The year that I was a sixth grader stands out because that was the year that I gave my first-ever public speech.  As I recall, the topic could be pretty much anything, or at least I don’t remember any particular restrictions on subject matter–a rather brave assignment by the teacher, really, considering we were 10- and 11-year olds.  In retrospect, it occurs to me that the speech was to be some sort of exposition–a story.

Since from all accounts–especially Mom’s–my Dad possessed ‘the Gift of Gab,’ I asked him to help me write my speech. After all, Dad was chock-full of stories about his growing-up years during the Depression in Council Bluffs, Iowa, about his years in the C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corps), and about his service as an enlisted Marine onboard the battleship U.S.S. California (BB44) in the Pacific during WWII.  Unlike some other combat veterans, Dad shared easily with us many stories of particular battles-at-sea,  and vivid accounts of life aboard a Navy vessel as a Marine.  My brother, Michael, and I had heard these stories over supper for our entire young lives .  In fact, Victory at Sea was a weekly TV staple for us because there were times that the battles in which Dad served were right there in black-and-white in our living room–and he served in almost all the major encounters-at-sea with the Japanese.

Now, about that speech that was looming over my sixth grade head…

Dad enlisted in the Marine Corps right after Pearl Harbor and would be assigned to BB44 as soon as she was put back together and declared ready to return to sea.  She’d been hauled up out of the mud, re-fitted, re-manned and sent back into the Pacific with a crew of Navy and Marine personnel.  Dad had talked his way into Gunnery School and ended up manning a 20-millimeter Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun with another young Marine corporal named Kenny McMillan.

It was about Kenny McMillan that my Dad would have me speak.  Here I was, a little girl of 10 or so, and Dad encouraged me to stand in front of my teacher and my classmates to tell them of this young kid who went to war and stood right next to my Dad (another young kid, truth-be-told) in the anti-aircraft gun turret.  I don’t remember where home was for Kenny McMillan but wherever it was–and whomever he claimed as Family–made an indelible impression on my impressionable young Dad.  Dad made it very clear that before anything else was said I needed to know that Kenny was his good friend.

Dad and Kenny were manning that Oerlikon–taking turns firing that huge gun and loading the ammo from the top into the magazine.  A big, noisy, risky job that invited the deadly attention of the Japanese fighter pilots and kamikaze pilots who were trained to take out those guns as soon as possible in any encounter.  Two very young men standing smack dab in Harm’s Way.  Time after time.  Battle after battle.  Only one of them destined to return to their home and waiting loved ones.  A kamikaze pilot finally made it through the gauntlet of anti-aircraft gun fire, took out the con tower and blew apart the turret in which Dad and Kenny stood.  Kenny was killed instantly (blown apart right next to Dad).  Dad was knocked out when flying red-hot shrapnel tore through his helmet and ripped open one side of his head.  Dad and The California were taken out of commission and eventually escorted back to Bremerton, Washington and Mare Island for recuperation and repair.  Once again, BB44 was dry-docked.  Dad was never able to connect with Kenny’s family.

As I recollect that day in my classroom,  I do remember wondering why everyone–including the teacher–was so very quiet and still.  Of course now I understand how very unusual it was for a little, shy, curly-haired Catholic school girl to lay out such a story in a speech assignment.   I was so intent on making that speech and earning an A that the significance of Kenny McMillan’s story escaped me completely for most of my life.

You see, I owe Kenny McMillan an immense debt of gratitude–and not only for the utter and complete and obvious Ultimate Sacrifice  for his Country that he made in that gun turret.  That is one issue, for sure.  The larger, more significant one for me is what the loss of his life meant for me and my Dad.  Dad and I rarely enjoyed any one-on-one time that would have helped me get to know who he was besides being my bigger-than-life, uber-strict, rarely-tender, immensely stoic Father.  Somehow I could read between the lines of Kenny McMillan’s story–I could look through a window of my Dad’s soul that was usually closed and shuttered, and realize that he was still processing how Kenny’s death (the loss of his comrade-in-arms, literally) affected him deeply and forever.  In his own way, in his own inimitable style, Dad was giving Kenny the eulogy he never got to give by making the story simple and eloquent–and making it possible for me, a small, less-than-eloquent girl-child to finally deliver that eulogy.

