After a good night’s sleep in a bedroom that has barely changed in all the time I’ve been coming here, I felt refreshed and ready for the day ahead. Nan’s full Irish breakfast is always a good way to start the day. My Grandad often says I should come over more often as it’s the only time Nan will make his breakfast for him! There is something about Irish White pudding that just goes so incredibly well with bacon in a sandwich. Delicious!
However today was not about me revelling in the delights of Irish cooking (to which there are many delights I assure you!) today was about spending some quality time with my grandparents. Let’s not pull any punches here, they’re getting old. They’re into their 80’s now, not long had some major back surgery and the recovery hasn’t been as quick as they’d hoped. They’re both in pain and it’s showing and one of the reasons I make the effort to come over a couple of times a year is because I know I have much less visits left on the cards than I used to have. I want to make the most of my time with them while I can. Many people are very fortunate to pop down to their grandparents every week. I never got that luxury. Not when they live in another country. So your relationship consists of phone calls and then short visits. So I’m always mindful to maximise my time with them, share my life with them as much as they share theirs with me. I love all of their stories, they’ve visited over 40 countries, they’ve seen the world, and they offer great support and advice.
Even though I’ve heard some of the stories a billion times I still sit and listen as something new always comes up, another layer to the story that wasn’t there before. I’m still fascinated by my grandad’s stories of the war. Despite thinking that watching Spitfires dogfighting over Liverpool with German Me109’s with stray bullets flying around you while you watch is awesome in your head. They very much come across as quite terrifying and his stories of his service for the army in Jungle warfare are as exciting, scary and detailed as the best action thriller. The Gurkhas he is forever in debt for, for their protection in the jungle.
So today, with them both not as active as they once were due to their backs, it was nice to be invited along to the “men’s shed” with my grandad. It’s a new initiative in the village, where retired men can get together to build things, have a place to chat and meet up. I think it’s a wonderful idea and to come along to such a place was very rewarding. The amount of knowledge and expertise in the room is amazing and despite all being later on in life, in their eyes they’re teenagers. I found it very funny too, as typical Irish some of the things they would come out with deserves a blog in its own right! It did feel like I was in an episode of Father Ted! Yes I was every five minutes asked would I like more tea…
One thing I took away from that visit to the men’s shed was a young man called Aaron. He was only a few years older than me, at a push, has learning difficulties, not much family around, some say he was in an accident as a child, others say he was born with it. The men’s shed invited him in as one of their own, to be a friend to him and give him a place to fit in. The men’s shed were given the task this winter of building the crib for the local church and on the day that I visited they were planning how to make it and what it would look like. Aaron was instantly, and I could see it in his face, pride beaming away, instantly took me through all of their plans. He took me on a tour of the facilities, took me on a tour around the Church, explaining in very accurate details how he pictured this crib would play out from his ideas in his head, to how they would look in real life. There was a real pride from him in the way he spoke about the project and the men’s shed. Almost akin to an artist pitching his ideas to prospective buyers. To me, when I arrived it was just a meeting place for older dudes to hang out and to build a crib for the church for Christmas. Nothing mind-blowing, at least not to me. Yet, this project and place was this guys home, he felt for once like he has responsibility, for once people here treated him as an equal. He has learning difficulties but it doesn’t make him any less of a human than anyone else. Why people think that is beyond me. He told me with such pride how he had finally been given a job “washing the big pans” in a local takeaway. His smile was a wide as the river Liffy. For me because I’m a dick wouldn’t even bother myself to do that, at a push I certainly wouldn’t be smiling about it. For him it was as if he had won the lottery.
It amazed me, it humbled me and I went away that night lying awake in bed and had to re-evaluate my outlook on things. To not take things for granted and to be grateful for the little things. His passion he showed I can only describe as a child before Christmas or me when I talk about my research or cycling. That’s almost frowned upon in everyday life now. It’s a real shame, I think we can all go back to being enthused by the little things. With a very firm handshake and thank you from him to me for showing me around (despite me repeatedly telling him it is me who is thanking him for the tour! Again that struck a cord with me. He was so thankful for someone listening to him to give him the time of day. That to him should be the norm, not a rare gift) I left with my grandad after a few more hours with the guys there having spent a lovely day with my grandad and his friends. I may have left one mark on the project and that was my suggestion of using modelling artificial grass for the roof of the crib. Something they hadn’t thought of, so it is nice to know a little piece of Tony Cliffe’s idea is a part of the Men’s Shed 2015 Ashbourne church Christmas crib!
I was very touched by the day’s events and some very enlightening conversations and stories with my grandparents and before long it was 11pm and it was time for bed.
The next day I woke up with both my grandparents still asleep. The snores from both of them rattling through the wall of my bedroom as if a jackhammer was digging up the road outside. I elected to skip a shower that morning. A, as I didn’t want to wake them and B. climbing up a very large hill I was going to get pretty smelly anyway!
After Jam on toast I waiting for my Aunt Susan and Uncle Dave to come pick me up. I was really looking forward to today for a few reasons. Howth head, is a stunningly beautiful place in Ireland and the pictures throughout this blog will show that. I’m a Geographer, I love nature and the outdoors and walking in those environments is very recharging for the soul. Especially after a very stressful and busy few months in work it’s nice to cut yourself off from the busy world of deadlines and emails and just drink in nature’s beauty. More than that, I was really looking forward to spending a quality day with my Aunt and Uncle. Something I don’t think I’ve ever had a day on my own with them, I’m either with family or over with my dad, so to just spend a day with the two of them was really really nice!
