Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ireland 2007 - Days 8 & 9 - Bunratty, Shannon, and Killarney again

Day 8 -

Finally the group has dwindled to just two cars of McGranaghans. My family and my Aunt Mary’s family now have the next few days to discover parts of Ireland we missed before.

We drove back from Bunratty to Killarney where we knew we could find those large rooms at a good price again. The drive back was uneventful. We crossed a ferry and stopped off at Inch beach. I’ve been to Inch Beach on the Dingle peninsula before when our family visited a couple of years ago. It’s still pretty much the same. There’s sand. And water. And a little gift shop. And seashells all over the beach that look like butterflies.

My cousins and I were all gathered in the gift shop avoiding the cold and rain for a few minutes when who do we see but the Annoying Cackling Lady walk straight through the shop. Incredible. She didn’t laugh this time, thank goodness, but we were amazed that we could see one person in so many different places when we weren’t even traveling together.

We made it back to Killarney in the early evening. I’m not sure why it took us so long to make a drive that should have only been 2 hours, but somehow it took us the whole day. Actually, I forgot that we did make a couple of pit stops. We stopped off at a hotel sometime in the morning to book a room in Shannon for the night before we leave. As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw this crowd of American soldiers. Evidently, they were on their way home to Hawaii from Iraq, but their plane broke down over Ireland. We stopped and talked to a group of them who were walking back from the mini golf course. Sidebar: nobody in my family needed to kiss the Blarney stone. We were all pretty much born with the gift of gab. I have it to a certain extent, but my powers pale in comparison to Aunt Mary who can talk to a stop sign, know its life story and walk away leaving it confused but happy. She put these powers to use with the soldiers and it was so much fun watching them all respond to such an exuberant character. They were such nice guys, and clearly very happy to be heading home after 14 months away.

Later, as I was waiting for my dad to work out details for the room reservations, I started exploring the hotel. As I passed by the pub, I saw the mini golf soldiers sitting at a table and they called me over to talk to them again. Ireland’s not such a bad place to have your plane break down, but these soldiers were a little put off since they weren’t allowed to drink any alcohol while they were there. If our family hadn’t been on its way out the door, I’m pretty sure I would have had free drinks for the rest of the afternoon.

I think I slept a lot during the rest of the drive. I generally hate the “driving days” when you’re traveling around a foreign country. Being a passenger in a car makes me sleepy, so I end up missing out on most of the scenery, and I just feel like it’s a waste of my day.

That being said, I think I’d slept enough by the end of the trip that I was completely awake during dusk. We were driving on a back country road with leaves from the trees scraping against the left side of our car and to our right were the mountains. Well, large hills. But looking at those hills, it was not hard for me to understand why Ireland is so rich in fairy tales. The fields leading up to the base of the hills were still glowing from the setting sun and the hills themselves were silhouetted against a gold and purple sky. It was stunning in an almost scary kind of way.

We’re staying in the Quality Inn again tonight and we’ve stocked our kitchenette with food from the grocery store across the street. No more pub grub for me today.

Day 9 –

Danny didn’t leave the hotel room today. The poor guy is so ready to go home.

It was a pretty lazy day for all of us, actually. I walked off by myself to find a place in town with wireless internet and couldn’t find anything I wouldn’t have to pay for. I spent all day walking around Killarney, which is a really touristy town and I found a cafĂ© I could sit and write in for a while. Other than that, I didn’t have any adventures and the day was largely uneventful. I didn’t even meet any interesting characters, which was disappointing. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that we wasted a whole day doing nothing. But in our defense: YOU try spending a week with 19 McGranaghans and tell me you aren't exhausted beyond reason. That is all.

I headed back to the hotel for dinner and let me tell you how downright white trash our dinner was. The hotel kitchenette is stocked with a random assortment of plates, silverware, a tea set and a cork screw. My dad picked up two and a half rotisserie chickens, some pasta salad, some bread and some wine for the seven of us. We didn’t have enough sharp knives for the chicken and the bread, so most of the chicken was just torn from the bones with our fingers. Classy. And there weren’t enough glasses for us all to have our own for wine so I ended up drinking wine out of a tea creamer. Double classy. And my roommates make fun of me for drinking wine out of coffee mugs at home.

