July 24, 1997: On an Aer Lingus flight, mother, Aunt Joan, and me and off to Ireland we go.

Ma and Joan are telling stories on the plane that need to be remembered. I never knew that Ma never learned how to ride a bike because they couldn't afford one.

We land at Shannon and find our peppy little red Opal. I am driving, standard, on the left, with two advisors always at the ready. I'm the lucky one and I know it. Both Ma and Joan love to drive and if they're anything like me, they can't stand NOT driving.

Anne and Jerry Tarrant are up a long drive in Cahir, County Limerick. We land at 6am and arrive on the Tarrants’ doorstep by 8:30, feeling as though it's time for cocktails. We have tea with brown bread that Anne rushed downtown to buy while we weren't looking. We meet Diarmid, their sweet son of 16 who is polite and attentive and I wonder quietly what TV has done to America.

Then Uncle Paddy peeks his head in the door. He came right over as soon as he got the call. It took him a while. He says he had to get the smell of cows off him. Paddy is a shy child of 50, a father of four and a widower. He lives in the big house up the hill, all alone now. He has a smile that stops the world. This is our first of many such visits of tea and bread and more tea and here, some more bread and won't you have some sherry?

The Tarrants run a booming concrete block business in Cahir. No wonder, every house in Ireland is built of concrete blocks.

Next we're off and on the road to Millstreet. Ma navigates us to the house in Coole, a manorly-looking pale yellow stucco house with a gravel drive, lovely plantings and a towering "monkey tree". I don't expect the old farmer we meet. If you ran a contest, looking for a poster child of a charming old Irish farmer, Patsy would be a finalist. He's wearing that non-descript gray tweedy clothing, big black wellies and of course, the cap.  

He's working in the garden with Sheilah, his new daughter-in-law. Ma lists the family connections and we all smile and try to follow. Honora Tarrant was Ma's grandmother and she had a bunch of Tarrant babies that had other Tarrant babies and....well yes, Patsy follows to a point and he's smiling shyly now, looking out of the side of his face at us.

Nora is down at the house in town, they say. So, we'll go find Nora and we're sure we'll be back. They say they hope so. Before we go, I take a few pictures, hoping to get a good one of Patsy. He takes his hat off and goes all stiff the minute I put the camera up to my face. I have lots of very stiff photographs of my Irish relatives.

We spend the first night at the Denehy's Bed and Breakfast on the main street. We have our first evening of crackers and cheese and the booze Ma packed in her suitcase - gin for Aunt Joan and vodka for me and Ma. Ma had a big suitcase full of several outfits, doodads, travel kits and sundries, plus a flask and a bottle. She wore one outfit the whole time. She could have just carried a backpack with the booze. I'll have to remind her for the next trip.

*Kate Sullivan likes to play around with words, music and pictures. She has written and illustrated children’s books, sung chansons at NYC Mme Tussaud’s Wax Museum and her fugue-ish ‘Fugitum est’ was performed at Carnegie Hall by The Kremlin Chamber Orchestra as part of their tribute to Mozart. She also likes to paint ostriches and plays the musical saw to impress people.

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