familiarity breeds content
On the flight from Dulles to Dublin I sat by a woman returning from Las Vegas, where she had attended the World Freestyle fight between Conor McGregor, Irish Featherweight Freestyle Champion, and Brazil’s Jose Aldo. It took you longer to read that sentence than the fight lasted. Eyes brimming with enthusiasm, she told how Conor defeated his opponent in 13 seconds. For this triumph he was paid $500,000 but fifteen million more were set to roll in. I thought it an expensive trip for such a brief contest. I heard that a man in the crowd bent down to retrieve his program and missed the fight.
Nenagh Church on Christmas Eve
Patricks turkey pie
Pats turkey pie after cooking
Christmas dinner in Nenagh 2015
Family group at Luke and Noras Christmas Day
Harvey there for Sams birthday
Kate and children at table
I was in Nenagh, Tipperary, to spend Christmas with my Irish family. Son Patrick and his wife Kate (O’Connor) have four children whom I last saw in March. It’s the first time I’ve spent Christmas with them as I avoid flying when there’s snow about, but this year it was spring-like, with blossoms on some trees, and unprecedented daffodils in bloom. An added highlight this trip was seeing my Australian grandson Harvey (13) who had flown alone from Brisbane to London where his grandparents met him, and from London to Shannon where we did. I’m proud of this youthful globe-trotting Dight. He hadn’t met his Irish cousins before, but just as when meeting his five American cousins three years ago in Arizona, they instantly connected. I publish a monthly newsletter, Dight Times, full of news and photographs, so everyone’s face is familiar. And of course, all their fathers are brothers.
The night Harvey arrived Patrick took the four boys to the midnight premier of Star Wars in Nenagh cinema. They went ice-skating on a rink that visits every Christmas, in a marquee in Limerick town center. Harry asked if I would skate too? I said “I’ve waited all my life for this opportunity, watched so much on TV, I could probably do a triple lutz.” Patrick found me a chair to sit on. Harvey and Luke had tried skating before, but Sam and Harry were new to the ice. They were soon skating without clinging to the barrier, surprisingly competent by the end of an hour. They also enjoyed ten pin bowling and laser tag, which Patrick won delightedly, but most of the time they played Minecraft cooperatively on four computers at home, experts all. The weather was clement but showery.
The Tipperary Dights are competitive players. They have shelves full of board games but I’ve seen them invent a jumping-over-sticks game in the garden, and bury each other in the sand in Dingle. This time we played an acting game; I had to mime ‘Darth Vader’. I put on a fierce expression and stomped around the kitchen, arms spread like a cloak. I should have struck a plastic pose, but they guessed correctly after a minute. Later they said “Let’s play that game again, I want to see Granny doing Darth Vader!” In a guessing game Emer (17) and her brother Harry (14) excelled, with practice and shared references. Reflect for a moment that I live alone in Virginia, distant from all five sons since the local one moved to Kansas, and you may imagine how full with joy my heart was the whole Christmas.
On Christmas Eve we all went to evening Mass. The church was packed, standing room only, but Patrick found me a seat on a long bench where occupants obliged. It’s 46 years since I was a Catholic (my Mother descended from Irish immigrants), but it was uplifting. Kate sang in the melodious choir and the church was beautiful.
Like all Dight children, my grands are enthusiastic cooks. Sam (12) made chocolate sponge, Harry made white and dark chocolate marble cake. We had wonderful meals mostly cooked by Kate: I saved her recipes for Beef and Chorizo Stew, Beef Casserole with Pickled Walnuts, and Smoked Fish Omelette. Patrick cooked Christmas dinner: a turkey with chestnut and date stuffing and a ham. Kate’s Yorkshire Puddings with Roast Beef were perfect and Patrick is the king of gravy-making. He put a whole bottle of white wine under the turkey as it roasted, producing a delicious sauce. We pulled our crackers and shared jokes: “What do you call two happy mushrooms? Fun guys.” “I can’t spell Armageddon, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Two of Kate’s brothers (she has ten) joined us with their children for festive meals. Patrick made turkey pie for twelve. Luke played his electric guitar with his new sound system and Emer, who has passed grade 8, played the piano for us. The O’Connors are all musical, sing in harmony and enliven every social occasion. Another brother and his wife, Luke and Nora, took me out for a spin and lunch. They gave me a book of short stories for Christmas, written by three times Awards winner Donal Ryan: “In haunting and often startling prose, Donal Ryan has captured the brutal beauty of the human heart in all its hopes and failings.” I relish his lyrical style. Donal Ryan’s home is in the same street four houses down from Kate and Patrick and his parents live there still.