My Dad and I shared a love of words.  Written, spoken, engraved, you-name-it.  We didn’t share emotional words, though.  Or very many tender words.  But we both loved story.  A good yarn.  A helluva read.  Like Kenny McMillan’s short story.  And for that I wish to publicly thank Corporal Kenny McMillan, USMC.  Thank you for your Sacrifice, Kenny–thank you for being my Dad’s comrade-in-arms, his friend.  Thank you for your Service.  May you be resting in Peace, and may you and my Dad have re-connected in that Marvelous and Wonderful Beyond.



The steep hike up that hill was relatively and mercifully short although I found myself chanting silently, “Just climb, Woman, just climb–steep-but-short it is, so just climb!” Astonishingly, although I had not deployed my LaMaze breathing techniques in years, those old patterns helped propel me up this and several other of Howth’s hills. The rain was coming down by now in big, fat, shimmering globules and I was good and winded as I found myself walking out onto a beautiful grassy bluff. The narrow lane coming up from the Abbey had opened at the top to a perfect panorama of the West and East Piers in the harbor all the way around to the Cliff Walk that I had hiked yesterday over Balscadden Bay. Dozens of sailboats were literally bobbing at their moorings or racing across the white-capped waters between the harbor and Ireland’s Eye. And right in front of me, just across the last short expanse of grass, stood the Martello tower that had drawn me up here. A small sign stood like a miniature sentry at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the entry door; it read: “Ye-Olde Hurdy-Gurdy The Museum of Vintage Radio…Displaying over 100 years of Original Exhibits ‘From the Wireless to the Web.'”

[A Martello tower is a very short (by today's standards) 3-story circular stone structure (tower). They stand near shorelines and were used as look-outs to watch for invaders; in Ireland they are scattered all around her coast and have been there since Napoleon's time. In Corsica there is a Cape Martello where its tower was taken by the British forces in 1794; hence, the name. Some of these towers are crenellated, giving them the appearance of sawed-off and displaced castle battlements. This one in Howth is not crenellated--it resembles an upside down, ironstone flower pot without the tray.]

I climbed 17 steps up a white metal staircase affixed to the 2nd-story opening on the side that faced North (out toward the Irish Sea); there were only a couple narrow window-type openings at the 3rd-story level. Once inside, I stood positively transfixed by the amount of radios, phonographs, telephones and other electronic equipment and accoutrement arranged in there–two full floors, one of which is accessed by descending a claustrophobia-inducing circular staircase running inside between the 2nd and bottom floor. An Irishman had collected all the items over the past 50-plus years and struck a deal with Somebody Important to house his collections in the tower. A most interesting and entertaining former public servant named Michael had been hired a while back to manage the museum and provide hands-on demonstrations of as many of the items as visitors might request. Every single item in the museum was in absolutely mint condition and actually worked! Even the hurdy-gurdy.

I just watched a video that I took of Michael cranking and turning and dialing switches on the most unusual objects–some recognizable from old photographs and movies. I was astonished by the marvelous sound that emanated from old stereophones, gramaphones, radios, etc., and never more so than when I heard the recorded (on a was cylinder, no less!) voice of Eamon DeValera himself–national hero and long-ago former Irish Prime Minister. A courtly man–and an enthusiastic guide–Michael walked me through those collections, offering me glimpses of old, beautifully polished and preserved bits of Irish and other world history. He picked up a medium-sized wooden frame containing a tinted photograph of the and classic actress Rita Hayworth. It had hung on the wall in a French home during WWII and the Nazi occupation of France; on the back there were wires and dials of a radio which was a forbidden item in the occupied areas homes. The Nazis would come through the house and see a framed picture of an American movie actress and walk right by without ever suspecting that it housed a radio.

