Ireland: A Trip with Dad

The trip I had been waiting for my whole life

By Seán mac Brigde…or, Jon McBride (explanation in the endnotes)

A generic image of Ireland is still amazing

Jon’s note to readers: Some tense changes occur because I wrote some notes on the actual days of the trip as they were happening; and some notes were a reflection on the flight home from London to the USA. Later, I edited over a Sam Adams beer, but thought of Guinness the whole time.

My father, aka Dad, Papa Jon or PJ for short, had a direct flight from Orlando to Dublin; I was planning to meet my dad in Dublin via a series of inconvenient flights from Dallas which were cobbled together using airline miles…this is the story of the journey!

“The Journey Begins”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The day I had been waiting for since I have known the concept of “waiting” was at-hand. I was traveling to Ireland with Dad. Land of lore, mystery and excitement — but most importantly for me, it held some key to my family’s past. I’ve known that our McBride clan was Scotch-Irish since I was a small child. My father had spoken of going to Ireland since those times and suddenly the day was here…I have flown millions of miles, but this was going to be a special trip.

As Dad and I discussed at length on this trip, his father — my grandfather, “Daddy Mac”, did not live to make the trip to Ireland that he spoke and dreamt of. So in many ways, this was a chance for my father and I to live out our dream and also Daddy Mac’s.

__

I departed home in the early morning from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on American Airlines, first with a morning flight to Newark. In Newark, I had to change terminals and go through airport security again (and again, and again). That was a recurring theme at every plane change. Hard to believe I can’t get off a plane and get on the next without more security checks. I mean, what am I going to acquire in midair that is not already on the plane???

In Newark I did get to hang out in the fabulous British Airways Business Class lounge for a few hours. That was fantastic; a place where you want for nothing. The lounge had fresh juices, coffee, breads and gourmet meals by a chef; a fully stocked and self-service liquor bar; and friendly staff to help with any need. British Airways has really created a welcome respite from travel. They even had showers that would be nice to use if needed. I didn’t use them, but I probably needed them because international travel gets “smelly” fast!

After a several hour layover, I departed from Newark for London in the evening, around 7:30PM. Business Class seating is interesting for me on every plane I’ve been on because the seats are neither long enough nor wide enough, especially for my shoulders. I wish I had more room, but I suppose it is better than being cramped in an economy seat — or worse yet a 3-month cruise in a cabin on a ship across the Atlantic in the 1800s!

From my “real-time” travel journal:

Today was a travel day! Dallas (DFW) to Newark, Newark to London Heathrow (LHR) — landing right now — and then LHR to Dublin!!!
Assuming my next flight is on time, I’ll meet Dad when we land in Dublin within about 5–10 minutes of each other!

“Rough Reception”

Wednesday, March 25

Upon landing in London, I turned on my mobile phone and was excited when I received a text message from my Dad. He had sent a text message while I was in the air over the Atlantic:

[Wednesday 00:28] “Boarding my plane [in Orlando]”

From my journal:

Papa Jon is meeting me in Dublin this morning!

It is 1:09AM at home, something I usually don’t ever want to pay attention to when global traveling, but it is 6:09AM here circling over London! I slept very little on the plane. Maybe an hour or so. I’m too big even in business class! Really my feet touched the other seat and my shoulders squeezed between the wall of the plane and the seat next to me. But still, who cares? I’m almost to the land I’ve dreamt of going since I was a wee lad!
Can’t wait to meet Dad. I hope his flight has been comfortable and uneventful. I wish we could have flown together but my miles are all American Airlines. Just heard landing gear go down, so we must be on approach to LHR!!!

_

I had a really rough time of things once I landed in London. I was thinking I had plenty of layover time. With a 6:30AM landing and an 8:30AM connection, I was thinking, “it’s in the bag!”

But that was not the case. I did not realize at the time, but I was flying within several hours of a very tragic Germanwings plane crash in France. So security must have been heightened to the extreme. I have flown into and through London many times, but this was the worst in terms of overzealous security that I have ever seen. I used to give the award to the US TSA for the most uptight security, but that mantle has been nabbed by London security, handily.

My notes below describe how things went down — very nearly missing the connecting flight to Dublin. For the 15–20 minutes before I finally got on the flight, I was becoming increasingly sure that I was going to miss the flight. But sprinting as fast as my recovering broken ankle could take me, I made it! Barely. I am so sure people wished I had taken my shower by now!

