18 March 2010

Erin Go Bragh

I think my desire to go to Ireland always began with my father. Every time I crested a hill in southwest Ireland and saw the vista of rolling emerald hills spread out before me, I thought of him and wished he could come see it for himself.

So when he started planning his trip to see us, I urged him to add a visit to Ireland to his itinerary. He was able to find a timeshare in rural Co. Clare, and soon my Aunt Cathy and Uncle Tom signed on to join Barbara, Liam and my dad.

Originally, I wasn’t going to be able to join them. With the visits home for friends’ weddings and our two week honeymoon in April, Mark and I had quickly consumed our holidays and I had resigned myself to making recommendations and picking them up at the airport on February 25th.

When I was home in December, we unfolded the map of Ireland and plotted out a series of day trips – to Co. Kerry, the Ring of Kerry and Killarney, and the Brosna woods. To Galway, and to Dublin, and maybe even to Cork… It was a lot of fun to see how excited everyone was, and I was sad I would miss it.

Then I got a phone call in January, from home. My dad was in the midst of a battery of tests to determine the cause of some severe back and hip pain he’d had since a fall while ice-skating with my brothers. The calls continued into early February, with the final awful news that my dad was really sick, and for a while it wasn’t certain that he’d be able to come after all.

Everything rapidly went into perspective, and I found myself consumed with thoughts of home, and a feeling of utter helplessness. My dad, however, was determined to go on and make the trip happen, regardless of what awaited him upon his return. His doctor supported his decision and we hesitantly confirmed plans and changed seats on the airlines in preparation for his visit.

But I couldn’t sit by and miss the opportunity to spend time with everyone, not when they were so close. So I wrapped up a day trip for work the Monday and flew out to Ireland to join everyone on Tuesday.

I’m really glad I did.

As could only be expected, the majority of the travelling party was pretty car-ed out. There’s not a lot in Co. Clare, and there aren’t great roads for getting around, either. After a marathon trip around the Ring of Kerry before my arrival, I was happy to give everyone a break – and let some relax at the house while I drove others to Galway. The following day we caravanned to Dublin and saw the Book of Kells and made another trip to Guinness (where Liam impressed a couple of American university students by having his first Guinness at the ripe age of 12 in the best place to do it). Everyone was able to get their shopping done and though it was a whirlwind trip, I was pleased to see that everyone was able to accomplish what they’d hoped.

The last day in Ireland, we had a leisurely breakfast and packed our bags. Everyone asked me to estimate when we needed to be at the airport – for a 4:55pm flight, I figured we should be there by 3:30pm, meaning a 2:30pm departure. My dad wanted to stop by a shop in Bunratty to get a hat for Toby, so I suggested leaving another half hour earlier, at 2:00pm. But since we were all just really sitting around the house, we ended up getting in the car at noon.

For those of you who have shopped with my Aunt Cathy, you should already have recognized my error above. I’ve never seen her in and out of a store in less than 30 minutes. And my dad was just as bad this time!

On top of it all, we decided to stop in for a quick pub lunch after shopping since the airport didn’t have much. But none of us were keeping track of the time, and I was shocked to look down at the car clock as we left to realize it was already 3:35.

As we approached the airport, I had a niggling feeling that I was forgetting something else. And then it came to me – there are no fuel stations close to Shannon airport. So we pulled a U turn and rapidly headed back into a development where we were able to locate a gas station. Then we hurried back to the airport to find that we had to drop the cars off at remote parking lots and get shuttled to the airport.

And then we found out the check-in counter was closed – we missed it by ten minutes – meaning that we had to ‘gate-check’ the bags that my family had already paid €40 apiece for, but would now have to pay an additional €35 per bag at the gate. And take them to the airplane ourselves.

We made a comical sight, I’m sure, dashing down the hallways, getting deodorant and bug spray (thanks again for trying, dad) tossed in the rubbish at security, tears and sweat rolling down our cheeks as we rolled, lugged and dragged the oversized bags up and down ramps and stairs.

We finally arrived at the gate and stacked all the bags, only to find that they would only accept cash payments. That resulted in a noble gesture of self-sacrifice as Barbara dashed back out of security with an attendant and got the euros required.

The next crisis came from an unexpected source: my Aunt Cathy had misplaced her digital camera, which was loaded not only with her pictures from Ireland but also a recent trip to El Salvador with Project Smile. As she threw up her hands and told everyone that she would stay in Ireland another night, she needed the camera and wasn’t leaving without it, I ducked into a corner and called the car rental. While I was on hold, they ransacked the car and weren’t able to find it. They were informing me of this, and I was relaying it to Aunt Cathy’s stricken figure, when I could hear shouting through the phone. It was located! Now my Aunt Cathy dashed back out of the airport, through not-so ‘secure’ no entry doorways to meet the Hertz representative at security.

All this was witnessed by 200+ travellers in line to board the Ryanair flight, and a very patient Servisair attendant who did an excellent job corralling the Brosnahans and keeping us (relatively) calm. To commemorate this blog-worthy tale, I took a photo.

Note all the middle fingers and exasperated expressions. I don’t really know if it was anyone’s fault, but I quickly assumed the blame and apologized profusely. It doesn’t look like any of my apologies were accepted…

We arrived home to a fridge full of beer and 8 o’clock reservations at our favourite restaurant, Paul’s Place. Although I had warned everyone about the awful state of Irish cuisine, my family had clearly either disregarded or underestimated just how bad it would be. A couple of bottles of wine, excellent food and serveral of sticky toffee puddings went a long way toward returning the smiles to everyone’s faces.

The last few days were a bit less eventful, with a trip to Albert Dock and the Tate Modern extension, some more shopping, and an ill-advised dare between Mark and myself that resulted in a rather spectacular slip and fall into the disgusting, algae-filled water by the docks. You’ll all be surprised to know that it was Mark who fell, not me. Astounding, I know.

Even though the house was choc-a-bloc with people, and there was rarely a quiet moment either upstairs or downstairs, it was really hard to say good-bye on Sunday morning.

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