The following is an Irish Story submitted by Julie Appleton as part of our 2015 Reader Story competition. The winner of the competition will be announced on February 14, 2015. Please do feel free to leave your comments, questions – and encouragement! in the comment section at the end of the story. ~Mike Collins.
We had argued, well heatedly discussed all year the possibility of being invited to a wedding in Germany. I wasn’t winning and everything my husband Mike said was perfectly reasonable, it would be an expensive trip. Finally the invitation arrived on an evening when the house was packed with noisy cousins, an offspring and her husband, our darling granddaughter, another young friend who was here to cut hair. The noise, the mess and the fun was immeasurable. Mike came home from work and was immediately assaulted by a jet stream of laughter and chatter, and the wedding invitation.
I hesitated, but had to let him know that everyone had decided to stay for dinner. Without a word he gathered up our granddaughter and made for the front door beating a hasty retreat. “We’ll get garlic bread!” he called back to us. He returned a little later with the granddaughter, the garlic bread, and a stack of European travel books.
There was just 6 weeks to get things sorted. This would be it, the big trip! Some time-out would be welcome after a year perpetually interrupted by ill health in first one relative and then another (absolutely everyone had a turn). And besides it put off my own health check for a couple of months and I figured I already knew that those results would be …. not so good.
So a speedy 21 days around Europe; the German wedding of two young people we had grown very fond of after their quick visit to Sydney; time with old friends; and off on another 21 day British Isles in Depth coach tour. Some flexibility was offered within the itinerary, and the route took in places relevant to my Scottish ancestry, and stopped in places we could meet up with even more friends. But we could not believe our eyes at the road trek round Ireland.
For many nights we looked again and again at the travel itinerary and the road map of Ireland. Our very own ancestry springing from Inniskillen, Fermanagh and Antrim would wait for another trip.
There was no doubt about it the coach would go within 3 kms of Glin Castle, one of the places connected to mother-in-law’s ancestry.
Mother-in-law had been a part of the family for over 10 years and we knew only very little about her. Mike’s father was 80 when they met and being both widowed they married, beginning a new era for all of us. I had been playing with family history for years, Mike was a good research assistant, and often we drove long distances on weekends looking at libraries, houses, and final resting places. Mother-in-law had graciously borne and even shown interest in all of the chatter. But her family history remained shrouded in privacy until one year just before Christmas she confided that she really would like to know more of her own family history.
“Judy I never know what to get you for Christmas, but there is only 3 weeks to go. I’ll try.” And so armed with a piece of paper three inches by three inches covered in quickly scribbled names, places and dates, we returned home to attack the computer. By 2am the bones of a fascinating story had emerged. In Ireland she was linked to castles, lands, wills, abducted heiresses, court cases, and younger sons emigrating to the other side of the world; equally matched in Australia by, farms, cattle stations, homesteads, from Wagga NSW to Cape York Queensland; east to the coastal rainforests and west almost as far as Broken Hill. Energetic risk takers, war heroes, builders of a girls’ school (outrageous at the time!), scandals, a great uncle speared on a northern property, and socialite columns in Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. One and a half million acres, much lost in the 1890s global recession yet a story to be very proud of.
Just as the Knights of Glin were respected and held in high esteem by the locals – one had worked untiringly with the poor during the 1840s famine, died of typhoid fever – so were the Australian family reported to be well respected pastoralists, and highly regarded by the indigenous cattlemen in their employ.
Next morning I couldn’t wait to get on the phone to Judy. “Did you know about all this?”
“Little bits maybe, but not really.” came her amazed reply.
Knowing how private Judy was we decided to ask her permission first before we approached the Castle. She did not hesitate for a second, “I want a photo of you knocking at the front door!” and she crowed with delight.
The task became a tad daunting when there was no response from the Castle to letters, emails, or phone calls. What had seemed like a sensible and quite reasonable thing to do before leaving home, became more of an impertinent intrusion as the time drew near. Sightseeing along the Irish roads presented to us a kaleidoscope of beauty and greenness, coastal vistas and village quaintness. All wrapped up in the most perfect weather ever according to our Tour Director. In Sligo people at the hotel greeted us with: Welcome to Florida! The weather was perfect in deed.
Mike approached our Tour Director with the suggestion that we might detour the coach to Glin. Our TD consulted our super efficient driver, and they jumped at a chance to do something out of the ordinary. After all it would only add 6 or possibly 12 kms to the day’s drive around the Dingle Peninsula to Killarney.