Ireland 2007 - Day 7 - Muckross

By now, Irish coffee is essential. Coffee and whiskey - they’re like peanut butter and jelly. But jelly doesn’t make me moody and introspective.

I’ve had enough Irish coffee tonight to tell you that I’m in one of those moods again where I want to be alone and pretend I’m someone that’s not me. But this time, I don’t want to get lost in a city street. I want to go to Kinsale and find a pub that none of the other tourists know about. I’ll forget who I am and I’ll get lost in the crowd of salty old Irish sailors. We’ll toast and we’ll sing and we’ll curse and we’ll yell. At one point, the crowd will quiet itself. An old man with a trim white beard and a golden tenor voice will sing a sad song about a beautiful Irish maiden who dies on her wedding day because she loves another man and was forced by her parents to marry an English landlord. Suddenly, everything in the room will disappear except for me and the old man and three drippy candles near the back left corner of the room. Later, we’ll live on his yacht together. We’ll have rosy cheeks and wear cable-knit sweaters and we’ll travel around the world searching for rare editions of leather bound books to complete our library of classic (and modern) literature. We’ll play scrabble and make important discoveries about the authorship of Homeric epics. He’ll think long division is relaxing and I’ll refuse to do the dishes.

All of this is nonsense.

It has been another long day of sightseeing and driving. We stole Grandpa from Becky this morning. She was getting ready to go shopping in Killarney, and at the last minute Aunt Mary asked Grandpa if he wanted to go to a nearby castle with our little splinter group. He joined Mary’s family and ours for the day and we were happy to have him.

We went to an old English estate near Killarney called Muckross. We parked near the main road and there were horse driven carriages available to bring us to the house and grounds. One of the drivers greeted us at our car. He had an incredibly thick accent and, when he tried to tell us how much the ride would cost, none of us could understand him…it really is amazing how the phrase “forty euros” can sound VERY rude….I didn’t know the “r” sound was ever articulated on the soft pallet with a “k” sound. My dad and Grandpa couldn’t stop laughing and later Grandpa Bob retold the story over and over.

Muckross wasn’t all that wonderful. We did get to see some of their living history farms and taste some soda bread that had been baked over an open fire. That was pretty great. OH! But one fantastic thing did happen. My Aunt Mary and cousin Hannah were walking along a garden path when all of the sudden they heard a very annoying, very familiar sound:

“Cackle, cackle! Cackle, snort!”

Yes, two days later the Annoying Lady from the tour in Kinsale had somehow found her way into our lives again. Mary and Hannah came to find me and my sister to point out the annoying lady to us and we couldn’t believe it. It was definitely her. She was standing near a small white tour bus with the rest of her group. I couldn’t help but feel some empathy for those unsuspecting co-travelers of hers.

From Muckross, we drove back to the hotel in Bunratty where we’d started out. Most of the group is heading out in the morning to fly back to the US, so we celebrated the last night of togetherness with dinner in the hotel restaurant. After tonight, the only family members left will be our family and my Aunt Mary’s family, so seven of us all together.

In the hotel bar after dinner, we stood around talking and drinking. Somehow, a man at the bar started singing a song to me. I’m not sure why he started singing, or how we became acquainted, but he sang a very moving song telling you to love your mother because someday she’ll die. Touching. So I sang him a song that I sang at my grandmother’s funeral. This spiraled us into a sort of a sing off that lasted for about two hours and ultimately culminated in the Hotel lobby with seven drunk Irish men telling me that I’m the next American Idol. Uh huh.

After some awkward moments including my cousin Sarah needing to escape from the advances of one of those men, we went to bed very tired and very hoarse.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ireland 2007 - Day 6 - Blarney and Killarney

The history of the Blarney stone is a long, confusing, probably mythical tale that I will not detail here. In short, Irish kings used it as a coronation seat. Then, it was hidden from those wishing to steal it by being built into the battlements of an obscure castle in rural Ireland. THEN, when it was found, drunk men would sneak up into the castle at night to see if they could pee on it. In a stroke of genius, someone thought it would be a good idea convince the general public that it's good luck to press their lips to this ancient sedimentary lump. AND, they convinced so many people of this preposterous postulation that they manage, now, to sell tickets to anyone willing to lay on a plastic mat and hang upside down and backwards over a 100 foot drop to press their lips to a stone that had been sat on, fought for, and peed on. Today was the second time I’ve kissed it.

I don’t think that castle was ready for the McGranaghans. The stone is kept at the very top of the tower and the line of people waiting to kiss the stone actually went out the front door. While we were waiting first to climb up and then to climb down, we found all kinds of things to occupy ourselves…as we do. We started with a simple game of “I Spy.”

Laura: Hey sister, I spy something grey and made of stone.
Mary: Is it, the castle?
Laura: You got it! Your turn.
Mary: Hmm…I spy something that is 82 years old.
Laura: Is it Grandpa?
Mary: You win! This game is boring. Let me climb up on top of that old fireplace, stand in the window and pretend to be a gargoyle.

Et cetera.

My cousin Jay has been a gymnast all his life and he found some fun things to crawl on and in.

Later, the cousins all found a cave under the castle and we all held hands and went back as far as we could, using a small flashlight we borrowed from my Aunt Mary.

Mary and Sarah weren’t done causing trouble yet. On the way out, they decided to jump barefoot into a stream nearby that people throw coins into as they make wishes. Mary found coins from all over the world….and kept them. I told her she was stealing other people’s wishes. She said she was getting an ice cream cone with the Euro she found.

We spent rest of the day driving to Killarney where we met for dinner, did some shopping and said goodbye to Bridgette, Dawn and Rita as they continued up to Shannon to catch their plane. The rest of us found some rooms at the Quality Inn here in town. We really lucked out and got four HUGE suites for a really nice price.

The younger cousins all got a suite together and after settling in, claiming beds and buying some alcohol, we heard a knock at the door. Grandpa Bob had some whiskey in his hand wondering where the party was going to be tonight. We had a great time drinking and listening to Grandpa tell stories about how he met our Grandma Bonnie. My Aunt Chrissy got some of it on tape. He told us about how they met in typing class and when he first saw her he thought to himself “Now who is this! She’s cute, I haven’t seen her around here before.” So he waited outside afterwards standing by his car, waiting for Bonnie to leave the building. He offered her a ride home and she said yes. After they got in his car, he realized he was out of gas and out of money. They got about three blocks away when the pulled into a gas station and Bonnie only had 14 cents with her, so that’s how much gas they got. He took her home and asked her to go out with him that evening. He picked her up two hours later and he kissed her as soon as he had her alone. I’d heard the story before, but it just seems so far away and romantic. That’s probably the way Grandpa feels when he tells it, I guess.

He also told some stories that I thought I knew, but it turns out I didn’t really have all of the details straight. He talked about Grandma and her family life before he met her. About her mother and how they fought. About how he left to go to New York for a while and when he came back Grandma had given birth to and given away a baby she’d named Darleen…who turned out to be my Aunt Chrissy, now reunited with the family, sitting on the couch across from me. And he talked about Bonnie’s alcoholism, her smoking and how she quit both, in one day.

Over the course of the evening, I’d become a little overwhelmed. It was at one point, as he was talking about sharing that much life with another person, describing the ups and downs of it all, with a few more downs than ups… he looked at me directly, squeezed my shoulder and said, “You’ll do it too. You’ll go through things that will be that hard and things that will be that good. And that’s life. You can’t avoid it.”

Grandpa was center stage tonight and the stories were about to get even more interesting when the rest of the family walked in. Suddenly the spell was broken and new conversations started as people asked where everyone had been and what the plans were for later in the evening. I was sad that Grandpa's stories stopped so abruptly, but I was also really tired and ready for bed.

My Aunt Shirley had some friends in town and the plan was to go hear their son play in a band at a pub in town. I was a little tired and so were Mary, Sarah and Hannah, so we stayed in and played cards. Apparently, the band was a blast and Grandpa did what he calls his “Sissy boy rat dance” which was caught on film. I’ll see if I can get it up on this site.

