During the long, hot summers of Indiana, I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother Concannon. She would sit in her rocker and spin a yarn about the old country, entertaining me for hours. As she described her mother's family and my grandfather's clan she would slip into a slight brogue; which only made the stories of our red-haired relatives more fascinating.
My Mother's family came to America from Ballinasloe, in the easternmost part of Galway County. Instead of settling on the East Coast, they traveled further West to the small Indiana town of Terre Haute on the Wabash River. The similarities to Ireland are quite evident with its rolling hills, farmland, distillers, breweries and Benediction Catholic Convent. This was my second trip to Ireland and I must say, the country is as colorful and diverse as my ancestors.
Our first visit was in the southeastern region of County Clare, where we stayed at Dromoland Castle, a Renaissance structure that has been converted into a hotel. Our room was located in one of the turrets, which made you want to take down your hair like Rapunzel. We toured the coast from County Cork up to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway Bay, where we savored the world's best bowl of mussels.
After numerous requests short of begging, Scott rented a car and we ventured to the city of my great grandparents. Scott had to adjust to driving on the right side of the tiny roads, fending off oncoming traffic and the occasional herd of sheep or cattle that didn't bother to give him the right of way. The trip was uneventful, with the exception of an episode with a soap dispenser falling off the bathroom wall in the market, where we stopped to pick up a picnic lunch. Suddenly we were back on the road with orders not to look back! Ballinasloe was a lot like I imagined it—the friendly people seemed familiar, resembling my siblings and cousins with their features and mannerisms. The river, the large Catholic Church and a farmer's market with vendors selling everything from live chickens to tires made me feel like I had found a bit of my great grandparents, who had left this place for a better life in America.
I returned last month to Ireland for a conference in Dublin. As we landed in the wee hours of the morning, I saw the lights of a large city alerting me that this would be a completely different experience of the Emerald Isle. The "full of blarney" cab driver was entertaining as he drove us to our hotel. He bragged about the infrastructure improvements and the global companies that were setting up their European headquarters in the Irish capitol. I soon realized that Leprechauns and shamrocks had been replaced by McMicrosoft and O'Yahoo, making Dublin an international player in communication, technology and finance.
The city is a combination of old and new, struggling with an identity crisis. Dublin has evolved from a Vikings settlement with medieval structures to the ultra modern. The Temple Bar area is the anchor of nightlife and cultural activity and offers a friendly, old-world atmosphere. Probably one of the most popular tourist attractions is the Guinness Storehouse, seven floors of glass atrium in the shape of a pint of Guinness. Opened in 2000, it celebrates all things Guinness and shows how the amber-colored beer is made.
What I particularly observed was how young Dublin seemed, not only students from Trinity College and other Universities lunching in the parks, but 20-somethings with briefcases running through massive road construction sites to meetings in one of the modern high-rises. My question is, where are all the old people? Much like the rest of the city, it's in with the new and out with the old.
The connection I have with Ireland runs pretty deep with visits and memories of my Grandmother; and an Irish Blessing that she would recite:
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand