DAY ONE: KERRY ON MY WAYWARD SON
It’s 9:30 AM on the second day - Everyone else in the house is asleep
from either too much wine or too much travel. I’m looking at a Christmas tree –
behind it is the sunrise and mist. The
The airplane ride over wasn’t fantastic, but it was fine.
It’s a little over six hours from
Once we landed in Shannon Millie was dying to get outside
and have a smoke. After we got through customs she ran out while Danny and I
picked up our bags. We were soon greeted by Rory, who would be driving us the
two hours from
Last trip here, I was so wiped out from the plane ride, I
slept through the car ride. I’m so glad I didn’t this time. We travelled
We drive past a big colorful sign welcoming us to
Helen’s house is bustling when we arrive. After dropping us
off, Rory is taking his mother, Kitty, who has been staying with Helen since
Christmas, home. Some other folks I remember from visits past are around as
well. They all ask how the flight was
and are beaming about how lovely the weather is today. The Irish are very proud
After everyone left Helen made eggs and sausages… God we
love Irish sausage. It’s very different from any kind of sausage you get in
Danny has turned into a crabby little monster and is exhausted. He lays down for a nap. Millie and I fight it, but as Danny wakes up and manages to find the Phantom Menace on TV, we both crash on the couch..
Later I wake up as Helen is making dinner and flip channels and find SCROOGED. It’s my favorite Christmas movie and I missed it this year. So I sit and watch it with Danny as Millie continues to sleep on the couch.
Finally we are all awake and enjoying and wonderful dinner. Helen is a great cook. Stuffed pork roast, homemade mashed potatoes and these carrots that were to die for. I know… carrots! They were mashed and cooked with margarine, ample black pepper, some salt and the a little nutmeg. I don’t know that I’ve ever gone for seconds of carrots in my life.
One thing I’ve learned both here and in
I drift off to sleep with the sounds of Millie and Helen laughing as they echo down the hall.
DAY TWO: TOM THE POST & TINA FEY
The jet lag has gone and morning seems completely
appropriate to my body. It’s only academic that when I wake up it’s after 3
o’clock in the morning at home. In the guest room that I woke up in, there is a
door to the back patio, looking out across vast green tracts of county Kerry to
the Kerry mountains, the sun coming up just behind. I can see why Donal and Eileen (Millie’s grandparents built their house
here. We are 5 minutes by car from the town of
Killorglin is best known for its
huge summer fair that tourists flock to – Puck Fair. I, unfortunately, have
never experienced Puck Fair, only ever having visited in the spring and winter.
Apparently, to kick off the fair, the citizens of Killorglin
praise a goat and hoist him to the top of a 3 story platform, where he remains
(and is lovingly cared for) for the duration of the fair. It’s one of the
oldest pagan festivals in
The morning here is quiet. I am able to write quietly in my journal and then step outside in an attempt to snag a picture of what I’m seeing for Facebook. I doubt it will do justice to the sight. There is frost on the ground but I am able to walk outside with only a fleece jacket on. It’s gorgeous. The peat soil is a completely different texture than I was expecting to walk on. It’s almost what I would expect the tundra to feel like under my feet.
I go back inside and find Spongebob
dubbed in Irish (we’d call it Gaelic) on the TV. It’s something that Danny and
I have talked about since stumbling across it last time we were here for an
all-too-fast weekend in 2005. I tried to wake him, but nothing doing. The boy
was out. So I settled down and watched it. While English is still the official
I fire up the electric kettle again, ready for another cup.
God these electric kettles are fast. Amazing. Helen is
soon awake and joining me for a cup and some brown bread (dense whole wheat
soda bread) with marmalade. I don’t like marmalade. In fact, I can’t stand
marmalade – but, when in
At some point, not long after she and I started talking she got a phone call from a friend, reminding her that she needed to be at a funeral in 2 hours. As Danny and Mil got up we started discussing what we were going to do. Helen had no plans to go to the entire mass, just put in an appearance, commiserate with the family and then go. I didn’t want to be stuck in the house, which we could have done. Instead we all got dressed and Helen dropped us in town and the three of us has breakfast.
Not much was open but we did manage to duck into a little
coffee shop. I have to admit to some disappointment. I was hoping for sausages
and mushy peas and meat pies (of course, that’s more
I snagged a charity ‘Christmas from Killorglin” CD on the way out of the shop and we stepped outside to wait for Helen. We crossed the street to the sunlit square outside the beautiful new Killorglin library. Soon we hopped back into the car with Helen and headed off into our day. Our first stop is the Killorglin cheese farm. (YAY!) The farm is owned by Helen’s cousins the O’Connors. And, yes, one of the daughters is names Sinead. The farm is ancient and modern and fantastic. Really. It’s such a beautiful quilt of this old, stone farm that has probably been in Killorglin since the late 1800’s with modern expansions and house built in and around it. They recently sold one of their fields to build a housing estate (which is lovely). Apparently it brought in a good deal of money for more expansion and cars. When I was last here in 2000 it was even smaller… and so were the sons. God I’m getting old.
Danny played outside with the horse and the dogs that ran around outside. He didn’t want to get too close to the cows in the shed… they smelled. We had a nice chat with Wilma and she is going to get me some information to take to Imboden’s, the little grocery around the corner from my house that does imported cheeses. I’ve been saying for ages that we should try to get their cheese in there. Now I’m going to be acting like a salesman. HA!