Ireland 2007 - Day 5 - Kinsale

My aunt Chrissy has made it no secret that her favorite niece is my sister Mary. And for good reason. My sister’s probably the most wonderful person I know. She’s funny and smart and (in my opinion, this part is what makes her so delightful) she knows exactly who she is. Mary is loyal to a fault, generous without motive and unreasonably patient. It’s no wonder Chrissy singles her out to dote on and care for. And, since Mary and I tend to stay pretty close when we’re together, we are now known as “Mary” and “Mary’s sister.” This does pose one other teensy weensy problem on this trip because we also have an Aunt Mary traveling with us…along five of her sisters. SO, in order to cut down that confusion, Chrissy calls my sister Mary the “True Princess” and I’m “the other one.”

So this morning, the True Princess and I got up early to take a walking tour through Kinsale with the family. Our tour guide, Barry, was absolutely precious. He made a point at the beginning of the tour to greet each and every person by asking our names, shaking our hands and looking us directly in the eyes. The True Princess fell in love immediately. Barry really did do a wonderful job of keeping our minds off of the cold wind from the harbor by telling us about the historical importance of this small coastal town. As we stood their looking out into the water, Barry pointed to one of the ridges that jutted up from the sea and asked us to imagine a huge black ship sailing around it…followed by twenty others filling the harbor to unload three thousand Spanish sailors who would overtake the town and hold it ransom. He described how the geography of the surrounding hills hosted the English troops surrounding the town who, in turn, were surrounded by the Irish warring clans who wanted to team up with the Spanish to fight for their independence from the English. I’m not relaying the story very well, but Barry’s narrative was riveting.

Now, there was one woman on the tour who consistently hogged Barry’s attention and thought everything that he said was THE SINGLE funniest thing that had ever been uttered. She had a high, cackling laugh. It went like this, “Cackle cackle! Cackle.” Yes, just like that. AND, after nearly everything Barry said she would respond as though it were a conversation between just the two of them that she decided the rest of us could overhear. It went something like this:

Barry: “And when the sailors went out to sea, they had to bring enough drinking water for everyone. But they had to mix it with a splash of whiskey or rum so it wouldn’t go bad, creating a sailor’s grog.”

Annoying Lady: “Did they bottle the water?”

Barry: “No, they barreled it.”

A.L. : “They BARRELED it!!! Cackle cackle! Cackle.”

[Unbelieving stares passed between all members of my family at this point.]

Barry (ever patient and kind): “And do you know what this little lane between these two buildings was originally designed for?”

A.L. : “No! What!?”

Barry: “It was designed to be the width of a barrel so that they could be rolled from this street, down between the buildings and directly in to the ship yards.”

A.L. : “You. don’t. SAY! Cackle, snort!”

Yes. It was that bad. Mary did NOT like Annoying Cackling Lady taking all of Barry’s attention, so we stuck around after she left at the end of the tour to talk to Barry and ask him what it’s like to be a tour guide and how he got into it. I could see him being my brother in law. He seems patient enough that even our family wouldn’t phase him.

After lunch (and lots of wine) we sort of splintered off from the family and my Aunt Mary, her daughters Hannah, Sarah and the True Princess and I went off to find an old fort in the hills that Barry suggested we check out. We had to pay about 2 Euros to get in, but other than that, the place was pretty empty, so my cousins and Mary and I had free reign over the place while my Aunt Mary slept in the car. We climbed ALL OVER the place…probably got into some areas we shouldn’t have and had a fantastic time. Our generation is a little bit tamer than that of my Dad’s brothers and sisters. Thank goodness. But we’re still pretty feisty.

In the evening, everyone gathered for dinner in a restaurant that was way too fancy. It was the last night we were all going to be together, since Dawn, Bridgette and Rita were heading back to Shannon to catch a plane back. We went down to a pub after dinner that we were told would have traditional Irish music. I was tired and ready to go back to bed, but not before Shirley had an idea. She found someone with a sharpie marker and had each of us write our name under the staircase so we could come back in a few years and see our names there. Nothing like defacing public property in the name of posterity.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ireland 2007 - Day 4 - Crettyard

Last night Chrissy and Bridget and Rita almost got run over by a car (at least, that’s what I gather…I’m still not sure about the details of the story) but the guy in the car happened to own a bed and breakfast in Carlow that would accommodate all 19 of us. I don’t know how this kind of stuff happens to our family. The B&B is perfect for us with a little sitting room stocked with tea and biscuits and it was like a big slumber party with everyone in their pajamas getting ready for bed. I’m not sure if any of the neighbors got any sleep we were so loud.

