I am a lucky American. My mother owns a home in Ireland, although my Irish heritage comes from my father. Mom spends most of her time there with her partner Donal. Our 18th century home is on the main street facing a public beach and the town hall. We're also next to a funeral parlor.
Things can get a little interesting when everybody and their cousin twice removed comes to pray the rosary next door. And let's face it, in Ireland, if you even nodded to a person on the street and they died, you're expected to attend the funeral. So, some days, it gets a little awkward leaving our house when there's a hearse next door, or a bunch of praying, smoking people leaning on our windows.
But in exchange for a few moments of morbidity, I get to watch rainbows grow across the bay, children catch crabs on the beach, and feel the warmth of a blazing wood fire on my cheeks after a long walk to the lighthouse.
There's whisky and Bulmer's cider and gossip--the kind that only a small town in a nation of story tellers could come up with. Although I haven't been back for a year, I know everything that's going on thanks to Mom and her network of information.
For example, there's something wrong with the neighbor's dog. She's a big black lab who used to be a bit high strung but friendly. She had 1500 Euro surgery on her back and since then she's been really nasty. And Connor farther down the street is becoming quite the boran player. He's also a charmer. I swear he's gotten more cookies out of my mom than I ever did as her own daughter!
And recently my mom's friend Joan was harassed on a bus by a drunk tramp. She described the man to her husband, Colin. Colin recently went to the pub with Donal and based on Joan's description of the tramp identified him at a local pub. Oxford-educated, former financier Colin, is sophisticated, incredibly soft-spoken, and has a wicked dry wit. But Donal said once Colin saw his wife's attacker, he went ballistic. Donal said he'd never seen him so mad. "Colin's built like a rugby player, if he'd have hit him, he'd have broken his jaw!"
And of course all of this has happened in the last week or so....Enough to make anyone need a stiff drink.
Even with all this "intelligence," it can be easy to feel an outsider amongst people who have lived in the same place for generations, who can all tell you about Cuchulan or the "wee folk" as naturally as they can tell you about the Duke of Devonshire owning the riverbed and the new menu additions at Pak Fuk (no joke) Chinese restaurant.
But whenever I come to visit, I'm always asked "how long are you home for?" I always assumed the question was simply part of the generous hospitality of the Irish, who never let me pay for a meal or a drink and tsk pitifully when I tell them how many vacation days I get in the States.
But the moment I step off the plane in Shannon, I feel something different. Maybe it's the smell of sweet grass that's so pungent even in the airport parking lot or the Sean Nos singing on the radio as we drive through miles and miles of small towns and sloping farmland. I'm home.
Erin go Bragh, and Up Cork!