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PatrickThis is my version of an actual event that occurred during the short time since we moved to West Clare from the US. The narrative is presented through the eyes of my son, because it was his experience – but it is all my words and my perspective.


When I was a boy of 14, I carried my uncle up the stairs to his deathbed. My father and I had spent the morning traveling by train from Ennis to Dublin, followed by a bus ride to the north side neighborhood of Ballymun, to visit his brother who was recently home from the hospital. We didn’t know it then, but this was the last time my dad would see his baby brother. When we arrived my uncle was lying on the living room sofa. We learned that Patrick had been confined to the downstairs sofa since collapsing there a day or two earlier. Either there had been no one strong enough to carry him back to his bed upstairs, or else he had refused to be moved, I’m not sure which. But my uncle’s stubborn nature being legend, I think he would have been upstairs if that was where he wanted to be.

I barely knew my Uncle Patrick. Since I was 3 months old I had lived my life in a suburb of Chicago until only recently returning to live in Ireland, the place where I was born. Getting to know an uncle who lived across the Atlantic Ocean wouldn’t be easy for anyone, but was an impossibility for an introverted child of an introverted father.  However, we had managed through the years to visit him on enough occasions that I had a memory of him as the standing man he once was, before he became this bent and frail man on a sofa. I remembered him as a slightly smaller and thinner version of my father, who was his older brother by one year. A chain smoker with sharp, intelligent eyes, his head and shoulders slightly bent down, a foreshadow of what was to come. I could barely understand a word of his thick, north Dublin accent, which he acquired from living his entire adult life in Ballymun. In fact, he and his family could have been speaking French for all I understood when they were speaking fast and laughing in conversation. I was used to Irish accents alright, but my father’s different life from the time he had been my age, had left him with a softer, south Dublin accent mixed with some Mitchelstown he picked up from summers spent in Cork with his Uncle Declan’s family. What I did notice from listening to conversations, was that Patrick said a lot of funny things. He would talk and end sentences with words I rarely understood, but with a sly, humorous look that was usually followed by laughter from the people in the room. I didn’t get the impression of any silliness about the man though. I think it was more of a biting wit.

However, this day my uncle was obviously very uncomfortable and I don’t remember much, if any, banter and laughter. My dad and he were talking quietly. I was shocked to see him in such condition lying crumpled up on the sofa and I distracted myself by pushing a fork around a huge plate of stew that had been set before me as soon as we arrived, by Patrick’s long time partner Mabel, whose accent I understood even less than that of my uncle.

In the middle of their conversation, I heard Patrick say, “So Eoin, how are you getting on at school? Your dad tells me you play basketball, does your school have a basketball team?”

“It’s OK. Yeah, they started a new basketball team when I came.” At the time I just looked up from my stew and shyly answered my uncle’s questions without thinking much about it. But knowing what I know now, I realize that his questions showed me a bit of the measure of the man.  In all his pain and discomfort, and only hours from his death, he took the time to ask me about my life. He even remembered details I didn’t think he knew, or certainly didn’t think he would care about. In this small exchange I got to know him in a way that I hadn’t in all the years previous.

It was a long train ride to Dublin from our West Clare home, but the visit in the house in Ballymun lasted little more than an hour. Sensing how tired his brother was getting, my dad finally took a deep breath and said, “Well we should get going and let you have a rest, but we’ll be back soon. I hope you start feeling better Patrick.”

Next, to my surprise and not sure if I had understood him properly, Patrick asked my dad if he would mind carrying him up to his bed before we left. The idea of an adult being so sick that they needed to be carried to bed was a shock to me. But even more than this, I thought, “How is Dad going to manage it?” This I found out quick enough. As my father awkwardly maneuvered himself behind his brother’s back, hooking his arms under Patrick’s and lifting his upper body to a sitting position he said, “Eoin, take Patrick’s legs and follow as I go up the stairs.” My instinct was to freeze and say no, but the afternoon being full of surprises, I just did as I was asked without complaint or hesitation. Together, my father and I carried his brother, my uncle, up the stairs and laid him as gently as possible into his bed. The lightness of his frail body surprised me and I worried the whole way up that we were hurting him.