I got dogpiled this morning by my aunts and some cousins. I had already gotten out of bed and was in the bathroom when I heard them coming up the stairs and enter the room.

“Oh no!”
“She’s already awake….”
“Laura! We were going to jump on you!”

So I ran back and jumped under the covers, pretended to snore and when they all jumped on the bed I flailed around saying “Oh! Shock and surprise! What a rude way to be greeted in the morning!”

My Grandma Bonnie died almost four years ago never having made it to Ireland. Today, a special little ceremony had to take place in order to rectify that. Someone in the family had cut off some of Bonnie’s hair before (or after, I’m not entirely sure) she died, and kept it. So we brought this hair to bury in a graveyard where some of her ancestors (the Currans) are buried. In exchange, we’re going to take some of Irish dirt back to Omaha to spread on her grave. It was important to some of her children that this exchange happened so that part of their mother would always be here in Ireland, and part of Ireland would always be with her.

Pause. You have the option to read the footnote on the sentimental nature of McGranaghans at the end of this post if you care to. If you don’t, nothing is lost. I really wrote it for myself as I was working out in my head the emotions I was seeing my family go through on this trip. On second thought…just skip over it. It’s not very well written anyway.


We knew that the Currans were from a small town called Crettyard, but that was it. We didn’t know of any cemeteries to search in or where to start looking at church records, so we did the only thing we could: we hit the pavement.

The search was long and tedious, and included the following:

1 Funeral in the rain
6 Gravediggers questioned
1 stone wall breached
1 gnarly tree climbed by my sister
1 phonebook consulted
3 strangers in a car pulled over
4 front doors knocked on
2 confused neighbors in their pajamas
1 children’s party inflatable bouncy room avoided
2 Curran relatives found (one alive and one not)
1 lock of hair buried
1 handful of Irish dirt gathered

We moved on to Killarney Castle this afternoon. The tour was short and the guide was impatient with questions and he made bad jokes in a Puerto Rican/Irish accent. Near the end of the tour, he made a big deal about this chair that Pope John Paul II had supposedly sat in. As the group filtered out the door, Grandpa Bob sat in it quickly and Cousin Andy took a picture. I’ll try to get a copy of it J

Oh, also: Grandpa made some friends at dinner. He started flirting with this girl about my age and ended up sitting at a table with her and about six of her friends. By the end of dinner he had the whole table roaring with laughter and as we left, they told him he was a legend. We left to the sounds of young Irish voices chanting “Legend! Legend! Legend!”

Tonight: to Kinsale, a harbor town in Cork.

Footnote: Sentimentality is genetic. I have strong doses of it from both my mom and my dad’s families. Part of my mom’s sentimentality expresses itself in the form of bestowing special meaning on objects. Old letters, clothes you wore as a child, hand towels from your great grandmother. The people we love touch and use these things and somehow their love is transferred onto the object for us to keep and remember. Mom’s is a complicated form of nostalgia.

McGranaghans have a very special brand of sentiment that I have never understood completely, and maybe I never will.

Maybe it’s like this: the first night we were in Ireland, in Durty Nelly’s pub when my Grandpa Bob recited the poem for us. The poem was short and simply written. I’ve never heard it before and I don’t know who wrote it, but it details a conversation between a father and son. The son asks the father why he left his home in Ireland so many years ago, and the father describes a brutal scene about how the English landlords and agents forced him from his home and burned it down before his eyes.

It surprised me to see my father’s father wipe tears from his eyes as he used someone else’s words to draw a picture of a sight he never saw. I am no less than five, possibly six generations removed from the reasons that caused my family to leave Ireland and move to America. But I think it is partly because of those events that there is something fierce and fiercely loyal that runs through our family; something that comes from a generational remembrance that something as beautiful as this place was taken from us…and we will eventually lose even each other. While we can, we love, irritate, joke with, drink with and fight for the people we love. That is the only way I can explain what it means to be a McGranaghan/Curran and, in turn what it means to be loved by us.