One of the funniest items was a green (plastic) chameleon standing on a brown, wooden log; the front side of the log was imbedded with the white push buttons of a phone. When the phone rang, the chameleon raised up on its hind legs, a light in its belly pulsated a sequence of red, yellow and then green lights, and the song ‘Karma Chameleon’ by Culture Club (Boy George) began to play. To make or receive calls, you lift up the back of the chameleon which is the handset for the phone. A lady from the north of England had sent the phone to the museum because of a design flaw: when you answer the phone, the song continues to play at the same volume until you hang up–making it impossible to carry on a conversation. In the background on the video you hear a man laughing his head off, making me laugh as I’m filming. That man was Michael’s older brother, Peter, who surprised Michael by dropping in the museum that afternoon.

Michael had lost his long-time public service job several months before and had experienced a tough time finding work until the museum gig came under his radar. Although part-time, the work suited Michael brilliantly and he loved introducing visitors to the remarkable collections; Peter had been worried about Michael and had not seen him nor had he any idea of what Michael was up to. Now, these are older men, mind you–Michael is probably pushing his late 50s and Peter probably late 60s, maybe 70. The love between them was obvious, deep, and warmly affectionate; it was apparent that Michael wanted older brother Peter to feel as good about Michael’s new endeavor as Michael did. Let me say right now that Peter was not only stunned by the depth of the collections and their integral places in Irish history but also he was absolutely fascinated and charmed. It was a great and rare privilege to watch the brothers interact so lovingly and easily, and to notice how much more relaxed they both became the longer they visited. Peter is a university professor and his obvious delight and deep interest in the collections were marvelous to behold as was Michael’s overt happiness in sharing something with Peter that Peter had never before seen, let alone heard or touched.

I’d been in the museum for over two hours when I convinced Michael that I needed finally to continue my amble up to The Old Village. I could have stayed there until closing, listening to those two reconnect and spend some unexpected quality time with one another, expressing themselves with their wonderful Irish voices and euphemisms. I could have.

But they needed their time without me hanging around. And I needed time to let all that I’d seen and heard settle in my heart and soul–it was that special.

And to think that I still had one more day here. With every panting breath up the hills to the Old Village I whispered, “Thank You, God.”

The day before had been so grand that I woke up incredibly ready to meet this one; I also knew that I would be spending this new day in much the same way as yesterday: walking up and down hilly Howth (in more rain, of course), exploring the Abbey’s graveyard, and discovering some unheralded bit of wonderfulness. Of course, that meant it only made sense to make sure to eat an adequately carb- and protein-laden breakfast to tide me over ’til dinner. Or so I convinced myself as I sat down to another delicious Irish breakfast; Henry, under the dedicated and humor-laced tutelage of Catherine and her sister, Margaret, scored another (short-order) hit and I dug in accordingly. One of the things that made those breakfasts in Howth so special was Henry’s willingness to engage with me and my interminable wonderings; luckily for me, the other guests at that time were often up much earlier or didn’t speak much English and so I had Henry to myself. The couple, for example, who spent the entire breakfast whispering to one another in their native German, bolting their breakfasts, and then rushing out on their way to their next destination.

I learned that Henry’s in-laws, the Rickards, were descendants of the early Vikings who stuck around in Howth after defeating the locals back in the time of the Viking invasions. In fact, as Henry tells it, for a long time the surname ‘Rickard’ was only found in Howth and its immediate environs; not until fairly recently did the name begin to crop up in Dublin and further along the coast. Rickards had lived in Howth for several hundred years–almost a thousand years, to be more correct.  Henry and his wife (Sean’s sister, Mary) and their four children lived in Malahide, another lovely coastal village just north of Howth. Henry was more or less retired and Mary was a teacher; their two girls were in university and the two boys were still at home. Henry was a font of information and from time to time Sean would turn up and they would entertain the daylights out of me as I polished off my breakfast.