The next morning I awoke in my own bed. The train ride from Dublin back to Clare the night before was much longer than the visit in Ballymun had been — although the stew I had to force myself to eat (I don’t like stew), had made the time there seem longer. Sometime around mid morning that day my dad made a phone call to see how Patrick was doing. I wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation until I noticed that he was crying. He had just been told that his brother died that morning, only shortly before his call. This was the first time I ever saw my father cry. It was also the first time I had heard about someone dying, that I felt like crying too.


“The radiators are cold.”  This was not the statement we had hoped to hear from our month-long guests on their first day in the cottage!

Friends of ours were staying at Teach deBúrca for the month of May. These are our first guests, which was very exciting for us, yet also caused some anxiety. Because it is a somewhat rustic cottage, if you can call a place with heat and indoor plumbing “rustic”, that sits empty for much of the year in the middle of farmland and bog, we had some trepidation about whether our friends would be comfortable and happy staying there. This anxiety was much relieved when I received a very jubilant sounding voicemail message early in the month stating that they had arrived and were very pleased with the place! However, at the end of the message was a request that we contact them to let them know how to turn on the heat, as the radiators were cold – uh oh. This was not a good sign and it turned out to be two days of conversations via phone and text message by which we tried to sort out a problem with the heat from across the Atlantic. Handling this sort of thing from a distance is not easy, but since we do know a very nice and neighborly Kilkee man who is willing to check on the cottage for us, we had a place to start. We contacted Martin and he kindly stopped by to check it out. At first he couldn’t find an obvious cause, so he built a fire in the stove and probably turned a few switches on and off. As sometimes happens with these things, a few hours later after making a funny noise, the heat came on and, as far as I know, things remained warm and cozy for the rest of month! We were so thankful for this small miracle because we didn’t want the cottage to interfere with our friends’ month-long Irish holiday, and in fact, had hoped the cottage would be a nice part of that holiday. Now, with the month nearly over, our house guests have closed up the cottage and, after a few stops along the way to Dublin, will soon return to Elmhurst. I can’t wait to hear all about their time in Kilkee, in Teach deBúrca and of their jaunts around the countryside!

May was an eventful month for Ireland as far as visitors go! Along with our friends from Elmhurst, the Queen of England and the President of the United States paid a visit! There is so much to say about the historical significance of the first visit of a British monarch to Ireland in 100 years – the first visit ever by a British monarch to the independent, Republic of Ireland. But I’m going to leave that analysis to others closer to the situation and more knowledgeable than me. However, I will say that when I saw the Queen first set foot on Irish soil and witnessed the gracious greeting awaiting her from the Irish President – Uachtarán na hÉireann, Mary McAleese, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and other Irish dignitaries and citizens, it gave me goosebumps and moved me more than I would have expected. For those who haven’t seen it yet, I am including a video, below, of the Queen’s speech in Dublin Castle. The two most interesting things about this video come at the beginning and at the end. First, the Queen started her speech off by speaking in Irish, much to the delight of President McAleese, which is apparent as she mouths the word “Wow!” when she hears it! The second occurrence, of less consequence but something I found charming, comes at the end of the speech when the Queen calls for those present to stand for a toast. After the toast everyone clinks their glasses together and you can hear the Queen say, “I like this clinking glass” !

