Saturday, June 16, 2007

Our Irish Adventures

After a marathon traveling session via Newark, and on to Dublin, we finally made it to Ireland on the early hours of Wednesday 23rd May. The journey to Ireland was smooth and generally uneventful which was great. It did however set the expectation that the return to Florida would be just as good.

It wasn’t.

To avoid boring you, or stressing myself, I'm not going into
the details, suffice to say that it was a bit of a nightmare and one that I thought would never end – I have never been so glad to get the hell off an airplane in my life!

On to our hols then!

We arrived in Ireland, Dublin Airport which sadly looked dirty, small, outdated and CHAOTIC! Having been away from somewhere for a while, coming back has you looking at familiar places with a fresh perspective. There is a great deal of growth and regeneration in Ireland, and in Dublin – and having traveled through two large, clean and organized US airports on the way here, the contrast with what greets you in Dublin is stark, and somewhat embarrassing as an Irish person. I’m told a new terminal is in the works, and a facelift – can’t come soon enough I say.

A soft, almost misty rain fell as we traveled north from the airport. Two remarkable things stood out to me (at least remarkable to me in my haven’t-slept-in-flipping-ages state), the road – it was new since I traveled this route last – a gleaming new motorway all the way from Dublin to the North. No more meandering through little towns, and bigger, traffic clogging locales. As a tourist this might feel like a loss, but not to me. How great it was just to ‘zip’ up that road, home.

The second thing that stood out to me was the road kill! When I first moved to Florida, things like armadillos, raccoons, and even the odd alligator, plastered to the tarmac (asphalt), made my eyes pop out. I’d never seen these creatures up close before, and to me they were no less fascinating because they were dead. Now I’m so used to them I barely notice them. Traveling up the road from the airport and around the various roads on our vacation I’m sure people thought me crazy to point out dead badgers, foxes and hedgehogs – none of which I have seen since moving to the states.

It was great to be back home – the place where I grew up, in the house that I have lived in for most of my life. People have asked me ‘how does it feel being here? Being back home?’ and I honestly told them ‘feels like I’m here all the time’ – that house will always be my home. It’s only now that I understand what confused me as a child – when my mother would take us to her parents’ house, and talk about it as ‘home’. I used to find this slightly unsettling. Did Mum not think her house with us was home? Now I know how she felt. This brings me to my question in my earlier post – is it possible to have two places you call ‘home’? My family home, where I grew up, is one of the most comfortable places I can be – somewhere I can be completely myself and totally relaxed. The home I have in Florida, is getting there, but a combination of homesickness, questioning my decision to stay at home, and a sense of ‘this isn’t really my house’ (my husband bought this house before we were engaged), has held me back from calling this my home. Having two children has helped me feel more settled, and eventually letting go of my career and contenting myself that staying at home is what’s right for me at present, has also helped. So, this house in Florida – to which I brought my two babies from the hospital, that has their toys sometimes strewn, and sometimes neatly stacked, all over it, that has my stamp on it now, that welcomes visitors on a regular basis, that cocoons us in our daily lives – is also ‘home’.

Our first week in Ireland consisted of a lot of driving between my family, and my in-laws, in two separate towns, an hour’s drive apart. Considering the number of different houses we visited, and the number of different and unknown faces they encountered, both kids did fantastic and they took everything in their stride which made things a whole lot easier on us. After a dull, wet and cold first week, the weather took a turn for the better and the remainder of our stay was blessed with magnificent sunshine and warm temperatures around the mid to high seventies, perfect!

The last time we were in Ireland there were a few people I didn’t get to see – I was determined that whatever else we didn’t get to do, we’d visit with these people this time. One of them was a great friend I used to work with and I hadn’t seen her in 5 years. It was great to catch up with her, and all the better for the big bottle of champagne that she popped and shared with us, to celebrate our two marriages, and the 5 kids between us that have happened since we last saw each other (sure beats a cup of tea and a bun!). It was great for our children to meet each other also, and I’ll be campaigning for her to bring hers out here for a visit, soon.