Before heading off to our planned day trek, Helen attempted to wipe away the smear marks on the inside of the windshield. First she tried a paper towel, then a baby wipe, then news paper. Finally she pulled into the house of a friend. We waited in the car as she stepped inside, calling for her friend. She emerged a few moments later with a paper towel… apparently there was no one home, she just went in, got the paper towel and left. We laughed as we drove away, hoping that the house really was her friends.
Soon we were back on the road and heading into Glen Car,
which are the
After the fantastic, sunny drive we headed back down into Killorglin and grabbed some take away supper. Real Burger is apparently a chain here http://www.burgers.ie and Helen wanted to stop. Again, denied something hit-you-in-the-face Irish to eat, I ordered the most exotic thing I could – The Puck Burger. No, it’s not goat meat. But it had cole slaw on it, and was delicious.
Napped a little as we waited to leave for a charity pub quiz in the Gap of Dunloe which is part of Killarney. Danny will be staying the evening with Helen’s cousin Mary and her three kids. Oh… and they have Wii and Nintendo DS … so Danny quickly assimilated. The two girls (10 and 11) seemed fascinated by my accent, which tickles me no end. So, we left Danny in their capable hands and headed off to the quiz.
I wasn’t sure how this was going to work. Bar trivia in the
“Because Tom the Post has been dead for 2 or 3 years.”
I don’t think we’ll let her forget that for a while. Thinking of calling someone to find out the time the pub quiz honoring his death started.
I am very proud that the first question of the evening was a Barack Obama question. They seem very happy with our decision over here. There was also a Tina Fey/Sarah Palin question. I should write Tina Fey to tell her that people know who she is in little Irish pubs in the middle of nowhere.
DAY 3: A CLOUD ON THE HORIZON
The sun is trying desperately to break through the clouds today, but I’m afraid it’s going to give up the ghost.
The conservatory/sun room isn’t nearly as warm today and I can’t see the mountains well because of the mist and clouds. That’s all right. I’m not terribly upset by the weather. This is what I was actually expecting for the last two days. I am writing leisurely as Helen wakes up. I make her a cup of tea (milk, no sugar) and we sit and chat for a quite a while. Eventually she hops in the car and runs out to get bagels and cream cheese. Her friend Maura brought over an entire smoked salmon last night (there’s a smokery here in Killorglin) and it is going to be our breakfast.
It’s almost 1 before Danny and Millie crawl out of bed. Helen makes us our bagels. Hand cut smoked salmon with lime and pepper, cream cheese with a dab of pesto on a toasted bagel. Holy crap was is good. I can’t even wax poetic it was so tasty. Holy crap is all I can muster.
After lunch/breakfast Helen took Danny back to Cyril’s to play with his new found friends. I’m so glad he met somebody here. I was very worried that he would be bored and hate it here. It’s quite the opposite. He’s having a ball.
The rest of the day was very lazy. We did make a run to the grocery store for a few things that I had been looking forward to – lemonade (it’s fizzy here), sausages, black pudding for Millie and Danny, Cadbury Flake for Mil and of course, Jelly Babies for me. I love shopping in other countries or in ethic grocery stores. It’s like walking into a new world because even the products you know look different. Like the 2 liter coke bottles are different here. I love that stuff. I know, I know… complete dork.
Dinner was a mish-mash of appetizers and little nibbles that Helen had around. Smoked salmon pate, camembert, brie, tapenade, naan bread, small prawns tossed with pepper and olive oil. Then there was the wine… and the wine… and the wine … and then the whiskey.
During the course of this Helen received a call saying that her aunt Joan (Millie’s great aunt) has become very ill and is probably on her way out. For about an hour while she called family members, Millie and I dealt with the reality that our vacation might not be as bright as we hoped.
Danny came home, had a little food and then was off to bed. For me, Millie and Helen, we put aside the dark cloud that loomed and got completely stupid drunk. We laughed, told stories, read trivia cards and… drank. I got my normal drunkie-munchies and polished off a plum pudding and the last of the brie.
I stumbled off to bed where I found Danny, still awake. He’d been listening to us howl on the other side of closed doors.
Eeeek bad dad.
I went to sleep and tried to forget that something horrible might happen while we’re here.
DAY FOUR: THE MONKEY PUZZLE TREE
The day started a little more hesitantly than the other days have started. Concern about Joan and what would happened is still looming.
This afternoon we are going to
I try my hand at breakfast. Black pudding, sausage and toast. Danny and I load the dishwasher, I start the kettle and proceed to cook. I really, really, really thought I was fucking up the black pudding royally – but it seems I did fine. For those of you who don’t know what black pudding is… it’s not pudding as Americans think of it. Our pudding is more like custard. Except bread pudding- that’s more along the lines of English or Irish pudding. It’s really a sausage. I have lifted this directly from Wikipedia:
Black pudding or (less often) blood pudding is a British English term for sausage made by cooking blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled. It is also called blood sausage (first attested in 1868, perhaps influenced by German Blutwurst). Typical fillers include meat, fat, suet, bread, sweet potato, barley and oatmeal.
I will say this – I don’t really eat it. Danny and Millie love it and it doesn’t taste bad at all. In fact, it’s rather good. But my mind just can’t let me get past the blood thing. So I made it for the fam.
