In 2006, my husband, my mother, my then 4mo. daughter and 2 and 1/2 yr old son & my brother, his wife and their 2 and a 1/2 yr. old daughter took a 12 day trip to Ireland to meet the hubby's family. Back info important to the story: my mother is has many health problems and often walks w/a cane and sometimes can't get around much at all--I fell and broke my ankle in 3 places and had to have emergency surgery four days prior to our flight & my husband had just had back surgery himself in July--we left in September. So needless to say, we had our hands full the whole time. Strangers frequently stopped to help the cripple parade (I was in a wheelchair carrying Saoirse in a sling). I didn't get to much of anything I wanted, but I did get to meet the family and at least see a lot of Dublin & Galway. But here is the classic Irish story:
We had to hire out a mini-van taxi to accommodate all the gear and people and we met a lovely, funny man named Kieran--who kept picking us up. We liked him so much that we hired him to drive us across the country and back. My brother Michael is a total history buff, so he had done lots of research about our (the Chapman's) family history in Ireland. So, on the way home from Galway and Cork, we took a detour to try and find it. Not a word of this story is exaggeration.
We were in the middle of nowhere and came upon a village. Michael (my brother) went in to their version of a Shell Station (much nicer, with fresh deli & pastry) and asked if the cashier knew anything about Chapman's in the area. A woman was also in the store who interrupted and said, "A Portuguese man bought the Chapman Castle and it is being restored, but I work for him...do you want to take a look?" So, we followed her down lots of very skinny roads to the Castle. On the way, she called the local historian and told him of our adventure--he invited us to his home after our visit to the Castle. It was unsafe to enter, but of course the men went in anyway as far as they could. Way out in the field was an obelisk. They walked out to investigate and their was a plaque that said that a Chapman planted the first potato in Ireland. We couldn't believe it. Even, the historian I don't think was clear on whether or not this was complete fact--facts are funny things in a country breastfed on myth.
Then, we went to the historian's home. He invited the whole crew in. He had bookshelves of notebooks of local history he had been collecting his entire life. He was easily in his eighties. They served tea, of course. They showed us the notebooks and told us stories of the Chapman's...who came over (at least this bunch) from England. He said, "They were right bastards, all of them." To which, we laughed uncomfortably, while he remained dead serious. They were rich and greedy in a very hard time in the area. They built the Castle, many of the contents had ended up at Trinity College and various museums in Dublin. But, he was kind and gracious to us and took a family picture to hang next to all the other Americans (Chapman) that had made a similar journey over the years. He got my brother's address and I believe he wrote him a letter after we came back to the States.
None of it was planned and all happened in such a random way that to me it summed up the whole country. Kind, brutally honest and always willing to share a cup of tea or a bit of knowledge. I miss it terribly and wish for Bulmer's Cider w/ice almost every single day--in a pub with people singing loudly and proudly about 800 years of struggle.