By Patricia Abbate
In 2000, I had the opportunity to visit Ireland with my sister Peggi, my Aunt Mimi, and best friend from grade school, Carol. It was a dream trip, and once there, I knew that I’d travel back again one day to further explore the fascinating cities, picturesque countryside, and wild coastline. But during my stay, the “grand tour” I experienced was much more than a sight-seeing trip, it was a chance to visit the land of my heritage—to walk the roads traveled by my ancestors. Some things hadn’t changed in centuries I imagined. The metallic clanging of bells swinging from the necks of spritely spring lambs, the coolness of the morning mist on your face, the heather-scented air of the hills, and the verdant intensity of the lush countryside that extends as far as the eye can see. But above all, I imagined the the warmth of the people who welcomed us at each stop had been a constant throughout the ages.
We traveled in March, a month officially designated here in the US as Irish-American Heritage Month. Although our tour ended before we could celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th(and my birthday on the 14th) on the auld sod, celebrate we did.
Our first stop after our Aer Lingus jet touched down in Shannon was directly to the wind-swept Cliffs of Moher, jutting up 700 feet above a turbulent sea. Between the blustery gusts and the dramatic vistas beyond the jagged edges of the cliffs, it was literally breath-taking. The spot is now an official stop along the Wild Atlantic Way, an aptly-named 1600-mile tourism trail on Ireland’s scenic west coast and has been a location for several scenes in recent movies. It’s noted as one of the top tourism attractions in Ireland, attracting upwards of 1.5 million visitors annually.
After a day or so the four of us got into a touring rhythm with our traveling mates and made our way around most of the island, which we learned is just a bit smaller in square miles than the state of Maine. We toured in a comfortable motor coach while being entertained and educated by a most charming, helpful, and knowledgeable guide. Getting to know our fellow travelers and having large windows overlooking the Irish world around us was a daily treat.
Experiencing a place for the first time can be exhilarating, but to know that you’re standing on the threshold of the home of a family member from generations past, adds a deeply personal connection. With a bit of luck and amateur detective work (years before Google might have helped us), we tracked down an establishment still in operation under our family name. This was a highlight of the trip for my Aunt.
Nineteen years after this adventure, I still vividly recall the days spent traveling the Irish land. I especially remember some of the wonderful meals we shared, our night sleeping in a castle with ancient walls, room-sized fireplaces and huge receiving halls, visiting the Book of Kells exhibit (a manuscript dating back to 800 A.D.) at Trinity College, and singing songs in two-part harmony with my sister Peggi at a Dublin pub (the appreciative crowd passed a flat tweed cap around and we were able to enjoy another round for our performance!). Yes, we celebrated our trip to the Emerald Isle.
NEW— CELTIC SOJOURN – TRIP TO IRELAND PLANNED FOR SPRING 2020 WITH SOUTH SHORE SENIOR NEWS
As I sit here looking at my framed copies of two colorfully illustrated pages from the Book of Kells, I am happy to know that another “grand tour” of Ireland is in the planning stages for spring 2020. I am working with friends of mine in the travel industry to create a Celtic Sojourn to offer to others who might want to join me on this trip. My partner, Tom Foye, and I will be leading this group – from Boston to Ireland – and we are so excited about it!
With more than 33.5 million US citizens claiming Irish ancestry, it’s no wonder that nearly 1.5 million of us visit the Emerald Isle each year. And Massachusetts is the most Irish of any state in the country, with several towns on Boston’s South Shore claiming a large population of those with Irish roots. According to Tourism Ireland, US visitors tend to stay longer and tour more extensively around the country. That’s what I want to do with a group next year! In the coming months I will be revealing details about the upcoming trip as plans come together. It will be restricted to a group of only 36, and I already have a few folks interested in joining us. I can’t wait for this next adventure to begin, and I’m looking forward to sharing the news with you.
Erin go bragh!
Reprinted from the March 2019 issue of the South Shore Senior News.