In August my husband and I were in the west of Ireland – County Mayo – for our summer vacation. One day we drove to the town of Tuam, a little over an hour’s drive south of the house where we were staying in Mayo. Majella, the daughter of Mr. Lynch, from whom my father had rented the Lynch family’s thatched cottage for a vacation back in 1965, had invited us both to Tuam for the day. Majella knew from my correspondence with her over the past spring that I would like to see her mother, Mrs. Lynch, who had turned 96 in July. As we drove to Tuam that morning, I was a little anxious not knowing what to expect, as I had not seen the Lynch family in years. My anxiety increased a bit after I did the math, realizing it was well over 40 years ago. Little did I know the day that lay ahead of me.
Having first visited another friend upon our arrival in Tuam that morning, our car was parked on the opposite side of town from the home of Mrs. Lynch, which was where we were to meet. I was surprised with the ease with which my feet found my way through Tuam – a town that has changed significantly in all those years – to the house on Old Road where the Lynch family grew up and which Mrs. Lynch still calls home. I was surprised again to quickly recognize Majella’s husband, whom I knew as the boy she was dating when we were first friends back in the sixties, standing at the front door. But I was overwhelmed when I walked into the back room of the house where Mrs.Lynch was sitting in her chair and the room was full of her children, their spouses, and their children. The warmth of their greeting, as cameras clicked with each reunion, left me wobbly on my feet. Mrs. Lynch is also a little wobbly on her feet, but she made her way out of the house with the help of her walker and seated herself in her son-in-law’s car, as we were ALL going “out to the cottage for tea.”
This would be the thatched cottage my father had rented in 1965, the year of my first visit to Ireland, when my father went to Ireland with the sole purpose of finding the homesite of his ancestors. As an eleven year old girl, I spent three weeks of the summer of ‘65 in this cottage, with no electricity, two ponies in the stables, a dog who had just had puppies and friendly companions in the children of our landlord, Mr. Lynch. When the oldest of their children came of age to attend the secondary school in town, the Lynch family had moved from the cottage to the house on Old Road. This was when Mr. Lynch started to rent his family’s cottage during the summer months.
Today, the thatched cottage has everything from electricity to an exquisite antique baby grand piano. The oldest son of Mr. Lynch, who now lives in the cottage with his wife and children, has restored the cottage, the rooms furnished with stunning Irish antiques, as Mr.Lynch’s sons inherited their father’s antique business, Lynch Antiques. As his children – now grown men- showed me around the house and the land, they spoke of their father’s love for this place. Mr. Lynch, they recollected, would leave town to go out to the cottage, even when the rooms were empty, to tend the peat fire which he kept burning. He cherished this place where his parents, grandparents, great grand parents –as far back as they have records – lived and raised their families.
We were gathered in the new kitchen, built on the back of original cottage and chatting, as a crowd will often due. I caught site of Mrs. Lynch with her walker making a bee-line for the door into the living room. I asked Majella where she was off to, and she responded that her mother was heading for the piano. I asked if I could follow her, and received a nod and a wink from my friend. Seated at the piano, Mrs. Lynch ran her fingers over the keys, commenting that the piano was out of key, and she would have to talk to her son about this. I remembered my own mother telling me her piano was out of key, with a similar note of disappointment in her voice. I asked Mrs. Lynch if she would go ahead and play Galway Bay for me, as this was my father’s favorite song of all time…I’ll try, she said….and the next thing I heard was that familiar melody ringing out from the piano, her 96-year-old fingers finding each note and chord from memory. Now, I CANNOT sing, but sing I did.
Somewhere, sometime, I must have done something really, really good for God to have given me that moment that day.
Later we gathered around the table in the kitchen for our tea, which in Ireland is a meal….thick slices of ham which Majella had cooked the night before and paper-thin slices of smoked salmon on freshly cut brown bread and Irish butter and Irish cheese and a big pot of tea and for dessert freshly baked scones with heavy whipped cream and strawberry jelly slobbered all over the top. As we ate and chatted, the Lynches began to share their memories of another man, my father, with me…stories that if I knew them, I had forgotten. For example, I knew Dad had brought over the gear for the boys in Tuam to set up a baseball team. An article about this endeavor of his had been written about in our local paper back in the states. But Majella’s brothers were more interested in talking about the basketballs my father brought over. ..in his luggage! Basketball, they explained, could be played indoors, and with Ireland’s wet weather , this was a much more welcome pastime for young boys than baseball. I asked about nets and backboards – how was that done? I was told that my father brought the netting over with him and had the measurements on hand for the rims. He went to the blacksmith at the end of the road, apparently with the youngsters in tow, for as they spoke about it, it was clear that they watched as my father had presented the measurements to the smithy and had the rims made to order. They were adamant that my father had also introduced basketball to the Emerald Isle.
Majella recalled the day she was in Galway with my father and myself. We walked past a jewelry store, and at the door my father told Majella that he had a friend back in the States who had asked him to buy her a Claddagh ring while he was in Ireland. He told Majella this woman was about her size, so would she help him with this purchase. Majella agreed and in they went for this little piece of business. At the end of that shopping day in Galway, Dad suggested we have a meal at The Great Southern Hotel – which was a fine hotel in Galway at the time. When dinner was done, Majella saw a small gift box next her plate, which my father told her to open. It was the Claddagh ring, which was for her, my father knowing that day was Majella’s 18th birthday. She no sooner put the ring on, she told me, than the waitress appeared with a birthday cake and 18 candles. Majella has never forgotten this kindness of my father.
Nor will I ever forgot the kindness of the Lynch family in giving me this day fourty seven years after our first meeting each other in 1965. It was through my Irish American father’s search for his own roots in 1965, that I, as a young girl, was welcomed into the homes of several Irish families in Tuam, nearly 50 years ago. Now I find myself returning each summer to the west of Ireland, discovering new places, revisiting known places, making new friends, and renewing old friendships. Within this process, I am beginning to understand myself. For I have heard it said that after all our exploring, we will arrive back to where it all started, and understand ourselves for the first time.