Full Irish Breakfast: Fried egg, bacon, sausage, tomato, potato waffle, and yes, black pudding.
I can’t believe our trip is almost over. In almost 24 hours, the Jacksons will be back on Hill Street. A part of me almost thought this day would never come. As we look back on the last two months of travel, there are so many emotions, memories, and just simple joy. It hasn’t been completely easy taking four children to England, Scotland, and Ireland, but I have to say, it has been one of the most meaningful accomplishments of my life. Molly and I have dreamed of coming back over here as a family after many separate trips between the two of us. This trip has been years in the making, and took hours of planning and researching. Tomorrow morning at 6:00am (1:00am EST), we will start our journey home. Yes, I am deeply sad to leave. Who wouldn’t? I’m grateful I have two more weeks before I go back to work. But there are many things and people I have missed and I’m excited to reconnect with them all.
So what has our last week been like? Well, Ireland is still very wet. But, we’ve had much more sunshine than what I described in my last post. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we had a bit of sunshine and some clouds, which meant we went to the beach. Mind you, the temperature was in the low 60s, but that didn’t stop the kids from putting on their suits and getting soaked. They were freezing within an hour or so, but we just wrapped up and sat out there. At Inch Beach, you can drive your car straight onto the beach, so when the kids got really cold, they just grabbed a book and hopped in the car. I sat out there reading my favorite David Johnson poems, which I compare to a pairing of good wine and cheese or, in my case, pizza and beer. Inch Beach and David Johnson poems are a great match.
On Wednesday, I found a local musician, Donogh Hennessy, who gave me a guitar lesson. I wanted to learn a bit about different guitar tunings, especially those that Irish musicians tend to use. Donogh was simply wonderful and I had a great time just listening to someone of his caliber play. He was a founding member of a successful band called Lunasa, and now plays around Dingle, while running his own recording studio. I got some great feedback on a couple of my own songs, too, which is always helpful.
On Thursday, we went to Killarney National Park, where there is a wonderful hiking trail near Torc Waterfall. We hiked in the misty rain, but it was still a great trip. I am woefully out of shape after the last few weeks of driving the car. I’m looking forward to getting back to my exercise routine at home! There were so many beautiful trees in the forest, like something out of a fairy tale. We kept our eyes open for fairies, but alas, they were hiding. We loved how one day we got to be at the beach and the next day we were in the mountains. Ireland really has it all.
We left our fantastic house in Inch on Saturday morning. I will never forget the view from our breakfast table. It felt like the mountain next to our house was a friendly neighbor, who gazed out over the sea with us. Viewing the cows and sheep and fences that lined her majestic face became my own form of entertainment.
On Saturday, on our way to Bunratty, we stopped in Tralee to shop and walk around the city. It was another great place to be, with lots of restaurants and shops. We even found one with Liam’s name on it. He has been tickled that he has seen his name so many times.
We are currently staying at Avarest Bed & Breakfast in Hurler’s Cross, very close to Bunratty and the Shannon Airport. If you are ever over here, I highly recommend staying here. Freddie and Deirdre run it and they have three young kids. They are so hospitable and lovely that it feels like we really are staying with friends here. And the breakfasts are fantastic! They also have donkeys which the kids can feed!
On Sunday, we drove down to Adare in County Limerick to worship at St. Nicholas, a Church of Ireland congregation. Since we are in the thick of Catholicism here, there aren’t many Church of Ireland (Anglican) churches. In fact, many of them have been decommissioned. But St. Nicholas, Adare is a thriving congregation with a friendly congregation. And, their priest is American! Adare had three monastic communities and St. Nicholas now worships in the former Augustinian abbey (the Roman Catholics worship in another one, and the Franciscan abbey is now in ruins). They also have a school there. It’s a beautiful place and we had a great day worshipping there. That afternoon, we headed back to Bunratty to visit Bunratty Castle and the Folk Park. What we didn’t know was that a local airshow had distributed free tickets to the castle, so the place was an absolute madhouse! We’ve been to a lot of places in our visit here, but none so crowded with tourists. The castle is really wonderful, with these long spiral staircases in the towers, but you couldn’t get up them due to the people coming down in droves. Frankly, it put us off. But Freddie and Deirdre told us later why it was so full and that it was a bit of a freak thing that it was like that.
We had gotten tickets to the medieval banquet they do every night in the castle, so we stayed until it was time to go to that. They put on an “authentic” 15th century banquet in one of the halls in the castle. The attendants are all in character and costume. We were served mead and fruit juice as we entered and listened to the harper and fiddler. Then they sat us at long tables with nothing but knives with which to eat. We had four-course feast which included some of the best spare ribs I’ve ever eaten. It was a blast and the kids loved eating with their hands. The evening ended with a concert by the attendants who sang a diversity of Irish songs.
Today was our last day, so we chose to drive up to the Cliffs of Moher (or, “THE CLIFFS OF INSANITY” for those of you who are Princess Bride fans). The views were breathtaking and more than a little scary.
We ended our day in the town of Ennis, which had a plethora of bookstores. We had a great final lunch, and came back to the B&B to pack. The kids are finally in bed now and are anxiously awaiting the early morning wake up so they can hop on that plane back home.
So that’s it. Our trip is over. Please pray for safe travel on the way home. One neat thing is that my sister Kelli and her two daughters, including the one they just adopted, will be on our flight from London to Atlanta. It just kinda worked out that way! So the kids will meet their new cousin, and we get to meet our precious new niece. Very exciting!
Again, it goes without saying that we could not have done this amazing trip without the support and hard work of many people. The people of St. Nicholas, led by Katherine Johnson, Nick Simpson, the rest of the Vestry and staff, and Fr. Bob Dendtler, have filled in the gap for a long time, and I am so grateful to them all. Also, to those who have looked out for our house and vehicles, especially Molly’s mom Jackie, aka “Madre,” Bill Caudill, and our neighbor Rachel Massey, we cannot thank you enough.
And my biggest thanks goes to my fantastic wife Molly, who planned one hell of an awesome trip! Next time, we’ll do it when the kids are grown and out of the house. 🙂
God has been everywhere with us in expected and unexpected places. I have done some growing and some healing. I have breathed in some new air and I hope to share some with you all when I return. I believe I am a different Jeff Jackson than the one who rode away on a firetruck on May 3, thanks be to God.
With that, I bid you all a fond adieu, with gratitude and love in my heart!