Continuing the excitement of the Queen’s stay and coming just a few days after her departure, was a visit from President Obama and The First Lady. After much preparation and fanfare the President and Mrs. Obama’s one-day visit to Ireland included a stop in the small town of Moneygall, a.k.a. Muine Gall, which means “foreigners’ thicket” in Irish. Moneygall was home to Fulmuth Kearney, President Obama’s maternal great-great-great-grandfather, who emigrated from this town to America in 1850! Besides being treated to a rousing and warm welcome by the entire town, along with many others who travelled there for the event, the president got to meet his very own Irish 8th cousin, Henry Healy, whom he referred to as “Henry the 8th” during an eloquent speech given at a rally in his honor in College Green, Dublin later that day! Below is a delightful video of our president enjoying a pint at Ollie Hayes’ Pub in Moneygall (I think cousin-Henry is the young man standing behind the president who toasts with Mrs. Obama in the video)! Sláinte, Mr. President!

Oscar Wilde covered with snow. Photo Niall Carson/The Irish Times

Good news greeted me upon my first glance at the Dublin Airport Authority website this morning – a website I have spent far too much time with this week! Dublin Airport Fully Operational. In what I think is a small window of opportunity during a brief lull in Ireland’s continuing severe weather advisory, Declan’s flight left the ground today, a mere 45 minutes late and is expected to arrive at O’Hare a bit early! After three days spent hoping and waiting at Dublin Airport I know an exhausted Declan will be so happy to be back that he won’t even mind the real cold that will greet him in Chicago. And as there is always a silver lining in every cloud, Declan had the good fortune to make new acquaintances during his ordeal at the airport and to even experience the unusual coincidence of running into Elmhurst friends, now living in Wisconsin, who were also stranded, trying to make their connection from London to the same Aer Lingus flight that has kept Declan waiting for so long. Last night they all enjoyed a well-earned evening at the pub, which by the background sounds I heard while talking to Declan on his mobile, was full of laughter and more than a few pints of the black stuff!

Another silver lining in this cloud of Irish severe weather, is that it has given me an excuse to share a photo of one of my favorite Dublin statues, covered with snow. This statue of the Irish writer/poet, Oscar Wilde, resides in Merrion Square. Like most statues in Dublin, Oscar has been given the usual array of humorous and irreverent nicknames, which I will refrain from including here, for fear that a few of my readers would not understand the affection usually attached to Dublin nicknames. It is my opinion that the sculptor, Danny Osborne, has managed to perfectly combine the respectful and weighty tribute of a representation in marble with the personality and flamboyance of Mr. Wilde himself! Whenever I come upon this statue I cannot help but stand there smiling for a while admiring the use of colorful marble carved into such a casual and vivacious form of this man who was so talented, yet so persecuted and disgraced in his lifetime. The fact that this statue of Oscar Wilde is now proudly displayed in such an important Dublin park, is a testament to the likelihood that the prejudices and inequalities that we still cling to today, will one day be looked upon with disbelief and scorn. Always, after passing Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square, the rest of my stroll is in the company of Mr. Wilde’s ghost – cheerfully walking along the footpath, arms swinging and head held high, completely unaware of my presence.

Oscar Wilde relaxing in Merrion Square during milder weather. Photo courtesy

In all probability, Declan’s arms will not be swinging nor his weary head held high when he returns home after a grueling three days of waiting in Dublin Airport. However, I know he will think it was all worthwhile in exchange for the time he was able to spend in Kilkee and Dublin, and for the fun he had with his fellow stranded passengers yesterday, all of them making the best of a bad situation. And at least, now that it’s Friday, he has the weekend to relax and recharge before getting back to work on Monday morning!

Commuters and pedestrians in Ranelagh, Dublin. Photo Bryan O'Brien/The Irish Times

Record low temperatures, icy roads, sleet, unusually heavy snowfall… it seems as if Ireland’s weather is reflecting the woebegone, angry mood of its citizens in the midst of the unpopular EU-IMF bailout agreements. Schools closed, cars in ditches, bus and train service spotty, airport closings… and my husband stranded!