We’ve all been sleeping so late that it feels like half the day is gone when we get up. I’m not really a “come on! Get up! It’s time to go go go!” guy. But part of me is feeling that we are doing ourselves a disservice. At least I hope we’re not.
After a time we have made plans for Dan to go with Cyril and
the kids to the Aqua Dome which is, apparently a huge indoor water park. He
will go with them while we go to
The road to
Before we left we heard that a bed had opened up in “The Bons” (which is short for Bon Secour – the hospital. It has a French name, Helen believes, because the order of nuns that started it. ) An ambulance had been sent for and Joan was going to be going in. When we arrive at the house, the ambulance still hasn’t arrived. We are greeted by a puffy, grey sentinel cat – brows furrowed, yelling at us – sitting outside the house. It eels out one long note that I couldn’t tell if it was approval or disapproval we were getting. All I could tell was that the cat knew that something wasn’t all right in the out.
Inside we found Joan’s daughter Siobhan (for those of you that don’t know, that is pronounced SHI-VAWN)… I can’t explain it either. She settled us down on the porch with a few others. Siobhan’s husband looks like the balding military character that Peter Sellers played in Dr. Strangelove. Really. In this already surreal moment, it was a little distracting. As Helen went upstairs to see Joan, we sat and chatted and had tea while we waited for the ambulance.
We made small talk about American health care and Barack Obama and… well, just about anything. Finally the ambulance arrived and we sat and finished our tea while Joan was carted off to “The Bons”. It was all very strange. The family and friends that were there simply waited for the paramedics to do their job while we covered over the unpleasantness with polite conversation.
I suppose it would have been different if she wasn’t 90. I suppose, if this was a child who’d fallen or a sudden illness in someone 40, the level of urgency would have been different. Helen and I have been discussing death quite a bit. The Irish are very open about death and see it as part of life. They celebrate it. They are sad but they understand its place in the grand scheme. If there’s one stereotype about the Irish that we all know, it’s how they handle death.
For once, that stereotype is completely based in reality.
We didn’t go to the hospital. Instead we made a quick visit
to another family friend in
I have often said that when I was in
There is a wonderfully strange tree here that Helen pointed out to me. It is an evergreen of some kind, but shaped almost like a large winding cactus… the needles and prickerscompletely covering the thick branches, all the way down to the trunk. They call it the Monkey Puzzle Tree… because a monkey wouldn’t know how to climb it.
I write the name down in my notebook. It’s a wonderful metaphor for parts of life, like we are in right now. How do you climb this without it hurting? Sometimes you just have to.
Helen makes another wonderful meal and Danny comes home later
Millie and Helen go to bed early leaving me and Danny watching television. I get us a snack and a Club Orange and we cuddle on the couch watching Family Guy. I know… I know. But I’m there and he’s there and we’re both here.
Besides. I look up at the clock as we’re getting ready to head to bed and it’s my birthday now. My birthday - far away from home in a beautiful, welcoming country… eating little cheese sandwiches with my boy. How could it be better?
DAY 5: 37 BOWEL MARY MACK 12/31/2008
As usual, I woke up before everyone else this morning. I fired up the laptop to start journaling and I see that some of my friends have already started leaving me birthday messages on my Facebook account. Warm… completely masculine fuzzies.
As usual, the day is starting late. The plan today, upon my request, was to travel to Killarney (not far) and shop. I want to spend the day looking at record or book stores, the mall in Killarney… me stuff… get some goofy souvenirs and bric-a-brac to take home.
I call my mom and dad to say hi. It’s only a quarter to seven in the morning there, but I know they’re up. My mom likes to recount the story of my birth to me every year. I didn’t want to disappoint. While I’m doing this, Helen calls Siobhan to check on Joan. We are still hoping that the drugs and IV drip might bring her around. No such luck – she’s going soon.
So, Killarney is put off to another day. Instead, Helen
drops the three of us off in Killorglin and we wander
around for a few hours while she runs into
The town has more pubs than anything. In a town this small,
I believe, they have 20. But there are plenty of little shops to go into. Millie and I but a pair of Claddagh
earrings. We split them – one for each of us. We swing into a tiny…
really tiny, bookshop. I pick up a copy of the new Tales of Beeteater
Bard or Tom Bombadil… or whatever the hell that new
JK Rowling Harry Potter addendum book is (I think I managed to piss off both
Rowling and Tolkien fans in one breath there) for Millie and Danny asks for a
Goosebumps book. A few more shops… a Killorglin calendar, I drop a couple of Euro into the hat
of a Romanian man busking on the street – he is neither singing or really playing that guitar. A few more
stops – a trivia game for tonight, a talking TARDIS bank… (yep
that’s for me).. and my favorite purchase today: “All
About Your Bowel”. Literally, we were passing a pharmacy and I saw it in the
window. It’s giving me a good chuckle. Were you aware there was an official
We also stop in the Kilorglin Library - a beautiful new building that has been built since the last time we were here. Probably the most interesting thing to me was the HUGE "Western Literature" section. Shelves and shelves of cowboy and American west books. I never thought of this genre as traveling well. When I say something about it later to Helen she said that it's huge with young boys. My father-in-law grew up on it.
Helen was expecting to be back between 3 and 3:30. As 3 approached I called her. She and her cousin Tom were on their way back. Joan has died.
