For this writing assignment on traveling through my favorite places in Ireland, I could have probably chosen from thousands of stock photographs of Galway Bay or the Galtee Mountains that would have conveyed the beauty of our motherland far better than this one did.
But this is my favorite place on earth, which is why I chose this photo.
This is the thin tongue of blacktop exists in Ballyglunin, in the area between Tuam and Athenry, between my Uncle Mattie’s house at the top of the hill and my grandmother’s house at the bottom. This picture is my screen saver on every Apple device I have because it triggers one happy memory after another.
In between those immaculately trimmed shrubs in front of that gray house is a black iron gate that would swing out for Granny Farragher’s welcome when her traveling son came home for a visit. I remember her drinking in the hug of her son like a runner that has just run a marathon through the desert. She would look over Dad’s shoulder to inspect these odd yank grandchildren over the bifocals as they rocketed over to the side of the house where the livestock were. My brother and I would gawk at the hens pecking in the grass and the cows looking lazily over the stone fence at their visitors, endlessly fascinated by the animals that only existed at our dinner table in our urban Jersey City landscape.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this writer was born on this very road. When news hit the neighbors that “Mick Farragher was home with his Yanks,” they’d filter into my grandmother’s house. I would watch my father hold court with his old friends, the innate droll humor embedded in the DNA in the Tuam tribesman all but guaranteed that even the most mundane points of life could be made into an entertaining yarn. Indeed, the tongue would sharpen against the blades inside the mouths of these neighbors, creating a joy of storytelling that I have dedicated my life to re-creating once again.
Life moves on, as evidenced by the modern encroachment of solar panels that can be seen on the neighbor’s house across the street. My grandmother is long gone and any of the friends that my father has left are wobbly on their feet as they come to meet me at the gates of their homes. There are plenty of cars zipping on this road now and many fields have made way for new McMansions that sprung up during the real estate boom of the rotting Celtic Tiger.
Yet this is still my favorite place on earth. I can close my eyes, listen to the lambs calling out for their mothers and fill my lungs with the purest air imaginable. It may not be where I was born, but I feel at home nonetheless.
Why should this area be worth a visit? Irish history and cinema buffs would probably drive through this road on their way to the Ballyglunin train station, where key scenes of the classic film The Quiet Man was filmed. Fans of The Saw Doctors would love it here as well; you can drive down the road on the n17 made famous by their songs and visit the many sights and sounds from nearby Tuam. If you go, I highly recommend the Corralea Court Hotel, which is a 5 minute walk from St. Jarlath’s Park. The restaurant is mighty, with bargain prices and friendly service. The record of human settlement of Tuam actually dates back to the bronze age, so it is chock full of artifacts. Did I mention that the people are right craic altogether?
Trust your instincts and point the GPS of your rental car to Tuam when visiting Galway. Just watch out for the Yanks daydreaming in the middle of the road!