A snow tyre challenged car outside Waterford city. Photo Patrick Browne & Dara MacDónaill/The Irish Times

Lucky for Declan, he has a brother who lives near Dublin Airport that he was able to stay with tonight. But this was after a long day of… wait in the terminal, wait on the runway, wait in the hopelessly long queue to book another flight. Also, lucky for Declan, he has a wife at home in the States who was able to get through by phone to Aer Lingus on our side of the pond to arrange a seat on the flight out tomorrow so that he was able to leave the rebooking queue of hundreds of stranded passengers at the airport and head for the comfort of his brother Patrick’s home.

Hopefully, knock-on-wood, fingers crossed and Hail Marys…  Declan’s flight will make it out tomorrow in spite of dire weather predictions that say the severe weather will continue into next week!

Thank you to The Irish Times for these photos of arctic Ireland!

***UPDATE*** Declan’s flight was cancelled again today! I know he hated to have to leave Ireland, but as the saying goes, “be careful what you wish for” !  But how about this for an authentic Irish experience… today at the airport Declan ran into, not only one Irish friend hoping to get on the same flight, but two American friends waiting for the same flight as well… and they’re all having pints in the pub at this very moment!

Snowman on O'Connell Bridge. Photo Patrick Browne & Dara MacDónaill/The Irish Times

Hello from the Camden Court Hotel, just a short stroll from Grafton Street in wonderful Dublin City! Although we’ve been to Ireland twice since last Thanksgiving, we have not been in Dublin for a year, so it’s wonderful being back. Returning to Dublin always feels like returning home. I love this city with its odd quirks; great food and favorite restaurants; familiar sights, lanes, streets, rivers and canals; and both historic and oddly modern buildings and neighborhoods! Dublin is a unique combination of historic, modern, beautiful and grungy and I feel at home and comfortable here!

We arrived in Dublin Airport at around 7:15 a.m Sunday, after a white knuckled, bumpy flight that ended in a very wobbly landing. We realized why the landing had been so wobbly as we fought to walk to the car rental kiosk through extremely high winds that blew dust into our eyes and my hair into a mass of wild chaos! Compared with the hot weather in Chicago, it was downright autumnal when we arrived – grey, windy and very cool. Eventually the sun came out and has stayed out for the most part, but it is still cool enough for a sweater and light scarf. At least the rain has stayed away so far.

Bewleys on Grafton Street, courtesy Dublin Photo Galleries

We’ve already managed to visit a cousin and a brother (both Declan’s) and to do a tiny bit of sight-seeing, some necessary shopping and a lot of eating! Yesterday we had a very “American” moment when we found ourselves looking out at the historic Bewley’s on Grafton Street while sipping iced mochas at Starbucks, of all places! I thought a photo of Bewley’s through a Starbucks window would have made a wonderful photo for the blog, but alas, with the camera left in my luggage at the hotel, I had to settle for photo of this landmark Dublin cafe that I swiped off the net!

Ranked just below his long anticipated opportunity to visit with a his cousins in Dundrum, a highlight of Eoin’s trip so far was sticking his fingers into the bullet holes on the columns outside the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, which were left by British soldiers during the 1916 Easter Rising. Afterwards, he walked through Grafton Street holding my umbrella as though it were a rifle, pretending he was one of the Easter Rising heros!

We ended our Grafton Street sight-seeing/shopping spree by watching a Canadian street performer escape Houdini-esqu from a straightjacket… a feat he managed to carry out by first dislocating his left shoulder with a popping noise so loud that it made me cringe! Pretty amazing “entertainment” for the mere 3 euro donation we dropped into Canadian-Houdini’s hat! Message to Kate and Kevin – there is work for theatre majors in Dublin!

Tomorrow, after collecting The Traveling Butter Dish and Co. we’re leaving Dublin and heading out west to Kilkee. Although I’ll miss Dublin, I am looking forward to being in the cottage again. Meanwhile though, just to give you an idea of how great this city is, right now, while typing this blog entry at nearly 2 a.m., I am being serenaded by a group of revellers in the street below singing The Rare Auld Times! Yes, I love Dublin!