Millie, Danny and I sit down in the Bianconi pub and wait for Tom to pick us up. Millie has an egg mayo sandwich and I have a pint of Guinness. We are tired and the wind has been cold. She and I are silently acknowledging that this may very well derail our vacation. We understand that things happen and we are sad that Auntie Joan has left – but you do suddenly feel like it was all for nothing. It’s selfish and irrational and it will pass quickly but we can’t help thinking it.
Tom picks us up and takes us back to Helen’s. The three of us take hands, take a deep breath and swear to take the next days in stride.
Helen is making phone calls to family and we are getting ready. We are all expected at a New Year’s dinner party at 4:30 at Cyril and Mary’s. Helen finishes a round of phone calls and we are soon out the door again.
The dinner party is very nice. Lots of people we don’t know,
so Millie and I giggle to each other quite a bit. When you are at a party like
that, sometimes it’s like watching TV. A few people ask us about our stay so
far. I get into a conversation with an old guy named Johnny. I can barely
understand him but we talk about
We drop Marie off at her house, make a quick stop at the grocery and soon we are home.
The evening progresses with Irish Trivial Pursuit… which is
a bit of joke for me and Millie. Helen is making me vodka drinks and Millie is
working on beer. Danny rolls in after 9. We are all buzzed and laughing as we
settle down in front of the TV to watch the countdown to midnight from
So now it is 2009. A new year. We watch the London Eye explode in glorious color and sound. We call our families … “I am calling from THE FUTURE”… It’s not long before Danny and I crawl into bed, vodka fogging my head. I fall asleep – again considering the monkey-puzzle tree. What happens next?
DAY SIX: PRUNE-THOUSAND AND NINE 1/1/2009
After several days the sun pokes its head out from behind the gray. I have some time to journal and get a few more birthday and new years wishes online. Everyone else wakes up about mid-morning. I put on the tea and we all congregate around the table. Tonight everyone will congregate Joan’s house, where she has been brought, and say the rosary. Waking the dead in the house is still done here but it’s going out of fashion. Suddenly Helen gets an itch – she’s not going to let this death dominate our visit!
She jumps up. “This is your captain! We are leaving for Rossbeigh in 20 minutes!”
The Schwartz family was happy for the jolt and we were out the door in fifteen minutes.
Rossbeigh is on the ocean.
Finally, the ocean!! I’ve wanted Danny to see the ocean ever since we got here.
He’s flown over the damn thing twice and never seen it. When I was 11 and my
folks took us to
The road there is gorgeous.
Bog and farmland.. rolling
green hills and the sun peaking out from behind the mountains and the sporadic
clouds. We pull off the road at a beautiful spot and we take some pictures. A
low valley with a creek running through it and a hand painted “no trespassing
sign”. On the other side of the valley an orange and tan hill littered with
scrub brush, gorse and
scrub grass. It’s just like so many of the hills we pass; wild, scrubby with
sectioned off patches reclaimed for farmland. Like
Speaking of gorse… look it up on Wikipedia. The first time I was here, in 2000, they were burning gorse up in the fields. It’s a weed. A pretty, prickly weed with yellow flowers that quickly encroaches on farmland – and sheep won’t go near them. So once or twice a year, with the fire brigade on hand, the farmers burn it out. The fireplaces here are going this time of year. Now, they don’t burn wood for the most part. They burn bricks made from pressed bog peat. And they burn coal in their fire places. It all smells wonderful. Between the peat, the coal and the gorse… the air can get a wonderfully earthy, salty quality in the morning and evening.
We continue on to Rossbeigh. As we travel on I am noticing that… well… let me be delicate. The food and travel have played hell with my system and I’m… a little uncomfortable. After several days of feeling good, except for the remnants of my cold, and now I’m starting to not enjoy this ride to the ocean as much.
Rossbeigh is lovely. The sea on one side and the mountains on the other. This is a resort town full of summer homes and rentals. We drive down to the beach and even on a windy, cold day like today the place is bustling with people getting their walks in. Some crazy bastards are trying to wind surf. We take a drive around the beach and park for a moment.
Unfortunately, the tide is out and it’s a long, mucky walk out to the white-capping surf. Danny’s tasting the ocean might have to wait. Plus the wind is whipping like crazy – Helen says they call it “Fresh”. As in “My word it’s fresh out today”. We all had a good laugh when Dan said “It’s really friggin’ fresh out”. We get back into the car and head up into the mountains. We drive along the ocean on a winding road that looks across the bay. We pass incredibly tall, rusted railroad bridges. The word “BRITS OUT” are slowly vanishing into the rust. Helen says that this was a Republican (as in Irish Republican - national pride) stronghold in the 1960s and 70’s. The words on the bridge were too high for the Brits to get rid of.
We finally come to a little spot right before the town of
Earlier, when we were getting into the car, I told Danny to leave his DS at home. When he squawked, I told him that he was going to look at the scenery and he would thank me one day.
Looking out at the ocean, Danny said, “I’ll thank you now.” Good dad moment.
We turn around and follow the mountains back to Rossbeigh. We stop at the Glenbeigh
for lunch. Damn! This is the one of the
oldest working hotels and pubs in
We finish up and head back toward Killorglin. By this time my gut is killing me. Helen suggests we stop for… you guessed it… prune juice. I’ve never put much faith in the little purple devils, but there is no dissuading her. She stops at a small grocery, hops out… a few minutes later she returns with a liter of prune juice.
