My oldest daughter graduated from college only six months after her best friend and Irish twin’s passing. An Irish twin is a set of children born close together, to the point they look like twins when they are in strollers together. I was blessed enough to have two sets. Kaylee, my oldest, had to repeat a class three times to graduate. She had been in the class when her sister passed, she tried to take it again right away, but needed a term to step away from it, finally enrolling, taking it and passing it to be able to participate in her commencement ceremony. I believe the class was World Religions, and I am sure she wasn’t in the mood to debate the hereafter moments after losing her sister. For Kaylee and I, it sinched the deal. We knew there was more than this physical life, but losing someone you are close to makes us all face and evaluate our beliefs at a time when we really don’t want to stand up and argue those beliefs publically. The fact that she pushed on and finished the class, and her senior art project that her sister had been her model in, shows that she has grit. That deep down, pull yourself up by your bootstraps quality that you cannot teach. You have it or you don’t. (Grit definition: enables an individual to persevere in accomplishing a goal despite obstacles over an extended period. When compared with the construct of persistence, grit adds a component of passion for the goal. … Importantly, grit is conceptualized as a trait while resilience is a dynamic process.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grit_(personality_trait)
As I thought about all of this last June, I knew I wanted to do something special as a graduation present. I wanted to take her somewhere that she had shown interest in, even better, A place her and her sister had shown interest in. Without looking very hard I ran across a deal for Ireland. An interesting combination of being extremely shy, but also adventurous, my academically driven daughter that passed and debated about studying abroad in Ireland. For many years when my two youngest were small, I would take the two oldest for a “big girl” trip, usually to the Oregon Coast. We would visit all the touristy places on the drive there. All the signs for a tourist trap, like the restaurant with the bigfoot outside, the fudge shops, or an opportunity to watch the glass blowers. This would be that trip, carrying her with us as we traveled.
Researching my genealogy as a Christmas present, I learned I was mostly Scottish and Irish. I really didn’t need to spend any money to figure that out having a birth name as Donley and my Grandmother’s last name being Mclean. I was hoping for something interesting, the most interesting thing was a report about Celtic iron uptake the report felt I needed to know. I’m surprised they also didn’t send along some SPF 50 and a little note saying this is for you, you obviously have no melanin in your body. I had already had the dermatologist give up keeping track of my freckles and send me to go get body mapping of them. Like pictures of your freckle constellations. To add insult to injury, the vein doctor years before said he could not inject the veins in my legs. They were see-through. He could see every vein in my leg. So thank you 23 and me for the Celtic report.
Off we went to Ireland. I was distracting myself in the airport watching youtube videos of driving in Ireland. My daughter slightly irritated I hadn’t thought to watch these earlier. twenty hours and three legs later we were in Dublin. Thankfully they apologetically gave me my rental car. A car they said was really too small. I looked over and it was a Ford focus, pretty similar to the electric hybrid car that I drive. As I seven-point turned out of the parking spot. The rows being extremely small and my first clue I did not need a larger car. Our theme song every time I started to the car was Beyonce’s, To the left to the left. For most of the trip, Kaylee had to read the navigation device they gave us and our google maps. I was unable to do anything but drive while she would point to what exit to get off of for every roundabout. The roundabouts are used in place of lights, and in the city, they are every half mile or less. I am sure we looked like a comedy act. I was gripping the wheel with white knuckles, our GPS with an English accent kept dinging at me, while Kaylee was pointing and talking over the GPS to tell me which way to go.
My only regret was I didn’t Benadryl my daughter who hadn’t slept on the plane. As soon as we landed in our room for the night, she was out, for hours and there was no waking her. The first day was really a jet lag day. So we set out the day after that for the Cliffs of Moher. Even though the Cliffs are a big tourist attraction, they were breathtaking. My regret is that I didn’t have a week to wait for the perfect picture. The fog and the mist rolls in and during the winter months they are difficult to photograph. We set off to find a place for a snack as we were staying nearby in Doolin. We knew there was only one place open in town, but the only road to get there looked like a bike lane on the side of a cliff, in the dark no less. I kept distracting myself singing Doodlin, Doodlin in Doolin. Driving my daughter mad I am sure. We found the local pub, it played Irish music for the tourists, and it was the friendliest place, mostly because of the tourists all chatted with each other. Driving back to our tiny B and B, Kaylee noticed my GPS was set to “avoid highways” well this explains a lot I said.
The next day we had to decide, set off for the Ring of Kerry, or drive out to the point of the Cliffs head, Hagg’s Head, drive down a few country miles, park in a farmer’s driveway and pay him two Euro to park there, hop over a few cow fences and walk out to the cliff’s edge and take pictures. We chose the latter. Dodging tractors and wearing scarves as a gas mask from the cow fumes, we trecked out to the point to get another beautiful view and a few more pictures. We hoped in the Ford and headed to Cork.
Pulling up to the Blarney Castle we were five minutes late to closing the entrance doors. We had to decide. Take pictures over the fence like a lunatic or drive the hour back in the morning. We had been told by everyone in Ireland not to kiss the stone for many hygienic reasons, and being a nurse it didn’t take a lot of convincing, I mean I already had the gift to gab anyway, so I chose to take pictures of the castle over the fence in the deserted parking lot. If the stone granted a gift of longevity or great fortune maybe I would have driven back. As it was I had no idea that the place listed as being in Cork, was actually the County of Cork (a big difference from the city of Cork.)