St. Patrick’s Day blessings to ye!

In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday when most people have the day off work and the schools are closed. In the U.S. when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a weekday, as it has this year, we must be content to do most of our celebrating on the weekend. Therefore, since most of the celebrating in Chicago is going on today, I decided that I would wish everyone a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, today! I spoke to my son at around 10:30 a.m. and he was already celebrating with some friends at an Irish pub in Chicago, called Fado… which means ‘long ago’ in Irish. Good luck with that Anton… I hope the celebrating does not go on through to tonight! The Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade was today, as was the Elmhurst parade, which we missed due to the rain but could still hear from our house. Tonight, I may attend a Ceili Mor at the Irish Heritage Center which promises ceol ‘s craic – music and fun.

I’ve had some great fun celebrating over the years. Many St. Patrick’s Days were spent at the South Side Irish Parade and there were a couple spent in suburban pubs sipping disgusting green beer while wishing there was a vegetarian version of corned beef and cabbage. One particularly memorable St. Patrick’s Day took place many years ago at Irish Eyes Pub on Chicago’s north side with Fred, back when we were dating. We enjoyed some great Irish bands that night and I, in my youthful enthusiasm and amateur status, drank perhaps a beer more than I could handle and ended up with my face laying on the table! Recently, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been of a more subdued nature, with Declan and I marching with Eóin and his preschool in the Elmhurst St. Patrick’s Day Parade for a couple years and eventually, just the three of us watching from the sidelines.

In March of 2002, I had the good fortune to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Irish, in Dublin! That year Delcan, Kate and I made the most of an authentic, Irish St. Patrick’s Day by attending as many events as possible. Two days before St. Patrick’s Day, we attended Dublin’s spectacular fire works celebration on the Liffey, surrounded by a crowd that seemed impossibly huge for a country with a population of roughly 4.5 million (6.2 million, if you include Northern Ireland)! On the day itself, March 17th, we made our way to Dame Street in the City Centre for the parade, and stood at the side of that narrow street in a crowd so thick with Irish people, as well as folks from around the world who came to celebrate in the land of St. Patrick, that it was nearly impossible to see the innumerable floats and marching bands passing by. We craned our necks and stood on our toes doing our best to see a bit while we nearly froze that cold, wet day. After about an hour of this, we decided we needed a bit more comfort. I should really say that I needed a bit more comfort, considering Eóin was born a mere 8 weeks later! Fourteen-year-old Kate insisted upon staying to watch, so Declan found a platform for her to stand on so that she could see above the crowd while we slipped in through the door of the pub that stood right behind her. So… there  we sat during St. Patrick’s Day 2002, in a pub on Dame Street, Declan having a beer and me a Club Orange, watching the rest of the parade on the pub telly, as it marched right past Kate and the pub door!

Unfortunately, the weather became increasingly bitter cold and wet that day and forced us to reluctantly miss the post parade festivities in Stephen’s Green where many great Irish bands were scheduled to perform in an outdoor concert. However, that year I felt satisfied to have done my best to make the most of  a truly Irish St. Patrick’s Day.

Here, for your enjoyment, is my idea of a great St. Patrick’s Day celebration… Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!

Just for a bit of fun I’m dropping in a link to the song by Bagatelle that I mentioned in my last post. Along with the song, the video has some great photos of Dublin. Enjoy!

The Liffey in Dublin - photo courtesy Wikipedia

Last Thursday a flamingo “flew the coop” in an escape from Dublin Zoo and ended up swimming in the grey-green waters of the Liffey!

The River Liffey in Dublin may bring to mind author Brendan Behan’s description of its smell in Confessions of an Irish Rebel, when he wrote, “Somebody once said that ‘Joyce has made of this river the Ganges of the literary world,’ but sometimes the smell of the Ganges of the literary world is not all that literary.” Or, more likely, the river brings to mind words from the well-known Dublin song by Bagatelle, “Summer in Dublin”:

I remember that summer in Dublin,

And the Liffey as it stank like hell,

And the young people walking on Grafton Street,

Everyone looking so well.