When we get home, I down half the bottle and go lie down Millie and Helen got ready for the Rosary at Joan’s.
After I dozed for a little while, Millie and Helen informed me that I didn’t have to go, which was for the best. Danny was going to Cyril’s while they went. So I soon found myself all alone in the house. I laid down on the couch, turned on the TV and then….
Well, I will never again doubt the potency of prune juice. I will also say that half a liter is MORE than sufficient.
When Millie and Helen returned later I was feeling fine. It was quite a way to start 2009.
DAY SEVEN: BRACE AGAINST TIME 1/2/2009
There was talk that today we would drive to Dingle. The drive to the bay is supposed to be beautiful and we’ve talked about going since we got here. It’s almost become a joke, like an unattainable quest. “Oh.. we’ll be in Dingle soon.”
We’ve decided to scrap Dingle for today and do the shopping trip to Killarney instead. I am, however, on a quest. Braces. Sorry… suspenders. Suspenders here are a garter belt. They call them braces here. Anyway, my belt is shot and I need to wear my khaki pants tonight for the wake and removal from the house.
We need to leave by 5, so Helen drops us in Killarney around 12:30. She has to go make some wreaths (she does floral arrangement) and so we will be taking a bus back to Killorglin. So the Schwartzes hit the streets of Killarney.
Helen dropped us at the train station/bus station/ mall at one end of
the down town area. So we wander through the mall. We step into a video/music
store. Almost immediately Danny is next to me. “Dad!
What’s this?” He holds out a copy of the
first Harry Potter movie. He points to
what he expects is a mistake. ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ “That’s supposed to be ‘Sorcerer’s Stone’,
right?” I explain to him that the name
changed when the book came to
A few stores down I find a clothing store, no suspenders. This means I have to keep hoisting my drawers as we head out of the mall into the streets. You’d think this was a back lot. Killarney is exactly what you would expect from a large Irish town. Narrow streets lined with quaint little shops. And I don’t mean that to sound cliché. These shops actually are quaint. As if there is a local ordinance requiring a certain quaintitude be built and immediately recognizable in all the shops present on the street.
There is also a tourist flavor here. Killarney is one of the
tourist towns, like
I duck into a little music shop where they are selling little accordions, fiddles, bodhrans and penny whistles… along with electric guitars and accessories. I buy some guitar picks with the name and number of the shop on them and meet Danny and Mil back out on the street. As we move along I come up short in a few more clothing stores. We step into a gift store and get some souvenirs for folks at home.
There are literally shops, pubs and restaurants in all directions. Little signs direct you down narrow alleyways with more and more shops. Still no “Braces r’ Us” but I have faith. We are walking and stopping in stores for a little while longer when we finally com to Quills – a large clothing store. Victory is mine. I buy some fairly hideous purple braces (I’m wearing them under a sweater – I might as well have fun with it).
We check our clocks – 2pm. We’ve been walking for the better part of 90 minutes and we need to head back the way we came get on our bus at 3. I have to admit, since Mil will call me on it, I was getting a little crabby. My feet were killing me and… well, sometimes I just get crabby. So we turn around and head back. I hope we come back before we go. I’d like to have a look at the other half of town.
When we get back to the mall, Millie goes off to find something to wear to the funeral. Danny and I go upstairs to a sandwich place to wait and use the restroom… I need to get these braces on.
I lock myself in a narrow stall in the bathroom and disrobe. I emerge five minutes later with Danny staring at me like “um… what the hell were you doing in there?”.
Before long we are on the bus and soon back in Killorglin. Helen picks us up and we head back to the house to get ready.
We make the trek into
Joan’s house is packed. Literally, stuffed with people. In a sitting room off to the side, the coffin is laid out. The three of us say a prayer - I was worried about Danny, but he took it all in stride. We head outside because Mil wants a smoke and there’s no place to sit.
The only problem is that it is cold and windy outside. It’s still another half an hour until they take Joan from the sitting to the church and we follow. Danny is freezing – so we get Helen’s keys and the three of us climb into the car and watch everything like it’s on TV… but we are warm. Helen arrives shortly and we drive to the Church. Some of the family is going to walk down the road behind the coffin.
The church is huge and old and beautiful. I sneak a few Facebook photos. I will also say for any other Doctor Who fans - there are two HUGE angel statues with their heads down. Some one placed a “Don’t Blink” sign on a table near them. I thought I was going to piss myself attempting to hold in my laughter.
The pall-bearers bring Joan to the front of the church, where she will rest over night. There are a few quick prayers said and then it’s back to the house for tea, cakes and sandwiches.
The mass is at 11:15 the next morning and it’s half an hour back to Killorglin, so we don’t stay long. Danny is finally starting to wolf food down. He goes through these cycles were he barely eats for weeks and then we can’t get food in front of him fast enough.
We crawl back into the car and head back across the night, knowing that we will return one more time tomorrow to bid farewell to Joan.
DAY EIGHT: SOBER & SMITH 1/3/2009
The sky this morning is a mixture of grays and blues, edging toward a complete, pale gray. We are a little hurried as we are all getting ready to be out the door.
The mass for Joan is at 11:15 and it takes slightly more than an hour to get there. Plus we have to drop Danny off at Cyril’s. All the pressure of home without the cushion of being at home. But we do make it, with a few minutes to spare.
