Family Ties in “The Old Country,” Ireland

April 30, 2017

This current trip began on April 20, when I arrived to open my home in Spello and clean for guests arriving from Sacramento and staying for 2 weeks, while I had to go elsewhere and leave my home to them. After considering many options, including visiting Sardinia’s beaches, going back to Sicily again, driving a rental car to the Umbrian places I have wanted to visit—I decided to fly to Ireland to meet my Irish cousins. They are all descended from Anne Ryan (O’Neill), sister of my own great-grandfather, Daniel Ryan, who came to America in 1877 and settled in San Jose, California at the age of 22.

Daniel and Mary Agnes (Tierney) Ryan, with Mary Ellen, Robert and Agnes

Daniel Ryan family in front of their hotel in San Jose, California

Agnes, Mary Ellen and Robert Ryan (my maternal grandfather)

I have been in a cold sweat since deciding to come here to Ireland (I’m in Limerick now). I knew that my trip could not be done without a car—a right-hand drive car, driven on the left side of the road. THAT was panic-inducing for me—thinking as I fell asleep each night exactly how to execute right and left turns, trying to train myself before I ever took the wheel, wondering if I’ll make it back to Spello alive. The excitement of meeting my cousins here was overshadowed by my fears of the driving. But I could not have one without the other, so I plunged in—making reservations for a ring of stops around South Shannon, the West of Ireland, the Midlands, and then back to Limerick for a night before returning to Shannon Airport to turn in my car and fly back to Rome. No Dublin or the big cities—only Galway, right on my route. This novice driver was staying rural for a little more peace-of-mind, AND renting an automatic transmission car, so that I didn’t also have to shift left-handed while trying to remember all of the rest of the rules for driving on the “wrong side” of the road.

Steering wheel on the “wrong side” of the car

Nissan Pulsar–my rented wheels in Ireland (BTW, this is the PASSSENGER side of the car)

I got driving advice from fellow flyers on British Airways and Aer Lingus flights, as well as from both the kind passport control officer and the car rental agent at Shannon Airport. I got my rental car keys, went out to Space 22 at 10 pm to claim my Nissan Pulsar, threw my bags in the back seat, and got into the car. On the wrong side. The steering wheel was on the OTHER side. (Must have been someone chuckling somewhere nearby.) And I’ve done it since, again. But I managed the drive to Limerick, getting honks from another driver only once—it seems I had forgotten to put on my headlights and was happily driving along without them. I found my hotel and collapsed with delight that I’d survived and even found my destination. Maybe I’ll be fine driving here. Maybe.

I got fancied up this morning for my luncheon date with Martin, my Irish cousin (8 months younger than I am), and had some extra time. I decided to drive back toward the airport to visit Bunratty Castle, so beautifully illuminated in the dark last night as I passed by on the way to my hotel. I kept to the left lane (for the slowpokes, the opposite of our slow lane), and took the exit to the left, over the bridge, and then to the right toward the castle. I was carefully keeping to the left, without much traffic to concern me, when I realized I was back on the “motorway” heading back to Limerick—no castle! With the steering wheel on the right, and the castle on the left where I could not see it through the roof of the car, I had driven right by it!

How could I possibly drive by and miss a castle? (I did)

The view as I walked to the castle from the “car park”

Detail from one of the windows

Vegetation growing on the walls surrounding the castle

Thatched cottage behind Bunratty Castle, on the grounds

Back to the first roundabout (maybe 8-10 km away in the wrong direction), reverse to head to the castle for another go at the exit, the bridge, the frontage road—and soon I’d figured out my error and found the “car park.” I walked around the castle, visited the gift shop, and then drove back to Limerick to be on time to get picked up by my cousin for brunch.

We were six in all—Martin Moloney and his wife, Aileen; Mary (Moloney) Sheahan and her husband, Martin (this getting confusing yet?); Martin’s twin sister, Angela (Moloney) Butler; and me. The nearby Radisson Hotel had a marvelous Sunday buffet, and we all talked ancestors and family stories for hours, writing out a family tree for their side of the family, all descended from Anne Ryan, sister of my great-grandfather, Daniel. Over Scottish smoked salmon and roasted lamb, apple crumble tarts and buckets of tea, we talked for hours and hours—until it was nearly 6 pm. Martin is taking me tomorrow to the old Ryan home in Newport, County Tipperary, as well as to the cemetery where the elders are all buried—and bringing me “gum boots” for tramping around in the mud. (“Wellingtons,” he explained. Got it—rubber boots.)

