It sounds like a chapter from the twenties, a time when the nouveau riche walked in style, papered with greenbacks, sipping champagne like there was no tomorrow, like a line from F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Hemingway, hung with the fruit of decadent give-a-shit living. And in some sense it was meant that way, too. How often in your life do you spend like a drunken baron to cross the sea on silver wings and sojurn in an ancient manor house, to pretend you are almost as chic as the new millenium demands? If you're a penurious stay-at-home graybeard enjoying his golden years scraping muck and rust from reclaimed old machines in a half-assed, but quite satisfying, attempt at retrieving a piece of his quickly evaporating past, then the answer is: just about never.
I would not have done such a thing at all but for the call of blood; these are the demands that slice deeper than logic, and to ignore them imperils your standing as a human being. One such I did ignore and have had to live since with the onus of my failure in secret shame: the sort of failure where everyone says 'it's ok, dad', but you know it isn't really. The ceremony was a graduation which I failed to attend. I fear that I have a somewhat cavalier streak that prompts me to ignore social responsibilities, telling myself that since I really do care and my intentions are good and my heart correct, then I am not in error in avoiding the human arena where flesh meets flesh and makes nice. My own doubts about personally treading into this fray always seem so paramount to me, ever increasing as the moment when I am supposed to embark approaches. Frankly, people scare the hell out of me. And that is not always a good enough excuse to head for the basement when the doorbell rings.
This celebratory event was to be wedding, a family wedding, my son's. How can you say 'no' to that? Well, I thought about it. The majority opinion in the Forsey/England/Waldo/Shay/Sgt. Rock household held strong in the vein that I should, must, attend, and so, armed with nice clothes, good will, a smiling face, and lots of hundred dollar bills I aimed myself East and awaited takeoff with an abiding trust in my betters. Pat had said I was going - Period! That was that. And I had, at some weaker moment in decades past, promisied her a trip to Ireland anyway. Two birds with one stone. How could I say 'no' to that? It's the kind of two-for-one that Wally World just can't give.
My son, Ara - no, he is not the Armenian side of the family, I just liked the name when I saw it on the coach of the Notre Dame team as they played USC in 1975 while I watched TV and the then-current mrs. grew steadily more pregnant - any other questions??? Anyway, my son was getting married to his girl friend, Miss Andrea Marie Simmons, to give her forebearers as much nominal credit as possible. Andie and Ara - I take pains here to point out that Andie is a girl lest the same-sex wedding police descend on them as Air Force One circles the domestic scene, have been an 'item' for several years, having met while enrolled at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. Two chefs in one family always sounded safer to me than two doctors, or two lawyers. In a fit of near-fengshui they had spun the globe and stabbed it with exquisite culinary instruments to come up with Ireland as a fitting place for the nuptuals; Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan hadn't seemed romantic enough and were wounded for naught. The family was to gather there just after Xmas and celebrate the wedding on New Year's Eve. Since simply going to Ireland and getting 'officially' married proved to be exasperatingly difficult they actually wedded in a civil ceremony in Orange County the week before the trip and an old family friend, John Greene, would perform the ceremony at the Castle. (The Irish Priest wanted a thousand dollars, plus travel expenses, to perform the ceremony; it would probably be less expensive to buy an all-round indulgence for serial killing.)
The setting for all this extravagance and joy was to be Springfield Castle in County Limerick. All we had to do was get there. Pat and I arrived on the red-eye at 0600, about three hours before dawn. We sat in Shannon Airport for another hour or two awaiting the arrival of John Greene and his better half, Heather. We secured the rental car and changed some money - oh! the pain. Each and every Euro cost $1.32, give or take a penny, and prices were so high, even in Euros. The four of us concurrently wondered how these people could live here if they were making under a hundred thousand a year; I am serious, too. No WalMart Antichrist here. Little shops with short selection and outrageous prices. This proved to be the case all over the country. Where we would say 'bargain' the Irish say 'full value', and I could see precious little of it.