After a quick stop to buy, as Helen described it,
“man-strength” tissues, we arrive in
As the hearse slowly passes us we see throngs of young people, teenagers, walking slowly behind. Beautiful children, eyes lowered, carrying flowers as they step sadly behind the coffin. We find out later that there was a horrible car accident on New Year’s Eve. A young girl was killed and two boys are still in critical condition. This was the girl’s funeral. It’s sad to see so many young grieving .
We are directed by the Garda (
We arrive 5 minutes late, but the mass is nowhere near ready to start as the previous funeral is just ending.
The funeral mass was very nice in this big old church. I’m finally able to see the beautiful stained glass windows. Gorgeous.
After the mass, we hop into the car with Helen and drive to
the grave yard. The family is walking behind the hearse, so we have some time
to sit in the car and be warm before the graveside service. Cyril arrives and
joins us in the car. Danny is at home with his wife Mary and their kids still.. When the hearse arrives, we all follow to the grave where
Joan’s late husband,
Millie and I hang back, bringing up the rear in the procession. This is an odd funeral. There have been tears and sniffles – but Joan was 90 and had a fantastic life. It really feels more like we’re going to see her off on a cruise. Irish cemeteries, by the way, are amazing. The grave sites are very elaborate. Each plot is not only marked by a head stone, but there is a little marble wall around the plot – some engraved with slogans. “I did it my way” was the one that made Millie and I chuckle. We did see a grave for Pearse Brosnan, which was a surprise. We didn’t realize he was dead.
Once they had committed Joan’s body to the ground – with a few words from the Arch Bishop, who is a family friend. We all trudged back through the dead to our cars and off to the luncheon.
Lunch was very nice. We all settled down at a beautiful hotel just outside of town for a lovely meal. Guinness, smoked salmon salad, breaded chicken with mushrooms… delicious. A mélange of small desserts… I need to go to more Irish funerals.
Millie and I were expecting this part to go on for quite a while, but it didn’t. Many people were driving quite a distance to go home. So a few goodbyes to some people that we won’t see again for a long time and then it was back in the car.
We stop for gas before heading out of
We get back to Killorglin around 4:30 and we settle in for the night. Helen makes her meatloaf, Millie slips into her jammies and I put myself down on the couch to watch the Doctor Who special. Helen and Millie join me and we all discuss the selection of Matt Smith as the new Doctor. I chat online with Laurie and some other folks.
Danny comes home a little later, we eat and then… before I know it, it’s time for bed. The last few days of cramming vacation in between the funeral plans have wiped me out. I crawl into bed next to Danny who is snoring quietly and dive off the pier into sleep.
DAY NINE: SHACKLETON’S DINGLE CAMP 1/4/2009
The day has come. Dingle… the oft dreamt of destination… our quest, I guess, will be fulfilled this day.
We all wake up around 10 o’clock. Cyril and Mary need to
drive 4 hours to
After so many aborted attempts this week, we are getting to Dingle by hook or by crook.
Well, actually, it’s by car.
Talk of Dingle started over a month ago when Millie found that you could go on Whale watching boats out of Dingle. Plans for that were scrapped when we realized how cold it would be… but Dingle was now in our lexicon and we wanted to see it. Helen says the drive there is spectacular.
Helen returns with Padraig, some Maken and Clancy CDs and we all begin the journey to
Dingle. If you haven’t noticed, I love
writing Dingle. If that’s not bad enough… our first stop on the trip is the
little ocean side
There is a huge sand bar/beach that extends out into
Back into the car and driving along the ocean, until we turn
inland. We reach a town called Annascaul and turn
right. Annascaul’s claim to fame is The South Pole Inn.
Tom Crean, one of Annascaul’s
native sons, took part in 3 Antarctic expeditions; two with Scott (1901-1904 and again from 1910-1913)
and then with Shackleton’s ill-fated journey. When
their ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice and the crew fled to
It’s still early, so we don’t stop at the South Pole Inn. We continue on through Annascaul and beyond.
The valley we travel through is amazing. It reminds me of big sky country in
It’s breath taking but Helen is starting to wonder if we’ve gone the wrong way. It’s beautiful but nothing is looking familiar to her. I tell her that my gut says we are going the right way and Millie says “ever forward” – so we press on.
So far I have been fine with the drive… until we come around a corner and the land falls away into a deep, deep valley with the sea beyond. It’s stunning.. but I can’t look at it. My fear of heights kicks me in the sack and I tense up.
It’s crazy… I want to look out at it – because it’s fantastic – but every time I do, my irrational fear grips me. I find myself leaning away from the edge slightly. I can tell that Millie can see what’s happening. I’m trying to laugh it off, as I do.
After we pass another sign for Tralee, Helen pulls into a
gas station in the town of
Dingle is a sea side town with little shops, yachts, fishing vessels and lots of beautiful colors. The sun has gone and there is a mist of rain as we hop in the car again, driving further down the peninsula to Slea Head – looking out into the Atlantic.
It is gray and drizzling when we arrive there. We pull off near prehistoric beehive dwellings. In either direction there is ocean, some of the other side of the bay and black rock cliffs straight into the frothy brine below. This is the ancient land of the Celts – where the ancients might have once stood and watched invading Norse row in.