As we drove out to the country, we drove miles and miles down beautiful picturesque fields. The countryside was so green in the rolling hills of Cork County. Our GPS had no idea where we were and we doubted for a few minutes if we were going to find our B and B as the windstorm kicked up and we were on a one lane road passing men moving downed trees. We finally found the beautiful little place with the sweetest couple running it. Welcomed with tea and biscuits and a warm fire, I could have moved in for more than a night.
The little town had two local places one a restaurant that was possibly closed and a pub. We set off down to road only a half mile away to the only place open. Blackbird. As I walked in, I felt a little warm feeling in my heart. I don’t really believe in coincidences. We sat and listened to the locals celebrate a birthday party with traditional Irish music and I talked to the bartender and told him about my blog, and a bit about what blackbirds mean to me, who then talked to the owner who went and checked the storeroom. I knew he would have a shirt, even with him being gone for quite a while. He came back and gave me the only server shirt he had left. He said it had a stain and didn’t charge me. I didn’t care, it was my favorite souvenir.
We ventured on to Kilkenny and after visiting the castle, we walked the streets. Kaylee had developed shin splints from walking more than she had in an entire year, so I knew my shops were limited to just a few. It was also raining like a hurricane was coming. We went into a couple of overpriced shops in the beautiful post-card- like- city and decided to call it a day. As we were walking back to the parking lot, I saw a tiny stuffed alley-way size shop. I drug Kaylee in there. As we walked in the little old man was singing to himself, You are My Sunshine, My only Sunshine. I looked at him and said, I love that song, it was my daughter’s song. I can still hear my mother-in-law singing it to my little doll-faced girl.
He went on to tell me how he had lost his best friend Joe with tears in his eyes. Joe was a shop owner just two doors down. They both lived above their shops for years. He said, “Joe didn’t smoke, Joe didn’t drink, Joe wasn’t even fat. Joe was in a car accident”, he tells me. With my own eyes watering up I tell him I lost my daughter, and he holds my hand. He sells me the over-priced Celtic Cross behind me and I leave with an Irish Blessing in my heart.
Last stop Dublin and my birthday has also managed to arrive on this day. We spend the day in the Guinness Storehouse tour and it was a fun four hours learning of the history of the making of a stout. The part of the tour that I kept coming back to, even now as I have been writing, is the story of Arthur Guinness’s wife. You don’t really hear very much about her. You have to imagine most of it. Here is what you do learn. Oliva Whitmore, Olivia Guinness, bore her husband 21 children. She was pregnant for 16 years. If you add nursing in there, that is 32 years of being pregnant and nursing. I thought I had earned a medal with four pregnancies and eight years of being pregnant or nursing. Of those 21 children, only ten survived to adulthood. She had to survive the loss of so many of her children. Even if that was common at that time, I am sure it didn’t make it any easier. History doesn’t tell us very much about her. If you look closely at her timelines out of the four girls and 6 boys that survived, three of her girls would pass a few years before her, in their mid to late thirties. All I know in my heart is this is strong women, a woman with grit that had to survive and find a way to continue on during much heartache and loss.
We went on to find the local restaurant outside Dublin and our Bed and Breakfast. We were staying in a fishing village 30 minutes outside of Dublin. A beautiful place that was similar to the cold Oregon Coast. We walked into the only restaurant and were completely ignored. It was 8 pm and after sitting there without anyone speaking to us, I asked the bartender across the room. He said they had stopped serving when we walked in. (Um, thanks for telling us I thought.) I said it was my birthday is there any way to get two slices of cake? Begrudgingly he agreed, to the shock of others I’ve heard, and we were given two pieces of cake. Two pieces that Kaylee guessed were already boxed up for him to take home.
We walked down the wet streets, arm in arm, and I coerced Kaylee into going into the only open pub in this one-horse town. We walked into the tiny pub the size of my guest bathroom, and all eyes were on us. Five men somewhere between fifty and seventy were singing ballads. They immediately came over and asked us if we sang, I kept telling them that we both were percussionist, not singers but they kept singing different Neil Diamond, and other songs from that era to see if we’d join in. Even though this was all to Kaylee’s horror, I absolutely loved it. I loved seeing and hearing these local men, who obviously have been pals for years, sing to each other, and make fun of each other. They honestly couldn’t believe Kaylee and I were mother and daughter, I’m guessing they don’t get a lot of American women traveling alone in there, and even more, couldn’t believe I was 47. I didn’t care that these men must not get out much, their sincerity and awful lyrics sung in Irish accents made my day.
We ended the trip on the streets of Dublin, after navigating the toll system where you have to pay online afterward, the toll roads you have to have exactly the correct change for, the parking lot that had no way to pay for but to register in Ireland and I did, the freeways, the trains that go one way and not the other, and the fact I could not understand accents at all, and the additional fact that my daughter says I talk back in an accent. (I don’t really think I do that.) Roundabouts going the wrong way, and two-lane roundabouts, parking on sidewalks, cows that won’t move and GPS systems ta have no idea where you are. We saw the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral and the lights flickered as I walked in and lit candles for our loved ones. As we headed home we stopped at the famous canals in Dublin with the romantic bridges and low lighting. I imagined the Guinness boats floating their wares down the canals a hundred years ago. We let go our (#RosesforRie) dried or undried roses that we release in beautiful places in my daughter’s memory, and I watched them float out towards the Atlantic. I took my daughter’s arm and we silently walked towards the train. No one could say that we didn’t have grit.