Taking pictures was the last thing on my mind on May 11, the day we left our home in Ireland for the hotel at the Shannon airport. I only managed to take a few pictures here and there. But my son Nicholas put his photography class to good use and chronicled the whole journey. Thank you, Nicholas, for taking so many fantastic shots! *Remember you can click on any photos that you’d like to see bigger
It took two trips to get our family of five and our large pieces of luggage to Shannon, which was an hour and forty-five minute drive each way (passing through Limerick, where Brent had threatened to tell limericks). On the first trip, Brent and I brought the luggage to the hotel. Next, Brent dropped me off in Charleville for a goodbye visit with Marie O’Halloran and sweet baby Lorcan (he returned to Grenagh to pick up the rest of our family; he picked me up when he drove through Charleville on the way back to Shannon).
My visit with Marie was bittersweet. I gave her some of my personal belongings that I wanted her to have. Of special interest are two pretty stepping stones that were the last gifts my mother gave me. She said they were for my flowers, as I loved my gardens. But we were moving from our hobby farm and the next eight years were in transition. Even so, I kept the stones. Both have beautiful sentiments and designs on them. They have picture hanging brackets on the backs, so they can be used indoors or out. I meant to at least hang them up, but something always kept me from following through. Instead, I kept them in new condition, boxed up.
I brought them from house to house, and even shipped them to Ireland, where I felt certain they were meant to stay. Once settled in the house in Grenagh, I finally took them out of their boxes and displayed them under a glass table in my art studio space. There they sat, untouched. When it was time to pack up for the United States, I hesitated when I saw the stepping stones. It struck me that the reason why these stones were kept new all these years is because I was saving them for someone else.
These stones belong in Marie’s butterfly garden, in memorial and celebration of the life of her beloved baby Cathal, Lorcan’s brother and twin. One of the stones even has a butterfly on it, which means something significant (personal and spiritual) to Marie and her husband Johnny. My mom would have liked this, as she probably would have thought of it herself and would have prompted me to give Marie the stones — even if they were already in my own garden! If these stepping stones help Marie follow through on her butterfly garden plans, I’m honored to have been a part of it. I know the garden will be healing for the whole family.
Marie had meaningful gifts waiting for me as well. She gave me a beautiful bookmark that has a real clover embedded in the charm and the word “Ireland” etched into the base. Marie didn’t realize this when she gave it to me, but the bookmark matches Savannah’s special necklace that she bought in Dingle, on the day that we saw the dolphin. I couldn’t believe it when I saw this – I wondered if she had done it on purpose — how did this happen? Of all the gifts she could have selected, Marie was drawn to the exact same company/brand and jewelry line as Savannah’s necklace! The thing is, I’d admired Savannah’s necklace but there was only one left in the store, so we couldn’t have matching ones. This bookmark is perfectly right. I will treasure it! I already do!
It’s hard to read the Ireland inscription… also, the handle is shiny and bright but it looks sort of splotchy in the photo. I think you can imagine how pretty this looks in person.
Marie also gave me a special candle from her son Cathal’s table. I’m no stranger to grief, but I’ve never lost a child. I cannot imagine the depths of her loss. I’m privileged to be allowed into her precious private world, in which the boundaries of the spiritual realm and the earthly realm blur. It is her private space where pain meets joy, where she sees her beautiful baby in her heart and dreams.
I’m impatient to receive our shipment from Ireland. I intend to place Cathal’s candle in my mom’s hutch. I believe that there is power in the belongings left behind by people we love, there is a special hold over things that we give symbolic meaning to, and there is a protection granted to those who believe. On that note, I believe in all sorts of mysterious phenomena – some of which I’ve experienced personally. I believe that God hasn’t limited our knowledge to only what religious scholars preach; there’s so much more to discover. I believe in science and that which transcends it. We’ll never comprehend it all; logic and love co-exist beyond our understanding. But we don’t need to understand it. Peace, healing, and power beyond our imagination is ours, when we are free to let go.
The day we left our home in Ireland was emotional, but there were plenty of distractions to keep our minds occupied. You’ll see for yourself from the pictures that we encountered a lot of construction on the route. I have to say, I don’t know how the Irish handle their workflow. During the nearly five months that we lived in Ireland, the road from Mallow to Charleville was under perpetual construction. It began before we arrived, and apparently it will continue long after we left. I’m reminded of the endless tea party that the Mad Hatter hosted.
We were also kept occupied by random sightings of historic buildings, ruins, and even a castle. There were sheep and lambs along the way, bizarre road signs (is it really necessary to forbid horse and buggies on the highway? I haven’t seen a single one during our entire stay here!), and a tunnel.
This is the downtown Charleville library – an old church that was converted into a public library. My books are in this library. 🙂
Also, see that bus sign? When we sold our car back to the dealer we went to Lucey Motors on Limerick Road in Charleville. Our wonderful salesperson Joey Shire gave us a lift to the bus stop here in front of the library (he was a big help to us when we bought the car and then again when we sold it – he had great patience waiting for our wire transfer from the States to get sorted out – highly recommend Lucey Motors in Charleville, Ireland!). We took the bus to the Shannon airport where we hired a car. We then returned the car when we settled into the airport hotel the following week.
