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SAINT PATRICK’S DAY WAS JUST HERE, and how can I forget that once, when I was in my twenties, I developed an intense desire to discover my roots, to know who I was and where my people came from. I planned a trip to Ireland, realizing I would be the first in four generations to return.

 

We flew all night over a black ocean, and as the sun began to rise, we cut across the green, green coast of Eire and landed at Shannon Airport.  My adventure was on.

 

I took a taxi a few miles north and checked into a charming Irish hotel in Ennis.  A few hours later, a call came in for “Miss McGarry.”  “Well,” the stunning Gaelic lass said to me, “wasn’t my mother shocked to discover someone of the same name at the same hotel as me?  And with an American accent, no less!”  Hmmm.  I had never heard that before!

 

I ordered a ham plate for dinner and then waited for service. And waited.  And waited.  At long last, the hotel owner arrived, and asked if he could join me.  After some hums and coughs, he responded to my question about dinner by saying, “Do you know…it’s Friday!”  This was a very Catholic country, and many Irish still didn’t eat meat on Friday. I ate eggs.

  — Exploring the little town the next day, an elderly lady seeing me exclaimed, “Imagine!  A Yank on a bicycle!”  This was going to take some getting used to!

 

I had wanted to go up to Galway on the ragged and torturously beautiful west coast cliffs. There I would catch a boat leaving for the Aran Islands, a bleak and desolate land group off the Atlantic Irish coast, and the last place the Irish went trying to escape the British army.  It was supposed to be the only really Gaelic place left. 

 

But, nobody knew when a boat might leave. And when it did go out, well…who knew when it might return?  “Just relax,” they told me.  “Americans are too impatient.”  So much for my Aran Island excursion, and the great handmade Aran fisherman sweaters I had planned to buy there!  Still, I had to admit, I was learning how to smile. 

 

YOU CAN BRING PLENTY OF IRISH SMILES TO YOUR CUSTOMERS’ FACES WITH THESE GREAT PRODUCTS FOR SAINT PATRICK’S DAY:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They rolled the Irish coffee carts onto the grass about ten PM and I asked the other Miss McGarry if she’d like to join me in a cup.  “That’s quite good!” she said of the tasty coffee and liquor that PAN AM pilots created to offset the chilling cold of early Irish Spring.  Then, she took off a pin she was wearing, declaring, “I’ll not be needing that anymore.”         “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s the pledge,” she said. “You take it in church, and then you wear this pledge pin, showing you’ve promised never to drink alcohol.”  Oh. Oh. Oh.

 

 

                                          If at First You Don’t Succeed

 

Three hours after we left Shannon, we arrived … back at Shannon.  “We had some radio trouble coming into Dublin,” the pilot said, undisturbed.  “We’ll try again later.”   The airline fed us all an admittedly delectable lunch, and back we went for a second try at the capital city. 

 

Back then, my sister was the Press Agent for the fabulous folk singing Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, and they had arranged with another brother to show me around Dublin.

 

Clancy and his wife had the first Irish program on the BBC, and the two of them arrived at my hotel with enthusiasm.  They brought with them an elderly Irish folk singing sensation, Tom Haney, and a handsome black Irish journalist from the Dublin Times.  Together, we all set out on a rebel’s pub tour of old Irish Republican Army haunts.  It was intriguing!

 

Down dark alleys and through abandoned houses and across unlighted cobblestone courtyards into obscure and hidden havens we went, stopping from time to time to savor some Guinness stout and read the rebellious testimonials on the walls.  “You Americans don’t understand the Irish,” Haney assured me.  “You think we actually believe in things like leprechauns and banshees.  Absurd! We are very civilized.” 

 

But as the evening progressed, his haunting singing voice became more mesmerizing, and his tales got wilder and wilder.  About why the Irish wouldn’t work on the new runway at Shannon, because it came too close to where the banshees were said to live.  And about that ship that went out in the night and never returned, only the dogs on board came swimming home howling mercilessly.  Oh, it was terrible!

 

THEY SAY THAT EVERYBODY’S IRISH ON SAINT PATRICK’S DAY.  HEY, TRY PROVING IT WITH THESE FUN ITEMS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                       Goodbye

 

Before we broke for the night, they gave me the name of an Irishman to look up once I got to Paris, and then they were gone.  My Irish adventure was coming to a close. I was about to see London, France, and Amsterdam before returning to the United States.  It all went very fast, and I was impressed with how much I liked Ireland and yet how foreign I felt there.  So much for roots.

 

Still, a couple of weeks later, I learned that my trip was not in vain, because Europe came through loud and clear on my journey for identity.  As I came through the gates at New York’s JFK airport, the customs officer looked at my passport, then at me, and said, warmly, “Welcome home.”  I almost cried.

Comments (0) Posted by Mary McGarry on Monday, March 22nd, 2010


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