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Postcard, 1890s Ireland
 

Is Ireland Really Heaven?

by Evelyn LaTorre

 

Evelyn loves traveling and writing about her travels to close to 100 countries. She is a founding member of the Fremont Area Writers and is looking for an agent and publisher for her completed coming-of-age memoir No Guardrails: From Montana to Machu Picchu, a Peace Corps Romance.


            “If you ever go across the sea to Ireland…” My sixteen-year-old alto voice harmonized with Celeste’s soaring soprano as we rehearsed Galway Bay for the fiftieth time. The quartet I’d organized prepared for its singing debut at Washington High’s Harvest Dance in October 1959. Months before, I’d been a Sacred Heart Shamrock in Miles City, Montana. Now I was a Washington Husky in Fremont, California. I loved to sing and harmonize. I’d use my talent to fit in at my new high school.

            I swooned to Galway Bay’s lilting lyrics, “…then maybe at the closing of your day you can sit and watch the moon rise over Claddah or watch the sun go down on Galway Bay…” though I had no idea where Claddah or Galway Bay was. Fifty-nine years later on a twenty-day excursion to Ireland, I found the meaning of both.

            My husband, Walter, and I began our April trip with seven days in Northern Ireland. On a tour of Belfast’s city hall, I discovered that three elected women ran the local government. My admiration for this progressive place increased. In the hall’s museum, I donned an official red robe and Walter snapped a photo of me sitting in an ornate wood-carved magistrate’s chair. The setting impressed me.

            Our next excursion was more solemn. Our guide told us about the Troubles, the 1960-to-1998 civil conflict responsible for the deaths of 3,600 civilians and paramilitaries. Our tour bus drove past large vivid murals with captions praising the heroes and heroines of both Nationalist Catholics and Unionist Protestants. We continued on to the Peace Wall put up in 1969 to keep the two warring sides apart. The three-mile long, sixteen-foot-high stretch which we saw was filled with colorful, but sobering, paintings—reminders of the terrible times when so many lost their lives. The wall hasn’t been removed because angry feelings between the two populations continue. Children still attend segregated schools.

            “Just to hear again the ripple of the trout stream. The women in the meadow makin’ hay…” The second verse to the Galway Bay song ran through my mind as our  bus drove north on the left side of narrow, hedge-lined roads. We passed verdant green fields dotted with fluffy, suckling newborn lambs. The homes looked like they’d recently been painted white. Rows of daffodils, tulips or well-arranged heather plants decorated the manicured yards. We crossed several clear trout streams but I saw no women making hay.

             At the Giant’s Causeway at the top of the island country, Walter led me out onto some of the 40 thousand slippery, flat, hexagonal basalt rock formations. They stretch under the Sea, from Northern Ireland to Scotland. Some 60 million years ago boiling lava erupted into the Irish Sea from an underground fissure and formed the honeycomb-like structures, some 130 feet high.

            “…or to sit beside a turf fire in a cabin and watch the barefoot gossoms as they play.” We sat in huts and castles where the acrid smoke from turf fires burned my throat. Novels of Ireland speak of ancient peat moss bogs where the damp, spongy, rotted fuel is dug out in brick-form. After months of drying upright teepee- style, the bricks are ready to be burned.
    

        

             Gossoms, or good obliging fellows who help when they can, describe every Irish person we met, though none were barefoot. Locals were always eager to give directions or walk us to the place we’d asked them about. I especially appreciated their holding my feet so I didn’t fall 150 feet from the castle top when I bent over backwards to kiss the Blarney Stone.

            “Oh the breezes blowing o’re the sea from Ireland are perfumed by the heather as they blow. And the women in the uplands diggin’ praties speak a language that the strangers do not know.” Walter and I were blown horizontal by the strong winds at the Cliffs of Moher that tower 700 feet above the crashing ocean surf. Spits of water from the Atlantic anointed our heads us as we stood marveling at the precipitous rock formations. Praties are potatoes—and we had them fried, mashed, baked and boiled. All were delicious.


          “Oh the strangers came and tried to teach us their ways. They blamed us just for bein’ what we are, but they might as well go chasing after moonbeams or light a penny candle from a star…” verse four goes. Like many countries, Irish history is replete with battles, bloodshed, and heroes. England annexed, then lost Ireland many times between 1100 and 1921. At times they prohibited the Irish from speaking their Gaelic language, obtaining education and jobs, and intermarriage with the English. In 1649, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland, knocked down castles, destroyed entire towns, and beheaded any who rose against him.

Early in the trip, in Kilkenny, I’d purchased a ring because it had a green stone. Upon arriving home, I was surprised when I looked at it closely.  Two hands held the heart-shaped stone and a crown rested at the top. Then I remembered. At our final stop in Galway, the city was referred to as Claddagh because the ring is said to have originated there. The heart represents love, the two hands friendship, and the crown loyalty.  I’d experienced all three on this trip.

            And if there’s going to be a life hereafter and something tells me sure there’s going to be. I will ask my God to let me make my heaven in dear old land across the Irish Sea. Applause filled the Washington High auditorium that October evening in 1959. The Irish tune had secured me an accepted place with my new senior class. Fifty-eight years later in 2018, I now comprehend the Galway Bay song. The melody ushered me out of green, verdant, and picturesque Ireland with fond memories of a kind, interesting, and musical people—my kind of heaven.


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