Shit, I don’t know… but it sounded good. What do you expect of me blog reader?!
We turn around and go back the way we came. Once back in Dingle, I take Danny and Padraig to the Ocean World Marine Aquarium, while Millie hits the gift shop and Helen scouts a place to eat.
They love it. The hip word here is “SAVAGE” and Padraig calls the spider crabs and small sharks “Savage”. The last leg of the aquarium is a glass tunnel under the water and fish. It’s awesome and the kids went nuts.
After the aquarium we take lunch at the Dingle hotel and I finally my pie – beef and Guinness pie. Mmm. While we were at the aquarium Helen also got stuff to make her seafood chowder. HA! I’m set for the night.
The trip back seems to take half the time. When we get home I fall asleep while Helen makes her chowder. Every moment I’m not doing something, at this point, feels like I’m wasting time. Time is at a premium, but the drive today wiped me out.
After Padraig leaves we all
retreated to our corners. Danny played his DS, Helen checked in with Joan’s
family, Millie played on her computer in the other room and I watched Genesis
One more day. One more chance to force in the things that soak slowly in when you live her. One more day to lose myself in the mountains and the green. One more day before I have to drag my family back to real life.
It is the final day. Last night before we went to sleep, Danny said a prayer asking for nice weather. I woke up at six this morning, unable to shake thoughts of real life… bills, house cats, the job… they all leak in and I try to get back to sleep. Finally I give up and get up.
I work on my journal for a while and wait for the others to rise. I had no idea that Millie had gone to bed at 5. It’s few hours before everyone is up. I am well into my third cup of tea when Helen appears. She gets Millie and Danny out of bed and makes French toast for breakfast.
It’s around 12 when we finally leave the house. Our last outing. The intention today is to do a little shopping in Killarney and then back home for dinner followed by Cyril and Brendan for “Facts in Five”, a trivia game that they are all crazy about.
On the way to Killarney we stop at Helen’s friend Maura’s house and chat with her a bit. As we are talking we are watching the Biography of John Mills. As much as I like Maura, I’m itching to get to Killarney. I still haven’t been into any record stores, which is one of the things that I wanted to do here. I can feel every minute burning away, I know it’s a little selfish but Helen can get a little sidetracked.
We don’t stay at Maura’s long and we head toward Killarney,
taking the back road. The FUBW as my wife calls it –
I suppose after so many journal entries it’s redundant to
say “it was a beautiful drive”… but it was. The sky is completely blue – the
sun is hanging above the mountains over our shoulder and this place is so
green… well, you get the picture. We pass through the small town of
We are right in the center of town… when Helen decides to sidetrack us one more time. She’s taking us to one more sightseeing place before hitting the shops. Like a selfish little shit – I was steamed. I just wanted to…
Right there, in that moment, I realized something very deep
about myself. It explained something that my friend Laurie joked about on Facebook. “You’re the only person I know who goes to
another country to watch T.V.”. It’s absolutely true. It explains why I am so fascinated with
grocery stores and TV and road signs and the food and the money. My vacation
isn’t going to
I cannot tell you what this revelation did to me. It stunned
me… but after 37 years it explained so much. It explained why, when I would
leave some place, like
God, it was like somebody kicking me in the back of the head and a little metal ball dislodging itself and dropping into the right hole. “This is who you are, stupid!” Even when I read back on this journal – look at what I focus on.
Ross Castle was beautiful, looking out onto the lakes and islands, we snapped a few pictures and then hopped in the car. Back to downtown Killarney.
With my newfound self-discovery in hand I hit the shops.
Danny came with me while Millie and Helen headed off in another direction.
There were two shopping arcades – small shopping malls, really. They almost
reminded me of
I get my chance to hit two record shops – Music Express and Roxy Records. Again, in Music Express I am faced with a dilemma – what to buy. I don’t want to buy something that I could readily get at home. I look for Kings of Leon because I have seen their new video for “Use Somebody” 4 times now on one of the video channels and I love it. Sadly, they don’t have it. Happily I find two other CDs that I snatch up; “Damien Rice – Live and Union Chapel” and “The Essential Dolores Keane”. Can’t get them fuckers at Wal-Mart. And I love Dolores Keane. As Tom Russell says, she is the voice of the Irish earth. (I am writing this later and have listened to this 2 disc set… it is freakin’ phenomenal!!)
Now, Danny came with me because I promised that we would stop at some places he wanted to stop… which, of course meant video games. I have explained to him that the Playstation games won’t work at home. But the Nintendo DS games will… plus I gave him 50 Euro and it’s burning a hole. After a stop in a tiny book store, where I pick up a beautiful little hardback edition of “Origin of Species” (gold trim, built in bookmark ribbon… unabridged… beautiful)… we hit the high street again.
Did you know that Killarney has a Game Stop. Yes, Mitch, a Game Stop. So guess where we went. Danny was over the moon and bought two used games – “Ninja Reflex” and the new “Super Mario Brothers” for his DS.
I call Helen and set up our meeting point. A quick stop in a news agent to pick up a “Doctor Who Adventures” magazine for Danny… and then we wait. On the way home from Killarney we stop an another cousin’s house. Gerard and Peggy Collins, and their daughter Niamh (who I am happy to say, has a Facebook account). It was a nice little visit but we were soon off again.
