(note: a few names have been changed just because i felt like it and because it’s my family to do with what i wish.)
Wednesday, August 13
Pierce Brosnan’s face is the first thing you see when you enter Dublin Airport, or it is where we entered it. The walls are plastered with Irish celebrities (maybe I notice the bass player from U2 and Niall from One Direction? Do I know who that looks like?), or at least I assume they are, or Pierce Brosnan paid to have his face greet weary travelers.
I have mentioned before that, the last time I was in Ireland in 1997, my memory suggests three songs played on a cycle the entire time on the radio (“Wannabe,” “The Macarena” and either “Ironic” or “Head Over Feet,” one of the two but definitely not both) and it’s not the same now, but holy shit do these people love “Love Never Felt So Good” more than we do.
We are spending our first six days on what is basically a golf resort. It is a lot cooler than that sounds. We all have master bedrooms. This may be the longest my brothers have ever gone without sharing a room, unless you count the whole college thing.
We eat at a restaurant in Adare (the village the manor is in) that I recognize from 17 years ago. I thought pretty much every memory I have from this country was gone, but I am overwhelmed feeling this very area again. I quietly find a way to shed some tears in a crowded pub. This happens a lot, and I am on the verge of either tears or just emotional meltdown whenever it happens.
On a somewhat related note, Mom and I suddenly remember we haven’t slept in 30 hours, so we do so for the next forever.
Thursday, August 14
The Irish pretty much consider everyone to be either “doing well” or “no longer with us.” Nobody’s “going through a phase” or “got a promotion at work.” I know this is a stereotype, but death has permeated pretty much every conversation I have sat in on in this country. That doesn’t even count the castles, which are more or less monuments to decades and decades of brutal war.
We spend Thursday in the city of Limerick. We visit the print shop where my mother’s uncle Jim (not really, but more on that in a minute) works. Jim is in his early 80’s but still well, and immediately recognizes my brothers and I as “Grace’s lads.” I haven’t seen Jim in many years, but I feel so warm upon hearing those words that I am pretty much good for the day.
The city of Limerick proper is great. Think a more walkable, shopper-friendly Brooklyn (to be honest, pretty much every city in Ireland except for Dublin is like this). We go to Jim and his wife Rita’s (and 4-5 of their eight grown kids) house for dinner. I have eaten potatoes at six meals since getting here and turned them down at one more. Potatoes are fucking great though, some stereotypes are delicious.
Friday, August 15
Our family involves itself on both sides of a 30-year long feud. Mark (the “black sheep” says my mother) and Paul, my mother’s cousins, haven’t spoken to each other in that time. The story behind it is too personal for even Tumblr, but I will tell it personally if you buy me alcohol or just ask nicely.
Paul — who owns a tourist-y gift shop in Waterford, and is well off for having bought the property across the streets JUST COINCIDENTALLY before Waterford Crystal announced plans to move there — and his brother Kieran (who works at the shop) don’t know where Mark and his wife live.
We head from the gift shop to Mark’s house in Kilmeaden (NOTE: My mother has also not seen Mark in 30 years, and he lives in the middle of nowhere so we all separately thought it was a bit Deliverance-y until we met them and they turned out to be great). They live 10 minutes apart. They sometimes run into each other or see each other on the street. It’s embarrassing to them, but apparently nobody does anything about it.
All of them are nice people. Family is messy. Also, for some reason, we spend like an hour picking mushrooms and seeing fat horses. Fat horses are satisfying for some reason Whatever.
Saturday, August 16
"Would you like to see your father’s house, Grace?"
My grandfather grew up on Shelbourne Ave., a few blocks from my grandmother. This is not the house my mom’s cousin (different side of the family, not silently feuding) takes us to.
In the early 90s, grandpa received a permit to build a house in Limerick in a mid-to-upscale housing development in the then burgeoning outskirts of town. He was going to make it a retirement home for himself and grandma, where they’d spend the summers (grandpa and grandma were largely responsible for raising their then-infant grandson while his young parents worked everyday) and get a break, and perhaps let his children and their children have a stable, cheap place to stay.
The only problem was that Grandma never got to see the house.
Sometime after she passed, grandpa was diagnosed with cancer. They cured it, but was told to get checkups every six months. By this time, however, grandma was gone, and Grandpa chose to respond to this by ending his life.
He didn’t do it the way it’s conventionally done, but perhaps he did it the Irish way, the only way he knew how. He simply left us and lived in that house for a year, not seeing doctors and not getting checked up. I don’t remember this, but I was six or seven. He came back a year later and discovered the cancer had returned. He passed soon after, and mom and I took that 1997 trip to, essentially, sell the house.