This wasn’t the route we’d taken to the coast – if it was, I would’ve tried to capture the memorable road sign that warned of a dangerous bend… although it was too dangerous to stop there for a picture. What makes that bend so startling is that immediately after the “dangerous bend” warning, there is a second sign with a life-sized picture of Jesus on it – just Jesus’s face, with no explanation. The Jesus sign flashes before your eyes because the speed and angle on that sharp turn allows only a glimpse of anything other than the spiraling barely-one-lane road spinning ahead. Egads! Is Jesus the destination for drivers who don’t heed the dangerous bend warning?
Brent doesn’t get easily rattled by driving, even when he was learning to drive on the left, but that hairpin turn on the steep narrow coastal road gave him white knuckles at the wheel.
Finally we were in Shannon, where we first stopped at Lidl (a German owned grocery store similar to Aldi) to buy our supper. We found packaged salads, lunch meat, bread, and single servings of juice that come with tiny plastic straws that are meant to puncture an impossibly slippery pouch. I’m sure you too are familiar with the torture of trying to get the straw into the pouch when someone is tired, crabby, and thirsty. The crabby ones used to be my young children, but that day the crabby one was me. My daughter Cassie opened my juice for me. Funny how it all goes full circle…
My family was disappointed that we’d forgotten the pie that Marie had boxed up for us to take back with us to the hotel. There was a bit of a blame-game about who was supposed to put it into the car. I’d already had my pie while visiting with Marie, so I kept my mouth shut. The important thing is that we were at the airport – our hotel was just a few yards away from the departure gates.
Isn’t this a snazzy rental car? Nicholas was impressed by this one. But we’d arrived and it was time to return it.
We didn’t have time to settle into the hotel. We were on to the next task: weighing our luggage to see if any of us had gone overweight. Bags weighing more than 50 pounds incur an overweight fee of $100. On the way to Ireland ALL of our luggage was overweight, all. And Nicholas’ bag was so heavy that it went into the NEXT weight tier, costing $200! We bailed out of one suitcase before checking the bags, which is how my small cast iron skillet got thrown away in the Minneapolis airport. But we just couldn’t reduce the rest. This was everything we’d have on us until our household shipment would arrive, including Nicholas’ entire desktop computer (albeit in pieces) and our laptops – mine didn’t make it. 🙁
Anyway, on the journey to Ireland, we swallowed the cost of our overweight luggage. On the way back, we couldn’t do that! These bags HAD to be under 50 pounds – ALL of them!
We spent a few Euros weighing our bags on the coin operated scale in the hotel lobby. We quickly ran out of coins. Since our bags were still overweight, we had to keep trying. We chucked a few things out, but most of our overflow landed in Savannah’s suitcase. Savannah is the heroine of this story. She had put all of her heaviest belongings in her personal bag that she bravely carried on her back! We didn’t know that she had weighed herself down with such a heavy burden until after one of the straps on her bag broke and she was struggling. Well, anyway, back to the luggage fiasco. Without the means to put more and more Euros into the hotel scale (which was listed as a service for this hotel so we thought it was complimentary, grr, as with many things in Europe -such as most parking- it was not free), we decided to haul our luggage across the parking lot to the airport. The airport was practically deserted and they didn’t mind us weighing our luggage at the counter, on our own.
Getting the luggage to the airport was a bit of an adventure. The parking lot was uneven. On the slopes it was hard not to lose control of the luggage cart (Brent and Nicholas had full luggage carts to push) or the luggage itself (we girls rolled luggage separately). We had to avoid hitting parked cars and other obstacles. But when we finally made it to the airport we could weigh our bags and re-pack them as many times as necessary to get the bags to fall under the 50 pound weight limit. We finally did it! And when we did, it felt like we should have won a trophy.
The airport was surreal, so quiet and empty. Few employees were there. The last flight out of Ireland had long gone, even though it was still fairly early in the evening. We anticipated a rather uneventful check-in experience in the morning. And we were right. It was subdued until we hit the TSA. We had to go through security twice, as this airport as a pre-flight customs arrangement with the United States.
The Irish part of it was simple. We didn’t have to remove our shoes. I misunderstood about taking my laptop out of my bag, but no one jumped down my throat. An employee simply asked me to remove it for a scan. The security line moved smoothly and quietly. And then we had to do the whole thing all over again in an isolated area on the top floor (the second story in a two-floor airport). This time it was for the Americans.
And no, they weren’t friendly. The treatment wasn’t as severe as what we went through in Minneapolis – that still makes my blood boil when I think about it! – but it wasn’t pleasant. Cassie got patted down again. WTH??? We had to remove our shoes of course. Everything had to come out. It was tedious, stressful, and oppressive. Welcome back to the United States… and we hadn’t even left Ireland yet. All of the old anger and resentment was starting to emerge (our lost medical insurance, Brent’s job of almost 20 years gone to Canada, and more), but I was homesick too.
Mixed feelings, bittersweet emotions, hotel-room sleeping, and a day of international travel is a cocktail destined for a nasty hangover. But it was time to get this over with. The sooner we were on the first flight, the sooner we’d be on the second one, and then the long car ride the next day headed to our new home.