Fáilte. Welcome. Finné Éire! Behold Ireland! The misty emerald glens and crags beckon and captivate you. Steeped in millennia of history and strife, the country of Ireland has developed into a land of rich culture and also became the destination for my family’s summer vacation. But why the Emerald Isle? It is the home of my ancestors who rock upon rock sculptured the land for subsistence, defense, and spirituality. Because of my family’s strong roots, we chose Ireland and hoped to meet with relatives, be immersed in the culture of our ancestors, and visit historical sites along the way.
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After our Aer Lingus flight landed smoothly, our adventure commenced with a rocky start. Being a family of five, we work best in a minivan; however, we were upgraded (to my dad’s dismay) to a beasty Land Rover which later received the nick-name “The Space Module”. Dad had never driven on the opposite side of the road with the steering wheel on the right of the car which added to everyone’s frustrations. For those first hours, my twin brothers and I held on tight as Dad adapted to Irish roads, and Mom tried to decipher maps and hidden road signs.
As we drove further into the heart of the countryside, we enjoyed the tranquil scenery between moments of panic when faced with oncoming cars and sheep. Land Rovers were not made to roam the narrow lanes of Ireland which are two sidewalks wide and have rock walls covered in Fuchsia buttressing up against them. With speed limits posted at 100-120 kilometers per hour, an extra element of fear was added as small cars zoomed by and just barely took off The Space Module’s mirror. Having also placed red “L” signs in our front and back windshields, we tried to let local drivers know that our vehicle contained a driver in training. Unfortunately, the signs appeared to have meager impact, for drivers would still speed by us at breakneck speeds while my dad tried desperately to not hit a rock wall or the oncoming vehicle. The “L” was then affectionately called our “loser sign”.
Despite vehicular drawbacks, we managed to all stay in one piece and continued our mission to visit as many historical sites and national parks as we could manage. Thanks to the Office of Public Works (OPW; http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/), our mission was successful. With the purchase of an OPW Family Heritage Card, we had free and unlimited access to any castle, abbey, roundtower, or national park run by the OPW. With tours of thirty sites in all, we learned much about the history of Ireland from the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Boyne to castle structure and Norman life.
However, the most important site we visited was not part of the OPW heritage sites. With the help of numerous locals, we were able to find the homestead of my great-grandmother who, at the age of twelve, was sent to the United States for a better life. It was an enjoyably breathtaking experience for my family and I to meet our cousins, Frank and Jane, and to see the very home where our ancestors lived and toiled. It really put the world into perspective.
All in all, we traveled over 2000 kilometers in eighteen days as we circumnavigated the Republic of Ireland, visiting the quaint but lively towns of Kilkenney, Wexford, Kinsale, Kenmare, Dingle, Galway, Westport, Trim, and Dublin. From the pristine Curracloe Beach to the Poulnabrone dolmen, Ireland will be forever in my heart and soul with memories to last a lifetime.
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