I’ve heard all manner of insult directed at this river, which flows through Dublin dividing the city into its North and South neighborhoods. I’ve heard it described as a ‘sewer’, as in the nickname given the monument to the personification of the Liffey, Anna Livia, which once graced O’Connell Street. Rarely referred to by its proper name, this sculpture depicting a woman with long flowing hair lounging on a rock with water flowing past her, was most commonly called “The Whore in the Sewer” – with ‘whore’ pronounced ‘hoo-er’ to rhyme with ‘sewer’. When a millennium countdown clock was placed in the river, it provided Dubliners with yet another opportunity to mock the Liffey, with their immediate label of, “The Time in the Slime”. Living up to its name, the clock actually did have to be prematurely removed from the river due to slime making it unreadable and its continual need for cleaning rendering it economically impractical!

However, since I have been visiting Dublin, the Liffey has never seemed particularly dirty to me nor have I noticed a bad odor emanating from it. I surely would have noticed slime and smell the day Eoin, a toddler at the time, and I walked across and along the Liffey a half dozen times… repeating a trek first north across the Ha’Penny Bridge, then back south across O’Connell Bridge, in an attempt to keep Eoin happy with a bit of distraction during a long day of shopping in Dublin’s City Centre! Had there been a smell the likes of the Bagatelle song, we could not have repeated that path as many times as we did that day! So, in recent years, Dublin has done a good job of cleaning and improving its portion of the river.

In any event, last week an 11-year-old flamingo male thought the river nice enough to risk leaving its flock at the zoo in order to taste freedom and a bit of Liffey water, until it was finally captured early Friday – and returned safely to the zoo to tell the tale to its less adventurous flamingo friends. What a sight that must have been to look down at the river and see an exotic pink Chilean flamingo mingling with the lovely white Liffey swans!

Door of Reconciliation, wikipedia

If you have the opportunity to tour St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin you will see an old wooden door with a hole cut into it. The “Door of Reconcilliation” is said to be the place where the phrase, “chance your arm” was coined. This phrase may be used here in the States, but I only first heard it spoken when I was in Ireland. It refers to a person ‘taking a risk’ as in, “I may chance my arm and ask for a raise” or, “Life is full of exciting surprises if you chance your arm.”

The story behind this door and the phrase attached to it is that, in 1492 there was an ongoing bloody, feud between two prominant Irish families, the Ormonds and the Kildares. During a confrontation in Dublin, the Earl of Ormond, James Butler, along with several of his men, took refuge in the Chapter House of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, behind this very door. Butler’s enemy, Gerald Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare, stood on the other side of the door. Fitzgerald decided, in his desire to end the bloodshed, to make a peace offering. To prove his good intentions and honor, he ordered his soldiers to cut a hole through the door and then bravely, “chanced his arm” by thrusting it through the hole in the offer of a handshake of friendship. In doing so, he risked having his arm sliced off by Butler and his men. However, Butler magnanimously accepted this offer of reconciliation and with a handshake through the hole in the door, the feud was ended, and Fitzgerald was able to return home with both arms intact! Thus, in this case anyway, chancing an arm had paid off.

As a mother, I have in some cases advised my children to chance their arms… as evidence of this, one has a BA in English Literature and the other is about to finish a BFA at a Theatre Conservatory! I urged them to think less about taking the safe, conventional routes and to study what they love, work hard at their chosen subjects and the rest will take care of itself. I truly believe that no matter where their passions and pursuits lead them, they will end up more fulfilled if the starting point is at a place where their true interests and passions lie.

