I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get on an airplane as When we boarded our flight to Chicago this past Saturday. Thanks to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name, our two-week trip to Ireland had become three weeks and we were all more than ready to go home. We had a great time and I’ve got a mountain of photos and plenty of stories to tell about our trip, but first I need to set the stage.
Two days ago I was in a store in my home town, Navan, when the friendly manager asked me where I was from. “Here”, I answered wryly knowing full well that he was only asking because I didn’t sound like a local. I can’t hide that I’m an expat any more. I’ll always be Irish, but what that really means has become less clear to me the longer I’ve lived out of the country. When we first moved to the U.S. it made sense to refer to Ireland as home but lately this didn’t seem to be appropriate any more particularly since we hadn’t spent any appreciable amount of time in the country with our kids since 2002. Before our trip, I promised myself that I would take time during this visit to re-aquaint myself and my children with Ireland.
The reason for our trip was to attend two family weddings so we interleaved being tourists around those to the bemusement of many family members and the consternation of others. Catching the Easter 1916 celebrations in Dublin on Easter Sunday, the first day of our trip, was a great start even if we were all horribly jet-lagged as we stood in the bright April sunshine. I fell in love with the wilds of Connemara and was sad to leave after a short three day stay. We spent the next day in Galway before heading east to scenic Wicklow for the first wedding, and then did a mad loop of the country stopping in Dublin, Antrim, Sligo and finishing with two beautiful days in West Clare before heading south to Cork for the second wedding. We even managed to squeeze in three whiskey distillery tours and my children got plenty of time to practice both their Irish (Gaelic) and their irish accents along the way.
By the day after the second wedding we couldn’t ignore the impact of Eyjafjallajokull, most of European airspace was closed so we weren’t going to be going anywhere. It would have been lovely to continue being tourists but our budget dictated this as impractical especially since there was a more economical option available to us. We reverted to being expats and were able to take advantage of the generousity of family members offering places to sleep. But traveling with two boisterous boys, including a teenager with ADHD, while living out of an overnight bag and sleeping in spare rooms is decidedly not fun no matter how generous the welcome.
This is the challenge with being a visiting expat: it’s great to go home but time is always too short, there’s always way too many people to see and, with children of all ages, space is an issue. We’ve avoided these problems over the past few years by meeting family in other countries where everyone was on vacation. During this trip I realized that I really like Ireland and that we should go there more often. (The unseasonably warm and sunny weather was obviously at play here, but I happen to know that Ireland is fun in the rain too.) The problems of people, space and time while being there – or, put another way, the colliding responsibilities of concurrently being daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend – are things I’ll be pondering between now and our next visit in August 2011. If you have any suggestions on how you manage this, particularly with teenagers, while visiting your family wherever they are, do leave a comment below.