Back home we have set about packing. I am neurotically concerned with us all getting up in time. After a time, with most everything packed, I settle down on the couch and start journaling.
We finish the last of the seafood chowder as a starter and Helen makes another meatloaf. They are delicious but I she thinks we are a little more obsessed with meatloaf than we actually are.
A little later
Soon Cyril arrives with his brother Gerard O’Neill. Padraig and his sister Emma are in tow to play with Danny.
They start settling down for a game of Facts in Five,
which apparently is an old trivia game that they played as kids. Someone found
it on eBay and all the grown ups are excited… until Cyril asks if
So we play… and almost all of them smoke. 5 categories like Name Brands,
We have fun… and we argue… and we marvel at
At 10, Helen boots everyone out. Danny and Padraig say their goodbyes, as do we.
I set the alarm on my cell phone for 5:30. My alarm? “Gut Thumping” by Gag Reflex.
Leaving Millie and Helen awake in the dining room, Danny and I go off to bed.
DAY 11: TERMINAL FROST 1/6/2009
The strains of me and my Gag Reflex mates wake me at 5:30… and again at 5:35.
I have never missed a flight. Not for business. Not for pleasure. And I won’t this time.
It’s still dark outside and I wake Danny. He’s groggy as he
pulls himself to his feet. I dress quickly and make sure he stays awake. We
need to leave by 7 to be at the airport by 9. It’s a two hour ride to
I don’t have time to
think about the wonders of a country full of drunk
women… I have tea and sausages to make. Our last Irish
sausages. Apparently there is a company in
I finally pack up my computer and help Danny finish packing. As I start the tea and sausages, Helen’s wake up call comes through and she is out of bed. Tea with a drop of milk. For me? Tea, milk and two Splenda. The sausages are cooking up nicely… throw in some toast. I have Danny checking around for things we might be forgetting. I hate forgetting things. When they will be left in another country… well, I needn’t tell you my neuroses surrounding this.
I check our passports and flight information at least 7 times while I’m making breakfast. I am in pre-flight mode, which is almost as bad as pre-show mode.
Eventually Millie is awake, the suitcases are by the door, mp3 players are charged… it’s time to hit the road.
It is dark at 10 to 7 when we step outside. The sky is clear and the car is covered in a layer of frost, which we weren’t expecting. It’s not real common, apparently, and Helen has to find her scraper, while I start scraping with my expired Sweet Tomatoes gift card. Soon the windows are fairly clear and we are on the road.
The roads are barren
at this time of morning. The commuters for Killorglin
We roll on through the darkness, through towns and villages. Millie is asleep in back and Dan is silent, unable to play his DS. Helen has the annoying habit of braking to a crawl every time a car passes her. I don’t understand it and I want to scream “I HAVE NEVER MISSED ONE, HELEN!! IF I DO… SOMEBODY DIES!! IF YOU TOUCH THAT BRAKE AGAIN I AM GOING UGLY AMERICAN ON YOUR ASS!!” I don’t say it of course.
the east the sky beings to lighten. We have moved out of
“We drive on into
the roads are all frosty and slick
Helen’s slow on the wheel
but I won’t make a deal
because I don’t want to look like a dick”
There is one point as the sun is starting to break on the horizon, that we come around a hill and we can see across the valley ahead of us. The frost has grayed the entire landscape and a cushion of fog is resting low to the ground. It’s absolutely stunning. I would think it was snow if I didn’t know better.
This part of the
country got hit harder by the overnight freeze that
We do have to make one stop that we’ve been planning since the day we landed. Millie needs to get soil from Adare for one of her friends. Adare was her maiden name. We stop there, Danny has a pee and Millie digs soil out of a nearby potted plant.
Adare is a pretty little town that dates from the 13th century and has gone to great lengths to maintain some of it’s historic sites. Thatch-roofed houses sit along the road, glazed with frost. A church built by the returning Crusaders sits near the road. You can see pictures here - http://www.adare-ireland.com/ . I would like to stay and have breakfast at The Pink Potato, but we can’t.
Next we “blaze”
The sun is well in
the sky as we pull up to
We sit with her in the café and have one last snack with her. It’s a little sad, of course. But we know we’ll be back and we still have the trip home. We hug and say our goodbyes.
We coast past
customs. Hundreds of
The reason we didn’t
go through Customs was because our flight from Shannon stopped in
It was a pain in the ass and I think at that point 12 days together had finally worn on the Schwartzes and tempers flared. By the time we are back in the air we are fine, but it’s time to be home and we have another 7 hours in those seats.
I wish there was some sweeping, poetic end to this trip that I could relay. Fairy tales, adventure stories, operas and detective novels all end because what comes after is… well, frankly not always worth writing about. Prince Charming and Cinderella paying the mortgage. Indiana Jones having nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon and falling asleep in the Barcalounger listening to Baby Snooks. Sam Spade catching a cold and calling in sick to work.
All vacations, no
matter how wonderful end watching your luggage come down a slide. No matter how
exotic and wonderful, it ends with a slow ride home over well covered ground.
The faces of the last days…
I look over at them both, asleep – exhausted from traveling- in the dim dome lights of the limo. I’m so glad I could give them this. I’m so happy I could give them the exhaustion of a world traveler.
I turn up the blue
limo halo lights, close my eyes and doze off as the car edges through the
© 2009 Eric Peter Schwartz