My mom’s cousin never finds the house. I am relieved. I still spend the day thinking about it. I spend it upset, even though I forgive grandpa. I accept that his decision doesn’t change that he loved me, and I bet if I was him, I’d rather have the even one in a billion shot at finding a universe with the woman I loved more than anyone in the world over spending another minute in one that she wasn’t coming back to.
He could still be here if he wanted to. He didn’t want to. Some things hurt even when you know that there’s nothing you’d tell the person who hurt you to do differently, and even if you’d do the same when placed in their situation. Some things are just going to hurt, and maybe they’re meant to hurt, to remind us… of something. I’m still having a rough go reconciling all of this.
Again, we don’t find the house. Thank fucking god.
AND NOW TO LIGHTEN THE MOOD, A JOKE ABOUT THE LEGALIZATION OF DIVORCE IN IRELAND, WHICH (and this is 100% true) ONLY HAPPENED IN 1995 (!!!!!!!)
Katie: “John, what’s all this business about divorce?”
John: “Well, it’ll mean we’re no longer married to each other.”
Katie: “… will we still be cousins?”
My mom’s cousin takes us back to his house for barbecue. I finally say no again to potatoes. I watch soccer most of the day. A recurring motif of this trip is most of the relatives being either 20 years older or younger than I am, and that it was happens at Tony’s house. Tony is kind of the “one-man SVU” of the area he patrols, which is just the coolest way to ever describe a person.
We arrive back at the villa. The internet is down. Everything is fuzzy. I have a hard time sleeping.
Sunday, August 17
Driving in Ireland is just unacceptably insane. People go down narrow roads, both ways, at 100km/h. Highway lines are crooked. Also, parking is basically a free-for-all. People park pretty much anywhere and anyway they want, regardless of lane. You’ll see cars facing towards and against traffic on both sides of the street.
Sometime in between 1940 and 1945, a man (supposedly) named Michael Moran was shot in the middle of a Limerick street by the British Army as an IRA (Irish Republican Army. Basically, he was one of the sides of what the song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” is about) rebel and traitor. Or maybe he had a heart attack upon seeing his wife die in childbirth. Or something else happened.
The unquestionable facts (or something like them) are this:
1. A man named Michael Moran existed.
2. He fathered children with a woman named Katherine Murphy.
3. He is the father of Martha Moran, eventually Martha Wells. My grandmother.
4. He saw his daughter once prior to dying/being murdered.
Records about him otherwise are scarce, and it’s a mystery my mom (who never really met any of her grandparents and doesn’t particularly care, but enjoys solving mysteries and looking up ancestries) would very much like to solve.
(FUN FACT: Mormons have baptized almost anyone, living or dead, in their religion. This is both a huge invasion of personal privacy and a great way to track down the records of your deceased relatives, despite my mother’s inability to find her grandfather.)
My grandmother was orphaned and went to live with her cousin Rita, whom you may know as my mother’s aunt from earlier in the story.
Getting to know Rita (major hearing loss and recently sick, but mind still sharp), and getting to learn about my mother’s relationship with her, is beautiful. It’s one of both family and of choosing to accept unconditionally love from somebody whom, under different circumstances, you might just be nicely acquainted with.
We visit the Blarney Stone. I’m a little non-plussed about it, just because I’m wary of tourist-y things. I consider us to be pros at the whole “traveling Ireland” thing, and standing next to a bunch of Americans who debate the merits of both the musical and film version of Jersey Boys is not really my scene. A bird shits on my soldier, confirming my opinion.
We go to a pub. Hurling is on. Hurling is batshit crazy. It is like hockey on grass, but you have to carry the ball, like lacrosse. But you have to hit the ball in mid-air, like… baseball? And you have to both score goals and make field goals, like in… the sports where they do that. No wonder these people drink.
We spend the night at Rita’s daughter, Cathy’s bar, which is called “Kelly’s.” We never ask why. We have a wonderful time with Cathy and three of her sisters, who are all awesome and funny and most have started families of their own. Matt tries to drink various beers, hates them, and then gives them to me. I am drunk on a second continent, and surrounded by the love of these incredible women.
Apparently, they’ve found both my mother’s grandfather and grandmother’s grave. She and Jim will go tomorrow. The important thing is that he’s dead. Everyone is either well or dead.