0826am 25 Mar 2015
Wow! I almost missed my connecting flight to Dublin! I had plenty of time but the bureaucratic LHR security procedures almost made me blow a gasket. I deplaned, took a train to departure terminal, then 30 minutes to go through passport control, then another 30 minutes through security again (!), only to get through and have to wait 15 minutes to have my backpack unpacked for no reason. I had to sprint — in my hiking boots on my bad ankle — just to make the flight as the last (sweaty, smelly, out of breath) passenger. But I guess it was luck of the Irish to make it through the bureaucracy…barely. But I defeated the British anyway.

But now I’m on the short flight to Dublin. My first time to Ireland. And soon with Dad. All worth it. I’m also glad I did this just in case Christie decides to join me, hopefully, one day. I’ll have needed this road-warrior knowledge of transferring to Ireland in London. I did not know there was a special “To Ireland” lane in London. I had never paid attention! I’ve done international transfers plenty, but not the third degree from a passport agent. She really drilled me. “Why are you going?” “Do you have family there?” “Are you selling something?” “What if your father isn’t there?”

I was born on this planet too, ya know.
Anyway, just had a warm breakfast on the plane and my first of hopefully many teas. Great stuff. The croissants are already awesome — I love European breads! My bane. International relations are great fun. O’er the Irish Sea now, just crossed from over Liverpool and now headed towards Dublin!!

Just made wheels down at 9:12AM local time in Dublin! I always look at my iPhone picture of Christie and Cadi when I’m taking off or landing, just in case it’s the last thing I see.

Passing through Irish passport security was so easy, especially compared to London. The agent said “Mac Bride, whet ‘er ya doin’ ‘ere?”

After my recent London experience I sheepishly said, “I’m meeting my dad here, first time in Ireland,” and waited for the berating to begin.

To my pleasant shock, the Irish agent just looked at me and said “Well whet ‘er ya waitin’ fer, have fun!! Get outta ‘ere!”

And that was literally it…the agent made me feel like I’m one of the Irish! I felt a deep sense of belonging. I ended up walking out out the security zone and pulled out my mobile to call Dad. But there was no need as he was walking my way and we saw each other from about 100 meters apart. Time for a hug and smiles. We were standing on very special ground together.

Rental car, check! Audi A3. My dad drove us through Dublin on the correct side of the road, but not the right side. I used Google maps from my phone to navigate to our B&B, the Ariel House. What a great world. For what seems like 20 years — certainly before I knew what it was and from my dad’s time at NASA — my dad has said GPS was the greatest invention ever. I had to agree!
At about 10:30AM local time, we arrived and checked in at Ariel House, which is right by IRFU Rugby stadium — and found out that Ireland had just won the 6-nation trophy the weekend before. The B&B staff told us that all of Dublin was still waking up from the ensuing party from the previous week. Awesome staff. The room wasn’t ready since we arrived so early, so we went to the Bank of Ireland for some walking-around money.

When we got back we freshened up so that we could meet a local guide. Long story short, my father was a former Space Shuttle pilot and had hosted and befriended the Bishop of the Church of Ireland a couple months back. Papa Jon gave Bishop Ken a tour of the Kennedy Space Center and Bishop Ken found out my father and I were visiting Ireland. He literally arranged everything for my father and I and made this trip amazing, introducing us to some of the greatest folks on this planet. Bishop Ken’s brother Basil was picking us up at our B&B at Noon.

Basil was a great guy and dropped us by the Dublin spire, downtown. PJ and I walked the tourist district and stopped in at the Oval Bar for some Irish Stew, some great stuff with lamb. We caught a regular tour bus to get a lay of the land and then went to the Guinness Storehouse!! What a great time. We essentially went the opposite direction of the Guinness recommendation and went straight up to the bar at the top for our “included” pint. The beer tasted like fresh milk it was so good. The views from the bar are amazing! Definitely worthwhile.

After we left St. James Gate and the Guinness Store, we went in search of some Irish and potentially family history. PJ had been to Ireland years before with his brother, my Uncle Cullen, but did not have time to find the final resting place of one Major John MacBride, who participated in and was executed for being a leader in the Easter Rising of 1916.