Knowing this was actually going to happen almost made our courage fail entirely. Should we tell our fellow travellers or not? What on earth would we say or do? Knock on the castle door and: Surprise, we are your very very distant ….! Just what does one do with a coach load of Australians while we do…. what? All too soon we were leaving Ennis behind, and being loaded onto the ferry across the mighty River Shannon headed for Tarbert. The sky was a perfect blue with crystal clear air. Suddenly the TD beckoned us off the coach.
“I am so sorry, but the driver of the truck up front, says we won’t be going to Glin today because the Council is resurfacing the road and it’s unpassable. There’s nothing I can do, I am so sorry.” Mike was shaking his hand and thanking him for trying. People on the bus were lip reading and very curious about what had just happened. What had gone wrong? Something was majorly wrong! With my back to the coach I doubled up with laughter, Mike had worked for 30 years with local Council in Sydney, and it now seemed ironic that the dastardly hand of Council had ruined our plans.
Distractedly we bundled back onto the coach and did not say anything to our very curious audience. With much whispering between us: “We can hire a car and drive back from Killarney” and, “No we can’t!” Very soon the Dingle Peninsula worked its magic and the afternoon was breathtaking in its dramatic beauty. Narrow winding roads, sheer cliffs and sparkling sea. Over dinner the menfolk prised the story out of Mike. They were unanimous: “Just hire a car and drive back!” And so we did.
With Satnav guidance we took many back roads and detours as we neared Glin. Council was resurfacing the roads everywhere before the end of summer, they seemed determined that we should not reach our goal. Still hey presto, and there we were in the very quaint village of Glin. Just one main road led down to the Shannon, and we looped around checking out the ancient tower, waterfront, charming township and entry to the Castle. A brief stop in a coffee shop for soup and courage was essential.
We saw the unpretentious burial place of the Knights of Glin; the chapel that is now an IT training school; the local Catholic Church; and the arched main gate. We passed under the stone arch and commenced the long drive to Glin Castle, at least half a kilometre of trees and meadows and gardens with the River Shannon creating a picture perfect backdrop. And there it was the front door! We drove further round to a rear entrance. I wish I could say we marched up to the door, but instead we fairly tip-toed to the door, the gravel grated and crackled making our presence known. We knocked and in just a short while the housekeeper opened the door. “Madam and the family are in Dublin at the book launch for a few days, there is no one at home.” We gave her a copy of the family history booklet outlining their Australian connection, and asked permission to photograph the gardens.
Had the family been home we might have stayed for a few moments, but with permission we strolled around the grounds for over an hour. We felt like we had fallen into fairy land, all manicured lawns and topiary trees. Giant pots overflowing with colourful flowers. Dainty cyclamen peeked out beneath the shelter of ancient trees, contrasting with the old grey stone buildings of the farmyard. In fact I had difficulty getting Mike back in the car. And we did take that prized photo of Mike knocking at the front door of the Castle!
Later at home, I made a photo book for Judy and included briefly:
Glin Castle, County Kerry, Ireland
Glin Castle in County Kerry, is one of Ireland’s historic properties, and has been in the Fitzgerald family for over 700 years. The last and 29th Knight of Glin, Desmond Fitzgerald died in 2011 and sadly the hereditary title is lost as he and Madam Olda had but three daughters.
Glin Castle stands on the bank of the River Shannon in the middle of 395 acres (160 hectares) surrounded by formal gardens, parkland, wood and farmlands. Lilies of the Valley and ivy covered ash, oak, and beech trees line the driveway. In season the gently sloping lawns are covered with daffodils, and scatters of miniature cyclamen surround the trees.
The Castle is a Georgian house with Gothic details. The interior is superb with decorative plasterwork, and collections of Irish furniture and paintings. The village of Glin, and the main entrance to the castle grounds, are just 6 km from Tarbert along a picturesque road that follows the bank of the River Shannon.
Mother-in-law treasured that book till she succumbed a year later to the cancer she had battled so valiantly. Tales from the ‘Old Country’ kept her entertained till the last. And as for me, I was to learn an expensive lesson that not everything that frightens is cancer after all. Any doubts, get it checked asap.
For all of us Ireland was unforgettable.
New South Wales,
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