One of my all-time favorite writers is a man named Frank McCourt, who is best known for his gritty and brilliantly written memoir “Angela’s Ashes.” McCourt was a true Irish-American, born in the
United States to Irish parents and raised in Limerick, Ireland, where he lived until he managed to save enough money to travel back to America for good. From his humble beginnings, he became a respected teacher and a tremendously successful writer. Being an Irish-American substitute teacher and a modestly successful writer myself, I feel very much connected to the favorite son of Limerick. And just a few short days ago, I was lucky enough to have my picture taken beside a memorial to the late author in his boyhood hometown.
I am writing this week’s column in a much smaller Irish town called Newmarket-on-Fergus, located in County Clare. If I am dreaming, please do not wake me up. My amazing wife Bethany, my co-pilot and navigator, worked out the logistics of this trip of a lifetime—a week in my ancestral homeland. The last several days have been truly wonderful and definitely worth writing about. I can never repay her for this gift she has given me. After landing in Shannon airport, we rented a right-hand drive Renault with a six-speed manual transmission that has carried us gamely from town to town during our stay. Driving on the left side of the extremely narrow and winding Irish roads while shifting gears left-handed was a bit tricky at first, but I quickly caught on and grew to thoroughly enjoy the experience—despite a few near-misses with oncoming traffic, bicycles, and stone walls.
Our journey has taken us to towns such as Limerick, Cork, Blarney, Killarney, and several others with names I can neither pronounce nor spell correctly. We’ve stopped in numerous cafes, restaurants, and pubs to savor local flavors while soaking in the intoxicating atmosphere of each unique community. We’ve driven through congested city centers and tiny hamlets that dot the countryside.
We’ve seen at least eight or nine castles, each predating the United States, including the world-famous Blarney Castle built in the 15th century. No, I did not kiss the Blarney Stone. It seems that I was blessed with the gift of gab a long time ago. We’ve been able to enjoy the natural beauty of this land, too. Bethany and I strolled along the banks of the River Shannon, explored Killarney National Park, and hiked a scenic trail leading to Torc Waterfall. We also took in some breathtaking vistas at the towering Cliffs of Moher along the edge of the Celtic Sea.
But the thing I’ve enjoyed most about Ireland is her people. Everywhere we’ve gone, folks have welcomed us warmly. From hotel clerks to publicans tending bar, the people here are friendly, outgoing, and sincere. And they’ve all been very nice about correcting the way I pronounce my last name. In many ways, Ireland feels like home.
But it is not our home. Home is Southern Boone County, Missouri, which has several similarities to Ireland such as the changing colors of the falling leaves; the cool, autumn air; the rolling, verdant hills; and the warm and neighborly people.
SoBoCo is home because that’s where our kids are waiting, with Bethany’s wonderful mother Glee, for us to return. It’s where our friends are. It’s where my jobs at the Journal and the primary school are. It’s where our hearts are.
But a part of my heart will remain here in Ireland. To say that I love this country would be a tremendous understatement. The trip of a lifetime has become what I hope will be the first of many trips in my lifetime to this enchanted place.
Ireland truly is enchanted. While driving back from the Cliffs of Moher, a place of unmatched, raw beauty, we spotted a vibrant rainbow over a cozy, seaside hamlet. Although there was no pot of gold at its end, there most certainly was a treasure—the land of my forefathers, a place called Ireland.