Ireland 2007 - Day 3 - Dublin

Last night I had my head on the pillow for approximately 0.6 minutes…and then the phone rang. Everyone was gathered down in the hotel bar for some drinks (and more drinks) and they wanted us to come. Mary looked like she’d been flung up against the wall and happened to land on her bed, so I let her be. I looked in the mirror before I headed down, but my left eye was suddenly swollen up so it was almost closed. It didn’t hurt, the lid was just itchy, but I looked like Popeye. I just put my glasses on and left with my dad to go to the bar.

My cousin Andy (the last one to join us this morning) looked at my eye thoughtfully and suggested maybe I was allergic to Eurotrash. He’s a trip.

Andy had already had adventures at the hotel in the hour since he’d been there. He and his brother JJ were sharing room, which happened to designed to accommodate wheelchairs and special needs travelers….even though Andy and JJ don’t require such a room. Right after he checked in, Andy had to use the bathroom immediately. The lights in the rooms are designed so that once you enter, you have to put your key card into a slot in the wall before you can turn the lights on. Andy didn’t know this, and it didn’t really matter to him since he had to use the restroom so urgently. He set his bags down and went to the bathroom in the dark. Unfortunately after he was done, he had some trouble finding the flush button on the toilet. He looked up in the dark and saw what he thought was a spider hanging from the ceiling. Then he realized it probably wasn’t a spider, but the flush chain hanging down. He pulled the chain, and nothing happened. Another thirty seconds and still nothing happened. Confused, Andy asked JJ to help him out. The two brothers were drunk and disoriented in a dark bathroom with an unflushed toilet when someone knocked on the door. A member of the hotel staff had come to check on the person who had pulled the emergency help chain in the bathroom… In short: Andy warned me to watch out for bathrooms with spiders. I ordered another Guinness and, laughing, wiped tears from my swollen eye.

Today I decided to wander off on my own for a while to discover Dublin. Sometimes I really crave the feeling of being completely surrounded by strangers. Anonymity is filled with such possibility. I found the perfect street jammed with Saturday shoppers and tourists and high-end retail stores next to kitschy souvenir shops. There were young families and teenage couples making out and jaded graduate students and old men with walkers and artists and just so much life.

There was slow groovy music playing in the background and everyone started walking in time. Strangers nodded at one another and shook hands. Birds fluttered in the sky and bunnies jumped out from behind trash bins. Four artists vending from the side of the street stood up, put their arms around one another and sang in barbershop style harmony. Just as I was jumping up on a lamp post to swing around it and sing an exhilarating climactic solo expounding on the joys of freedom found in obscurity (but still hinting at the underlying tinge of regret that the moment can not, by virtue of the joy being rooted in solitude, be shared with another human being) a woman with a cigar scowled at me and showed me a rude hand gesture. I love Dublin.

All joking aside, I did make friends with a street performer (I’m bringing home his CD, Jessie) and we took a cheesy rock and roll picture together. My neck looks really weird in the photo.

Later on, back at the Whiskey Shop, we ran into the Swiss guys from the Brazen Head last night and talked to them for a little while.

Tonight: we're off to a B&B in the country.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Ireland 2007 - Day 2

We slept in this morning, made some friends in the dining room at breakfast and hopped in the car for the three hour drive to Dublin. The idea was to meet at Trinity College at 2:00 or (if you missed the 2:00 meeting time) at a pub called the Brazen Head at 5:00.

Mary and dad and I left Limerick at about 11:00. We played a couple of rounds of “My sheep” which is a game my sister taught me (or made up, I’m not sure which) last time we came to Ireland. It goes like this: someone sees a flock of sheep and they shout “my sheep!” Then if someone sees a body of water they can shout “drown your sheep” and everyone loses all the sheep they claimed up until that point. The problem is there’s no way to know how many sheep you’ve claimed in any given flock, and there’s no end to the game…so nobody ever wins or loses, its just an endless game of claiming and drowning sheep. It’s a stupid, brutal game. No sheep are ever actually harmed.