Off we roared on the wrong side of the road, jet-lagged and muzzy-headed. I didn't want to go any further than necessary; my ability to concentrate had been left in Maine and I knew I would hit something if I drove very far. Serious error loomed at every roundabout, corner and one-lane bridge; I gritted my teeth, guessed where the right side of the car was, not always correctly, and kept the Irish equivalent of a stiff upper lip. It is not an easy thing to slide into the car, look over, and see that the passenger has the steering wheel and find you are, again, the fool. Point A to point B in someone else's country is never simple. We followed the printed directions, discussed the error of our ways endlessly, and finally arrived with only a few miscues. Our hosts, Jonathan and Betty, forgave the fact that we were 5 hours early and put us into a large drawing room with a nice fire going. I was so glad to be sitting down with nothing further required of me that I drank a rather large portion of the liter of Jamesons that I had picked up at the local market. It was something before noon. By the time others began to arrive, around 1700, I was just getting myself tucked in for 16 hours sleep.
As I indicated above, it is the mystery of where the passenger side of the car is that is the real problem in driving. Getting used to going on the left side of the road isn't so bad, and unless you get into a heavy traffic situation that requires an almost instinctive reading and response you find yourself doing pretty well. But that other side of the car....ah, that is almost a religous experience: it requires oodles of faith. And it wasn't just my abysmal lack of depth perception that gave me fits. I may have lost a mirror, many do but don't talk about it, but my son, with perfect vision and the reflexs of a cheetah, lost a hubcap. I did bang that left front tire into the kerb rather often, with jarring consequence and colorful speech from co-pilot Pat, but I never lost a hubcap. His was probably just loose to begin with. I should give the lad a break.
The narrowness of the roads is appalling. A two lane road that appears to have slightly less width than one car would occupy is not uneard of. Now add in the many tractors and lorries. At night, staring into oncoming lights on these little roads, you just go for it. You do slow down, of course, but the other guy doesn't. The Irish like their speed, and they like to tailgate. Most roads don't have posted speed limits, and if there are such limits they aren't enforced. Very few police, called Garda, are to be seen. One thing I will give the Irish: in 2 weeks of driving all about we didn't even see one minor fender-bender. Amazing. I liked what an Irish woman had to say about the narrowness of the roads: 'Of course the roads are narrow, 'tis a small country.'
A tourist I am not, so I cannot begin to tell you all about the wonders of Ireland. It was rainy, but only sporadically so and decidedly warmer than Maine. There seemed to be about 2 hours per day less sun; Mr. Prozac said 'cool, we'll just sleep a little extra'. The people were without exception, well - one, gracious and amiable. It is a place that is close enough to our own culture that you can fit in comfortably; to use new-speak, Ireland is very user friendly. Every single person we spoke with had either been to the states or had family here; the link is very strong. As to the beauties of the place, well, they are generally on the understated side. If you want an over the top statement you go to the Cliffs of Moher; now there is grand and magnificent and breath-taking. Otherwise the country is one of low stony hills, farmsteads, a few woods, small rivers, and stone walls everywhere. The Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry in the southwest are pretty, but so is Oregon. It is, I think, a place that calls people to it because, again, of blood. So many of us here have Irish antecedents, strong ties from the Famine times, bonds with the music, a willingness to be enamored. I find nothing wrong with that at all; I just don't share in all of it. The music, I will own, is quite wonderful.
So, back to the main story. Springfield Castle is a large manor house; my guess is a few thousand square feet, with two sitting rooms, a dining room that a dance could be held in, a kitchen big enough to seat a dozen easily, and bedrooms of all sizes, mostly on the upper floor. Acres of parkland surround it, misty and green. As the fellow at the gas station said to me one morning, 'tis a soft day we're having.' This is a soft place, at least on the surface.