Susan and Dave have the best sense of humour, extremely down to earth and are two people who work incredibly hard and have their heads screwed on. So despite the amazing scenery, it was really nice to spend a day getting closer to them both and laughing an awful lot! To have two locals as a tour guide on this walk was invaluable and I just about kept up with the pair! Howth head is a stunning place and a brilliant walk if you ever get the chance. From sweeping Cliffs that drop into a deep emerald waters of the Irish Sea, to dense and colourful forests that suddenly give way to shimmering marbled outcrops that overlook the city of Dublin and the bay, to the popping greens of the fields. It’s amazing! A Geographer and a photographers dream.
Even the typical Irish weather couldn’t dampen the spirits and made it feel even more like an adventure and blimey it was some walk! Close to 10 miles we walked and up some bloody steep climbs and some scary cliff walks! I loved it. I’ve been going to Ireland for many many years and I have to say that day was right up there with the best.
Just when I think the day couldn’t get any more awesome they took me to the quirkiest pub I have ever been to for tea and soup after the walk. It’s almost impossible to describe it. In fact I can’t! It’s called the Dog House and well you could be a traveller anywhere in the world when you were in there. Such a cool place!
I finished the day off with my nans famous Steak and Guinness pie. What more can you ask for!?
My final full day was spent driving through horrendous weather to head up to the boarder of Northern Ireland to see my great Aunt Essie. I always muse to myself at all of the glacial features there, so many drumlins! It’s only then that i realise how much being a Geography academic turns you into a nerd but ah well, I digress! She’s my Dad’s favourite Aunt and he would spend all of his summers on the farm with them all. In fact the Grays have been on that plot of land for hundreds of years. I love going “up country” because it really is like going back in time. SO remote and I mean remote! It was only a few years ago they stopped washing in the well because well (pardon the pun) modern civilisation just didn’t reach this part of the world. It still amazes me how basic it is there in a developed country. Crazy. It was the first time back since my great Uncle Tommy died. I wrote a blog about him when he did pass and it still felt like his presence was in the house, I certainly couldn’t sit in his chair where he always would sit. As we backed out of the driveway after a few hours with her, I could picture in my mind Tommy backing us out, with that full head of hair and rosy cheeks, puffing away on his pipe or cigarette and waving like he always has done. My dad has recently come back from Ireland and it was nice to know he thought the same as he was backing out of the driveway too. The biggest thing about those who live there is they haven’t been corrupted by the modern world or celeb culture. They’re just real down to earth genuine people who cook THE BEST food around. Seriously if you want home, traditional cooking, where everything you eat has been grown within sight. That is the place to go. Still makes me laugh of the story when they said to my dad, “Fancy some chicken tonight?”
“Okay, pick one”…You can’t get much fresher than that! Despite on that trip eating my own body weight in potatoes at every meal, Irish spuds are the best.
How long they have left there I don’t know? What will happen to the site that my family have been on for hundreds of years now there is no one really to take it on and up keep it? I don’t know and it’s a worry. The house that has been there for centuries is falling down, the forest was sold off, and farming in rural Ireland doesn’t support those who worked it for years anymore. I’m a proud family man and to see such heritage be lost is quite sobering. In the future i want to hopefully take a partner and our kids there one day and say, “Look part of your family grew up here, your granddad spent his summers here and so did I”. I want them to be apart of that and not look at a new estate or a pile of rubble. I genuinely fear i’ll never get to share that. Sadly modern day life has arrived and it has hit hard. Each time I come here I notice new builds of the rich city folk who’ve built mansions and large second homes on the surrounding land. Sure, the roads are still full of cattle and tractors who think they’re on a race track but there are more and more cars, more and higher end cars at that, appearing. It’s a real shame. That one place that was untouched by modern life is sadly dying away with each passing of those who live there.
Despite that being quite a sobering thought it is one of positive, at least for me this trip was. It was a trip were I could switch off and spend some quality time with family. To reconnect with the simplistic beauty of nature and to remember a life outside of social media and my smartphone. Strengthening bonds between family members is important and above all cherishing those moments you have with them. Although I hope they all have many years left in them and I’m sure they will have, you do have that horrible thought in your head that as you step on the plane and you whisper goodbye to Ireland for a few months as you climb into the clouds back home. Is that the last time you’ll see them? Despite how sad that is, it makes those memories and the moments even more special and I hope I have many many more memories and moments to share with them. Especially my grandparents who have supported me through everything and without them I certainly wouldn’t be in the position I am in today.
I’m back over in a couple of months where I’ll start a brilliant solo adventure to Canada. To see family in Toronto and then to travel right across the country to see Robbie my cousin, one of my best friends growing up and when he moved out to Canada from Ireland a few years ago I’ve been dying to go see him, Nicky, Luke and now baby Oliver. Yes I am so jealous he lives there! I’ll get over there one time but for now a week and a bit will have to do!
So remember always cherish time with family and go visit Ireland! You won’t regret it! Please click on the thumbnails below for full size images of some of the shots I took on this trip! Please comment too if you want to 🙂
Until next time.