I took off eventually and hiked down the cobbled streets, headed once more in the direction of the harbor; before I reached there, though, it was a fine morning to tour the Abbey ruins and graveyard. I’m one of those people who is fascinated by graveyards; something about all those (mostly) untold stories that remain only in the hints etched in the grave stones and markers. And I’m a sucker for the stereotypical crumbling stone ruins of old churches and the like–living in California most of my life precluded me from visiting very many of those. And in Howth, there was an inherent spectacular ‘value-added’ in the picturesque backdrop–the waterfront–lying just beyond those crumbling stone walls. As I wandered onto the grounds I wondered at the stunning number of new gravestones, noticing that they were all a black stone or marble of some kind. They had been purchased to replace all the stones that had been damaged or destroyed by the recent flooding; it occurred to me that some monument company had experienced an unexpected windfall as a result of such a local disaster.

One of my photos from that stroll through the Abbey’s graveyard shows a large, rectangular grave around which is an old stone ‘frame’ on the ground. Within that ‘frame,’ lying on what is left of an old grave mound, is a heavy layer of bits and pieces of colored glass, like sea glass; right next to it is a much smaller, square ‘frame’ inside of which another heavy layer of that colored glass. Three generations of a Family Kennedy are at rest under all those colorful ‘jewels,’ and I wish I had tried to find out their story.

Another photo shows a very old, unmarked grave nearby upon which lie the remains of a small stone Celtic cross and a stone sword with its hilt broken off and its blade shattered in half; someone had lovingly arranged both in respectful symmetry down the middle of the grave mound. Inside the Abbey itself, behind old, artistically bent iron-barred gates lies another graveyard, sheltering even more mounds, tilting stones, and broken adornments. Many of these graves had been rudely disturbed also by the flooding and upheavals of earth. I wondered just how many coffins and remains had been forced above ground, and how on earth did the community respond to such an event. Other than with the imperturbable Irish humor, of course.

Rain had begun to come down in heavy sheets so I left the Abbey and its countless stories to head for higher, drier ground. Wending my way across the street, I noticed a long, bricked drive on my right leading up a steep hill. A good ways up on the top sat a squat, round tower–a martello tower–one of the towers built by the Irish to keep watch against a Napoleonic invasion that never happened.

That tower beckoned and I responded. Up the hill I went.

The rest of that first full day in Howth found me walking down to Howth Harbor and its environs, stopping here and there, scoping out the places that I might visit the following day. I wound my way around the first ‘arm’ that juts out into the sea, ending up at the squat little lighthouse overlooking Howth and Ireland’s Eye; the Bay was full of sailboats that afternoon, tacking back and forth through what looked to me like fairly choppy waters. If you look at an aerial map of Howth you notice right away the two curved crab-like land appendages that reach out toward the Irish Sea. I would find my way out onto the second ‘arm’ on the following day so that I could visit some of the fishmongers’ establishments that lined it.

Speaking of fishmongers, in a large square in Dublin stands a tribute-in-bronze to Molly Malone of cockles and muscles fame. There she is, in all her mythic glory, dress ready to fall off her shoulders at any moment; the ever-cynical Irish dubbed her statue ‘The Dolly with the Trolley’ and another couple of choice-but-not-polite names. It seems that she was offering more than fish for sale and the Irish aren’t as enamored of her story as the ballad of ‘Sweet Molly Malone” would suggest. (In Ireland it would not do for you to call a lady a ‘dolly’ because of the aforementioned connotation.)

Howth Harbor is a stereotypically lovely wee port with post-card perfect old shops and restaurants lining its seafront crescent; I found a small shop that sold ice-cream (like soft-serve here) in my favorite type of cone and enjoyed my first of many cones-with-a-flake. The ‘flake’ is a small length of goodness that resembles the Flaky Flix of my childhood; the proprietor asks the customer, ‘With a Flake?’ and if the answer is in the affirmative then the Flake is simply stuck sideways into the ice cream. I sat myself down for a few moments outside on the small patio area and watched the Irish and other vacationers wandering by; Howth is a great little getaway for people from other parts of Ireland as well as the many English folks who make Ireland their first choice for vacationing or simple week-endings.