We had considered a couple of nights away, just us as a family of four to do some touristy things in parts that we’d never visited before. But, the dreaded lurgy struck again and the hubs was sick for the best part of 10 days – so, a B&B break, with two small children, and a sick husband (which let’s face it is like having a third small child), no thanks! So, he got packed off to his Mum’s on his own for a couple of days and we stayed with mine – everyone was happy!

Ireland has a fantastic buzz about it these days, North and South. There is a real sense of affluence all around, evidenced in part by top of the line SUVs driving all over the place (which amazes me considering that petrol costs 8 dollars a gallon in the North of Ireland right now! – I tell you, in the US gas is CHEAPO!).

There is much publicity about the housing boom that has taken place, all over, but especially in Northern Ireland – great for existing homeowners, but a nightmare for first time buyers, or people like us considering a move back at some time. That ‘some time’ feels like it’s getting further in the distance though since it would be financial suicide for us right now. Plenty of people can afford these houses though because every town has multiple construction projects underway building new residential developments and many people have built huge houses in the country (something that will stop thanks to a new government restriction on green belt construction).

The dollar/British pound (currency in Northern Ireland) exchange is 2 to1, against us, so basically anything costing 10 pounds, was 20 bucks for us, and so on. This is something I found hard to deal with when shopping. I’d fall for great clothes and then calculate what they’d cost in dollars and swiftly return them to the rack – I couldn’t bring myself to do it knowing I’d get something similar here for a lot less. This is also a big reason why moving to Ireland now, or in the near future is not an option for us – however much that pains me to say, or may pain my family to read. You’ll have to plan your holiday trips to Florida for a wee while longer folks – there are worse places to visit mind you!

Ireland is also a country of contrasts right now, with the seemingly incongruous visions of BMW SUVs all over the place, sparkling mansions in the countryside no doubt furnished to perfection, alongside Mrs. McFarmer, complete with green wellies walking along the side of the main road, en route to a field of ewes or the like, or as my Mum put it, when we came across an ‘Irish Traffic Jam’ holding up two lines of traffic where Paddy gets his ponies from one field to another – a scene that could easily have taken place in my Grandmother’s time (albeit that the traffic jam would have been decidedly shorter) – the farmer likely to have been dressed in exactly the same way – brown trousers (probably from an old suit) with a cream stripy open necked shirt, sleeves rolled up on account of the beautiful sunny day.

Another contrast that shocked me was some of the attitudes and reactions to the ever growing migrant population in Ireland. The Irish have a reputation for being friendly and welcoming and this is indeed a reputation deserved by many. However I encountered quite a few people less than thrilled to see many Polish and Latvian people moving to Ireland. An influx of people from Eastern European countries that have recently joined the European Union has brought a cosmopolitan feel to the place, with several towns now sporting ‘Polish Shops’, in much the same way as British and Irish shops can be found dotted around US cities, carrying goods that have been imported from ‘home’. It’s also a novelty to browse around the shopping centres and hear couples chattering away in a foreign language. Some Irish people do not like this influx claiming that newcomers are taking jobs, benefits, school places etc from local people. This saddens me, since in some cases those very people complaining are ones who enjoyed US hospitality for many years when they came here to work when they were starting off in their adult lives – to earn money for a better life. Many countries in the world accepted the Irish when people fled Ireland's shores over the years. Yes it was hard for some of them and they undoubtedly faced many challenges, but I guess it is Ireland’s turn to return the favour? I would also say that this influx of other nationalities and their cultures is exactly what Northern Ireland in particular needs. Perhaps as other cultures assimilate, it will water down the whole ‘Catholic – Protestant’ tension that has existed for too long – we can hope…

We encountered that ‘Irish Traffic Jam’ on our way to a forest park that I visited occasionally as a child. These photos are a few snapshots from that day, easily the best of the whole trip. It was so much fun taking Miss E along the forest paths that we ran along as kids, where we shouted as loud as we could, reveling in the echo of our voices bouncing around the leafy canopy above us. A particular memory of this forest park for me is a set of stepping stones across the river that winds its way through the park. I just loved being able to take Miss E across these stones – admittedly nervous as I tried to avoid her having the same fate as I so many times where I ended up in the water, rather than over the top of it.

