On Monday, I got back from spending Easter with my friend Mairead’s family. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had here thus far.
The Vesey family is incredible, and they welcomed Kate, Erin, and me into their home like we were kids #6, 7 and 8. Their first 5 are: Sean, Mairead (which I learned is Irish for Margaret when her dad asked for “Maggie”), Aine [OWN-ya], Kevin, and Cait [kawtch] which is short for Cathleen [KAT-leen].
We got to Leitrim via Sligo on Thursday. We explored Sligo a little, and by explore I mean we walked to a Chinese take-away, then drove home to County Leitrim. We spent the weekend sitting around the house shooting the breeze and going to Mass with the family, watching Fawlty Towers, looking St. Louis up in the atlas and doing word finds with Cait, and learning to name all the counties of Ireland (Laois, pronounced “leesh” is the tricky one). It was a completely lazy weekend, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Church was a little interesting. For some reason, whenever I go into a church, I instinctively feel at home. Like I’ve come back to my childhood or something. In any event, Holy Thursday Mass was cool because a bunch of little girls danced traditionally down the aisle at the beginning (including Cait). As I write this, I realize that brings visions of Riverdance and Michael Flatley to mind, but the beauty of it was that it was not like that at all. It reminded me of my days at St. Ann–the little girls waiting nervously in line at the back of the church, waiting for the teacher to tell them when they should start down the aisle. The only difference was that when they went down the aisle, their tiny legs did kicks and turns and steps I, growing up a continent away, never learned.
Another cool thing was the washing of the feet. The 12 people they chose to participate were twelve of the kids who danced. It was a beautiful symbol, washing the feet of the children who use their feet for such a beautiful Irish tradition. Anyway, as we were going up to Communion, I noticed some of the parishioners were staring at us. I asked Mairead if it was because we looked foreign or if it was just because they didn’t recognize us. She said it was just because we weren’t regulars. “They look and know you’re not Vesey kids.” And, “Maybe not, maybe they look and say, ‘Sean?’ ‘Kevin?!’ My, how you’ve changed!”
Other differences in the Mass were the absence of the sign of peace, the presence of a ton of obnoxious loud toddlers (because they didn’t have a cry room), and no wine at Communion. I asked about this and the Irish kids were surprised. “Wine? For the whole congregation? That’s expensive!” And, “Can you imagine, [insert name of town drunk], he’d be turning up every Sunday in suit and all.” Other than that, the service was really fast and sometimes I couldn’t keep up with the prayers for how quickly they spoke.
Back at home, I really liked how the life of the house was centered around the kitchen. It’s a big room with a couch and television and a big old-fashioned stove for heat (and clothes always hanging around it to dry). It’s quite cosy. And neighbors trickling in and out at all hours. Each morning and evening we were meeting different neighbors, and it took me by surprise every time one of them walked in without knocking.
It rained pretty much the entire time we were there. Which was a bummer, but it was beautiful and we went outside none-the-less. That’s what Wellies are for! Well, that’s what rainboots are for, Wellies are for working in the fields. And the family found it hysterical how we called them “rainboots.” I could talk about Leitrim forever, so I’ll get to the highlights:
1) Eating real food! Potatoes and fish. Potato cakes. And man do they go through some milk!
2) Feeding the neighbors’ donkeys while they were out of town. Like cat-sitting, but more kicking involved. The donkeys ate barley and oats out of our hands. And they look exactly like Donkey from Shrek. When I asked Mairead why they kept donkeys, she shrugged and said, “For fun.” And it was fun.
3) Learning about old cottages. The walls are thick, and are traditionally two bedrooms and a kitchen. So the front of the house is just a door with two windows on one side and one window on the other. But if you look at the slope of the roof in the back, you can tell when it’s different than the front and has been added onto.
4) Going for a tractor ride. One of the neighbor boys brought over his new tractor, and it was my first time riding in one. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was monstrous. And a lot like a car. There was heat and a radio, and it was just funny to be riding down the road in a tractor in rural Ireland with Z107.7-like music blasting.
5) Animals! The Veseys had a little dog that went back and forth between their house and Granny’s little house on the other side of the driveway. But Tiny doesn’t really like people to touch him, so he wasn’t all that much entertainment. But one of the neighbor boys made it better by bringing over one of the puppies from his family’s litter. It was the tiniest dog I’d ever held, and I couldn’t stop giggling. And I hung out with some cows. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a cow, much less a baby!
6) Dyeing Easter eggs with Cait. This is something that the Irish do not understand at all. Mairead said, “What a waste of eggs.” We were like, you’re supposed to eat them! Later, when we had a picture of the process up on Facebook, Leanne (another Irish neighbor) commented, “What a waste of eggs!” Anyway, there was one small problem. The Irish eggs are brown and tan. Very seldom are there white ones. So dyeing was a bit of a strange process, trying to predict what color each egg would turn.
7) Easter Vigil is only an hour and fifteen minutes long in Ireland! And afterward, Mrs. Vesey gave us each a huge chocolate egg.
8) We saw a little old man on a hill really far away near cows. Mairead said, “That’s Vincent going to check the cows.” I asked what exactly that entailed. She shrugged, “Counting them, making sure they’re all there, making sure they’re all right…”
9) Showing Cait how to make s’mores over a flame on the oven in the kitchen.
10) Waking up to the sounds of musical instruments. Kevin would be playing the accordion or Aine would be on the piano. Once or twice I heard a tin whistle, but they were mostly shy about it and would stop playing if you walked in.
11) Gaelic football. I saw my first two matches, one in the pouring rain, and learned all the rules. Looks like soccer with hands to me.
12) Meeting the Veseys’ cousins in Carracastle, County Mayo, where Mr. Vesey grew up.
13) Seeing the Lake Isle of Innisfree (which they warned would be a let down–but I figured as much from the poem–if all there is to do there is grow beans, then it’s probably not much of a party), visiting Yeats’ grave, seeing Ben Bulben, and other tourist attractions I couldn’t name in “Yeats’ Country” four days before the due date of my paper on Yeats that I had yet to begin.
14) Attending the grand reopening of Cartown ([car-uh-town] when the Irish kids pronounce it), the largest nightclub in Ireland. Meeting all Mairead’s friends and that friendly Irishman Mr. Jameson. And going out on Easter Sunday (it’s a popular night out since Easter Monday is a bank holiday and nobody has to work).
15) Irish life lessons. [zed] is Z. [haych] is H. What they call jelly is actually jello and what we call jelly they don’t have. The Veseys used to keep sheep as pets (and one was named Floppy Lugs, which is slang for ears).
Moral of the story: I have new life goals. To marry a farmer and settle down in Leitrim to keep donkeys for fun and live out the rest of my days in Wellies.