It was time to call it a day and I needed to grab a simple supper before walking back up the steep streets and lanes to Gleann na’ Smol. Up Abbey Street walked I, body slanted at about thirty to forty degrees or so to compensate for the incline of the cobbled road; I headed for The Abbey Tavern, an historical landmark and working tavern with a renowned pub and bar. I had been told that many of Ireland’s pubs offer very tasty and reasonably-priced ‘pub grub,’ and by now I was hungry. The tavern sits right alongside the Old Abbey Graveyard which is quite beautiful and very, very old; folks are still being buried in this graveyard, and some of the family connected to Gleann na’ Smol found their final resting places there. Here’s where the story begins about the folks that I mentioned in an earlier post who had been ‘popping up unexpectedly.’

It seems that because of all the rain, the water underground rose to unusually high levels and because the water began rushing in an unusually fast flow, there was significant flooding and an expulsion of many of the long-buried coffins from the soggy earth. And because the Irish don’t mind building their homes, businesses, and apartments right next to graveyards, at least one coffin had been jettisoned from the earth right into some unsuspecting soul’s living room! Picture that shocker if you will. Needless to say, since there were coffins popping up right and left, and folks had been forced out of their earthly as well as final homes, Howth had some serious work to do to put things to right. I was most relieved that by the time I arrived it was pretty much all over except for a few re-burials and a couple of odd details. I’ll share one of the more amusing and a bit macabre details later.

My meal was a most delicious thick chicken soup chock full of thick chunks of garden vegetables and potatoes, with the ever present Irish soda bread. And, let me get this out of the way right now: No, I did not order a Guinness. Not once my entire stay in Ireland. Bailey’s, yes. Guinness, no. Lord knows I’ve tried to like Guinness because of our Erin and it just hasn’t ‘done it’ for me. I’m a lighter brew Girl, after all.

It had been a day full of heartbreakingly beautiful scenery and fantastic photo opportunities; kind and funny folks; wonderful exercise outdoors in spectacular weather. By the time I huffed my way back to Gleann na’ Smol I was ready to enjoy another lovely tea, journal a bit, organize the photos on the iPad, e-mail the folks back home, read some irish celebrity gossip, and hit the proverbial ‘hay.’

And that’s exactly what I did.

Fully fortified by Henry’s excellent breakfast for my hike up The Cliff Walk, I exited Glenn na’ Smol at about 10, turned left out of the walled garden onto Kilrock, marched down the steep path until it ended at Balscadden Road and hung a right. On my left was the magnificent Dublin Bay with Ireland’s Eye (an island) floating in the white-capped waters not far off shore. From the looks of the cloud-clustered sky, rain was to be a big part of my day; I wore sensible layers and felt quite comfortable. Besides, I could not possibly have cared less if rain continued to be an issue because then I would be in the rain in Ireland. Raindrops falling on my head–in Ireland. Rain sheeting off my trusty poncho–in Ireland.

As I walked briskly along Balscadden Road, I took note of the stately homes lining the Road: the ones on the left clinging to the steep slope that angled down to the cliffs hanging over the Bay, and the ones on the right sitting solidly on the higher slopes climbing back up the hillsides. The properties were walled except for their very inviting iron-worked gates or brightly painted wood gates, and because of the sloped lawns, you could see clearly the homes and gardens beyond. Flowers are everywhere in Ireland in July and August. Everywhere. In beds, in pots, in flower boxes, in hanging planters, clinging to vines climbing up walls and fences, spilling out of baskets. Literally, everywhere.

