It was so unexpected. So unplanned. So unrehearsed. And so special.
A quintessential Irish experience on a bright sunny day on the Emerald Isle.
We were traveling in rented vehicles from Wicklow Town just south of Dublin towards our destination of Kinsale in south central Ireland. My sister Ann was riding with me as my wife Renee shared a car with my brother Patrick and sister Claire. And the moment came because Claire was hungry for an ice cream cone.
We were basking in the memory of our son’s wedding in an Irish garden that previous weekend. That event got my siblings to join us in Ireland in 2000. Ed and Rebecca, native Iowans, chose to get married there and invited all of my family.
Ironically, in the summer of 1996 my sisters and brothers, including brother Tom who lived in The Netherlands at the time working for NATO, had made plans to visit the place of our ancestry in the year 2000. At the time we were mourning the loss of my 55-year-old brother Mike and 87-year-old mother, Virginia, who had died within a few months of each other. It sounded like great fun and each of pledged to make the trans-Atlantic journey.
However, as 2000 approached we all began to drop out for a variety of financial reasons. Ann was putting on an addition to her home. Pat had college expenses for his kids. Claire was approaching retirement. And Renee and I began to waver. Despite everyone’s good intentions a few years earlier, it appeared that the trip was doomed.
Then came the wedding announcement and suddenly it all was back on.
I could go on forever about the ceremony. The country side. The castles and pubs. But the most surprising moment occurred on the journey to Kinsale.
We spent several hours at the famous crystal plant in Waterford and headed south. Claire had mentioned she would love an ice cream cone, so Ann and I, in the lead car, pulled into a picturesque little village. We all got out, purchased our cones, and got into our respective cars. But just before we backed out I noticed them.
“Ann. Look! We’ve got to get a picture.”
There they were. Four Irish women sitting in front of a store. Smoking cigarettes. And doing what the Irish do best. Talking. Laughing. Arguing. Full connected. Fully engaged in their story-telling.
For a few seconds I was mesmerized.
Then I grabbed my (pre-digital) camera only to find it out of film.
“Take mine,” Ann said, “that scene is priceless!”
My first instinct was to take an un-posed shot and leave. But that would have been rude.
“Would you lovely ladies mind if I took a photograph?”
And as if choreographed, the four of them excitedly jumped up and rearranged their positions. One stood, resting her right arm on the shoulder of the woman holding a cane. Two held lit cigarettes on their laps. All smiled. All posed. I clicked the shutter, thanked them, and jumped back into my car.
To our utter surprise and delight, they rushed toward us and began chattering in an enchanting brogue.
“You did not ask us for our phone numbers!”
The obviously thought I was a newspaper person. Or a magazine writer. I could not bear to tell them the truth. That I was simply another Irish American who had fallen hopelessly in love with the country of my great-grandparents. And with them.
“May I have your names and addresses?” I asked.
All four tried to answer at the same time. Eventually, we got the information and promised to send each a photo upon our return to the states.
I think of them often. My ice cream ladies of Ireland. Each one my very own Wild Irish Rose.
I will, of course, never see them again. And, perhaps, therein lies the magic.
The encounter lasted only ten minutes. But the priceless memory will stay with me forever. I know nothing about them; and yet know everything that is important. They shared their souls in that brief moment. Their spirit. Their smiling Irish eyes.
In those ten minutes, with no warning and with no apologies, sure they stole my heart away.
8801 Stonepointe LN
Johnston, IA 50131