Funny the World...


May 29, 2000

Ned and Marta are thinking of quitting their jobs (or taking leave of absence) and going to live in Europe for 3 months or so, starting after the first of the year. I think the change will be wonderful for them both. They hope to rent the cottage in Ireland where we all vacationed in 1989, on our first trip across the Pond, and where Paul and Audra spent their honeymoon. The cottage is located in Mayo Abbey, a town which consists--or at least it did in 1989--of one long building, one end of which was the pub, the middle was the grocery stores, and the far end was the mortuary. One stop shopping.

Our trip abroad was the result of my father’s death. He had saved his money all his life and at the end, in a fit of anger at me, attempted to rewrite his will to write me out of it (not that it was a huge estate; it wasn’t). But he died before he could complete that last act of anger. I wanted no part of his money, so took half of it and divided it up among the kids. We used the other half to take all seven of us on one glorious vacation--three weeks, one in London, one in Ireland, and one back in London again. It used up all the money and gave me something pleasant to remember my father for--both for the nice trip, and the thought of how upset he‘d be at my blowing his life savings on a frivolous trip. It was one of the best things I’d ever done, and very definitely our best family vacation ever, coming the last year we would have the opportunity to travel all together, with the kids starting to go off on their own adult lives.

I’d always wanted to visit Ireland. Despite my Irish heritage, my knowledge of the country came mostly from The Quiet Man, one of my favorite movies. My grandfather was first generation American, both his parents having come from the auld sod. My great grandparents died before I was born, so I never met them. Tales of life in Ireland were never shared, so I have no idea where they lived, when or why they came to this country, how they got here, or how they got from their port of entry to California.

My grandfather (bottom right in this picture of the Columbia Trio) was an Irish tenor in the waning days of vaudeville. He and my grandmother met at that time (she was a dancer in the chorus line), but I don’t remember them ever discussing their show biz days with my sister and me. My grandmother, the stereotypical shrewish wife, was always belittling my grandfather, so he was generally quiet and introspective and I have very few memories of his really saying anything about anything. But occasionally when he’d had a highball or two, despite my grandmother’s obvious distaste and embarrassment, he could be coerced into singing some of the songs he’d once performed on stage, still a strong tenor, despite the years. The strains of "Galway Bay," "My Tumble Down Shack in Athlone," "Mother Machree," "My Wild Irish Rose" and others became part of my heritage, my connection to Ireland. It was incomprehensible to think of going to England without also visiting the land of my ancestors. I especially wanted to experience the music I’d known all my life, and I imagined a countryside filled with thatched roof cottages, and pubs full of musicians and impromptu musicales.

We took the train from London to Wales and caught the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin (Dun Laoghaire, actually). It was a day ferry and so we arrived in Dun Laoghaire in the early evening. As we crossed the Irish sea and the hills started to become visible, my heart literally leaped up and I felt so strongly that I was "coming home" for the great grandmother I never knew, who had left her homeland as a young girl.

Our first night in Ireland, we ate dinner at McDonald’s. It was the only restaurant in town open that late. Not a lot of "culture" in a Big Mac and fries. But we eventually wound up in Mayo Abbey, on the other side of the country, where we spent a week learning how to heat food on the "cooker" by burning peat bricks. We also spent time in Malachy Burns’ pub, where the fiddlers tapped out wonderful Irish folk music, we drank our Guinness and the locals taught the kids how to "dance Irish." It was right out of The Quiet Man.

Later in our trip, we took a long drive to see the incredible Cliffs of Mohr and on the ride back to Mayo Abbey, the day was ending and the sun was starting to set. About this time I glanced to my left and saw that we were driving by a body of water. A little farther on was a sign telling us we were on the shores of Galway Bay. I made Walt stop the car and I stood to watch the sunset. I thought of my grandfather and all the times I’d heard him sing

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland
Then maybe at the closing of your day
You will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddaugh
And see the sun go down on Galway Bay...

The song of a country he’d never seen.

"This one’s for you, Grandpa," I whispered, as the sun sank slowly into the Bay.

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created 5/29/00 by Bev Sykes