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Thursday, September 14, 2017


Five blustery days and cozy nights on the Emerald Isle, a tribute to my mom whom we have abandoned for most of the last quarter century. With four young-adult kids and three senior-adult parents each with their own needs and directions, not to mention way-more-than-full time jobs, and organizational responsibilities, and supporters . . Well, it isn't often that we can devote a solid chunk of attention to any one person. So somewhere back a few months ago, in a flash of inspiration, I asked my mom if she would be willing to fly to London to meet us when we went to our Serge meetings, and then we could travel together. It's pretty impressive when people over 80 have no qualms about independent international travel. And where she wanted to go, was Ireland.

We have very American family roots, drawing from multiple continents and cultures including indigenous and enslaved peoples. But my mom's ancestry has some root tentacles that clung to the shores of Ireland. The story goes like this: a couple worn down by poverty, famine, injustice, unable to pay the oppressive dues to the essentially feudal landlord. The agent coming to their home, possibly built of turf or stone on the northwest coast. The agent grabs the ancestor's wife, threatening her with violence. The ancestor takes his gun, and kills the agent. Then he and his wife flee, finding their way onto a boat to America, to start a new life far from the reaches of the law. If anyone read the Booker finalist about the Bloody Project, which was rough, you can imagine a less sanitized version.

And that little vignette is only one of millions of stories of blood and sorrow that this island has endured. We toured the castle in Limerick and tried to sort out who was attacking whom, and sieging whom, and allying with whom. Celts, Normans, Vikings. British and French and Spanish. Christians from before the many schisms, Catholics, Protestants. A hidden history of suspicion, of betrayals.

Which makes the current peaceful, wild wonder of this place all the more real. Ireland is not a land that conquered its way into 21rst century freedom and prosperity. It is a land that absorbed a million punches into its bogs, and transformed them into green grains. That wept tears and poured them into guiness beers. That knelt, literally, in the sand between high and low tide to celebrate religious freedom off their oppressor's property. That reached down into a core of sassy truth, lively music, and a strong stance bracing against the gales, without losing friendliness and hope.

And perhaps all of the above because this is a land of an ancient faith lineage. We toured the Book of Kells and other illuminated Gospel texts drawn by monks around the year 800. When much of the world was devastated by war and plague, Ireland was busy preserving the truth.

So we had some adventures there. We were almost blown off the cliffs of Moher, not realizing they had been closed due to severe weather. In spite of multiple back surgeries and replaced joints, we got my mom walking on the wild Burren. There were nameless castles and ornate churches. Hedgerows and cows. Sea spray and sunsets. Prehistoric gold, and leathery bog-preserved bodies in the museum. A stunning coastal cottage, and a warm tea and scones with our real Irish friends the Maras.

As we left our cottage, we stopped at a local artist's shop and tea room, and I picked up a book of poetry by Thomas Lynch, an American descended from a nearby village called Moveen. It's called "The Sin-eater", and I highly recommend it. Lynch and the Irish get grace. The ridiculous frailty of the body held together with the glorious beauty of eternity, the irreverent humor held on the sure rock of God. "But now it all seems like shades of grey, shadow and apparition, glimpses only, through the half-light of daybreak and gloaming, mirage and apocalypse, a kind of swithering." (You have to read the poems to find out what that means, but it's my new favorite word).

Hoping this isn't our last visit. Bye for now, Ireland.

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