Category Archives: Irish

How to turn a Claddagh ring into a Celtic knot necklace

On a visit to Ireland maybe 10 or 12 years ago,* one of my father’s sisters gifted me with some euro. I felt inspired to use the money, along with some of my own, to buy a lasting souvenir for my boys…Claddagh rings for all!

                                                                   

I visited a well established jeweler on the St. Stephen’s end of Grafton Street and selected 3 gold rings, in adult sizes, with the intention to put them away for when my boys were grown. Upon my return to the States, they went into the fireproof box where they sat in their sturdy green boxes for nearly a decade.

       

In recent years, two of three rings have seen the light of day. Middle son decided to wear his and promptly lost it. Way to go, G! Youngest son, the one with the serious Donegal McMenamin genes, has been wearing his ring on his rather large hands for about a year or so and seems to cherish it in the manner that I had imagined when I initially purchased them. Good job, Q! As for oldest son, he had no interest whatsoever in wearing his ring, which left it in the lockbox for the foreseeable future. L just wasn’t feeling it. Somehow he’s an Anglophile of all things. 

                         

As I prepared for my most recent trip to Dublin, I decided that I was tired of leaving this meaningful piece of jewelry in its box for eternity – or until Donald Trump causes the world as we know it to end with his insane policies. Like each of us it needed to be appreciated and enjoyed.  I went online and located the McCormack’s website https://celticdublin.com/ and sent off an email explaining the situation and asking if they might consider taking the ring back and providing me with store credit. It can’t hurt to ask, right?        

                   

A number of days later I received a polite response advising that after such a length of time they were unsure what they might be able to do, but I was welcome to stop in when I was in town. Perfect. I packed the ring. On my first day in Dublin, I stopped in the shop and spoke with the same man who had both sold me the rings and responded to my email, Robert. After hearing my story and giving the ring a lookover, he offered me a more than reasonable store credit which I promptly put towards a beautiful and sentimental necklace. For myself. Isn’t it beautiful? 

 

*I’d have to look at an old passport to be exact

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Filed under Boys, family, favorites, Ireland, Irish, Recommendations, travel

When foreign is familiar

I travel as much as I can. It’s more important to me than  new furniture, a 2000 square foot house, a fancy car or piece of jewelry. It’s what I need to do on many levels and I’ve arranged my financial life so I can get on a plane or train, or even a bus, numerous times a year to see something new or visit a place I’ve only read about in books. It is the biggest priority for me beyond my children and the career that make it all possible. It helps me breathe.

It’s a funny thing when you’re born to people who have a combined total of nearly 30 siblings. Yes, thirty. My mom is one of 15 and my father one of 14, which means I have a lot of family. Since neither of my parents were born in America, their our families are all essentially still in Europe. As a child, that was isolating but, as an adult, it has provided me with some wonderful places to see while getting to know my aunts, uncles and cousins of various degrees of separation. It also gives me a sense of home as clearly being in more than one place.

During my most recent time in Ireland, I’ve rounded countless corners only to realize that I know exactly where I am. I’ve been here before. This place is familiar to me in a way that makes my heart full. The neighborhood where I’ve spent the last four nights is a bit beyond where I’ve stayed my previous two visits, but on my first morning I searched out a grocery store to pick up a few items for my lovely Airbnb. Google maps directed me to a nearby market in close walking distance and as soon as the store was in view, I immediately recognized it as being the same store I went to in 2013. I knew it.

When I’m in Ireland, I hear my vocabulary shift to a different gear. I use words like “delighted” and phrases such as “thanks a million” and “that’s grand.” The vernacular finds its way to my lips and I feel myself softening into a different version of myself. Granted, I’m on holiday,* and don’t bear any responsibilities here for children or work or household tasks, but it’s beyond that, I think. It’s a sense of belonging to a family, to a culture and to a place that, while it may not be my place of birth, feels like home.

I haven’t yet left for the airport for my return to the States and I already miss Ireland and everything it means to me. Until next time. xo

 

*holiday rather than “vacation” is how we say it in Ireland.

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Filed under aging, Europe, family, favorites, girlhood, Ireland, Irish, musings, Observations, road trips, travel, vacation

First impressions – Galway town

I’ve only visited Galway once before and it was very brief, maybe an afternoon at best. For all intents and purposes, this is my first time here and everything is new. Except, of course, for the friends who are also here on holiday from Albany, that I got share a meal with last night. Small world in the best of ways.

The city feels cozily small.

Fish chowder, brown bread, salad & cider

Food here is excellent – I had a great lunch and delicious light dinner so far and both were superior to the meals I had on my first day in Dublin.

Staying in a traditional B&B is ideal for a two-night visit.

It seems like there are lots of European tourists here. Walking around I heard a lot of Italian and Spanish being spoken.

Despite all the tourists, it does have a college town vibe with lots of students lazing about while the sun was shining.

