Postcard from Irelandby Patricia Thayer on 08/31/20
"Keep 'er between the ditches," cautions Paul to a fellow driver as they part at the end of a friendly conversation. Paul Daly is our Irish driver, guide, and friend for two weeks as we traverse the villages and back roads of mystical Ireland. We are entertained daily by the quantity of his charming Irish expressions, but this is one of my favorites. My mind immediately conjures up the literal meaning -- avoid the ditches off the sides and keep your vehicle safely on the road; but also the metaphoric meaning -- avoid temptations, focus on the righteous path, don't stray.
My sister, Candy, and I begin our journey in Dublin. Following directions from our brother, the family genealogist, we go in search of the last recorded alleyway and church where our great-grandparents lived and worshiped with their young children before emigrating to America. We find the church next to the alleyway in a working-class neighborhood, a world away from tourist Dublin. It is Sunday and mass is just ending so we wait until the few parishioners leave before we enter. Inside, the church appears to be sparkling new. Three lovely church ladies invite us to stay for tea and biscuits. They have a table set up with a beautiful hand-embroidered tablecloth and delicate Irish porcelain. The priest returns dressed in his civilian clothes and joins our tea party. We are the only guests. We tell them that our great-grandparents were married here, and they are pleased to share what they know of the history of their church, including the fire that devastated the interior on a Christmas Day some years ago. Due to the generosity of many, it was restored to this present-day sparkling condition. They show us some of the items that were saved from the fire, including the centuries-old marble baptismal font. We have the sudden realization that this was the same baptismal font our grandfather's older siblings were baptized.
Our great-grandparents, with their young children, sailed on a "coffin" ship to America where my grandfather was born several years later. My sister and I are proof that our great-grandparents were able to "keep 'er between the ditches", focusing on the righteous path to eventually arrive and thrive in America. Why do I travel? To be inspired by all those before me who made sacrifices and endured hardships to ensure a better life for their families. (September 2016)