My earliest memories of traveling to Ireland, the land of my grandfather’s birth, include the grand announcement for everyone in County Galway to hear that, “Stephen has come home.”
My cousin Mary made it clear that I was as much a part of the village “gathering” as anyone born and raised in that rugged west coast countryside in the little town of Cornamona. In the eyes of the Irish, my presence there was as much a part of Irish greatness as anyone or anything.
I have continued to come home for decades, as often as possible, making about a dozen trips in the 40 years since I first set foot in that splendid homeland.
Ireland is now welcoming anyone and everyone who wants the Irish experience for himself or herself. Calling the official welcome “The Gathering,” tourists far and wide are converging on the Republic of Ireland this year for a wondrous celebration of Irish hospitality. Combining food, drink, ancestry, art, literature, history and so much more, the Irish await its sons and daughters from afar who want to come home.
And you don’t need Irish blood to feel the comfort. Any authentic Irish gathering extends to anyone who wants to share the goodness.
If you’re shy, you can sit quietly by the turf fire, taking in the sights, sounds and smells, captured by your own new Irish thoughts and the magic of the moment. Extroverts can talk and even sing – I just might break out into a verse or two of “Tread on the Tail of Me Coat Ha Ha” or “Brannigan’s Pup.”
If you imbibe, a thick pint of Guinness, that the Irish claim is as nutritious as drinking a loaf of homemade brown bread, with its creamy lather and dark solace, sets a festive mood.
And, if we’re lucky, we’ll have legendary Dublin tour guide Tommy O’Reilly come out of retirement like he did last year to host us on a coach tour around the Republic with an inside track that only O’Reilly can provide.
I’m sounding like I’m going back, don’t I? That’s because I am and I want you to come along. With “The Gathering” already underway in the biggest cities and the smallest villages there’s no better time to make the trip.
Ireland is, indeed, a trip of a lifetime. If you’ve never seen the endless shades of green, you must if you’re able. If you’ve visited in the past, you must go again. And, I don’t think St. Pat would argue if you put a request in your prayers for the afterlife that includes a tiny cottage that overlooks the gentle lake and the ruins of the castle on Loch Corrib.
Ah, what a life – even an afterlife.
I’m planning the trip as we speak. I’ve already contacted O’Reilly and I’m thinking about seeing Mary one soft afternoon in Clifden where, well into her 90s, she is comforted by the sweet love and kindness of the staff of St. Ann’s where she lives as “The Queen of Cornamona.”
We’re off for eight days – from October 2-10, on a tour that takes us into Dublin for a traditional evening, off to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher, into Trinity College to see the world-famous Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscript that monks produced under the roughest conditions, and the Ring of Kerry.
Blarney Castle is always a hit, even though I don’t need any more blarney. Spend a little time with me and you’ll know what I’m talking about. By then, though, you’ll have a little blarney of your own.
I’ve done Ireland for decades under many conditions. The CIE tours are beyond comparison because we’re looked after at every turn. And, because I’m accustomed to the good times, I l know the right corners to cut that will add further enjoyment to our trip.
It might sound stereotypic to say that knowing the angles is part of being Irish. But my Irish runs deep as the River Shannon and either you know the angles or you don’t. I do.
So there you have it, we off and running and I want you to sign on. Go to AAA.com or call 800-982-4306 for details.
“The Gathering” is a massive undertaking, unparalleled anywhere that will make this trip even more meaningful. The Irish understand the importance of coming home and being taken care of once you get there.
I know the feeling that deepens each time the plane touches down and I set foot on Irish soil. If you’ve ever been, you understand. If you’ve never been, join me to feel the emotion and the laughter as soon as you, too, set foot in this stunning land.
Yes, I’m going home again.
We’re all going home.
And when we do, there will likely come a time on the trip, when it suddenly dawns on you that, whether you’re of Irish ancestry or not, that you belong there as sure as the waves break over the cliffs and the gulls sing as they dive above the sea, that you, too, are part of Ireland and Ireland is part of you.