We had the luck of the Irish (of course) as we stepped onto the street by St. James Gate because we connected with a truly great person, our taxi driver Paul Mills. Paul took us everywhere and waited — for free; he wouldn’t charge us for his time as he waited at the pubs for my father and I to collect information from the locals for the whereabouts of Johnny MacBride’s gravesite.

So off to “The Grave Diggers” pub we went (officially John Kavanagh), just outside of the Glasnevin cemetery where Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins is buried. That seemed the best place to start our search.

After enjoying a pint with some local gentlemen and getting some ideas for our search, my father and I reverently strolled through the cemetery in the direction we had been sent from the pub. We found Michael Collins’ gravesite sure enough; and just as the men in the pub had told us, we found an old gentleman inside the cemetery library (and gift shop) who seemed to know everything about the cemeteries and history of Ireland. It was getting to be late evening and the cemetery was about to lock up for the day, but he gave us the information we needed: the location of the mass grave of the Easter Rising of 1916, where John McBride’s grave would be found, Arbour Hills.

As PJ and I walked back through row after row of the seemingly never-ending gravestones, we knew we’d have to pause our search for the evening and begin again in the morning. Paul was waiting for us in the taxi when we got back to the cemetery gate, and it was time to finish our pints the locals had watched over and head back to the Ariel House to get ready for dinner with some new friends.

We would meet Bishop Ken and his wife Mary later in the week, but they had arranged for their son and his wife to meet up with us for dinner. Andy and Emma picked us up at the hotel at around 6:30 and took us to a place outside but near Dublin called Johnny Fox’s.

Johnny Fox and Friends

The restaurant is about 15km from the Ariel House B&B, but it is a long winding road with brilliant views of Dublin and the surrounding area. The 30-ish minute drive gave us time to talk and get to know our hosts for the evening. They are a really great young couple, and so generous to spend their evening with us, but I can’t think of a better way to spend the first evening in Ireland. Awesome time. The food, the drink — trying out a few local brews and whiskeys — and the live music, along with the great company made it a night to remember.

“On to Donegal, Horseman Pass By”

Thursday, March 26

Day 2…well, the second day in Ireland anyway…with all of the travel the first day was 48 hours!
My father and I ate a wonderful breakfast Ariel House — the “Full Irish” — before thanking the B&B staff (with some photos, autographs, etc), checking out and heading northwest out of Dublin. Today we’d be on a journey west across the Irish countryside, through Sligo, up through Drumcliff and ultimately to Donegal. But first we had our mission to complete — a twenty year mission for Dad. There was no way either my dad or I would leave town without finding our namesake. On our way out of town, we stopped at Arbour Hill military memorial cemetery. There, at long last, we found the gravesite of MAJ John MacBride. We spent some time there exploring, learning and contemplating life. We took some photos. The tragically beautiful words on the wall that is the backdrop the memorial evoked a lot of emotion from me.

As we felt the gravity of morning and time pull at us, we walked slowly and quietly back to the parking lot, got back in our car, Captain McBride took the wheel and we headed out of Dublin for the most beautiful drive I have taken in my life until that point. Looking back, the confluence of views, emotions, togetherness, thoughts of human achievement — and of our as-yet untapped potential — made the drive one of the most vivid in my life. A real-life slideshow of the gently rolling hills, herds of sheep, beautifully old cottages, medieval ruins and inviting little towns was overwhelming and invigorating.

I had created an all-Irish musical playlist for our trip, so by the time Gaelic Storm’s The Salt Lick started up, we were crossing a bridge over the River Shannon along N4 West, near the picturesque town of Carrick on Shannon, at the border of County Roscommon. What a great day of driving across the Emerald Isle. Ever onward northwest, we eventually turned north as we neared the town of Sligo. It was about time for a late lunch by now but first we wanted to stop and see another gravesite in Drumcliffe Cemetery, this time the final resting place of renown poet and literary figure, W.B. Yeats. As irony also played a part in the day, I later found out that Yeats’ greatest nemesis in life was the inhabitant of our last cemetery visit, one Major John MacBride. Much to the painful regret of Yeats, MacBride had stolen the heart of and married his muse and his first true love in life, Maud Gonne. So as ‘tis true with this Irish story, just read more sometime to see this tragedy play out.