Each evening Kate put a small table beside my reclining chair with a large gin and tonic. Every meal was delicious. I slept more soundly than I’ve slept in years. One word sums up my experience in Nenagh: Soothing. Kate and Patrick are generous hosts, kind by nature. After cataract operations in the autumn and chest colds in the winter, I arrived in fragile condition. After two weeks of family care and company, rested, with emotional batteries recharged, I left feeling elated.
I don’t just come to Ireland for the family or even the craic; I revel in the culture. Besides enjoying mostly British television, every day I read a national newspaper, the Irish Times, the Guardian or Independent. Ireland has a strong national identity but is international in outlook. A member of the European Community, they embraced the Euro as Britain has not. Many immigrants have come from Eastern Europe and beyond to live in Eire. After suffering more than most in the global downturn they’re making a good recovery. A lot of young people left the country when the boom years ended and jobs disappeared, but are starting to come back for the quality of life. More than 4,000 returned last year. The Irish Government hopes that 5,000 will return in 2016 as jobs are created. Ten years ago it was the IT capital of Europe and once again it has a growing technology industry. Scenes in Dublin airport showed some of the100,000 expat Irish people returning for the holiday from the US, Australia, Caribbean, Europe, Vietnam, welcomed by choirs and families: “missing Mam’s cooking,” as a journalist put it, joyfully home for Christmas.
I can’t help seeing Ireland as a land of opportunity. Only 25 minutes along the M7 motorway from Dublin (pop. 1.2 million) at Kildare (pop. 8412), the former Kildare Barracks are for sale at 2 million Euros, 50 acres ripe for development with broad zoning for employment, residential, educational and community use. This stirs my entrepreneurial spirit. Kildare is the bloodstock industry capital with horse training yards and the Curragh racecourse close by, along with the Irish National Stud and Horse Museum. A primary school is planned on an 8 acre site. There’s also the Kildare Outlet Centre recently enlarged to accommodate an ever increasing number of fashion outlets. Smarter fashions are in the shops than I have seen in years. Many Irish women prefer smart to casual. Irish tourism has developed the country’s hotels and restaurants; in every one the food is excellent and stylish.
During 2014 Irish real estate was the global leader in investment performance as a dramatic recovery took hold. Americans are buying much of the building land as investment, local developers having been badly burned by the property boom that went bust.
As I digest the news I read a surprising account of Mother Teresa, described as “a friend of poverty, not of the poor.” Her famous Home for the Dying in Calcutta was deliberately kept barren and destitute in Dickensian poverty, even painkillers refused on principle, “God’s will” according to Teresa who saw suffering as a virtue. She was against contraception and divorce and cited abortion as “the worst evil and the greatest enemy of peace.” Irish journalism is refreshingly outspoken on such issues.
Grand news: Seven Irish films will be shown at Sundance Festival this year. Ireland is second only to the US in terms of representation. For a country of this size (pop. 4.8 million) the scale of participation in Sundance is remarkable. The Irish film industry has flourished in recent years.
A sympathetic story about a Syrian family of six settled in Ireland fills half a page, describing their escape via Lebanon. There’s a feature about Catalan independence from Spain, on hold after secessionists fail to agree on a leader. I miss this level of international awareness in America. Record breaking temperatures in USA and forest fires in Australia, floods in Ireland, England, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina are illustrated by dramatic photographs and explained in terms of El Nino. Not a peep about climate change denial.
The Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has called for new laws to ensure denominational schools set aside places for local children who are not baptized. At present, schools are permitted to discriminate in favor of children on the basis of religion in order to protect their ethos. However, legal advice suggests that religious ethos would be protected by a majority of places, allowing up to 49% to be set aside on the basis of their proximity to school rather than religion. This is a contentious issue. Some parents have their child baptized for the school place, which pleases no one. One in five schools is oversubscribed, yet 99% of over 15s are literate. “We have a very diverse society now and we need an honest debate on the matter,” said the Minister.
A general election is anticipated around late February (a process in Ireland and UK which typically lasts weeks, rather than years in US). The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny proposes big tax cuts for the middle class, less so for the wealthy, to bring Irish taxes more into line with low tax countries such as America and Britain. US workers earning E75,000 ($81,000) pay almost E10,000 less tax than Irish employees earning the same. Irish property taxes (much lower than American) are frozen until 2019.They want to lure home Irish emigrants forced to leave during the recession.
I’m feeling the lure too.
Images: The chart is public domain. All the other photos were provided by the author.