Irish Family Vacation

13 July 2011 by Conor Published in: Family Life, Travel 18 comments

There’s something about Irish pilots that they never want to tell you the weather. They dance around it, hinting but never coming right out and saying it, as if they were trying to describe an embarrassing procedure that they had, or inform you that your dog just pooped in their fireplace.

“We’re getting reports that it’s a bit cloudy in Shannon, I’m afraid,” the Aer Lingus pilots told us on July 4th. We were in a row that was three across, Liz with Lucy on her lap, Finn between us, and me on the other side of Finn. “Perhaps a bit of drizzle, though hard to say until we arrive there. The temperature…well, it could be better, not a terribly warm day, it seems.”

“What’s he sayin’, Daddy?” asked Finn.

Finn spent a weekend with his grandparents – my father and stepmother, a few weekends ago (who we would be seeing in Ireland), and came back enunciating his words as if he was trying to teach a gorilla to speak. So his simple question came out: What’s he saaaaaaayyyyyin’ Daaaaaaddddy? with modulations covering about three octaves. I could have made myself a sandwich in the time it took him to ask that question.

“He’s saying it might be raining in Ireland,” I told him.

“It might be raaaaaaaininnnnnn’?”

Liz and I often talk about how we cannot get over the fact that we can now have conversations with our son. Not to beat the whole Miracle-of-Children thing over our heads here, but hearing Finn, age two and a half, speaking in full sentences is like coming home to my dog frying up some eggs, asking me how I take my coffee.

The thing was, it was actually pretty nice out. Sunny and everything. We arrived in Shannon, in the west of Ireland, at 5:30 a.m. and picked up the rental car. This being Europe, the “midsize” managed to just barely fit our two suitcases, though not our stroller unless I actually disassembled it, which I did.

I was Finn’s age the first time I ever came to my father’s cottage. My dad had bought this ramshackle little thing in Connemara, a western peninsula north of Kerry, a place that still manages to feel remote and non-touristy despite the (sorry to use this word but here goes) breath-taking beauty of the place. The beaches are wide and white sandy and roll right up into the green mountains with nary a soul on them except for the occasional cow which has shoved its way through the barbed wire and wandered down. The land is rough, the opposite of the manicured lawns of Connecticut, and the soil so rich that they actually cut it right out of the ground in bricks, let it dry, and burn it like firewood. The smell off it, the turf from the bog, is something that hits me every time back, like passing a freshly cut lawn in summer.

Liz and Finn and Lucy slept for much of the three hour drive west. I drove the tight winding roads as quickly as I felt safe, and would only notice too late that there was a dip in the road from where it had sank slightly into the bog. I would feel the car dip down and then launch into the air, as if we were on a half-pipe. Liz’s eyes would pop open as we took flight as she – and the kids – hovered an inch above her seat, confused by the surroundings and the weightlessness, and I tried to telekinetically will them into landing softly back in her seat with the same singular focus you will the bowling ball to stay out of the gutter, shoulder scrunched up, eyes squinty, teeth clenched. It didn’t work. There would be simultaneous squeaks from the Grennan family as they thumped back down, then everyone fell right back asleep.

I had spent the weeks before the trip managing Liz’s expectations for the cottage. You pass through two gates that keep the cows in the field before arriving at a hundred year old two bedroom cottage with three-foot thick walls. When I was growing up the cottage was cold and drafty and damp, but my father has made upgrades in terms of central heating and a new roof and the place is, I dare say, the very definition of cozy. Liz loved it from the moment she walked in.

My father is more at home in that cottage than anywhere else on the planet. He spends about four months a year there. The little village is about three quarters of a mile down the small fuchsia bush-lined road. That village, called Tully (after the thousand foot tall mountain next to us) is itself just a hundred yards long, with a grocery store in the middle and a pub on each end, overlooking the sea. My father knows everybody there. He has his friends. If we pass the postman on the way to the beach, the postman will stop and hand him his mail.

I don’t want to say that it’s idyllic, but I will say that I would change nothing about the place. Our time there was spent, as it has been since I was two and a half, going for long walks down quiet country lanes, hanging out on the beaches in sweaters, racing into the freezing sea, standing on the windy beach afterwards, comfortable with our body temperature cooled to that of a reptile, letting the wind tear the water right off our bodies, and then heading to the pub, our hair stiff with sea salt, to nurse a Guinness and eat chips and lamb and sausages and talk about what a fine day it was turning out to be.

Finn delighted in every minute. He stomped around in the sand when it was sunny, and when it poured rain and the wind reached gale forces we headed out to Omey beach, which is so wide you can drive your car across it at low tide a full kilometer to a little island, and I carried Lucy in a little Baby Bjorn with an umbrella held sideways to shelter her, and she was so relaxed she actually fell asleep while the rest of us clomped through tide pools and let the wind and rain scour our faces. I’ll tell you something – the Guinness and the cod and chips tastes all the sweeter after a day like that.