The game got old REALLY fast (after about two flocks and one bubbling brook later) and the game for the rest of the trip was called “keep dad awake because he has jetlag and he’s the only one who can drive the car.” This too is a stupid game and it requires three players: One father who refuses to admit that he’s tired because he wants to meet up with his family at 2:00; one daughter to spot the drooping of the father’s eyes and turn up the air conditioning and loud music; and another daughter to pray in the back seat.

We made it to Dublin at about 2:30, but we got lost on the way to Trinity, so we decided to try to find our hotel instead. At about 4:00 we got there, checked in and took a cab to the Brazen Head. We got there just in time. As we walked in, we found everyone in a small back room posing for a picture. It is my Aunt Shirley’s birthday today and someone took several different pictures of her head (cut out from old pictures as she was growing up to present day) blew them up to life size and stuck them on popsicle sticks. There were enough “Shirley masks” for everyone except for Shirley so we could all pose for a group picture with nineteen Shirleys. This idea was a re-creation of a joke Shirley played on my dad for his fiftieth birthday party. She did the same thing with pictures and popsicle sticks and everyone was in on the joke except for my dad, so he was surprised when they all posed for a group picture and everyone pulled out their “Bob masks.” There was some practical joker at that party who took all of the masks and hid them around our house so that even now, years later, we will be surprised to see my dad’s face fall out of a closet or from behind some piece of furniture. The worst time was when my friend Brandy went to take a shower in the guest bathroom in the basement and after she turned the water on, she looked up to see my dad’s face staring down at her from the shower head. Moral of the story: Jokes can be dangerous, people…

Anyway, back to the Brazen Head. The family spent the rest of the evening at the pub (I think six hours total) drinking and telling stories and meeting new friends.

I met a group of guys from Switzerland who take a trip every year to play cards together. Somehow we started drinking with them even though we didn’t speak the same languages, but when they learned I knew some German, suddenly I became a translator. I probably I made up half of the things I translated between my family and the new Swiss cardplaying drinkers, but we all had fun in the end and Chrissy made sure to pinch a few of them on the butts before they left the bar.

If you all have time, please pray for one more new friend of mine. Her name is Carol and she lives here in Dublin. I met Carol in the bathroom at one point and she said she had somewhere to be in about an hour’s time, but wondered if she could sit and have a drink with me and my family. After talking to her for about twenty minutes, it was clear that Carol just needed someone to talk to. She let me know that she was 21 years old, has never known her father and has been on the streets for nine years since her mother died. She was heavily into drugs for seven of those years but has been clean for two. Right now she lives in a shelter or a halfway house…it wasn’t clear which. She finally let me know that she is two and a half months pregnant and that the father is in jail... all of this after she was half way through a glass of beer.

I don’t know how much of what Carol told me was true but it is clear that she has had a very difficult life. She shared with me that after her mother died she “became very holy” and showed me the different medals she wore with various saints embossed on them. I wanted to talk to her more about her faith, but she suddenly became very interested in finding out how long we were going to be in town, and specifically which hotel we were staying at. Not long after that, Carol disappeared into the crowd and I regretted that my fear of getting too close to a scary situation prevented me from being more open with her.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ireland 2007 - Day 1

Hey kids, thanks for taking the time to come by and read my travel blog. It’s been a whirlwind of a day and I’ve been awake for almost 38 hours…so forgive the typos and the tendency to wax poetic.

My dad and sister and I met up with my Grandpa, his fiancee and about seven other McGranaghans at the baggage claim in the Shannon Airport this morning at 7:45am, Shannon time. My Grandpa Bob, a heart attack survivor, was at the front lines pulling bags off the carousel for his daughters. After a while, we all had our bags except for Grandpa Bob’s. We waited and waited, and finally he chose a small blue plastic briefcase that was about the size of a large toaster. It contained everything he would need for the next two weeks. It could easily have passed for a carry on.

While I was waiting for my dad to rent a car, I found a few pamphlets at an information kiosk that interested me: Railtours of Ireland; Hostels of Ireland 2007; and a brochure for the national Donkey Reserve. I ran this last idea by my dad suggesting it was time he started looking at retirement options abroad.

My Grandpa caught wind of the idea of a donkey reserve saying "Why would I want to go to a donkey reserve? There are enough Irish Asses in this world."