The house is not that old; it was rebuilt after being burnt in the Civil War of the 20's. But it has been here for centuries. An old family seat, the Fitzgeralds, among others, and off to one side is the castle proper. Ireland is dotted thruout with these castles; they are multi-storied stone towers called tower houses. They all adhere to much the same square, tall plan, they are solid stone and they were defensible until artillery arrived. The manor houses themselves tended to come along as calmer times prevailed. Real castles are there, too, but not so many of them. And what cold, bleak, uncomfortable places they are. When I travel I tend to look at the buildings more than anything. Stonework is a favorite of mine, and in Ireland it is abundant. There is so much of it that it is easy to begin to overlook it as you become saturated with its presence. It made me wish I knew more about the old construction techniques. I have trouble imagining mortar of crushed sandstone, burnt limestone and ox blood having held up all these hundreds of years; a little voice says I am being tricked somehow.
Pat just wandered by and asked me if I would be able to write about what happened in Ireland without writing about what happened. It's a fair question. Nothing terribly dark took place; more of my mature self finding a younger crowd inimical to my piece of mind. My sometimes biting commentary will be blunted somewhat. We had a cast of characters ranging from the perfectly stable, like moi, to those in deep personal crisis. I can say quite frankly that the bride and groom were models of good mental health, having gotten some of their luggage unpacked and repacked during a few months of separation a year or two back. It was the supporting cast that I must be reticent with regards to. Oh, let me exempt the lovely Carolyn from any of my claims of wrong-headedness; she was, as always, perfect in all ways. (Have I lusted after her since she was 12? Of course not! You think I'm some sort of child-stalking pervert?)
Having thought of myself as someone who likes to drink, not to wild excess any longer, I was quickly disabused of the notion by seeing some of our fellow revelers imbibe with vigor. The pubs are quite wonderful. Old, old places of wooden beams and stone and warmth and conviviality that make you want to hoist a pint of the black. Some wedding guests were more taken with the pub-life than I was, and after one venture out with the lads I decided to pin my future on sitting by the fire with Pat.
Anecdotes of drunkeness and despair and unfulfilled longings aside, the wedding and wedding dinner were superb. Jonathan and Betty butchered one of their own organic pigs and served us a fantastic roast pork. There was wonderful soup, caviar, salmon on toast, crunchy little baked sausage rolls, and on and on. Oh, the apple tort desert was to die for. We had plenty to drink. Two cases of wine had been shipped over; Andie is a wine merchant, or something of that ilk, and the kids mother, Katy, and her husband, Kenny, have a thriving vineyard. Preacher John Greene works in the industry, as well.
After the sumptuous meal the wedding was held on the central stairs in the hall. I had no idea what to expect. I knew John Greene had gone mail-order and become a minister, and I must confess that it seemed a bit hokey. Was I ever wrong. John delved down into himself to depths I would not have guessed and delivered a ceremony of great beauty. Everyone was crying. Being such a sceptic, and thinking that most ceremonial human endeavors are false-fronted and hypocrisy-filled I was truly moved by the genuineness of this wedding. There was not a false note to be heard. I know a lot of folk would say the same of any wedding, trotting out all the expected cliches that satisfy the social contract, but this wedding was unlike any celebration I have ever been privvy to. Since I had refrained from speaking during the ceremony, both Zoe and Katy did, I gave a toast after. But I felt somehow shocked to be the center of anyone's attention, even for a moment, and just muttered that I approved of the match and lifted my glass. People were talking and I didn't really get their attention, but it was truly what I felt and what I had to say
A couple of days later and we all went our separate ways. Most were off to airports, Zoe to England to visit friends, and Pat and I off on a week's B&B tour of the island. One big high point, for me, was the tour at the Waterford Crystal Plant. I could have spent hours watching them blow molten glass, grind it on cone pulley flat belt machines running off line shafts, and engrave it. The tour seemed so terribly rushed. I was fascinated.
We came home to a bitter, bitter cold. Today's high was -4f; the wind just burns and peels your skin loose. So, on to the pics. No touristy stuff here; this is the wedding of Ara John England and Andrea Marie Simmons.