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The Emerald Isle: musings from a traveler through time

Posted Jun 09 2011 10:45pm

From pubs to jigs to rainbows to days that wrapped up all four seasons in 24 hours, I thoroughly enjoyed my sojourn through this magical isle. What a privilege to walk in a land of people who have struggled through so much, and yet come out all the better for it! Despite their lagging economy, the Irish rank 10th happiest of all the countries in the world. Their sense of community, riverdance, and spirit says it all.

As a cancer survivor I can relate to their struggles, although at a much different level. The resilience of the Irish from famine to faltering economy speaks volumes to this woman once broken by two bouts with breast cancer and a devastating diagnosis of lymphedema.

While we experienced rain showers every day, we also got regular glimpses of the sun. The rain always seemed to come while we were inside some grand mansion or castle, and would stop when we came outside to view the grounds. Gorgeous rhododendrons, blooming hawthorn trees (magical and fairy-like to the Irish) and yellow gorse covered the landscape in glorious shades of pink, purple, white and goldenrod.

The rugged west coast of Ireland reminded me of our west coast in the U.S., with rocks jutting out and waves crashing to the delight of hardy surfers. I was surprised that surfing abounded in Ireland.

But that was the first of many surprises.

For example, kissing the Blarney stone was no piece of cake. I had to climb 100 winding, narrow and slippery steps to get to the top, which was unprotected from the rain. Then I had to lie down, arch my back backwards, and do a very strenuous pushup to reach the green marble that was the famous Stone. The person who held me there exuded confidence that I could accomplish this feat. I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I became more determined. A photographer awaited to capture that special moment. Kissing the stone made me, a person with lymphedema, feel as if I could do anything. I was on top of the world, though only at the top of a small castle.

Another surprise is that Ireland has a fjord. We cruised down this beautiful waterway, eying the fishermen vying for mussels and salmon as we sipped our cappuchinos. As the journey progressed we fellow travelers let down our guard and shared our backgrounds. It was freeing not to have to tell this whole group I was a cancer survivor. They did not know, and I did not share with everyone, as I didn’t want cancer to define me as a person. I would choose to reveal this personal bit of information as I felt comfortable with a few compassionate souls in our tour group.

Another surprise was learning about the mayfly, a short-lived insect that starts a two-week fishing frenzy in Ireland. Such a small creature this mayfly to create such a competitive buzz in the world of the angler.

Our tour guide told us a slew of sad tales about the Irish, making many cry. The story of the Rose of Tralee and how our word “lynch” came to be are tragic. But I told her I liked the sad stories. She replied that I must be Irish then. That gave my day a happy ending, as I like being identified with the Irish.

Two more elegant surprises awaited us: Kylemore Abbey and the Ashford Castle. These elegant structures in beautiful settings were surely fairy-tale inspired. Staying overnight in the castle was extra special, considering that so many celebrities visited that enchanted place, including Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Robin Williams, Brad Pitt, Mel Gibson, Jane Seymour, and others too numerous to mention. And the movie “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne was filmed at a pub on the grounds. We had lunch in the Dungeon Cafe of the castle, enjoying food to die for at bistro prices.

Could there be more surprises after all these? Actually, yes. We discovered to our delight that the castle grounds had a school of falconry. Nothing can compare to having majestic birds of prey (Nelson hawks) alight on your outstretched arm and take flight when you lower your arm to your side. Even though I used my lymphedema arm, the bird was sufficiently light that I had no after-effects. For many of my fellow tourists, falconry was the highlight of the entire trip.

The final day of our journey, Mother’s Day in the U.S., my traveling companion and I toured a small part of Ireland on our own, leaving our busmates behind. We boarded a train to Kilkenny, where the castle of my distant relatives the Butlers sat waiting for me. The highlight of that day was returning to the hotel to meet a dear fellow blogger and breast cancer survivor Marie who lives in Ireland. I was so touched that she made the trek to see me. Even though our time together was short, it was most lovely and precious. The ultimate Irish surprise.

If you ever get the chance to go to this magical isle, do so. You won’t regret the hospitality, stories, gift of gab (I did kiss the Blarney stone, after all), and greenery of this delightful haven.

What travels have you made that touched you deeply? Where would you like to return?

Happy May,

Jan

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