People from Ireland, and descendants of people from Ireland, have always been in my life. My hometown in Connecticut has its fair share. I myself, as my Dad often said, am “a wee bit Irish.”
Grandma Ethel James, born in Nebraska, was a distant cousin of the Nation’s 23rd Vice President, Adlai Stevenson, and is my “wee bit” ancestral link to Ireland. Throughout my radical years I rooted for Irish rebellion, the throwing off of the British yolk. Of course over time I learned more history and the complicated dynamics of groups of folks working out their relationship with others.
I finally got to go to Ireland on the front and back end of trip to the USSR with other left-wing leaning jocks in 1990 that was organized by Guy Benjamin, the former Stanford and 49’rs quarterback and Executive Director of Athletes United for Peace.
Our group of aging athletes landed in Shannon, grabbed a Guinness, changed planes and headed to Moscow. Ten days later I spent 72 hours driving around Ireland and Northern Ireland with Guy and Dan Goich. Dan is a Chicago guy who played ball at Berkeley and played in the pros with the St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Lions and New York Giants.
The legendary announcer Howard Cosell of Monday Night Football once asked, “what's a Goich?” And the Giant’s owner effectively banned him from the NFL because of his role a strike by the players against the owners. We visited, in rapid succession, Galway and Westport, and spent some splendid time at Kilclullen’s hot salt water and seaweed baths in Enniscrone. We spent a night in Easky, then crossed the militarized checkpoint and drove into Northern Ireland.
What struck me, besides the barbed wire, concrete, and armed guards in towers at the border, was how less rocky the land was in the North. We made it to Belfast where we ate steak, drank Guinness, and ventured out to the Falls Road, focal point of “the troubles” between Catholic and Protestant. We spent a night by the Irish Sea at a bed and breakfast run by a man who raised cattle, grew hops for Guinness and knew well the Irish track and field scene.
We spent a few hours in Dublin, then on to a river town and a bed above a lively bar for the night, before returning to Shannon and the flight home. In 2005 I returned to Ireland with my wife Paige for a belated honeymoon, and a longer stay.
I asked: “Do you want to go on a trip?” “Yes.” “Do you want to go to Iowa? Wisconsin? Or Michigan? Oh, or Ireland?”
She chose Ireland. This “Irish honeymoon” coincided with my friend, the writer and basketball coach Rus Bradburd, taking his professional Basketball Team, the Tralee Tigers to victory in the league championship series.
We were there to take in the victory. Besides taking in the minimal Irish pro basketball scene, we lived it up on St. Patrick’s Day, talked politics, hung out with Rus and his fiddle at Irish “sessions,” had great food, experienced sun and strong rain, swam in some beautiful indoor pools, and hit the cities of Limerick, Tralee, Dingle, Kinsale, Cork and the Shannon Airport.
We were also there on the eve of the Nation’s much-needed smoking ban. I like Ireland; it’s beautiful. Even if I weren’t “a wee bit Irish,” I ‘d go there again. It’s in the plans.