The Guinness is excellent.

Dublin’s street musicians are superior to the ones I’ve heard here, so far.

The smell of the sea is only a deep breath away.

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Filed under beauty, drinking, Eating, Europe, Food, friends, Ireland, Irish, Observations, Spring, travel, vacation

Headed to Ireland’s half light with a full heart

After a nearly six year absence, I’m visiting Ireland this month. It would take some effort, and both hands, to count the number of times I’ve traveled to the country where my father was born, yet I’m about as excited as I was on that first trip to the Emerald Isle. Back then, all flights from the U.S. stopped at Shannon and I’ll always remember the emotional response I experienced as the plane landed and I saw the gorgeous greens of the landscape. I’m not ashamed to tell you I cried.

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A couple of McMenamin lasses

Believe it or not, this visit was inspired by last year’s Roman holiday. Catching up with my “cousin”* in the lobby of her hotel, as she arrived from Dublin and I prepared to depart for home, convinced me that it has been too long since I saw my Irish family. I bought my tickets last fall and have looked forward to this trip ever since. Despite my original travel plans being canceled (thanks, Boeing!) and having to scramble for a new carrier (Aer Lingus) from an alternate airport (in a different state), I’m pretty much ready to go.

This will be the first time that I’ll be taking a little time to explore, solo, a part of Ireland that interests me – Galway town. Over the years, I’ve stayed in Connemara a couple of times and have seen the Burren, heard the traditional music and language, and indulged in the local cuisine, but this time I’m psyched to run by the water and wander the narrow city streets with my camera. While most of my time will be on the east coast with family, the few days I’ll be on the west coast are the ones that will feel the most like an escape rather than a homecoming.

 

Beyond my accommodations, the only thing I’ve booked is Airbnb baking class experience. I hope to learn how to bake Irish brown bread, which I plan to consume with copious amounts of butter, marmalade and tea. Other than that, I’m open to whatever adventures may beckon. Unless, of course, you have some recommendations?

*her dad is actually my cousin, but she’s much closer to my age than he is.

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Filed under Europe, family, holidays, Ireland, Irish, Spring, travel, vacation

Telling the story of A Fire, a Phonebook Page and Finding My Father

Photo credit: Jamie Thompson

I’m finally sobering up after a night that was intoxicatingly special. Friday night I was one of 6 storytellers at a public event held at the Linda Auditorium. The occasion was a celebration of the 8th anniversary of our local take on the Moth Story Hour, The Front Parlor Series, which occurs monthly in two locations; Albany and Troy.

Telling a story, without notes, in front of an audience is a nerve-wracking experience. I’ve never performed on stage or addressed an audience like I did on Friday and I wasn’t certain how to prepare for it. I knew the story I wanted to tell, the one about how I found my father’s family 30 years ago. It’s a good story, made better by the fact that it’s true. Obviously, I know the chronology of the tale and the important players, but it was challenging to decide which details added to the story and which might merely distract from the overall recounting. I began working it out on “paper.”

It took me a couple of weeks before I nailed down the segments that I wanted to include and the basic order in which to share them. I practiced in my head, honing and editing, during runs and walks and drives. I revised. My biggest concern, besides completely choking, was that I would forget a certain episode or anecdote that I knew was important. I decided it made sense to count paragraphs and associate each one with a word. That way I only needed to remember 12 things. I could do that! On Wednesday, I printed the story for the first (and only) time and made 12 flash cards, for rehearsing.

Friday afternoon, I went for a run (shocking!) opting for my usual 5 mile loop. I passed the remains of a house that had been destroyed by a recent fire. I inhaled and the scent of fire damage immediately tweaked my memory. I knew that smell. I showered, grabbed the last can of hard cider from my fridge and headed to the Linda with a couple of talismans.

The first photo I ever saw of my father, the page from the Dublin phonebook and a stone from my father’s grave fashioned into a pendant.

Somehow I imagined there would be space there for me to actually run through my story out loud. There really wasn’t, though, with 5 other performers and an increasingly full auditorium. I drank my cider, flipping through my index cards, scanning the paper copy of my story and periodically checking the crowd to see familiar faces who had promised to come. I peed three times. More quickly than seemed possible, I was being introduced and made my way towards the stage. My last thought was this – “If you get nervous, just imagine you’re just telling the story to me. You got this.”*

I exhaled, deeply and slowly, and stepped up to the mic.

*As always, thanks Aloysius

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Filed under Albany, Aloysius, Events, family, friends, girlhood, Ireland, Irish, Local, musings, Observations, stress, upstate New York, writing

23 and me – yes, me!