We made quick work of exploring the cemetery and paying proper respect. It was definitely worthwhile to stop. But it was time to drive about 500 meters up the road and grab a bite and a pint at the Yeats Tavern. It was about this time I made the observation that ordering a pint of Guinness in Ireland was akin to ordering a cappuccino in Italy. It was not something prepared quickly; it was prepared deliberately, artistically and at the proper pace. I don’t think I saw a Guinness with less than at least three draws of the draught the whole week; and most of them had a shamrock drawn on the foam.

We headed out from Drumcliff for the last leg of our drive that day, on to Donegal. This was another beautiful drive, right along the western sea but now my dad relinquished the driving to me. In less than an hour we made it to Donegal Town and took time to scope out Abbey Vocational School, the high school my dad would be speaking at the next day. We also wanted to get a feel for the downtown. We parked near the water and I accidentally dropped in way to much for the parking meter ticket. I think I paid for 2 days instead of two hours! But it was such an amazing old town by the sea. We walked around the center of town and then stopped in at the Abbey Hotel’s Ashdoon Bar to relax for a few minutes.

As we were getting back to the rental car, I saw some locals looking for parking and promptly offered my parking ticket with 2 days remaining on the paid time. They thanked me profusely and said they’d move in to the space — and live there.

We were now in the homestretch for this day, ready to find the place we’d call home for two consecutive evenings: the Rossmore Manor. After we winded our way down the last couple of kilometers of pure country roads, we finally pulled into the driveway of an amazing castle-like manor and were warmly greeted by the owners and proprietors, Geoffrey and Jackie Browne. Instant friendship ensued. I will shamelessly plug the Rossmore because it is simply an amazing place with the most beautiful, friendly family and filled with warmth and hospitality. It was wonderful to get to know the whole family while we stayed at their place. They made the time in and around Donegal very special. I highly recommend this B&B to anyone visiting the Donegal area; you simply cannot do better.

We ran into a traffic jam as we neared the beautiful and incomparable Rossmore Manor.

The manor itself is a large, beautiful place right amidst the farms and with a mesmerizing view of an inlet to the sea. Shellfish are harvested periodically from just across the field. The sheep cover the landscape in the fields in the surrounding and adjoining acreage.

After freshening up in our elegant accommodations — we had a private wing of the manor — we headed back to downtown for some dinner. We went to the Old Castle Bar’s Red Hugh Restaurant , which is literally across the street from the old Donegal Castle. After ordering the seafood platter we proceeded to stuff ourselves — another common theme of this trip I am only too happy to admit. The seafood is as fresh and tasty as anywhere in the world.

“Schooling Around Town”

Friday, March 27

We rose early the next morning, Friday, so that we could have time for another full Irish breakfast before heading to the school. I am not sure who does the cooking at Rossmore — perhaps Jackie and Geoffrey share the task — but the breakfast was my favorite meal of the day. And while you are in Ireland you had better try the tea, even if you fancy yourself a coffee person.

The high school was only a 10 minute ride from Rossmore, so as we relaxed near the fireplace after breakfast, my dad donned his special NASA jacket and prepared some autographs for the folks at the school. He loves his job, though given that he rode rockets, jets and x-planes, I am not entirely sure he knew it was work!

Geoffrey generously offered to be our wheels and guide for the day — which ended up being such a fantastic, unforgettable time. We gathered what we figured we’d need for the unknown journeys the day held, and off we went.

The first stop was the high school where my dad was scheduled to speak. The kids at the school who study science were in for a treat (yes, I am biased on this subject) as my dad was about to talk to them about his own path from high school student to speaking in front of them as a retired astronaut today. His journey included being a naval aviator on aircraft carriers, to test piloting — essentially taking a plane from paper design to proof-of-flight — and a high point of lighting up the skies as the pilot of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Knowing him as my dad, I knew he was not kidding that he places particular emphasis on hard work and education. I also know that he spoke the truth when told the boys and girls how proud he’d be to one day watch one of them launch into space and credit his visit as being a small part of what made them reach for their dreams. If a boy from the coal mines of West Virginia could do it, they could do it too.

After the school visit we were scheduled to meet Donegal Mayor John Campbell and entourage at Donegal Castle for a presentation and tour. Again, great folks all over the land. They presented my father with a hand-painted official Donegal coat-of-arms and gave us a special personal guided tour. I can’t begin to remember all of the rich history of the castle and the nearby church, but it is definitely on my list to see again.