You can’t believe a week can go by so quickly, but it did. We stayed practically on East Coast time – we slept in each day until 10 a.m. or later, even Finn, and we ate dinner at 9 p.m. and all crashed an hour later. We were getting at least ten hours of sleep a night, sometimes more.

It only got dark around 11 p.m., so it didn’t feel strange to be up so late. It just felt peaceful, peaceful in a way that a remote cottage with no TV and virtually no opening of a computer can be. Peaceful in only the way you can be cozied up inside three-foot stone walls, staring at the turf fire. Peaceful in only the way you can be when you’re huddled up with your wife and two blessedly beautiful children, in the country of your ancestors.

P.S. – If you’d like to see photos of the trip, I’ve posted them on my author page on Facebook. I think you have to “Like” the page first. Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Wed 13th Jul 2011 at 6:44 am

    Spent a couple of weeks in Galway including two nights near Killary ‘fjord’ in Connemara in winter a year and a half ago. I’m not from there but felt surprisingly homesick just reading you describe it. It doesn’t sound like the weather is much different in the summer. ;-)

    Going to look for the pictures now.

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Sat 16th Jul 2011 at 7:15 pm

      Hey Mark,
      I know that fjord, it’s right next to the best beach in Ireland, Glassilaun – so beautiful. So glad you got to see that! A few of the photos were taken there.

      Reply
  2. Melissa
    Wed 13th Jul 2011 at 7:59 am

    I enjoy every post you write. They literally make me “LOL”, the dog asking you how you want your coffee, priceless :) keep those posts coming :)

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Sat 16th Jul 2011 at 7:15 pm

      Thanks Melissa!

      Reply
  3. Lindsay Anderson
    Wed 13th Jul 2011 at 8:39 am

    Honestly, Mr Grennan, you need to publish your posts! You are such a talented writer and I’ve enjoyed all your little tid-bits, along with your wife’s! Loved our book – shared it with my 16 year old son who also couldn’t set it aside. We have four children – our two oldest have been in Ghana for 2 months volunteering and we will join them this weekend with our two youngest children – to volunteer for a month working at an orphanage, building a latrine and teaching some school. Little Princes kept up my enthusiasm for our adventure as I have had many days when second thoughts creep in about how wise it is to fly your entire family from our small town in Western Canada to Africa … howeer our older two (22 and 19) have had incredible experiences so far that they would not trade for the world…

    Your holiday description was simply lovely…thanks for sharing with perfect uplifing…enjoy your day!

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Sat 16th Jul 2011 at 7:17 pm

      I love hearing about families that volunteer and encourage it – I always wonder if I’ll be brave enough to let my own kids go off on their own. I’m worried they’ll hold this book over my head – that’s what I’d do. Have a few years to think about it, anyway.

      Reply
  4. Liz
    Wed 13th Jul 2011 at 8:48 am

    I want to go back!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
    • brnoze  –  Thu 14th Jul 2011 at 6:56 pm

      We took our children to Ireland when they were in their teens and it is by far their favorite family trip. We never left the western counties. We self catered a refurbished old school near Ballyheigh and loved everything, including the local farmer and his dog taking the herd of dairy cows from high pasture to low every morning. Two things we will never forget were the sound of vegetation hitting the side of our car as we travelled the country roads. (We rented a station wagon!!! The roads are not made for station wagons.) We lost the side mirror early on. And the roundabouts and our whole family looking the wrong way as the traffic barreled down on us from the opposite direction. My American brain never got the hang of the driving so my husband had to do it all. The people were so welcoming, the countryside was breathtaking. Loved the Blasket Islands and found them hauntingly beautiful. Ahhh, I would go back tomorrow if I could.
      Thank you , Connor for bringing back good memories!

      Reply
      • Conor  –  Sat 16th Jul 2011 at 7:18 pm

        The sound of the vegetation hitting the car – I love that image!!! And totally evocative!

        Reply
  5. Susan Flanagan
    Fri 15th Jul 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I think there is a mini-series in the making right about now, taking place in Connemara.

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Sat 16th Jul 2011 at 7:18 pm

      It’ll star Finn. I guarantee it.

      Reply
  6. jo
    Mon 18th Jul 2011 at 6:44 am

    Sounds wonderful, I love your imagery. I am picturing you all wearing capes (or even cloaks!) and wellies. :)

    Reply
    • Conor  –  Mon 25th Jul 2011 at 2:39 pm

      I bought wellies for Finn just for the occasion – so cute to watch him learn how to use them in the store.

      Reply
  7. Elaine Breen
    Mon 29th Aug 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Dear Conor,
    My mother came from Mayo (born 1883) in 1904. She explained to me when I was a child “there was no more to eat”, and married my father from Denmark. None of my friends could understand her or him. I visited Ireland for two months with all my eight kids and made them write every day. So I have a nice book and film of it. (My son works at a TV station.)

    I am now 89 and have always felt when I die I’d like to go to Mayo and visit again the church where I found my grandparents name on the back pew. Honora and James McNulty. I love your site. Elaine

    Reply
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