The first time I crossed the border I was 23 and we were on our honeymoon. We had time in between hotels and my new husband thought it would be a good mental stepping stone for me if I could say that I was married and that I had been out of the country at least once. On the way home, we got stopped by border services. Two young people crossing the border in a limited period of time was, I guess, suspicious. They searched us, our car and my purse and found nothing. We hadn’t bought a single thing as the vending machines wouldn’t accept Canadian coins.
The majority of my travels didn’t start until 5 years ago. My oldest daughter, an avid Disney fan, decided that we should visit the “Happiest Place on Earth”. We asked her sister to tag along and got our passports. That was the beginning of many international trips.
The vacation we took to Ireland this past summer was unexpected. My son and husband had been planning to go together and had booked 10 months in advance. The package included a packed itinerary of flights, hotels, tours, train tickets and taxis. Not much planning was necessary. A job change and a vacation conflict later, G was no longer able to go and my name landed on the tickets.
This was the visit to Europe for both of us. My husband is a genealogy buff so he had carefully researched our family tree, including our Irish roots.
We had a fabulous time during our week. We explored Dublin, went on a day trip to Wicklow, Glendalough and Kilkenny, reconnected with a former colleague who is now working at Trinity College, crossed the country in a train to Galway, visited museums and took another day trip to Connemora and Cong before heading back to Dublin.
The weather was temperate and rainy and reminded me of the west coast of Canada. One of our guides told us that there is a tradition of rain dances in Ireland to get it to stop raining. Overall we enjoyed good weather. We saw many sheep and cows on our travels including a sheepdog demonstration at Glendalough. The gardens were lush and green and the window boxes on the sides of homes and shops were bursting with colour.
The most spectacular garden we visited was the Victorian Walled Garden at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara. Originally constructed as a gift to Mitchell Henry’s bride Margaret in the 1860s, the home was sold after Margaret’s untimely death and renovated by the subsequent owner. In 1920 it was sold to Benedictine Nuns who used it as a private girls’ boarding school. It would have been a stunningly beautiful place to study with the lake out front, a mountain behind and a beautiful castle-like building as a classroom.
The school is now closed, and the site is open to the public. Efforts are underway to fully restore the mountainside Victorian garden which at one time housed 21 heated greenhouses. Highlights for me included the stream, the head gardener’s house, the garden shed, the two restored grow houses, the tea house on the mountain side and the gardens themselves. The flowers include many of my favorites. The garden also includes 1892 apple trees and strategically placed vegetable beds.
The entire trip was a magical experience for both of us. We had a chance to reconnect with the history, people and land that is part of our heritage as descendants of the Irish diaspora. It was comforting to see that although the lands are far apart, gardens planted by our extended families still bloom on both sides of the Atlantic and many of the flowers I love are grown there too. Home is where your garden is. We are hoping for a return visit in a year or two.