Monday, August 18
I don’t have much to say about our trip to Galway, other than that Galway is a lot of fun to shop in, and that it’s by the sea on the west coast of Ireland, so it’s inherently both beautiful and filled with annoying people. Also, the grave trip was a false alarm.
Tuesday, August 21
We stop at my mom’s cousin Tony’s house one more time for tea. I am not exaggerating when I say that I drank over 50 cups of tea in Ireland. It is pretty much all they drink there. Oh, and you won’t find a single Keurig in the country. Those companies know better than to bring that shit into the house of the masters. The Irish do not fuck around with their tea.
Tony’s son has asperger’s. Though Tony argues that he is obsessed with American culture, Tony (and the rest of the family) are the ones that lovingly call him “Sheldon.” His son is definitely in that mold, though not nearly as insufferable. He desperately wants a Miami Heat jersey, so you know that the LeBron news has not reached this country.
We drive to Dublin (this is the day we visit Barack Obama Plaza, which is just their version of a turnpike rest stop, though they are a lot cleaner and have Tim Hortons, which I am always excited to see even though they kind of suck), get settled and then go meet my mom’s cousins from England, who were flying into Dublin for vacation by happy coincidence. We never really knew about them until after 9/11, when Samantha (my mom’s cousin, whom I keep calling Susan because that’s her mother’s name) found out she had family in the New York-area and decided to get in touch to make sure everything was alright. She and my mother maintained correspondence, and they’ve visited a couple of times, and they are now friends.
Dublin is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. The Temple Bar section is as if you smushed every city’s freak scene down into a narrow six or seven blocks. Pretty girls and dudes with beards and disaffected weirdos and Actual Weirdos (oh hey casual dude standing outside the mask and fetish shop in full leather daddyattire). Grafton Street is a wider street, and is The Best to shop in, including St. Stephen’s on The Green, which was of course the best mall, and obviously I’ll die for my beliefs like Michael Moran supposedly did.
We get in early. The basement to our hotel is called The Dungeon, which mom remembers as being a discotheque her cousins took her to in the mid-80s, which is a very frightening notion. Perhaps even more frighteningly, The Dungeon has undergone a complete makeover and is now a fancy restaurant. Fortunately, no overwhelming memories hit mom.
Tuesday, August 19-Wednesday August 20
My grandfather was a prominent member of two organizations living in the Jersey suburbs during the 1970s. One was a group that provided toys to underprivileged Catholics near the Ireland and Northern Ireland border, and one that provided them with weapons. Both groups had exactly the same memberships, but we’re COMPLETELY separate… you know, for tax reasons. (For the record, Grandpa eventually ended his affiliation with both when he felt the IRA became purely a terrorist organization rather than providing a solution to The Troubles)
Once, my grandfather was even charged with bringing toys and, uh, things you could do other stuff with into Ireland for the organization because holy shit you could do that in 1970s America(!) He went with Desi, a neighbor of ours when we lived in Kearny. Grandpa’s sister Jo lives in Dublin and knew he was coming over, so she sent her son (not one of the feuding ones, to my knowledge) Michael over to pick him up.
So my grandfather and Desi show up at the Dublin airport with their, um, cargo all in one piece. At once, my father and Desi find Mickey from across the terminal… dressed in his full Dublin police officer’s uniform.
The best part of this is that literally nothing happens. Grandpa always assumed afterward that Mickey knew what the deal was and was more than on board with everything, but the kicker to this story is that Grandpa pretty much let Mick walk all the way up to him and Desi before introducing him to his nephew Michael.
I think of this story as we visit Jo and her husband Noel in suburban Dublin. They are not 100%, though their minds are still sharp. You learn that a sharp mind is almost everything after a certain point. They have five children and tons of grandchildren that they see frequently (and separately for obvious reasons). Noel inherited property from his sister, and then struck it really rich when he was in charge of designing the DART, which is Dublin’s (much better/cleaner) equivalent of the PATH train.
I have not had a bad day the entire time I’ve been here, even though I’ve moped through a lot of it. There’s a lot of bad memories here, but the new ones push them further away. Pushing is fine.
Thursday, August 21-ish
I sleep maybe one hour that night before we hit the airport. I have slept maybe an hour since. Maybe it’s because plane travel scares the shit out of me, but I hope it’s, more reasonably, because my mind is still trying to soak in everything I’ve heard, everyone I’ve met, every name I’ve tried to remember, in some attempt to discover that this trip affected me forever.
Also, Delta Airlines can sincerely, earnestly blow me.