“I’d like to find a way to be in two places in one time, for it’s easy going back again but it’s hard to say goodbye.” –
from “Home Away From Home” by Sean Keanef
When I return from my annual trip to Ireland every February, the one solace on which I depend is the knowledge that St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner. In some odd way, it extends the bliss I derive from my visit, even though a St. Patrick’s Day celebrated in the U.S. doesn’t quite have the same allure as Paddy’s Day observed in the “Auld Sod”. Even so, the idea of immersing myself in the “culture”, ok, the Guinness, and the connection to the place in this world where I am most happy make the last days of winter bearable.
Now, it is widely known that I am not Irish. Not even a drop. This truth has been confirmed by “23 and Me”. It was no surprise but I take little stock in the importance of this fact. For some reason, I am drawn to Ireland, like a magnet to iron, with a joy that is indescribable. When pressed for a reason for this obsession, I have often referred to my time in Ireland as a gift that I open every day. It is beauty, it is peace, it is adventure. Truly, nothing makes me happier (except for my family – they are my life, a blessing, and nothing I chose) and this is the joy that I choose for myself. Thinking back to my first trip, armed with no more than an airline ticket and a rental car, Tim and I set off of an aimless journey through the countryside, depositing ourselves in small towns, B & B’s, and pubs, without a plan, and barely with a map. It was 2005 and GPS was in its infancy, so a Michelin map (that we still employ to this day) was our only guide – well that, and an “Ireland for Dummies” manual. It was a magical six days and I pledged, weeping as the aircraft departed the runway, to return very soon. It is a promise that I have honored fourteen more times. Returning is not optional; it is a compulsion.
Since that first trip, I have shared my passion with my family, bringing both my son and daughter with me on adventures, leaving Tim, the “real” Irishman, behind in some cases. Scott is far more interested in the history and culture, while Lisa, less enamored of the “piles of rocks” or as they are known, “ruins”, looks forward to walking the streets of the small and large cities like Dublin, Kilkenny, and Killarney. I fashion their experiences to address these stylistic differences. This February, a new level of elation took hold as Molly, my amazing granddaughter, walked through the door of Arrivals at Shannon Airport, ready for a Mami adventure!
It was a magical experience to have three generations of Cahalanes in the hometown that Tim Cahalane – grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great grandfather – left behind to pursue a new life in America in the early 20th century. Sharing the land, so far away that I know so well, allowed me to peer at the wonder through the eyes of a joyful eight year old. I am not sure if she more enjoyed running from one hotel room to the other or the view of Lough Leane and the mountains of Killarney, but her heart mirrored mine. My own childlike awe awakened at her ebullience, and as I walked the streets I love with her tiny hand in mine, a deep euphoria confirmed what I already knew about this special place.
Despite this purity of emotion, a gnawing question bordering on guilt eats at my mind. My Italian-American friends, offended by what they perceive as a “desertion” of my people, taunt me about my “hobby”, while others tease me with “You’re not Irish! You can’t like Ireland! What about Italy? Don’t you want to go there?” Well, I have, and that is a topic for another entry. But Ireland is what I call “my heart’s true home” – a connection that transcends blood and roots. It is a country of warmth, beauty, and humor, the joys I seek in life in a microcosm. While I would never choose to live there, Ireland is home for ten days a year. I never would want to make these magical days mundane by setting down roots. Instead my roots deeply traverse the ancient hills, ruined castles, coastal cliffs, cobbled streets, and turf-warmed pubs and once again, once a year, my heart is home.