|John Fitzgerald of Limerick, Ireland|
An In-law of my Kelly Family
It was no surprise when I was finally able to plan my first trip outside the United States that Ireland would be my destination. About a year ago, I saw a group tour to Ireland advertised on the University of Nebraska Alumni Association web site. The planning began, getting my first passport, getting TSA pre-check, sending in my deposit, shopping for electricity converters, upgrading my international air travel seat to one with "extra legroom," doing online research about traveling outside the U.S., getting U.S. dollars converted to Euros, practicing with packing cubes to maximize space in my suitcase, notifying my bank and credit card companies of my travel plans. It truly took me a full year to pull everything together. Obsessed with organization and planning, I had to know what I was getting in to, every step of the way!
|My suitcase was not nearly this compact|
by the time I departed for Ireland!
My family history research has taken me to the counties of birth of my second great grandparents on Mom's side of the family. Ancestry and 23andMe concur that my DNA shows I'm 25-26% Irish heritage. This is all on my Kelly line, which includes surnames Kelly, Casey, Welch and Conneally. The counties of birth of my second great grandparents are Galway (2 people), Kilkenny and Roscommon.
My journey began on July 3, 2016 and I crossed the international time zone on July 4, my first time away from the United States on the Fourth of July. My flight landed at the Shannon International Airport. My itinerary had me staying in
|At the airport in Lincoln, Nebraska (LNK)|
awaiting my departure for Shannon, Ireland
July 3, 2016
As the motor coach made its way through the narrow country roads of Ireland, I lusted after the cemeteries I saw from the window of the coach. "Stop here! Stop here!" I thought to myself, knowing that a future trip to Ireland would include time when I could visit cemeteries on my own. Fortunately, we stopped at a church and cemetery one day and I was completely giddy! I was so thrilled to get some photos of the gravestones and the iconic Celtic cross borne on so many of the memorials. Being in that cemetery served to whet my appetite to return and find the burial locations of my ancestors.
|My favorite photo from my trip to Ireland.|
Photographed during a tour of the Ring of Kerry,when my tour group observed a demonstration of
sheep herding by border collies.
Something I found amazing about the food was that every hot meal was not only served hot, but steaming hot! I’ve traveled to many locations in the U.S. and I’ve never been served food that was this hot. Many of our meals on the tour were pre-ordered for us, but I also had a chance to sample fish and chips from a pub in Dublin, smoked salmon (a new favorite for me), a burger from grass fed beef (probably the best burger I’ve ever had), Irish stew that I ate with a knife and fork, Parmesan cheesecake (no crust), steak and potatoes. Yes, potatoes with a side of potatoes! Many of our meals were served with mashed potatoes and chips at the same meal. I drew the line, however, at sampling the “blood sausage.” Several of us commented that we were longing for some greens, kale, and any veggie or fruit other than potatoes! Another fellow and I nicked bananas at breakfast one morning to take along for a morning snack!
|Authentic Irish Stew|
(and a Guinness!)
Two days before that stop, we went to the Cliffs of Moher, which is probably the most spectacular view I saw in all of Ireland. None of the photos I had seen even come close to seeing the Cliffs in person. Physically, that was a good day for me and I had no trouble climbing up the steps of one of hills to experience the view and take some photographs. The next day, I was mostly hobbling about.
|Pinch Me! It's Real!|
At the Cliffs of Moher
Before the trip, I had actually been “practicing” by doing the stairs in my apartment, so I knew I could easily manage 30-40 steps. I was determined to do this! The previous day I purchased a bracelet that is inscribed with the affirmation, “You are capable of doing amazing things.” At Blarney Castle, we were told we could turn back after five or six steps if we changed our mind. Wearing my bracelet as my guide and inspiration, I took the first few steps. And I kept going.
It wasn’t that easy for me. I pulled myself upward with the guide rope using my right hand and braced myself along the stones of the staircase with my left hand. I couldn’t turn back, so I had to keep going. I kept pace with the group pretty well until I was about 3/4 of the way up. I was huffing and puffing by this time. There was a little room where I could sit in a doorway to rest for a few minutes. Thank goodness that I did. I really needed to catch my breath and slow my heart rate. It seemed like about 20 minutes, but it was probably only five minutes that I rested. I was close enough to the top that I could see the sky. One of the fellows from my tour looked down at me from the next higher level and said that from where he stood, there were only about 10 more steps. I was in the home stretch! I got back in line, now considerably behind the rest of my tour companions, but I made it to the top!
|I Made it to the Top of Blarney Castle!|
At this point, I can see members of my tour group as
they kiss the Blarney Stone!
When the last of my tour group ahead of me had kissed the Blarney Stone, I heard my tour director, Pauline, ask them, “Did Susan decide to go back?” One of the ladies turned and pointed at me and said, “No! She’s over there!” I could see my tour director smile and I hollered, “Are you going to wait for me?” and she said she would.
|Bucket List Item Checked Off!|
I kissed the Blarney Stone!
It didn't take me long to post some photos on social media. A friend of more than 40 years had been following my adventure on Facebook. A world traveler who has visited Ireland several times, Vickey has a good friend in Cork named Alice who happened to be at Blarney the same day. Vickey texted me that Alice's son was working at the Blarney Stone that day. Quickly, I texted her a photo of the nice young man who had helped me. She replied that she thought it looked like Brian, but the beard threw her, so she, in turn, texted the photo to her friend. Within seconds, I received another message that Alice confirmed that was her son Brian at the Blarney Stone! Soon, we were all texting and messaging back and forth about this synchronicity of events. I had to share with Alice that she had raised a very nice, caring and helpful son! Years ago, I stopped believing in coincidences, so I knew that the stars and planets had aligned to bring me to Blarney on the day that my helper would be someone my long time friend knows. It truly is a small world.
Check out this YouTube video to see what it's like to climb the steps of Blarney Castle! Had I watched this before I went, I'm not sure I would have even tried this!
My new affirmation bracelet received a few nicks and scratches as I climbed the steps of Blarney Castle. I'm glad of that, because they will serve as a reminder that I really am capable of doing amazing things. I let go of the apprehension and followed my dream up those steps!
The social media hashtag I used for posts was #tripofalifetime. It was that, and even more. I'm already planning my next trip to this beautiful island during the summer of 2017. I promised Ireland that I would return.
|In Dublin with Pauline Martin, our tour director.|
Guide, Ireland Historian, and Mummy to Us All!
She was with me as I kissed the Blarney Stone!
|Ger Mangen, our tour guide, bus driver and Irish historian.|
His commentary on our motor coach tour was delightful!