Nancy and I, along with my daughter, her husband, and my two sons, are leaving for Ireland tomorrow morning. It's time to leave politics aside for a week or so.
This will be our third trip to the Emerald Isle. The seeds of this trip were born during our annual Christmas get-together last December. Somehow, in the give and take of family conversation, we all agreed that a family trip to the old sod was in order. Once we made that decision, Nancy did the rest - the web searches, the reservations, and so forth.
It's been a long time in the making. During the spring months, in the heat of political battle, I almost lost sight of the pubs, the traditional music, the conversation, all blanketed in Irish wit and charm.
But that will change tomorrow.
We'll arrive in Dublin about 7:00 A.M. on Saturday. Our host, Sean Drumm, will pick us up and take us to a dock along the Shannon-Erne Waterway. From there, we'll climb aboard a "luxurious" 50 foot traditional barge (I believe our reservation is for the "Dutch Courage") and launch our way into what we're sure will be a great adventure. For the next week we'll be making our way from town to town, with stops in Enniskillen, Ballyconnell, Ballinamore, Leitrim, Carrick-on-Shannon, and other small towns and villages whose names are every bit as lilting as those I've mentioned.
Lately the kids have been asking us what we're going to see. I suppose I could have told them about Fenagh Abbey in Ballinamore, the good fishing at Carrick-on-Shannon, or the six story clock tower in Enniskillen, the Abbey Theatre or Bewley's Cafe in Dublin, but I don't think it would have helped. The rest of Europe is about places - the Louvre, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Schoenbrunn Palace, or Versailles. Ireland is all about the people.
Nancy and I occasionally reminisce about our previous visits. I find myself cringing about the car keys left at a hotel in Dublin or the backpack containing our passports, money, and other valuables left at the site of the Battle of the Boyne. But, the empty feeling, if it can even be called that, is fleeting. The memories of the warmth of the Irish people overtake me.
I remember the wry humor of the agent at the rental car company at Dublin Airport. When Nancy expressed concerns about driving on the left side of the road he told her not to worry. "After all," he said. "There are a lot of Americans driving around in Ireland this week. Someone's bound to make it through. It could quite easily be you."
With our fears relieved, we set out. It didn't take us long to get lost. We stopped at a post office and asked for help. I explained our predicament. "We're trying to get on the road to Dillon's Castle at Athlone." I don't think the patrons could resist the urge to have a bit of fun at the expense of a confused tourist. And older gentleman, whose face and nose appeared to be permanently red from his two or three daily pints of Guinness, smiled and said, "Oh, then, young man, you're hopelessly lost; you can't possibly get there from here."
When we arrived at Maeve Fitzgerald's bed and breakfast in Doolin later that day, Maeve greeted us with a thick brogue. "Ah, look what the cat dragged in. T'bee sure, 'tis the Dillons...And late they are, but 'tis better late than never."
Once we settled in, Maeve recommended a nearby pub where we could listen to some really good traditional Irish music. She didn't steer us wrong. We sat there for a few hours, nursing our pints and listening to pub songs like "Johnson's Motor Car," "Arthur McBride," "The Night Paddy Murphy Died," and "Finnegan's Wake," performed by a one legged guitarist and a young woman who had the uncanny ability to smoke a cigarette and play the flute simultaneously. The memory of music and smoke emanating from the five-holed flute still makes Nancy's heart dance with laughter. And me? I remember the "groupie," a toothless old man dressed in a navy blue pea coat and stocking cap, who sat smiling on a stool next to the performers, embracing pint after pint of Guinness.
As we walked back to Maeve's that night in the moonlight we were joined by a Guernsey cow. In Ireland, it seems, hospitality has even spilled over to the genes of the livestock.
So, we're on our way to Ireland, with more memories in store. We'll be back in a week or so. Then it will be back to the joy of skewering politicians, which is impossible for an Irishman to resist. As George Bernard Shaw once observed, "telling the truth is the funniest joke of all."