With only a week left in Ireland, I went for a long run on the beach the other day, searching for shells, seaweed and pretty rocks. I can’t believe I’ve been living within a stone’s throw of the Atlantic Ocean and could just jog over to it any time I wanted to. It’s always teeming with people and is an important part of life for the locals. It doesn’t matter how cold it is. They bundle up and take their daily dose of sea air. And water. As cold as it is now, there are those who will go for a swim on Christmas day.
Once Arden and I left Cork for Galway two weeks ago, we settled into a different routine of decompressing after the rigors of the cookery school and very happy to be in our beautiful Airbnb with Cillian, our host, and have the conveniences of a city at our fingertips and things like Thai food, ice and sparkling water within a two-minute’s walk.
Of course by this time, the Christmas season was in full swing and Galway was decked with festive lights and actual boughs of holly everywhere. Our out-of-the-loop, country mice systems needed a jumpstart into holiday-mode. Toward that end, we went shopping on Shop Street, listened to street musicians sing and play Christmas carols, had mulled wine as we walked in the chill air and ducked into the nearest shop when the inevitable rain began.
On one day in particular, as we dried off and ordered a hot-something, I suddenly realized it had come to feel normal being here, where my ancestors had scratched out a life in the meanest of conditions. After living here myself for nearly four months, I felt a genuine connection to those people. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what their lives had been like, especially in those hard-scrabble times. I simply cannot imagine how hard life must have been in the Ireland of a couple of centuries ago. I’m so thankful to be of their tough stock, for I know where my resilience and perseverance come from.
While we were “comfortably” situated in Ballymaloe, we were not in the lap of luxury and got somewhat of a taste for what a life with few conveniences is like. We had no car, there was the spotty WiFi, (First World problems, I know) the ever-present bone-chilling cold, the power outages, resulting in no water or heat of any kind. We came to be very self-reliant and had come to feel comfortable doing things, like everything, for ourselves. Seriously, at some stage, we’d have taken it in our stride if they’d expected us to make our own ceramic plates, forge our silverware, blow glasses for drinking and weave our own cloth napkins and make tables and chairs.
This was all part of what I’d hoped to build on by exploring life on an Irish farm and what living and eating is like here. Granted, these are modern times but I now have a greater appreciation for how food and cooking was perceived, historically, here. Over half a century ago, Ireland’s food was ranked as the worst of the worst and yet, the people didn’t even realize it. It was what they knew. Things have certainly changed. Thanks in no small measure to people like Myrtle and Darina Allen.
I firmly believe everyone craves an umbilical cord to the past and this Irish journey has been one for me in more ways than would have exceeded my wildest dreams. Thanks to DNA testing done some months ago, I learned of not just one, which is surprise enough, but four half-siblings, thanks to my birth father’s, proclivities, who was of Irish descent.
Having done his level best to broadcast his seed hither and yon, four of the five of us had all been placed in adoption and were raised, thankfully, by loving, wonderful families. I’d known for more than 20 years that my birth father was the worst sort of man, but also one who didn’t stand a chance, given his upbringing, which was shocking in its parental cruelty.
I’m eternally grateful that my “new” siblings and I didn’t grow up under his own cruel influence and that the good that was in him, and there was plenty, had a chance to thrive and flourish in loving, happy homes.
Ah, well, the spirit of adventure springs eternal, doesn’t it? And, here, a brand new adventure has presented itself in living, breathing technicolor. I look so forward to meeting Mary in January and the others, in due course, when they're ready and able. And to think, I was raised an only child. When Mary and I first connected, she said there were enough of us to field a baseball team and now, with our most recent sister-discovery, I said, “At this rate, we could have populated our own orphanage.” 😑 I wonder at the art that will come from this. 💝
All this brings us to Christmas Eve and to the present. Allen arrived in safe and sound two days ago and yesterday, we said our sad goodbyes to our Galway loves and loaded up our considerable belongings and drove up to Donegal and our Christmas castle, Lough Eske. We arrived in after dark last evening to a beautifully lit and festive setting and made short work of settling in and becoming a part of the scenery by the fire in the bar’s dining room and had a first-rate dinner. Darina would have approved.
After dinner, we retired to lovely rooms and with easy-to-open sash windows, Allen and I had a long winter’s nap under a down duvet to the sound of falling rain and the delicious cold wind blowing in. We’ve spent a wonderful and relaxing day by the peat fire in one of the drawing rooms, like an Irish version of Downton Abbey with Nat King Cole and Elvis singing Christmas songs in the background. I keep waiting for it to feel like Christmas and I suppose there are just too many reasons why it doesn’t. Still, I’m very happy to be here in this amazing place with almost all of my family.💝💝💝💝💝
Changing things up, completely changing my direction by stepping out of my life, coming to Ireland and taking the cookery school course was a great way to reframe the melancholy and sad, weariness that had shrouded my life for so many months what with Allen’s health crises and Ooma’s passing. I am so thankful for Allen’s buy-in to the idea and support in letting me go. What was a life-changing tonic and epic journey for Arden and me, was quite a sacrifice for him. But, that’s why he’s who he is, my beloved Allen and our children’s Sweet Daddy.
This is my last post from Ireland and I want to share something John F Kennedy said in a speech in Dublin in the summer of 1963. As a returning great-grandson of the Famine, he said, "From 1851-1921, nearly 3.8 million people left Ireland for the United States. What was it that got so many families through subjugation, through starvation, through mass-eviction, through exile, through Know-Nothing’s persecutions? Epics of tragedy broken only by temporary periods of joy…what was it that made so many of our forefathers never lose faith? The quality of the Irish,” he concluded is, “the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination…Praise for one of the youngest of nations and one of the oldest of civilizations.”
These are my people and I am one of them.
I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year.❤️