On the left I came upon the remarkably plain Balscadden House where Yeats spent a few years of his colorful life, and I was charmed by its white-washed walls, simple windows and four (4!) chimneys. The road snugged right up against the back of the house and I wondered about the incredible view that surely filled every window on the front side. A simple round plaque affixed to one white wall says simply, “Balscadden House. W.B. Yeats Poet Lived here 1880-1883″ Beneath that in smaller print are Yeat’s words: “I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” I cried a little because here I was, you know, in Ireland, standing at a wall where William Butler Yeats probably stood once upon a time. A big deal for the likes of me.

Not too far beyond Balscadden House sits an imposing older home, a mansion, really, on a significant expanse of lawn; an ancient-looking wall hems in the lawns at cliff’s edge. I took a video, panning from left to write with Howth Harbor, Ireland’s Eye, and Balscadden Bay lying beyond–it could have been a scene from Wuthering Heights or Barry Lyndon. I wondered what history that wall carried in its undulating walls and crumbling stones; I could not find any markers or signs so I reckoned that I would ask Henry or Catherine about the house and its ancient wall. When I showed them the video later that evening and asked them about the obvious antiquity of the wall, they burst out laughing. “Oh, Annie, it’s not real, it’s a fake. They built it a while back to make it look old.” I must have looked dumbfounded because they stopped chuckling, cleared their throats, patted me on the shoulder, and walked away mumbling, “Sorry ’bout that but ‘Tis a fake.” I’ll be dashed, thought I.

Balscadden Road dead-ends at the trailhead of The Cliff Walk, one of the most spectacular walk-hikes that I’ve ever done. It rose steadily and steeply around the coast, rewarding my effort with a grand view of a lovely old lighthouse on the other side of the peninsula. Three things made that Cliff Walk incredibly memorable for me: first, the lichen spattered all over the gray rocks that litter so thickly those hillsides; second, the wee yellow and purple flowers that strained their way through all those rocks, poking their heads up everywhere; and finally, the stone steps carved out of those rocks hear and there, creating ‘stairs’ up the steep hillsides. Some of the ‘risers’ on those ‘stairs’ rose 15-16 inches or more, and I’d not yet asked my brand, new knee to do any stepping like that. I said to myself, “Self, you can do this, one step at a time. Never mind that the people who built this thing didn’t have feet as long as yours, you can angle your foot a bit and just keep climbing. Just don’t stop. Keep moving up.” Going up was not too bad. It was the coming down that was worry-making. So I repeated the practice of talking to myself–out loud, mind you–going so far at the deepest steps as to bend down backwards and use one of my hands like a balance or lever behind me and almost sit down on the step before I put my foot down on the next on. I couldn’t just step down one after another–had to step down one at a time. The folks coming up the single-file steps were incredibly patient and amazingly encouraging as I talked aloud to myself and worked my way back down.

At the bottom on the way back, you would have been hard-pressed to find a more relieved, more proud-of-herself person in the whole of Ireland. Seriously. I was going to do really well for myself on this Sojourn. Oh, yes I was. To top off the gloriousness of it all, at the end of the trailhead was a little, tiny house-like structure that offered hot drinks and muffins that you could take out to some tiny cafe tables and sit a spell looking out at the Bays. On each table were small stacks of all kinds of books that you could pick up and read. On my table, two books down on the stack was a very old poetry book by none other than William Butler Yeats with a photo of his young and handsome self on the cover.

So I took a picture of the hot chocolate sitting on the cafe tabletop, next to that book with the Ireland’s Eye on the Bay in the background. I read a bit and then took off for the long loop back to Glenn na’ Smol'; as I wandered down to the Harbor I wondered just what else would stir my soul that day.

There was plenty.