Miss E searched in the hollows of trees for fairies, and was delighted at the possibility that the little creatures (water flies of some sort) that she later saw skirting the top of the water, with dappled sunlight glinting on their wings, were possibly the very same fairies that 'were not in' when she knocked on their 'doors'.

My Mum has a picture of us (her four kids) as children sitting on tree limbs so she couldn’t resist the opportunity to have us do this once again. Since I was wearing a skirt and flip flops - my feet stayed firmly on the ground!

Over the course of our three week stay, we did a lot of driving about, and had a lot of fun at various parties, picnics and barbeques and enjoyed catching up with everyone. We were thoroughly spoiled by both families – with people vacating rooms to give us places to sleep, giving us full access to cars (a BIG help!), and plying us with enough sausages (to appreciate what this means you really have to have tasted Irish sausages and been away from them for some time!), and other culinary feasts to last us until our trip next year, and of course, cause us to pile on a few happy pounds. Miss E is now chatting with a broad Irish accent (Nor'n Irish at that !), and has picked up her 5 year old cousin's talent for saying 'I didn't do anything' on cue once her brother's sudden shrieks for help sound, despite blatant evidence to the contrary, *sigh*, another challenge!

My Mum keeps saying to me ‘I’m sure you’re glad to be back in your own space’, and yes, part of me is. Toting two kids and all their baggage around the countryside was busy, and a lot of fun, and they enjoyed it too, but it takes a lot of energy, and so we’re happy to have some ‘downtime’ at the minute. We miss everyone, and despite the horrible journey back here, we’re looking forward to heading back this time next year. In the meantime we have our memories, photos, and smiles on our faces.

I’m sure I’ll be blogging more about this trip – but for now I must go shop from the kids for Father’s Day which I completely forgot about until a few minutes ago!


Brillig said...

Gorgeous pictures! What an adventure! I love how you described it: "feels like I’m here all the time"

And I love that Miss E has taken on the Irish accent. I bet that is SO incredibly darling!

Thanks for sharing the adventure with us!

Deborah said...

Love the pictures it sounds like you had a great time.

It's funny hearing you bring up issues I deal with every day. We thought moving back would be a breeze, but when the rent of a house three times smaller than the one you owned in the US is three times bigger than your mortgage it really makes you wonder if it's worth it!

As for the Polish thing... I couldn't agree more with you. My husband manages a large team and he is amazed with the work ethic of the Eastern Europeans, says they are always on time, willing to do whatever needs to be done and rarely sick. He says they put their Irish coworkers to shame! And I think that's where the issues stem from. People know this. They know employers are obviously going to prefer someone who'll willingly put in long hours over union members who complain that a 35 hour week is too long!!! And really... can you blame them? Living in the states has made me all capitalist! :-) But really, the Irish are very welcoming... as long as you have a return ticket! ;-)

Anyhoo... I digress. I am so glad you enjoyed yourself, it's so important for the kids to stay connected with their relatives. They are absolutely gorgeous and sound like they did great! You should be proud!

Absolutely Bananas said...

wow, sounds like an incredible trip. love the pics!

lady macleod said...

wonderful! wonderful! I loved it, and I am with you on your hopes for Northern Ireland. Wouldn't that be lovely indeed. I am sad to hear of the return trip, I've had a few of those; but the good news is no one died. Everything else is negotiable. You tell Miss E I certainly played with the fairies over in Dunvegan when I was her age!
My favorite photograph is the last one, little brother looks as though he is making plans for the future!
Just wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

Kimberly said...

What beautiful pictures...especially that hair! Wow. I'm totally smitten with her hair! My little girls both have reddish gold hair, and I just writhe with envy at times. =)

I feel a sudden attack of wanderlust...

In the Trenches of Mommyhood said...

Thanks for sharing! Lovely photos.

Suburban Oblivion said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE the pics!! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

Amanda said...

That fair, that face! What a beautiful little girl you have!