However, when it comes to advising my children to take physical risks… I am very protective and a bit of a coward! One example of this would be the threat they have lived with since they were very young that, should any of them ever purchase a motorcycle I promise I will sneak into their garages in the dead of night and put sugar in the gas tank. This is not an empty threat! As far as their physical safety goes, I have warned them to, “be careful” more times than I would like to admit… more times than I know I should have. A good illustration of my over use of the phrases, “be careful” and “watch out”, happened once when I was in a coffee shop with my youngest son when he was about 4 years old. He was having fun running circles around a small table. Suddenly, he came to a dead stop and with a concerned look on his face asked me, “Uh oh… do you think I’ll get dizzy and fall down?” I looked over at the people sitting at a nearby table who were having quite a laugh over his statement and said, “You know, that says a lot more about me than it does him!”

Hovering, worrying and warning my children when it comes to their physical safety and well being is just who I am… like my mother before me! So, this leads to my most recent conflict. Since Eoin and I will be spending our summer(s) at Rose Cottage, it is my intention to enroll him in some sort of summer camp in Kilkee to provide him with fun and an opportunity to meet some of the local children. Because Kilkee is a resort town during the summer due to its proximity to the ocean and the lovely Kilkee Beach, it makes sense to enroll him in a camp that will introduce him to the many watersports that are so much a part of the area. In my pursuit of this end, I came across watersport instruction, NEVSAIL Watersports, that is located next to the life guard hut on the beach and offers adult instruction and certification along with summer camps for boys and girls ages 6-16. As I browsed their website I read all the choices of watersports that this camp offers… kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, raft building, sailing, orienteering (whatever that is!), boogie boarding, surfing, fishing and power boating. The school guarantees high safety standards and states that, “Kilkee is regarded as one of the safest and most popular bathing places on the west coast.” However, my gut level urge was to run the other way! Do I really want to introduce him to, and perhaps begin a passion for, any of these watersports? Shall I risk having a son who spends his leisure time in pursuit of the ultimate wave?! Even raft building, which at first sounded a bit more tame, upon more thought, gave me visions of Eoin floating away into the Atlantic on a raft without an oar! And don’t even get me started on power boating!

So here I am, torn between a desire to provide my son with the opportunity to explore this new horizon that Kilkee has to offer him, and my gut level urge to find him a nice pottery camp! Do I chance my arm? Do I allow him to chance his?


While going through photos today looking for a nice shot of Dublin for the blog, I came across this photograph of my mother-in-law, Eileen’s, back garden and couldn’t stop looking at it. The photo tugs at my heart because this is the place where I spent a great deal of my time during every trip to Ireland since July of 2000, when I first brought my daughter there for a month long visit. This house on Whitebeam Road in Clonskeagh, Dublin 14, was always our base and is the place I think of first when I think of Ireland. It is from here that we brought that one log of firewood we burned with the turf, when we made our first fire in Rose Cottage… the ‘continuity log’. And if it wasn’t for this very house in Dublin, there would be no cottage for us in County Clare.

Every time we arrived back at Whitebeam Road after a long interval spent in the States, it was almost as much a feeling of homecoming to me as it was for Declan, who was visiting the home where he had spent the better part of his life. His mother would be waiting eagerly at the door when we arrived, the dog, Judy, barking her harsh, Cocker Spaniel bark, her tiny tail stub shaking her body from side to side. Most likely, Judge Judy, Eileen’s second favorite show after Coronation Street, would be blasting on the television. I think my mother-in-law got many of her ideas about what Americans are like from watching Judge Judy. In fact, I think the dog was named after this particular American tv judge, though she never admitted as much.

