Why were you inspired to do this?
I was in pretty rough shape at 15. My father had died that fall and my mother struggled, as anyone would, to be a widow at 38. I'd just finished my freshman year at a small private school where everyone knew my family's circumstances, and it was hard to overcome that stigma of, "oh, that's the girl whose father died." I wanted a different life, one that wasn't marked by loss and pity. My grandparents were originally from the outskirts of Limerick, Ireland, in a tiny river community of thatched roof cottages and hills of hundreds of shades of green. They had been in America for almost 40 years and didn't want to die here -- they wanted to go home. So after they were settled, I boarded a plane with my mom and my summer wardrobe and looked forward to my first real adventure.
What were 3 things you did to make this happen?
I begged. Settling into another country for three months was daunting to my mother, who couldn't decide if the trip would be disruptive and keep me from adjusting to the changes in my "real" life. I was persuasive and just kept saying it would help me to settle.
I built on the stability of the relationship I had with my grandparents, my grandfather especially, with whom I was always very close. I took the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with them, which as one of 30 grandchildren was unprecedented. I recognized how lucky I was to just be the only grandchild in our homeland.
I studied and planned an itinerary for what I wanted to accomplish while I was there. I wanted to tour the area, to see and experience and write about all the highlights, even the super-touristy ones. My grandmother was horrified when I stood in line to kiss the Blarney Stone (a feat of contortionism). She was indignant because she felt that was only for those who didn't have blarney in their blood ... and I certainly already did. But I appeased her by spending a lot of time at the National Gallery and fishing the River Shannon with my grandfather. I even caught my first fish, a big handsome perch. My grandfather couldn't believe when I wouldn't eat it. "I'm a Pisces," I said, and he laughed in his incredibly genuine Irish way.
How did you feel once you had accomplished this?
I felt whole again. When the end of August came and my mother returned to fetch me, I didn't want to leave. I would've been perfectly content to stay in our peaceful little cottage forever, far from the new circumstances at home that had defined me so clearly and negatively. But in the time I'd been there, I'd made friends, was even courted by a boy on the national soccer, um, football team (see redhead in photo) -- to my gram's half-joking horror again: "You come all the way to Ireland to meet a boy named Tony!" I'd found my identity beyond what had happened to me. I was an Irish girl who could laugh and dance and think and feel, with a new confidence that just comes with time and healing. I took that strength of spirit with me onto the plane and headed back to Boston with hope for the new school year, and for the rest of my life. I'd learned that hardships only define us as long as we stay still. In Ireland, there is no room for inertia, only working and fishing -- and drinking and laughing.
Additional notes and tips:
I'll always be grateful for the time I spent with my grandparents, listening to their stories and memories. They handed down so many stories that no one else in the family had ever heard, so I got something really special. I even picked up quite a bit of gaelic. If you have a chance to experience your family's homeland firsthand, it can be really powerful. It gives you a sense of where you've come from and a focus on where else you can go. A stable foundation begins somewhere. For me, it was the green hills of Eire. Fad saol agat, gob pog, agus bas in Eirinn. (Rough translation: "Long life to you, a wet kiss and death in Ireland.")