The first order of business after a fine night’s sleep was a most refreshingly hot shower in my own quite well-appointed bathroom; the hostel’s shower, while adequate, had been a shared-with-five-other-females affair and, as such, left a lot to be desired. Feeling quite rejuvenated and ready for a day of hiking and exploration, I sidled up to the dining table where I enjoyed a lovely, sit-down-and-be-served Irish breakfast. The full Irish breakfast offers (usually) the following: Coffee or tea; cream; water, fresh juice (often orange or apple); toast cut triangularly; soda bread; butter and assorted jams; some sort of fresh fruit; ham (like a thick, very lean bacon); blood sausage; pork (link) sausage; broiled tomato; eggs over-easy or sunny-side up (or scrambled if you prefer); and the occasional tatties (think: a recognizable version of hash brown potatoes). (In Scotland and England you would most likely find canned small beans added to the plate.)In the interest of full disclosure and honesty here I must admit that I had enjoyed a slightly smaller version of this breakfast the morning before in Dublin. After arriving at Glenn na’ Smol, settling in, enjoying my tea tray, and meeting briefly with Sean, the proprietor, my intention was to eat Irish porridge the next morning. I reckoned that if I alternated healthy fare with stick-to-my-ribs fare then I could enjoy both over the course of my sojourn. Of course, that was before I felt the full effects of my trek up Abbey Street and Nashville Road, and before I had settled upon a day of walking and hiking The Cliff Walk over Dublin Bay. In other words, I fully engaged with another full Irish breakfast and loved every single bite and sip.

Glenn na’ Smol was a family home before it entered service as a B&B in 1978; Kitty Rickard found herself widowed with five children, all of whom she intended to see through university. And so she did by opening up the family home and expanding it over time to receive up to a dozen or so guests. A native of Western Ireland, she was a teacher by education, and because she was fluent in Irish she became a renowned teacher of her beloved native language. In fact, Glenn na’ Smol is Irish for Glen (or valley) of the Thrush.

Kitty is now in her 90’s, and when some years back she became too frail to run it alone, her only son Sean moved in to continue the business–and to make sure that his Ma could live out her life in her own home. On her good days, Kitty would ‘hold court’ in either the big kitchen, or in her TV room near the dining room. In Irish B&B circles, and according to reviews on TripAdvisor, Sean has established himself as an exceptional host, a grand breakfast cook, and a jam maker extraordinaire. As I sat at their dining table, if I looked out through the glass doors at the end of the room, I could see a lovely garden area to the back of the house where berry bushes were fighting to blossom, bloom and fruit in spite of the unusually heavy rainfall. What I had learned the evening before from Catherine-of-the-incredibly-sweet-face made the jam that I slathered on my soda bread all the more special.

Just two weeks before my arrival, Sean had suffered an heart attack, and been ‘in hospital,’ as the Irish say. He had returned home and needed to take it easy for a while. As a result of this frightening event the family had rallied, and Catherine, her Sister, Margaret (whom I met later that day), her Dad, Henry and Ma, Mary (Sean’s Sister and Brother-in-Law), and her Aunt Mags (Sean’s other Sister) were coming in every single day and night to cover the doings at Glenn na’ Smol! Every early morning until late each evening. Catherine and Margaret (who had studied to be a chef) taught Henry to make an Irish breakfast; the girls and their Aunt Mags made sure that the guest rooms, beds, linens and towels were all attended to daily according to Kitty’s and Sean’s exceptional standards; the girls welcomed and settled guest; monitored phone calls and e-mails from prospective and returning guests; responded to reservation requests from Discover Ireland; tea trays were prepared and offered at the appointed times (or upon request, even!); the girls doted upon Kitty–their ‘Mammo’–and made sure that she received the best of care as Sean continued to mend, even as he was cracking stereotypical Irish jokes and greeting the new guests as we came and went.

And yet, it ran so smoothly, so almost-effortlessly that most guests had no idea of what had happened to this lovely, loving and absolutely delightful Family. No idea whatsoever. We simply felt like we’d been welcomed into a most wonderful family’s Life–for me, especially, it seemed like I was living in a remarkable bit of Irish cinema. This was like one of those Irish movies that I love so much! And I was in it!

As a lifelong local, and as an unusually affable Irishman, Sean offers marvelous suggestions for exploring all that Howth has to offer; as a result of his encouragement I left this particular morning to spend my first day hiking The Cliff Walk, and then finding my way back down to the picturesque Harbor. Daypack slung over shoulder, poncho folded into its pocket in daypack, windbreaker donned over the Pategonia jacket, iPad tucked into daypack–I was so ready.