There are four fireplaces in the Clonskeagh house, one in the sitting room, one in the dining room and one each in two of the four bedrooms. This was not so much for luxury as for heat, because up until about six years ago there was no central heating system in the house. Eileen relied upon a fire built each morning and a couple electric heaters. This wouldn’t be the norm anymore in places like Dublin, but the house had not been modernized over the years and was pretty much still existing in a time warp of 1960’s Ireland, maybe even 1950’s Ireland. But it was an elegant house in a very lovely and desirable Dublin neighborhood, a place I really hated to have to leave when my husband sold it after Eileen passed away in July of 2007. In my mind, Eileen was part of the house and the house was part of her, because by the time I met her she was elderly, and though she still got out for yearly holidays abroad and trips to Dublin’s City Centre, she mostly stayed at home and lived a life of daily rituals. These rituals started with a breakfast of toast and instant coffee every morning while sitting on a wooden stool in the kitchen listening to talk radio. This was followed by a walk to a nearby shop for the Irish Times and a day mostly consisting of telling Judy she was being “bold!” when she misbehaved, voracious reading, working on crossword puzzles, and watching a bit of television between catnaps.  After she died the house felt different, inanimate and lonely. But I’ll miss it just the same…  for Eileen, her spirit and the kindness she exhibited toward me, and for all the memories I accumulated during my visits there.

One of the things I’ll miss the most about my time spent in Clonskeagh are the walks I often took from the house to the nearby neighborhood of Ranelagh with its coffee shop, Coffee Society, and its wonderful restaurants. My favorite recollections of that trek are the innumerable times I made it with my daughter during our first stay there, when she was in the final months of being a 12 year old, just before her more cynical, self-conscious teenage years. Though she complained about tired legs during the first part of the walk, in a short time she would become happily distracted by picking the tiny, purple flowers that grew between the rocks of the stone walls that hid the front gardens of huge homes we passed along the way. She would be equally distracted from her tired legs by yelling, “gross!” at each snail she spotted crawling on those same walls on the wet days. Reminiscing about these walks we made together along the Sandyford Road to Ranelagh is a bittersweet memory when I think of her all grown up now, and of how fast time moves along. But not all memories are bittersweet and Kate and I also have a good laugh about just how cold that old house in Dublin could get, even in July, and how we dreaded its ice cold toilet seat first thing each morning!

Another feature of visits to Declan’s mother’s house would be hopping on the #11 double decker bus on excursions into the City Centre to visit museums and to shop, for fun on Grafton Street, or necessity on Henry Street. I made that bus trip more times than I can count, when Declan wasn’t available with the car and I needed to get around in a city that I would never, ever drive in. For though the Irish tend to be very nice, reserved people, I’ve noticed an underlying aggressive streak that is very evident in the way they drive their cars in Dublin traffic! Perhaps a bit of the old Viking spirit remains from Dublin’s Viking roots.  I took many bus journeys into town alone and also with Kate, who always insisted upon sitting in the upper deck. Later my bus partner was Eoin, no easy task in those first years of strollers and baby bags. But eventually, he became big enough to walk on by himself and look out the window enjoying our usual bus trip pastime of watching for our favorite colors as we passed the colorful “doors of Dublin” on the houses that lined the residential streets.

The River Dodder meanders behind Eileen’s house with a park along the bank. The park would fill with the lunch crowd on work days and what seemed to be every young person in South Dublin on weekends when the weather was mild. On the pretty rare occasions that the sun was out and it was fairly hot, folks would be stretched out on blankets scattered all over the grass attempting to get a bit of color, knowing that the sun could disappear at any moment and then stay away for the remainder of summer. In spots between the blankets there would be young parents walking toddlers and small groups of boys managing to find enough space to kick a ball around. I’ll miss the River Dodder for these sights, but mostly for a memory I have of peering down at it from the nearby bridge one night with Eoin, watching a bright, full moon reflecting on the water.

The last time we were in Eileen’s house was after we had cleared it of furniture to prepare for the final closing. The photograph I’m showing here was taken on that day, just before we emptied the plants from the white Belfast Sink, visible in the photo near the back door. At one time that sink served as the kitchen sink, though it was in the back garden filled with flowers for as long as I have been visiting. Like the log we burned in our first fire in Rose Cottage, that Belfast Sink will one day make the trip from storage in Dublin out to the West and find a new home with us in County Clare. Here’s an idea… maybe I should fill it with roses!



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