The columnist during her enjoyable trip catching up with family in the West of Ireland and London.

Trip brings renewed feeling of wellbeing

The sun rose to welcome each new September day inviting locals as well as visitors to Achill Island’s Keem Bay. The rain stayed away, so sheep didn’t need to shelter behind stonewalls. The wild long lasting fuchsia and ripening blackberries along the road to Acadh Mór brought back memories of childhood treasures.

 Ciara McDermott’s airbnb, Murrevagh Mealóg, was a great place to start off my holiday. A short walk from the Murrevagh beach on one side and the charming Mulranny village on the other, I enjoyed great walks on the Greenway and met friendly people from all over Ireland who were enjoying staycations. The exceptional weather allowed for outdoor dining in Mulranny, Westport and other local towns I visited. I was glad that restaurants checked proof of vaccination when indoor dining was preferred. Mask-covered faces in stores with shoppers respecting each other’s space was comforting. The requirements such as passenger location forms to be filled out, was extra pre-trip planning but it gave me an added feeling of security and empowerment.

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 Catching up with the Galway cousins was a welcome connection that was missing from too much time spent alone since Covid struck. I experienced a renewed feeling of wellbeing in their warm company. The birdsong from the apple trees in Cousin Margaret’s garden greeted the morning and I felt at one with nature. Margaret, who goes for her morning exercise on the bicycle before she sits in front of a screen to work from home, returned to the office the week I was there.  Her husband Ollie usually up by 5:30 a.m. every day to milk the cows, turns into a school bus driver for a couple of hours after his morning rituals on the farm. In the evenings and weekends, he was busy training for the Ring of Kerry charity cycle. I just got word that he finished in style and made a lot of money for the Galway hospice. Congrats Ollie!

 All through lockdown last year, Ollie and Margaret began to think outside the box. They set up an outdoor chalet to connect with friends and stay socially distanced at the same time. “Casa Cova,” near their apple trees, became an inviting space. It served as a dining area for family and friends.  Margaret hung flowerpots to decorate the roll down terrapin walls. The ceiling lets in light but keeps out rain and is supported with bamboo sticks. For special occasions like Halloween and Christmas last year, they added decorations. The heater was handy on cold nights and the plants between the chairs were to me a reminder that Mother Nature sits with us – sending healing and beauty.  Family time became more important too. “We had more time for each other.” Melissa, their daughter, told me. She and her sister Tara joined their parents in games like Monopoly and “Guess Who.”

Debbie & Noel with Ciara & Seán in Covid Corner.

 Nearby in Oranbeg, Margaret’s sister Debbie and husband Noel created a lovely space they called “Covid Corner” outside their house. Here, they shared treats with their small children Ciara and Seán who did their “obair bhaile" (home work) for school in Covid Corner. When the restrictions lifted a bit, they were able to invite Grandma Áine to join them for dinner.

While in Mayo I planned to take a Ryan Air trip to visit my sister Bridie and brother-in-law Séamus in England. Because the UK had done away with all restrictions, I was nervous about the thought of going there. My worry may have accounted for why I inadvertently booked a connecting flight to Portugal on my way to Stansted. I’m sure Portugal is lovely but all I wanted was plain old Stansted and I couldn’t figure out how to fix the mixed-up booking. The helpful Ryan Air staff at Knock airport came to my rescue. I send “mile buíochas” to Colette Concannon, Amy McNicholas and Emma Loftus who put their youthful heads together and got me out of landing at Faro airport. A joyous reunion with Bridie and her family ensued.

When my holiday/visit came to an end, it was time to connect with the commercial testing facilities that do the PCR test required for return to the U.S. After getting this test done, I noticed my passport number was incorrect on the certificate. Asking for an amended certificate was a reminder to remain alert at a time when everyone has additional responsibilities and mistakes are inevitable.

 Many people helped make this long awaited visit enriching. I thank céilí friends, Bernadette and Ger for a delicious belated birthday dinner in Kinvara. Mayo friends, Anne, Cleo, Terence and Gerardine were generous with their time and company. I thank them for visits to Ballycroy National Park, music in Westport Town Hall and other treats in my home county of Mayo. 

 Before leaving, I had coffee with Mags Connell, the Diaspora Engagement Officer for the “Home to Mayo” project, a plan aimed at supporting events, which encourage the Mayo Diaspora to travel home to the County during the month of May 2022. I’m looking forward to that for sure.  

Maura Mulligan is the author of the memoir “Call of the Lark.”