I’ve often heard people say that you should find something to be thankful for every day. Usually, this is the kind of thing we have to remind ourselves to do. During this trip, however, I didn’t need to be reminded – at some point each day, I was struck by how lucky I was to be there. This trip was a huge learning experience. I learned so much about Ireland, but about myself as well. I braved the unknown and was rewarded in more ways than I could have imagined. I don’t mean to overly romanticize – yes, of course there were challenges. There were ugly moments. There were days when I was less than enthusiastic. But these fade in my memory compared to the moments of happiness. Before we left for Ireland, Andrea Frantz said that we would find magic in everything if we paid attention. I think she was right.
The time we spent in Ireland was also especially meaningful to me because it gave me a better sense of the context of my own family’s history, and the stories I have grown up with. I brought with me a few of the articles my mother’s father, Gerald Peters, had written about his family and Irish heritage. I also brought along a few newspaper articles written about my father’s grandfather, Thomas “Irish” Langan. They were in the back of my mind throughout the trip. Visiting the place my family comes from definitely made me more aware of how place is a part of identity. While I was always very aware of my family’s Irish history, I feel that I understand far better what that actually means now. I better understand how places themselves have meaning because of the stories that are associated with them, with people’s lived experiences, and now some of these places are meaningful for me because I have had transformative or memorable experiences of my own.
Coming home was an equally special part of the journey, because it was like the completion of a circle. We arrived back where we had begun two weeks before, but I was not the same as I had been then. Coming home was a mix of overwhelming joy and bitter reluctance to let the experience end. On the plane ride home, I stared out the window thinking about how I might easily never have had this experience. And I was so glad that I did. To say I will never forget it is a vast understatement.
I will commemorate the experience in writing and photographs so that I may carry it with me for the rest of my life. And I will never stop being thankful for it.
During our last night in Sneem, we heard “A Song for Ireland” at Pub Night. It now reminds me of our entire trip, and I have decided that I love it.
Living on your western shore,
Saw summer sun sets, I asked for more,
I stood by your Atlantic Sea,
And I sang a song for Ireland