane headed for London. We spent a couple hours at Heathrow before the flight to Dublin. My dream was about to come true.
We managed to get from the airport to our hotel, but then had a really difficult time figuring out how to get TO the hotel. The streets are crazy there, and the hotel didn’t seem to have an entrance. We eventually figured out that we were supposed to park in the parking garage across the street and down half a block and then roll our luggage to the hotel. I had packed the world’s largest suitcase ever made in order to fit all the souvenirs I planned on bringing home. That was back when they didn’t have limits on luggage or charge overage fees. Truth be known, it was nearly big enough for me to sleep in, if the need arose. Without a plan, anything was a possibility.
Jet lag be damned, we were up in the morning for a day of adventure. I found out that even though I had gone to Brookstone to buy the variety pack of plug adapters, my American curling iron did NOT like Irish current. That thing popped, sparked and went dead as a doornail.
We made our way downstairs to the restaurant, and the waitress recommended the “full Irish breakfast.” That sounded exciting, and we gladly ordered it.
When it arrived, we were still enthusiastic.
I poked at the circles on the left of the plate. They looked like sausage slices. There was already a slice of ham, bacon and link sausage, so I expected that’s what these were as well. I took a bite. Something was off, but I couldn’t understand what. When the waitress came to refill our coffees, I asked her what they were.
“Black pudding and white pudding.”
“Oh. They don’t look like pudding, and they certainly don’t taste like pudding.”
“Well they aren’t really pudding. They are sausages. ”
“What’s the difference?”
“The white pudding doesn’t have blood,”
Neither did my face at that moment, as I became quite pale. Almost green, I would guess.
“Does that mean the black pudding…”
“Another name for black pudding is blood pudding.”
Let’s just say that the next morning I chose to have the “half Irish breakfast.”
As we left the hotel to go check out Trinity college, Dublin Castle and St Stephen’s Green, we stepped out the door onto a giant, squishy, foam mat.
We walked down Grafton Street and noticed that nearly every doorway had one of these foamy, soapy mats.
At lunch we finally asked the waiter what they were all about. He stared at us in surprise.
“Why, it’s the foot and mouth disease outbreak. Didn’t you know?”
We didn’t know. And that was back before smart phones, so we couldn’t google it.
It turned out that England had had an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. While there was no indication that any of the contaminated cattle had ended up in Ireland, there were cases in Northern Ireland. We were told that if we crossed over into Northern Ireland, we wouldn’t be let back in.
We only gathered bits and pieces of info, we didn’t understand if this was something that affected people (it doesn’t), why we had to walk across foamy mats (the mats disinfect your shoes to prevent tromping the diseases hither and thither) and why people kept asking us if we’d been on a farm recently (armpit check).
Unfortunately, the fear of the outbreak spreading caused there to be many closures of public landmarks.
Every where we went we came across signs like these:
We weren’t sure how much of an issue this was going to be.
Thankfully we were able to get into Trinity to see the Book of Kells (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells) and most of the locations in Dublin remained open.
At one point our credit card stopped working, so Jeff called the bank to find out what was going on. Turns out that when charges start appearing out of the blue in a foreign country, the bank will CALL YOUR HOUSE to verify that it’s you. If you don’t answer, they shut off the card. Because of course if it IS you making charges in Dublin, you’re going to answer your home phone to say so. I’ll sit here for a moment while we all ponder that brilliant logic.
We toured around Dublin for a couple days, and then we decided it was time to hit the open road.
Jeff was doing pretty well trying to adjust to driving on the other side of the car on the other side of the road. I was not good as a passenger on the left, and kept trying to slam on fake brakes.
Funny thing about Ireland back in 2001- while the distance signs were in kilometers, the speed signs were in MPH. It took several days of driving before we realized that. Maybe that’s because no one pays any attention to speed limits.
We did a lot of driving- pastoral Ireland looks a lot like pastoral Western Washington. If we came across a landmark, usually a castle, we would stop. At the end of the first day, we landed at some motel. So much for the bed and breakfast idea.
I can’t remember all the details of our trip. I thought I kept a journal, but if I did, it’s buried deep in my garage in a box. I know we went to Galway, and we stood on a bridge overlooking the River Shannon. I know we went to Killarney, which was my favorite town.
We tried to go see the Cliffs of Moher.
“We are sorry, the cliffs are closed due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.”
My husband: “How do you close cliffs??”
After a few days we got tired of seeing castle after castle. Besides, there was only one I really wanted to see: Blarney Castle.
We had stayed in a hotel in Cork, which reminded me a lot of our local naval port town. It was less charming than some of the other places we had been. However, our accommodations got increasingly nicer every night.
Blarney Castle was teeming with tourists, as one might expect just a few days before St. Patrick’s day. We made our way through, and up the steps towards the infamous Blarney stone. I didn’t really know what to expect. I can tell you for absolute certain that I did not anticipate being hung upside down facing out off the top of a castle turret. And it wasn’t until my husband refused to do it with me, saying, “Gross, I wouldn’t put my lips on that slimy rock that has had millions of other lips on it. I might catch foot-and-mouth disease,” that it ever occurred to me that this truly was a disgusting thing to do.
There is a hole in the brick floor where two men hold your torso and then lower you through, where you find yourself literally hanging off the side of the castle. How in the world this became something to do is truly a mystery to me. It was terrifying.
Did it give me the “gift of blarney?” You tell me.
After Cork we went on to Waterford, where we took a tour of the Waterford crystal factory. We found an internet café (Remember those?!) and emailed our kids.
By the time we got back to Dublin, we decided that we were going to stay in the nicest hotel we had seen on Grafton Street. We never stayed in a single bed and breakfast. Speaking of breakfast, my full Irish breakfast that became my half Irish breakfast, soon became just an egg and a piece of toast. I found myself craving fresh fruit.
I wasn’t a fan of the food there, I must admit. They put onion soup mix in their ground beef. I was craving a real burger so badly I could hardly stand it.
Jeff said, “On our next big trip, let’s go someplace that’s known for its food. Like Italy.”
After I got back to Seattle, I got a call from Jeff.( His tour story is a whole other blog for another time. )
Me: How’s it going there?
Him: Well, ok, I guess. The people aren’t very happy because the parade has been cancelled.
Can you imagine? You save your money and go on a trip to Ireland culminating in the St Patrick’s day parade in Dublin, and it gets cancelled because of a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.
So much for the luck of the Irish. Maybe Irish luck is really just people drinking enough to not remember that things aren’t going well.