While planning our annual trek to Ireland my mind tripped back to a journey from many years ago.
It was my first trip on Ireland on my own. It was the summer of 1980. I was 10 years old.
There were few helicopter parents then, if any. We weren’t overprotected, we were allowed experiences.
With massive assistance from my Aunt Betty Conlon from Queens, who was a flight attendant with TWA Airlines at the time, my passage was booked on an Aer Lingus flight out of JFK.
The parents bid me farewell at the gate as I headed to Dublin on a sweating summer New York evening.
Aunt Betty was to collect me when I landed in Ireland’s capitol.
The flight started out with little worthy of memory save the history of the time. There were peanuts, bad food, people smoking in the back of the plane, countless plastic glasses of Coke and odd bits in my ears while trying to watch a movie I hadn’t a clue about. I did receive a pair of plastic pilot wings which I wore proudly.
Nearing our first glimpse of the 40 shades of green of Ireland’s west coast I learned a life lesson that I don’t follow enough.
Go with the flow. I did as only a ten-year-old can.
The pilot announced our Dublin-bound flight was landing in Shannon on the other coast of the country.
I still have no idea why the changes of airports. I can only guess weather. Weather is always the official answer. I have booked four flights to Knock airport in Mayo and never landed there once because of fog.
But back to late July 1980.
So we land at Shannon and I guess my bags and papers are in order. But there is no flight to Dublin where my aunt is waiting. We are going by van.
Being a good young lad I just went with the program.
It was a long drive. There were no motorways or bypasses at the time. We went through every village, and cattle and sheep were still on the roads then. I think we stopped in Longford or Athlone for lunch.
We landed in early morning and it is now evening rush hour when we reach Dublin.
The streets along the Liffey are choked with cars and buses. But our van driver from down the country is very creative.
He drives the sidewalks and footpaths of Dublin’s city center like a master.
Finally, we arrive at Heuston Station.
All is grand save the fact that the airline told my aunt we would arrive at Connolly Station on the other side of the city.
The van driver stayed with me until Aunt Betty managed to find me. Then we were off to the beach-front house in Annagassan, County Louth.
There, my cousin Patrick and I swam in the cold Irish Sea each day. There was a natural slide into the surf on one ancient stone formation.
At night we slept in bunk-beds in a small room where my Uncle Pat stored his shotgun and shells in an unlocked closet. We’d play with the gun without blowing our heads off.
Away from the sea, my cousin and I would sometimes explore the field behind the house where we discovered the ruins of an old church.
The old stones were fascinating, the remains of the church and graveyard. One day we discovered a human skull in the last wall of the church.
We ran away like hell home through the fields back home. Grave robbers most likely put it there.
Then it was back to sandwiches and dipping in the Irish Sea until my cousin Patrick wasn't feeling right one night.
At first light, four or five the next morning, my uncle decided Packie needed to get to the hospital in Drogheda.
Packie wasn’t doing well.
My uncle turned the key to start the car. In a small flash, the starter in the motor burned up.
The house had no telephone.
With my aunt and uncle distraught and my cousin in pain, I was dispatched on a bicycle to the nearest neighbor, a good two miles away. There I got help.
The neighbor with an accent I could never understand was quick to throw me and the bike in the car and race to my family.
He then sped my sick cousin and his worried father off the the hospital as my Aunt Betty stayed with me at the house looking at the sea.
The next chapter I didn’t see but was told about later.
Two miles from the hospital, the good neighbor’s car ran out of petrol.
My uncle then stood on the side of the road with his nine-year-old son in his arms hoping for a lift.
He got one and my cousin was treated minutes before his appendix burst.
All ended well for us then.
Here’s hoping our week in Ireland is not worthy of a story as eventful.
* Jim Lowney is an Irish American writer and photographer who often shares what comes into his mind's eye.
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