As we loaded up into Geoffrey’s car at the castle and prepared to go towards the sea again — for lunch, to see Sliabh Liag and other landmarks — it was an honor to stop and have the opportunity to meet Geoffrey’s mother and ailing father in his home nearby. It was simple enough to tell why Geoffrey inherited his friendly and jovial nature! His father smiled from his eyes the whole time while we were there and it was a great moment to share.

So off we went, heading towards the ocean via the scenic route, even stopping at Killybegs Harbour; there is a nickname for the harbour due to the “ripeness” from the fruit of the sea, but I’ll leave that for the reader to discover one day, should they choose. We had a quick but great light lunch in Carrick and then headed down along the River Glen towards or current goal.

Big Jon and Geoffrey, top, Big Jon and Jon II, below, at Sliabh Liag. Amazing!

As the roads became smaller and more obscure, seemingly out of thin air appeared one of the grandest views I have ever beheld. We somehow managed to show up on the cliffs of Sliabh Liag on the sunniest most beautiful day and it seemed possible to see forever. We used our lucky Irish timing to get some great pictures, but there is no way the photos can capture the magnificence that the naked eye imprinted in my memory.

Though I wanted to linger, it was time to keep moving. We headed back a different way towards Glenveagh National Park, but with a few more amazing stops along the way. The first was Malaidh Ghleann Gheis with expansive views of the valley below; then on to get some souvenirs at Distinctly Donegal — including handmade jewelry and some locally made traditional Irish wool caps (you may see a photo within!); Nancy’s Bar for some quick liquid refreshment and finally onto the castle at Glenveagh. Well, in this one instance our luck seemed to run out, because by the time we arrived the last tour bus had left. But we ended up walking out to one of the greatest views by foot, taking it in for a few minutes, and then loading up and heading back home since it was already early evening, and Rossmore was about an hour away.

Great views!

After a quick change of clothes and freshening up, Geoffrey, Dad and I headed out to a wonderful and favorite restaurant in Donegal Town, The Harbour. With Debbie in the kitchen and Jo to take care of us in the dining room, we received the greatest food, service and evening imaginable. What a fantastic and unforgettable meal as we all ordered steak and I think they brought every single side dish they offered! Over the top fantastic place.

Though we were full to the gills stepping out of The Harbour, we decided to take in some live local music down the street — and one more pint — before heading back to Rossmore for a nightcap, and then bed.

This Friday lasted a week, in the greatest possible way.

“Northward Bound”

Saturday, March 28

Morning came way too soon as we had planned to leave Donegal by 9am and drive to go golfing at Rossa Penna — which is on the Northern Coast — by 11am. Definitely stayed out too late as we got home from dinner and then live music at around 11:30 and then talked to Geoffrey and his extremely intelligent eldest son over a Bailey’s nightcap, just past midnight.

We asked Jackie and Geoffrey for a small breakfast in the manor dining room — my dad asked for one egg; I asked for a piece of sausage and we’d both have toast. Well, in what seems like typical Irish generosity and enthusiasm, My dad got two eggs, a tomato and more; I got an egg and THREE links of sausage! Geoffrey and Jackie are the best.

It was raining something fierce by the time we’d finished breakfast. Geoffrey and Bishop Ken had spoken and called off the golf due to weather. So we relaxed a little bit and left around 930am in the rain and cold weather, and drove from Rossmore Manor up to Leat Beg…aka The Old School, aka Bishop and Mrs. Ken Good’s home. It was going to be great to finally meet them in person!

Just like the rest of Ireland, the drive was scenic and a veritable fairytale land of images: old ruins, occasional castles, gingerbread cottages and green fields filled with sheep. We could have been driving through the Shire in a Tolkien novel. The roads were winding with roundabout after roundabout through the hills towards the mountains and the sea.

Any moment could bring rain or sunshine in Ireland, but our run of great weather seemed to be fading like a distant memory. I had prepared for and even expected this to happen — especially around this time of year.

