Another plane ride post. Well I will start here but I’m sure I will have to finish this post on the ground (or on a ferry to France as it so happens). We have just spent a blessed week in Ireland. We flew there with Ryan Air as it was so cheap to fly – five pounds each on the way there and 10 euros each on our return. We also stayed at our friends James and Elena for five of the seven nights so it seemed silly to schlep Danke Van on an expensive ferry for two nights in Dublin where we couldn’t park Danke anyway.
So here we are returning from Dublin to Bristol – Lina asleep, Noa on my phone playing games and Guy playing the loneliest game in town – Solitaire. (He has just revealed to me that he recently got to the end of the game in two minutes. Lonely but satisfying.)
I have so much to say about this trip to Ireland but it might spill out to two posts. I’ll start with seeing our friends James and Elena and their gorgeous kids Eva and Daniel. We arrived late afternoon last Wednesday and were greeted at the entrance of their housing estate by Eva and her neighbourhood gang of girls. I have never met Eva but have seen photos so I recognised her. She was ever so excited and guided us to the house, running across the green, green grass as we drove around the huge communal roundabout that works as a playground for the neighbourhood kids. Elena and six year old Daniel then came out of the house and boom – we were straight into it. No weird moments of ‘I haven’t seen you in eight and a half years’ – our conversations were easy and bright and friendly from the get go.
Irish born James was Guy’s first boss at Hewlett Packard a long, long time ago, back in 2005. There was an immediate connection between the two tall men and Colombian born Elena and I hit it off quickly too. We became good friends in Sydney, enjoying dinners, lunches, brunches – all pre kids and pre marriage. They were fun days. But in 2008 they left fast and faraway Sydney for James’ fare home Ireland and we haven’t seen them since. Actually, we haven’t even spoken much. A few Skypes in the early days but then life got very busy for all of us with two kids per couple and the Christmas/New Year calls faded away. A few months before our departure Guy got back in touch with James to let him know of our travel plans and that we would love to come visit them in Ireland. And that was it. Flights were booked, dates locked in and away we go.
James and Elena live in a small city called Ennis, south west of Dublin, in a county called Clare. Ireland has always been on my bucket list – mostly because I generally like Irish people, but also because I have dreamed of standing under a grey sky overlooking cliffs and green pastures and the big grey-blue ocean. I’m not sure in what film I saw this scene or what book inspired this vision, but it has stuck with me ever since. And I do love Daniel Day Lewis – had a big old crush on him for a long time. So did Ireland live up to these expectations? Sans DDL?
We did stand overlooking the cliff tops at the Cliffs of Moher on a very windy, cool day. The sky was grey, the grass was green, the water – well I didn’t get to see much water because Lina and Noa were having meltdowns coupled with the blowing winds, so although we were at the perfect spot for my Irish vision it didn’t quite go according to plan. Luckily this wasn’t the first meltdown or the first ‘disappointment’ on our travels and I use the term ‘disappointment’ lightly. Traveling with two kids aged three and five, non-stop for nearly four months has its moments and unfortunately that instance was then, on the cliffs. The disappointment doesn’t last that long though, because perspective comes running in close behind, gently saying, you’re here, take a moment, move on. I’ve learnt not to lower my expectations but to be real and fair with them for all our enjoyment.
And then, the thing is, life will surprise you and bring you a moment you hadn’t expected that surpasses anything you could have imagined or planned. One day in Dublin we were walking in the old cobbled area of Temple Bar looking for a place to eat. I was hoping to find a place with live music at lunchtime on a Tuesday. We arrived at this pumping bar – The Temple Bar Pub – huge and noisy with live music, quite the tourist trap but seemed great nonetheless. Noa walked in and straight away covered her ears and said it was too loud. The place was dark and packed and reeked of alcohol, and though I was so keen to stay, we knew it would be a regrettable decision. So we moved on and asked a guy in a music shop for an alternative suggestion. He gave Guy some roundabout directions to a possible spot. We walked, the kids got hungry, we had just about left the area, when low and behold we found it – Oliver St. John Gogarty – the greatest pub in town.
It was my Irish town fairy-tale. Small pub, two old guys singing Irish folk songs on guitar in front of the window, happy engaged punters and Irish stew with cider for lunch. I was overjoyed. The kids had a ball too, dancing and laughing with the singers. Lina ate half my stew and Noa tried to request Let It Go while Guy sat peacefully with his Guinness and chowder.
And the whole scene got me thinking why I love the Irish. There is a heartiness and a hardiness to these people. These men sing of love and loss and like all good stories, it’s not always a pretty tale. From British rule, to the potato famine to the conflict with Northern Ireland, Ireland has weathered many hard times. And you feel this, from the micro to the macro. There are currently four million people living in Ireland and there is a palpable sense of community in this small country. James joked with us that there is one degree of separation with everyone, and seeing how many shops were called Murphy did make us wonder. Also entering the front door of some of the pubs, a heavy wooden door with key lock and handle that would more commonly be attached to a house or apartment – made me feel like I was walking into someone’s humble abode not a public domain. These little impressions create warmth and intimacy and certainly are inviting.
On a more macro level, Guy and I both had the sense that Ireland is still coming out of itself slowly, evolving from its very conservative past and meeting modernity and the rest of the world more fully. Religion is still very much part of the country’s make-up and this is evident from conversations with our friends, for example, around prayers at school. It was also evident in the fact that during our stay there was a protest in Dublin for A Woman’s Right to Choose. I was shocked that women have to travel to England to have an abortion or have one in Ireland clandestinely.
But politics and world news aside, for the most part our week in Ireland was about friendship and family. From Finding Dory at the Ennis cinema, to trying on every hand cream at the perfumery at The Burren, to tea and cake and a walk in an old friary in Quin, to the Cliffs of Moher, to loads of late night chats with the oldies about everything including Trump, it was a perfect week. (Let’s just hope he loses!!!!)