We arrived in Ireland at 8:30 am, which would be fine if one could sleep on the flight over, but seeing how I slept less than 2 hours, I was a bit drained. I was worried about this since I was responsible for driving a seven passenger vehicle immediately upon arrival. Since I was the only one in my party who could drive a standard transmission, I played the role of chauffeur for the week. Given the lack of sleep, it was a challenge figuring out how to drive a stick shift on the opposite side of the car (meaning you have to shift with your left hand) while getting used to driving on the left side of the road. (There was an almost comical moment in the airport parking lot trying to figure out how to put the car in reverse, which was not obvious and necessitated a detailed review of the instruction manual. After that fiasco, I abandoned all hope of ‘practicing’ in the airport parking lot and decided to hit the road instead).
Leaving the airport is fairly easy as you drive on highways that are very much like the highways in the US. Road conditions vary widely in Ireland, a point that I learned on this trip. We made the one hour drive to our first B & B first to drop off our bags and freshen up a bit, before setting out on our first adventure.
The Curley’s are from a small town in western Ireland called Kiltormer. My grandparents grew up together in Kiltormer and came to the US in the late 1920s. Both of my grandparents were from large families (my grandfather was one of 13 children), but neither of my grandparents ever returned to Ireland. And neither my father nor his sister had ever been to Ireland, notwithstanding a keen interest in the country and an expressed desire to go to Kiltormer. Fourteen years ago I visited Ireland with the great Ian O’Riordan and we dropped in unannounced one day to see if I could find any trace of a relative who may have been left. That day in 1999 was incredible as I found several Curleys in Kiltormer, including my father’s first cousin. I spent the last 14 years trying to convince my father to visit Kiltormer in person and finally succeeded earlier this year.
Although located only 15 miles from our B & B, it took us an hour to actually find Kiltormer. The west of Ireland is fairly rural and the signage is either poor or non-existent. We stopped several times to ask for directions. Everyone we asked was friendly and gave us directions, but the landmarks were not obvious and the roads were not labeled. In fact, some of the roads we traveled on were no more than the width of a driveway, which made it hard to distinguish between public roads and private driveways. As a consequence, we wound up arriving at the doorstep of more than one private residence. But it was a unique way of experiencing that part of Ireland.
Ever since my visit 14 years ago, my father and his cousin have spoken many times on the telephone and there has been an open invitation for us to visit. So when I called and told our relatives we were going to be in Ireland and would love to visit, the response we got back was enthusiastic. When we arrived in Kiltormer we were greeted by several family members, all of whom were first or second cousins. It was an amazing feeling to reunite my father with his cousin and to meet two of my cousins. Everyone was so nice and accommodating, especially since my boys were running around, oblivious to what was happening. After just a couple of hours my father was right at home in Kiltormer and was an honored guest. He spent the next week with his cousin meeting other family members, visiting the homes of his parents (one of which is still in the Curley family), seeing gravestones of long deceased relatives (he found the grave stone of his great-grandfather) and experiencing life in the town he had heard so much about from his parents and family friends. Even if the rest of trip had been a disaster, I would have been happy based on how well we were received in Kiltormer and how happy my father was finally being there. My father stayed in Kiltormer for the week while the rest of us explored various parts of Western Ireland.
Note: It is highly unlikely that anyone reading our blog would find the need to stay in that part of Ireland, but if you ever find yourself looking for a B&B near Ballinasloe or Loughrea, we can highly recommend Cartron House. There are many horseback riding facilities in the area and Anne was a great host.