We arrived at Bishops Ken’s beautiful home with just one mis-turn. Leat Beg is very small for a town (we saw perhaps 5 houses?) and not even many Irish know exactly where it is. Sometimes it’s easier to say the Old School or the Old National School. The Good’s had arranged for a local resident, Hugh McBride and his wife to greet us upon arrival as we were researching family lineage. Thus continued the string of meeting more great people in Ireland. It was wonderful to finally meet the people responsible for this amazing trip-of-a-lifetime through Ireland.

Unfortunately I started to feel queasy this day. After ankle surgery back in February, I had been nursing my wounds back to health and this travel made some regiments difficult. The culmination of this and many things — not too mention way too much food and drink — led to me needing a down day; but it was a great place to relax and the weather made it desirable. It seems the Irish may or may not have famine, but they will not let visitors go without.

Even though the weather was not cooperative to play golf this day, we did get to go to the golf course and drive around it in carts to tour the course. It was a fantastic course and I do hope to play it sometime in my life! We also drove through town to Hugh McBride’s Fishing store…but when we returned I decided to stay in the evening whilst Dad, Bishop Ken and wife Mary went out for goat, duck and other delicacies at a nearby restaurant. This gave me time to recuperate, read emails and just take a breather.

“Church on Time”

Sunday, March 29

The morning brought about lessening rain and a building promise of some improving weather. After a nice breakfast, Bishop Ken drove my father and I around the local portion of what’s known as the Atlantic Way, a beautiful scenic drive through Donegal. We also stopped and looked at the castle of Lord Letrig, the last heir having died around 1–2 years ago. My dad was mildly (though seriously for a minute or two) thinking of purchasing the place, but the maintenance would be significant. It was built in the 1700s and would require extensive repairs and work, but it sits right near the farms and in front of the bay. An absolute dream-place, but probably not realistic.

Lord Letrig’s Pad

When we returned to Leat Beg, Dad and I packed up again and headed for Derry/Londonderry, this time following Bishop Ken. The main office of the Church of Ireland is “inside-the-wall” of Derry and the Bishop was going to give us a personal tour before heading to the See House, which is nearby to Derry.

Going to Derry and later on to the town of Bushmills meant we would be leaving Ireland behind for a couple of days and heading into Northern Ireland. On the drive to Derry — which is near the border of the two countries, Dad told me that the last time he had been to Northern Ireland he had had to pass armed guards at the border and constantly saw armed guards. However, it had been 25 or so years since that visit and this time around you could hardly tell you had crossed a border. Time and the efforts on the part of the Irish people seems to have eased much of the tension. Other than road signs and monetary currency changing, I never would have noticed the crossover.

Walking inside and along the wall of Derry was definitely a moving experience. I knew from books and news that Derry holds much Irish history, but to be walking long the wall with the Bishop was special. He shared stories and insights of the conflicts, but also the hope and efforts towards a more peaceful future. He also helped us find the cemetery where a family relative is buried.

Dad walking in and around the See House garden (left, top and bottom), restored to beauty by Mrs. Mary Good (top right, with Bishop Ken). Portrait of Bishop Ken in the See House.

We were staying on schedule for Bishop Ken’s sermon later in the day, so headed to the Bishop’s See House in Derry for brunch. Mary had cooked a wonderful meal for us all! The See House was a nice older residence and Mary had worked — with the help of local citizens — to restore an amazing prayer garden just outside and over an ancient wall.

We headed further into Northern Ireland from the See House for a very special service by Bishop Ken at St. Patrick’s Church in Donaghmore. It was the church’s 290th anniversary in its present form, though it is believed St. Patrick built his first church on that same location in 45oA.D. Bishop Ken delivered a very special message, even tying in Dad and my visit and the story of Dad’s grandfather, William, who was a Methodist minister in the US Appalachians a century ago. After the service, a local gentleman took time to show us where a McBride had been buried in the cemetery just behind the church — more McBride history!

We said our goodbyes to Bishop Ken and Mary after the service. There was no proper way to thank them for all they had done for us and for their amazing hospitality, but hopefully we can see them again in the future, whether in Ireland, the US or elsewhere.

Dad and I began our drive to Bushmills Inn located in, where else, the city of Bushmills! Our plan was to stay the evening at the inn, visit the distillery and Giant’s causeway the next morning, and then head for Belfast for our final day. I could already feel time pressing in as the end of our week was nearing, but I pushed those thoughts away as best as I could to just enjoy the time we still had together.