Off I went.

It rained on and off all day, and by the time I clambered aboard the #30 rush hour bus from Dublin to Howth (pronounced ‘Hote’) it had been raining for a while. The double decker was already crowded with folks so the backpack and I dragged ourselves up to the top level and found a single aisle seat in the very front. No room for the backpack except on my lap. The ride was uneventful, really, and the scenery through Dublin and out into the surrounding villages and towns was simply heavenly; every fantasy that I had indulged about Georgian townhomes, old industrial areas and housing, and thatched-roofed cottage-like dwellings standing within steps of winding roads (old and newer) was brought to life on that bus ride.

The young lady next to me did not say a word until I asked her if she was going anywhere near Howth (I was concerned that I could miss the stop since I was so unfamiliar with the bus route and travel time. She was getting off a couple of stops before mine and she was willing to help me from there. I noticed immediately that her heavily accented English was not Irish, and she struggled mightily with her English; it turned out she was Middle European–Romanian–and she had come over some years ago. Ireland has welcomed many Middle Europeans in recent years and they were the most populous non-Irish working folks that I met during my visit.

Leaving Dublin and the compact communities surrounding it, the scenery began to change as we neared the coast. Peeks of water in between dunes and marsh grasses began to appear more frequently and my companion would point out villages and towns known to be destination spots. The terrain began to change, too, and I noticed that we were winding up and down a lot of switchbacks and hills. The rain continued to fall so I pulled out my trusty Poncho and prepared to cover up for what looked like a wet walk once I made it to Howth.

Thanks to my companion’s directions, I made it off at one of the two Howth stops; the Discover Ireland woman had given me specific directions to ask the bus driver to be sure and drop me off at the library and I could find my way from there. No pay phone boxes presented themselves so I wandered into the library just in time for their closing; they directed me to “keep on just a bit up the hill there and take the 2nd left onto Nashville Road” and off I went. This would be my first experience with the Irish tendency to “Oh, it’s just a wee walk…” or “Oh, it’s just up around that corner…” or “No bother! Just turn at the next right…” or “’tis just minutes to where you’re headin’…” I learned very quickly that the Irish notions of time and distance are vastly different from mine.

Case in point: the direction to Nashville Road represented a very long, rain-soaked walk to the corner in question–and a very steep walk, as well. Here is my journal entry concerning that walk: “I trudge up the road where I see the Nashville Road sign and the ‘Glenn na Smol’ (the B&B) marker on a curving wall–huffing and puffing for sure! Gasping is actually what I was hearing my Self do, and talking to/encouraging my Self that I can make it–‘just breathe!’ I gasp. After hailing a passing car at the next far-away corner, the sweet lady calls for me and, as it would happen, I am standing right smack in front of the house, completely out of breath.”

And then I wrote, “Catherine–of the incredibly sweet face–welcomes me in, picks up easily the ridiculously heavy ‘backpack’ and places me in a quaint, simply-appointed front room with a double bed, sink and built-in wooden wardrobe, AND a lovely garden view. By now it was about 6 and I was done in. Off with the shoes, of with the Day Pack, and out come the toiletries, the iPad, the comp book and pens; I hang up the poncho, windbreaker and arrange some wardrobe items. After showing me the lovely ‘lounge’ with lots of books, Irish fan magazines, and lovely porcelain in the bookshelves, two comfy chairs and a sofa, she offers me tea and I want to cry. By the time she returns with the most beautifully laden-with-goodies tray, I decide to inquire, ‘Would the room be available for another night?’ ‘I’m sure it is,’ she responds and I begin to relax for the first time since I’ve landed. ‘Thank you, Catherine,’ I say to her of the incredibly sweet face. ‘Thank you, God,’ I say silently to HimSelf. So begins my Sojourn in Mystical Howth.”

And so it did.


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