Travel: A first trip home
Ryan Summerlin October 19, 2007
It was a typical end-of-the-tourist-season day. The sun peeked from behind the thick, gray clouds every 15 or 20 minutes. Those menacing clouds threatened Atlantic-fed rain, but the drops never seemed to fall. I stood in one of the many cemeteries that pepper the landscape of Ireland. During my visit to Ireland I had stood in about a dozen cemeteries, but this one was different. As I walked around the field of uncut, green grass, I spotted it. There it was among the other tombstones the name that I was looking for: Bailey.There was no first name attached, just the lone surname. There was no birth date or death date on the slab. Relatives have traced our ancestors to this particular part of Ireland, referred to as the Three Counties, where Limerick, Cork and Tipperary counties meet. So to know exactly which of my long-since-passed ancestors is buried there is impossible, but it is most definitely an ancestor, on my mothers side.
My trip to Ireland was a trip into family history. It was a trip I wouldnt have missed.When I think about the significance of the trip, a vivid scenario plays out in my head. I am at some sort of Twelve Step program and say, Hi, my name is Matthew. I am a 34-year-old pseudo-trust-funder and just made my first trip outside North America.The group responds, Hi, Matthew!Then I take the next five or 10 minutes to tell everyone at the meeting of my memorable trip.My first trip abroad and Im not talking about to Canada or Mexico was to the motherland, the Emerald Isle, Ireland. My father told the family about 18 months ago that he was going to take everyone on a trip to see where our relatives came from my father is part German and part Irish, and my mom is Irish and Dutch.My folks had traveled there twice before, and one of the people who joined our group was my fathers best friend a Catholic priest who had previously traveled to Ireland a half dozen or so times. Needless to say, between my parents and Dan the priest, I had very good tour guides.Being from Minnesota, I have witnessed my fair share of scenes of green pastures. People told me that when I visited Ireland Id see green like I had never seen before. I cant decide if that is a completely accurate statement, but lets just say that a Coloradan would be floored by the green pastures and rolling hills. When talking to my friend Bridget, a Denver native who had traveled to Ireland a few years ago, she asked me if I had ever seen a postcard from Ireland before.Sure. Of course I have, I responded. After all, what proud Irishman hasnt checked out a postcard of Ireland.You know those super-green pastures and rolling hills they show?Yeah, I responded.Well those are pretty much everywhere you look when you go to Ireland, she said. Its beautiful.She wasnt lying.
After taking a day to adjust to the time change we got on the road and we kept moving for the next 14 days.Our first leg of the trip took us to the Cliffs of Moher. We took in the sights at the cliffs and then hightailed it to Doolin to catch a ferry to Inishmore, one of the islands in the famed Aran Islands, where the beautifully-crafted woolen fisherman sweaters originated. On the islands we took a guided trip to an ancient ruin of a fort called Dun Aengus. We checked out the first of what would turn into a theme for the rest of the trip, the ruin of an abbey and its accompanying cemetery.After two days on Inishmore we took a noticeably more relaxing ferry ride back to Doolin the ferry to Inishmore was an experience the weak-in-the-stomach would not have enjoyed. We traveled up the west coast to Connemara National Park, where Irelands most visited tourist site is located, the Kylemore Abbey. The abbey was a destination suggested by Father Dan. My parents and Dan, along with Dans cousin Bill, took a tour of the abbey the first full day that we were in Connemara. I, on the other hand, took advantage of the generosity and hospitality that the Irish are known for. Sister Benedict, a friend of Father Dans who lives at the abbey, offered to set me up with a man named Nigel. Nigel was the man to talk to at the abbey if you wanted to get some time fly-fishing on the abbeys private waters that included lakes, ponds and streams.I spent the day fighting off wind and rain and the intense urge to just jump in the water and grab one of the hundred fish I saw rise that day, but obviously didnt want to have anything to do with the flies I was throwing. At the end of the day I walked away from my private, secluded, awe-inspiring fishing hole empty handed.
For the next week and a half I saw more ruins of abbeys (I now know the history of why the Irish hate Oliver Cromwell), cemeteries, castles and gift shops, but what will forever grace my memory is, besides for that last day of family time together at the cemetery at the Three Counties area, was the generosity, hospitality and laughter that fills the lives of the Irish. If I were to live there, Id be one heck of a grump I cant deal with not seeing the sun for a week or two at a time. But the Irish have such an indomitable spirit. That day of fishing at Kylemore Abbey should have cost me a pretty penny, but since I was a guest of the abbey, all I had to pay for were the flies Nigel tied for me. At the bed and breakfast we stayed in at Connemara National Park the house owner had a pay phone at the entrance of the home. When I went to drop my Euros into the telephone she took offense.No, no, love. You use my phone over there behind the desk, she commanded.She treated my family like her own. She chatted with me and my mother for nearly two hours about politics, religion, the French, fishing and whatever else we wanted to converse about. She encapsulated the Irish mystique for me on my first trip to the Emerald Isle the mystique that is wrapped up in one of the islands most famous credos. The saying in Gaelic is cead mile failte or one hundred thousand welcomes.And that is the message I will remember I am always welcome.E-mail comments about this column to email@example.com.