Another gorgeous and scenic drive to the inn, and by the time we checked in it was early evening. We sat in the pub area by the fire, listening to the cold wind howl just outside and talked about all of the great folks we were lucky enough to have met in Ireland; eventually we headed to the dining room and had a light meal of onion-Guinness soup and Venison shank, and called it a great day.

“Giant and Titanic Whiskey”

Monday, March 30

My dad and I woke early so we could make the most of our last full day in Ireland. We succeeded! We arrived at the Bushmills Distillery at about 9:15am, which made me think of the album “Whiskey on a Sunday”. But this was Monday; and whiskey is good any time of day, right?

The tour was fantastic to say the least. Our tour guide was friendly, knowledgeable and kept us in amazement from so many historical and distilling facts. Bushmills holds the oldest license to distill whiskey in the world. The process to create whiskey is fascinating and even more-so as an ancient process that has been perfected in a large manufacturing facility. We were not allowed to take photos in the distillery, so I committed much to memory; but the best part was sampling some of the goods after the tour.

Afterwards we drove about 5 minutes north to the very edge of the stormy sea to see Giants Causeway, and we timed it perfectly. The weather broke enough in the morning to walk around the amazing naturally-occurring structures. I could understand why the Irish (and Scotch) thought that giants built the place!! The formations look like someone carefully hand crafted each and every stone.

As we left for our drive down to Belfast, beginning what would be our path back towards Dublin, we stopped to see Dunluce Castle, which we were told played some part in Game of Thrones (Iron Born?). I drove us to Belfast, where my dad pointed out sights he could recall from his last visit to Belfast. We went straight to the Titanic exhibition, located at the site where the Titanic was built and launched over a century ago.

For our last evening we went to a gem of a hotel, the Old Inn at Crawfordsburn. I can say many things about the hotel, chiefly I hope to go back again; and they have an extraordinary chef and team in the restaurant. C.S. Lewis is among the notable folks who have stayed.

After a great meal, my dad and I spent the evening in the lounge talking and telling stories, meeting some locals and having a great chat with our barkeep — who was distantly related to US president Alexander Hamilton. But alas, there was no way to stop the clock and eventually it was time to pack up for the next day when the wake-up call would come way too early.

Goodnight Mr. Hamilton.

“All Good Things…”

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

After a restless night of little sleep, we woke up at 4:50am local time to make the 2.25-hour driving journey to Dublin airport. Dad drove us and I was navigator. We started our drive in darkness and watched as the world around us gently and beautifully turned to color.

I was sad to say goodbye to Dad on this side of the Big Pond, but we knew we had some great memories — and God willing we can do another trip in 2016. I was leaving a few hours before him, so he was going to hang out in the executive lounge at Dublin airport.

As I passed security, finally connected to wifi and was able to check email in the airport, it turned out that I had missed a couple of timely and important messages for Dad. A newspaper and a radio station had called about talking to him for interviews, etc, and had contacted my mobile. I told them my dad would be in Dublin until evening and also passed along his email just in case he could connect…but time to batton the hatches and liftoff for home. I was leaving a great experience behind, one that I can never duplicate but will also never forget. It may have been a week but it will provide a lifetime of great memories.

The people of Ireland and Northern Ireland are wonderful folks and I am honored and proud to have any connection with them, no matter how distant. I am glad I listened to the Passport agent when I first entered Dublin who said to “have fun!”. I complied!

Happy Father’s Day!! Slaínte!

Footnotes

Regarding my father being a retired NASA astronaut, it is a fantastic accomplishment and with it a novelty that never wears off. In some ways my dad found the leprechaun and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In the capacity of notoriety, media, attention and the like, it is always exciting to travel with him or any celebrity I suppose, but I was just happy being with my dad, no matter what his profession.

Irish don’t seem to care as much about spelling — or at least English spelling — as they do about pronunciation. The Irish — or Gaelic — spelling is important, as is how you say a name or word. Nobody actually seems to care if an English name is spelled John McBride, Sean MacBride or John Mc Bride, but the Irish is important. For example, a famous Easter Rising name has on one of his two gravestones “JOHN MACBRIDE” and the other stone has the alternate Irish spelling of “seán mac giolla bRigdE” (<-even this is approximate without the Irish letters).