We six cousins–Martin and Aileen Moloney, me, Angela Butler, Mary and Martin Sheahan at the Raddison for our buffet meal

This was not the best time to come to Limerick—a marathon with 10,000+ runners had most of the streets closed for the race this morning, a huge festival spread all over the historic town center brought thousands of extra people and cars into town, and Monday is Labor Day in most of Europe—May 1—and a bank holiday. After our “brunch,” Angela offered to drive me into town and show me around (saving me the driving, and giving me a chance to see Limerick’s old city landmarks), and we had a wonderful afternoon of sun and crowds and finally my first Guinness in Ireland—a real treat for me. I’ve been told Guinness anywhere but in Ireland is not the “real deal,” but watching the very particular pour for my pint was quite an education—and no simple task, nor a fast one, either. We talked endlessly in the pub where Frank McCourt met regularly with his fellow Irish writers—he the author of “Angela’s Ashes,” about his family’s desperate poverty in Ireland many years ago, and the dire conditions so many Irish faced during the early 1900s. Angela was tickled to point out the restroom doors—“Frank” for the men, “Angela” for the ladies—and the plaque outside that paid tribute to the pub’s most famous customer, Frank McCourt.

The bridge over the River Shannon in Limerick, with King John’s Castle to the right

Detail, drum tower and balcony of King John’s Castle

St. Mary’s Church, one of Limerick’s main landmarks

Celtic cross tomb marker in St. Mary’s churchyard

Gaelic version at crosswalk

English version at crosswalk

South’s Pub, where Angela took me for my first true Irish pint of Guinness

Inside South’s Pub

Plaque outside, in memory of South’s most famous  customer

Tea for Angela (the driver), and a pint of Guinness for me (Angela’s treat)

I have homework to do, thanks to Martin. He left two books with me, both with historical photographs and history from Newport (where the Ryan family home is located), and one with detailed photos of the headstones we will be seeing soon at the old family cemetery. If I post this quickly, and get to bed soon, I may have enough time in the morning to keep in good standing with Martin, and be prepared to see the headstones that help fill in the story of his side of my family tree.

Building mural in Limerick–note the ice cream garnish!

Old two-sided street sign near St. Mary’s Church

Another old advertising sign, nailed into the plastered wall

It has been a day far beyond my expectations—meeting three of the four Moloney siblings (sister Lucy and her husband, Tom were unable to come to our gathering), but I may be turning some of my admiration for Italy toward Ireland after this fine start to my trip here. Meeting my Irish cousins was my main reason for coming, more than compensating for my fear and anxiety about the driving. I’m really looking forward to seeing Martin and Aileen tomorrow, getting more information about our Irish relatives—and filling in the information I have for them about our ancestors in America from the same Ryan family—from County Tipperary, where the Ryan surnames are so common that they all have nicknames to tell them apart. I have two brothers and their families who have visited here before me, and have coaxed me to come meet Martin and my cousins—and now I’m glad I finally had a good opportunity to take their advice. I only wonder what has taken me so long to come and meet these warm and wonderful people!


(This was written April 30, the day we met for brunch–but with spotty and weak wi-fi, I’ve had nothing but problems. I decided to split this post from the previous one, and now it’s May 7 in the wee hours of the morning, and I leave my Galway “good wi-fi” to move on to Athlone in the morning. I have had photos disappear after posting, appear as only top halves, and I’ve had saved text just vanish. It’s been quite a frustrating struggle, but I upgraded the software–thinking nothing worse could possibly happen. I hope I’m right–I’m piling up information to post, and hope I can get this sorted out. Seems the first post just uploaded–at 2 a.m. on May 7, but after a week of trying to edit and post, and only after I had to completely rewrite and begin again, re-post the photos, and say a prayer. I hope I get this to work!)


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