As a Christmas gift to myself, I bought a 23 and Me kit. I grew up not knowing any biological family members and I was curious to see how much of the limited family lore might be confirmed – or disproven. For years I had considered my heritage to be pretty cut and dry (50% German, 50% Irish), but I had come to learn that DNA is not really that clean and simple. Yes, both of my parents had been born in the counties from which I associated them, however, that didn’t necessarily mean there hadn’t been other ethnicities mixed in with their German and Irish blood. It was time to learn for real where my people had originated.

Within days my kit, which I had ordered on Cyber Monday, arrived in the mail. I registered it online and started trying to produce enough saliva to fill the test tube to the marked line. Not an easy task for a person whose salivary glands have been damaged by radioactive iodine, folks. Approximately 40 minutes later I had what I thought was an acceptable ratio of spit to foam and capped the tube, placed it in the box and dropped it in the mail.

I received an email when the specimen was received and a couple of weeks after that, I received my results and…

Drumroll…

Apparently I’m of 100% European descent. Shocking, right?

Here’s my makeup:

  • British & Irish – 65.3%
    (Ireland, United Kingdom)
  • French & German – 20.4%
    (Germany, Switzerland)
  • Spanish & Portuguese – 0.5%
  • Broadly Northwestern European – 11.6%
  • Broadly Southern European – 1.3%
  • Broadly European – 0.9%

Despite a friend’s long held assertion that I must be Jewish, that does not seem to be the case. My love for matzoh ball soup, bagels and pickled herring remains undiminished, I assure you.

In terms of genetic makeup, there may not have been much revealed, but there were a couple of things that prompted unexpected emotions. The first was the almost immediate contact made with a woman who shares the surname of my father, the parent I never met. It’s an unusual name, outside of the county where my father was born and raised, and seeing that name, and the scientific evidence that linked she and I together, was so powerful that I couldn’t immediately even process it. Days later, I was brought to tears by this connection with someone I will likely just like my father, never know. The map that accompanied my results also confirmed my sense of community, my feeling of belonging to a family, with its concentration of relatives in Donegal, the county from which I know my father and his family originated.

I know there are controversies about services like this and about having one’s genetic information available for public consumption, but, you know me and my ridiculous drive to be transparent. I’m not all that concerned about that really. Finding out at 52 that the person you had hoped was your parent more than likely was, made 23 and me add up perfectly for this a bit long in the tooth colleen.

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Filed under aging, Europe, family, Germany, ideas, Ireland, Irish, Observations, Recommendations, relationships, Uncategorized

The lively Dead Rabbit

CAA4E970-6891-4F2F-8F5A-3FE5A16745FFEarlier this month, my oldest son and I went to the city and got us some culture. It began with a cheap (less than $120 for the night) hotel way downtown, which became an afternoon performance at the Met, a Downton Abbey exhibit and visit to the super cool oculus. Our time in NYC coincided with some of the coldest weather of the year (decade?) and we were lucky enough to have some surprisingly good options for dinner nearby in an area that has not always been known for evening dining options. On a friend’s recommendation we decided to give the just-around-the-corner Dead Rabbit try. Here’s how it went…

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First of all, I had no idea that this place was so highly regarded. How highly regarded is it? Well, it was dubbed the Best Bar in the WORLD in 2016!

Reading the various reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor also informed me that the space is divided into 3 floors with the middle and upstairs floors requiring entry from a staff member. While the first floor Taproom would have sufficed had I been on a date (as it seemed that many of the pairs surrounding us were), the second floor Parlor was where I set my sights. I had gotten the impression that it might have a bit more elbow room than was available downstairs. I requested seating on the second floor and within 15 minutes, and about midway through my delicious warm Clontarf punch, we were ushered to two seats at the cocktail bar in the Parlor.

My immediate impression? There was so much to check out! Interesting looking people, walls covered in memorabilia, along with an impressive array of small bottles containing various cocktail ingredients provided a visual feast. We were presented with the current cocktail list – a graphic novel telling the story of original Irish gangsters with drinks inspired by their exploits, and adorable little teacups of a special punch. I drank them both since my son is 20 for another 6 weeks and I’m not one to waste good alcohol. The small food menu provided options that were well matched with the frigid weather and overall classic vibe and we selected the fish & chips for my son and the chicken pot pie for me and settled in at the bar. The lighting, music and warmth of the space combined to make a very comfortable spot to spend a couple of hours – at least for me. Liam’s stay was a bit more brief.

Our meals were served piping hot and appropriately portioned for the price. My son polished off his plate completely, while I couldn’t quite manage my entire meal opting instead to sample another concoction created by the friendly and professional bar staff. Not finding exactly what I wanted on their list, I requested a bourbon cocktail with a Manhattan-esque flair and was rewarded with a beautifully balanced drink that was precisely what I was seeking. This is a terrific spot despite all the hype that surrounds it. Check it out!

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Filed under art, Boys, Dinner, drinking, Irish, Music, NYC, Observations, Recommendations, Restaurants, road trips, winter