Wednesday morning (June 22nd) Mom and I packed up the Fiesta and hit McDonald’s for cheese toasties (add egg). The manager came to the window asking if it was ok to add the egg afterward since otherwise it would get “smushed.” We giggled at the word and said that was fine, of course! We had no idea what that word would come to mean to us in the next 2 days.
We began driving north toward Belleek, County Fermanagh (pronounced Fer-MAN-ah) in Northern Ireland. Mom wanted to visit the Belleek China factory, and we enjoyed our drive along main roads and smaller roads until we came around a curve on a small road and saw a huge semi halfway in our lane. I slammed on the brakes and tried to get as far left as I could (typical small Irish road lined with walls/hedges and no room to get out of the way). The space ahead of us was only about half the width of our car, and I think I must have closed my eyes and just waited for impact. The semi roared past us and we were untouched. I opened my eyes and couldn’t believe that we hadn’t been hit. I looked at Mom and said, “Wow, we were nearly smushed!” We kept driving and a bit later we were again nearly smushed, this time by a Jeep in our lane.
Finally, we arrived at the Belleek factory (Belleek Pottery Ltd) and paid for our factory tour. The tour was quite interesting, and we were able to chat with the artists at work at their various stations, and to witness the gorgeous work they do (video). They produce only perfect pieces, crushing any with imperfections. The work is exquisite! Mom found several pieces she loved and I was able to order a custom piece: a china gerbera daisy! I can’t wait to get to Texas and check the mail!
After the tour we drove along the north side of Lower Lough Erne, narrowly avoiding being smushed by two more trucks in our lanes as we rounded curves in the road. I couldn’t believe how many times we were nearly in an accident that day! We stopped briefly in a forest car park (I desperately needed a 15-minute nap!) and then we continued on to Enniskillen. We encountered an oncoming truck carrying several cars, with the top car wobbling and looking like it was going to come off its rails and smush us. Five times we were protected from being smushed, and we laughed as we happened to drive over an empty coffee cup in the road. Mom said, “We smushed it!” Better it than us!
From Enniskillen we continued driving to Killashandra in the Republic of Ireland, where our Airbnb for the night was located. Along the way, I noticed a beautiful green hill whose ridge was lined with a row of trees that, to me, looked like a marauding band of horsemen. We located the cottage and continued on to the village of Ballinagh to get a few groceries for the evening’s meal, then returned and checked in (video). Our host, Clare, was nice and soon we were settled for the night. Both of us were exhausted from the day, and after a quick dinner of Irish potato bread and chorizo on garlic bread, we both crashed out.
The next day I talked with Mom about how I’d been thinking about that first incident the day before with the semi and how we should really not be alive, much less uninjured. We both agreed that there was no explanation for it, other than simply God’s protection. I continue to replay that moment in my mind occasionally and each time I’m again amazed, and grateful for God’s intervention. We really should have died that day on that road in rural Ireland. There is no other explanation for why we are still here.
On Thursday we woke up and really looked around at the cottage, which was really quite dirty. We were grossed out by the bathroom and decided to just drive to our hotel in Dublin, where we would get an early check-in and get cleaned up for the day. Shortly into our 2-hour drive to Dublin we rounded a curve and (guess what?) were nearly smushed by another semi in our lane. Crazy!
We arrived without injury (!) to the Carlton Hotel near the Dublin airport, and had lunch in the hotel restaurant. Afterward we left for the Dublin Zoo, where we planned to park the car and catch one of Dublin’s Hop On, Hop Off bus tours. We couldn’t find any place within a kilometer or so of the bus stop to park, which was too far for Mom to walk, so we changed plans and drove to the Museum of Art, parking in the car park for the retail center there.
We caught the 3:15pm bus (stop #29), and intended to ride it around to stop #12, where we would get off and tour the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship and Famine Museum. It was the only stop Mom wanted to visit, and we figured we would enjoy that and then ride the bus the rest around the rest of the route (video and video). We had planned to have dinner with my other friend Yvonne in Tallaght that evening, and had allowed an hour’s drive time for a 30-minute drive.
Unfortunately, our plans were thwarted. The buses had some trouble, then our driver and tour guide changed at stop #9. As we continued, they didn’t call out the stops nor ask if anyone wanted to get off at the upcoming stops, so by the time we realized we had passed our stop, we were already 3 blocks beyond it. They let us off at the traffic light and we made our way back to the ship only to approach as the employee literally closed the gate. The last tour had just begun and it was at capacity, so we were unable to do anything more than take a few pictures and walk another block back to the bus stop to catch the next bus. The buses encountered more difficulty and crazy traffic due to US Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit to Dublin, and what should have been a 2.5 hour bus ride at the longest turned into a 4-hour saga and a 20-euro parking fee.
Sadly, we were forced to cancel dinner with Yvonne, and instead returned to our hotel. Our frustrations continued at dinner in the restaurant, where after horrible service and nearly 2 hours and 2 attempts at cooking Mom’s steak, our meals were not even close to right. At least the manager handled it correctly and in the end, our dinners were complimentary. We retired to our rooms and eventually went to sleep, knowing that in the morning we would check out early and deliver Mom to the airport for her return flight to Fargo via Chicago.
A peaceful night’s sleep was interrupted at 2:30am by a phone call from Tim to let us know that Grandma Phyllis had just called, saying that Grandpa had just passed away (obituary). That triggered some tears on my part, and several phone calls by Mom to other family and friends through her computer. Grandpa Don was the grandparent I was closest to, and Tim and I had spent quite a bit of time with him and Phyllis over the past 3-4 years. I am happy he was no longer in pain and was in a better place (he was confident his name was written in the Book of Life, and I’m confident of that, too, and at peace knowing I’ll see him again one day), but sad for my Mom and my Grandma.
Later that morning I helped Mom line up mobility assistance and check in her bags, then said goodbye and drove back to Galway with a stop at the Applegreen in Enfield. That afternoon Yvonne stopped by for coffee and a brief chat, after which I met the Murphys for a working dinner and after-dinner work session on the strategic plan document and presentation. Mom made it safely home, with Tim picking her up at the airport in Fargo and driving her back to Fergus Falls.