Since retirement, I have had the great privilege and pleasure of traveling abroad to many places. My philosophy is to get out there before the Parkinson’s progresses (regresses) too far. The latest journey was to Ireland. Some nuggets of thought:
Work with what you have: This phrase kept repeating in my mind like a mantra. The Irish government has done an amazing job of promoting tourism, largely by following this principle. For instance, in the 19th century, Ireland lost millions of its countrymen (including my husband’s and my ancestors) to America. Normally, mass emigration would not be a good tourism advertisement….But….work with what you have…Ireland has fostered a big business in “tracing your roots”. Every city, county, and even little villages has a genealogy site on their website. The area that particularly impressed me on “working with what you have” is the Burren. Its unique geology features seemingly barren hills covered with limestone, resulting in an austere landscape that would normally not be inviting to tourists. However, the limestone environment produces a bonanza of wildflowers, also enough grass to feed sheep in the winter. The local tourism wizards have organized wildflower tours and a Food Trail (think goat cheese, Irish soda bread, smoked salmon, yum!), among other attractions – enough that I scheduled three days there – and could have stayed longer. Now if I could get my local little town to think in the same way.
Look past the stereotypes – This is always a lesson we travelers have to learn anew with each travel experience. What color do you think of for Ireland? Green, of course. And of course, much of the country is rolling green farmland. But a lot of western Ireland is…. brown, with nary a tree in sight. Indeed, Ireland, once heavily forested chopped down nearly all its trees centuries ago.
Another stereotype: leprechauns – the Irish hate for you to bring them up – like chop suey, spaghetti and meatballs, and Cinco de Mayo, largely an American invention. And a particularly ironic stereotype – you would expect your friendly waitress, housekeeper, tourist info expert, hotel clerk, etc. to be…..Irish. Nope. In the land that sent so many laborers to America, now new laborers are coming to Ireland for work. (Poland, Spain, Croatia, Czech Republic, etc.)
Don’t waste your time on status objects – Ireland is full of castles, but nearly all of them are in ruins. The ones that are still intact enough to walk through are dark and dank – even the 19th century imitations (like Ashford Castle below) were drafty and smoky. Yet the noble guys were building these as a status thing – not just for defense. The modern-day equivalent (OK, this is a reach, but this scourge must be mentioned) is…duvets. Europeans are wild about them, and I can only conclude this is some sort of status thing. Duvets are wildly impractical as bed linens – you’re stifling with them on you and freezing with them off—and I hate to imagine hotel maids struggling with these heavy awkward items. Listen up, Europeans: life is too short to use duvets.
Be careful what you wish for – Americans have for years looked enviously at the nationalized health systems in Canada and Great Britain. Alas, no health system provides the ideal care that we want. I had the pleasure of meeting one of my (international!) blog subscribers on this trip. She wishes to remain anonymous, but I can say she is getting her Parkinson’s managed under Britain’s National Health System. After our meeting, she attended a new support group and reported: “Everybody seemed quite unhappy with the NHS in the way they had been given their diagnoses and also regarding the little information they get.” However, she pointed out: “Even though they say they are not given enough information they don’t seem to search for it either.” A good reminder that we Parkis need to be responsible for managing our own disease.
The luck of the Irish – Who says the Irish are lucky? They had some two million people die in the potato famines of the 1840s, and another couple million leave the country. Listen to these poignant words of an 19th century Irish song I learned on the trip:
So good luck on their journey, may they safely land.
They are leaving their homes for a far distant land.
So goodbye to Old Ireland, they no longer can stay.
In thousands, they’re sailing for Americay.
So, Thank you, Michael Conway Kennedy (Laura’s great-grandfather, born 1819 in Borrisoleigh, County Tipperary), Anne O’Donovan (Laura’s great-grandmother, born 1828 in Bandon, County Cork) and Alexander Donaghy Smyth (Paul’s great-grandfather, born 1848 in Ballymoney, County Antrim).