He has a point.

I think that anecdote was a good segue into telling you all about the family members who are on this trip. There is, of course, my Grandpa Bob and his Fiancee (the trucker) Becky; my lovely Aunt Rita; Aunt Chrissy (the one who was given away for adoption at birth, but has since reunited with the family); the infamous Aunt Shirley (the one with the bronzed uterus) and her husband the Lawyer/Carpenter, Smitty; Shirley’s children Dawn, and JJ; Aunt Bridgette, the one who looks like Jennifer Anniston; Aunt Charlotte who survived a pancreas transplant almost a decade ago (which is a fabulous story in and of itself that includes a chapter with Charlotte, Shirley and my dad in the Women’s restroom of a McDonald’s somewhere in Georgia) and her mother and law Ruth; and my Aunt Mary and her kids Sarah, Hannah and Danny; and my dad Bob, my sister Mary and I. Danny and Hannah are the only ones of us taller than 5’9”…Hannah’s about six feet and Danny is closer to 6’5”….the lone giant among the little people.

Deep cleansing breath.

When one more cousin (Andy, another one of Shirley’s kids) flies into Shannon tomorrow, he will make us a group of 19…I think.

McGranaghans don't really start out on a given day with a set plan. We usually get a general idea of what we'd like to do and when we get sidetracked, then so be long as Guinness is involved in some way, we are happy. We decided to drive towards the Cliffs of Moher hoping to get there at some point, but not opposed to deviating from the plan at all. We stopped in the small town of Ennis, in County Clare to find some new eye glasses for my aunt Charlotte, who broke her only pair on the plane. I think it is interesting that any family in our situation (ie, eighteen people with an hour or so to kill in a small town in a foreign country) could find an infinite number of things to investigate, discover, eat, learn or destroy. If we are constant in no other way, McGranaghans have one goal, one desire to seek out that singular tie that binds all Irish Catholic families with nothing to do at 12:30 on a Thursday afternoon: to find a bar. As soon as we located an optician for Charlotte, the rest of us set out to find one such establishment that would help us get through the hour. In a desperate quest to find an open pub (with Guinness on tap) we found ourselves empty handed….it was just too early for the pubs to be open. Tempers rose, pockets steeped in Euros burned, fists balled, eyes grew red and we became a mob of angry midgets: sober against our will.

We dispersed.

Somehow, about an hour and a half later all seventeen of us found ourselves in the cafe at the visitor's center at the Cliffs of Moher splurging on several eight ounce, screw-cap bottles of red wine and loads of paper cups...sustenance for an afternoon's hike around some of the most extravagant sights in Ireland.

The Cliffs of Moher really are breathtaking. The path from the visitor's center, nestled in a small valley and built into the hills, approaches the ledge of a steep dropoff into a cove and cleaves itself creating one path to the right, which winds up nearly 1/3 mile and rests at the top of a cliff crowned in a small stone look out fort.
The path to the left is steeper, longer, and broader officially ending at a stone wall followed by a sign saying "PLEASE DO NOT GO BEYOND THIS POINT" but unofficially continuing over the ridges of two more cliffs where the path approaches the rocky edges with a heart-racing snugness. Both paths offer spectacular views of each other.

For dinner, we drove back near Shannon to a town called Bunratty and gathered in a pub called Durty Nellys (founded 1620). Somehow we had an entire dining room to ourselves and we filled it with fish and chips and oysters and steak and Guinness and Irish coffee. We ate and drank and told stories and before we knew it we were listening to my Grandpa Bob reciting Irish poetry. He’d memorized a poem just for this occasion: his first day on Irish soil. Ever.

Back at our hotel in Limerick, Mary and I crashed into our beds, but our dad still had a lot of energy. As he scavenged around finding all of the things you usually find in a hotel room (free soaps, ice buckets, room service menus) he opened up the closet and found a terrycloth robe and a pair of pants left by the last guy to stay in this room. Dad got really excited. He’d only packed one pair of pants for the trip. He was overjoyed to see that the pants were JUST his size (which is weird, since my dad has a ridiculously short inseam) so he had a little fashion show for us.

More tomorrow.