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This is an online diary of my latest trip to Ireland.
Dennis J. Ahern

Monday, March 28th

As my flight home didn't leave until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I slept in until 8 o'clock and then dawdled over breakfast. Before going back to the room to pack I stopped at the desk to see if I could buy a stamp to mail my postcard with. No such luck, but while I was at the counter another hosteler inquired about the bus to the airport and was handed a piece of paper with a map showing where to board a local Dublin bus around the corner on Upper Dorset Street. I asked for one myself and found that the local only cost €1.75 and ran every 15 minutes, whereas the air coach that I had intended to pick up down in O'Connell Street was €7. All the years I've been doing this I've always walked down to O'Connell Street to get the bus to the airport. You know what they say about men never asking for directions. The good news is I wouldn't have to schlep my bags the extra blocks to the city centre. The bad news is, I wouldn't be able to stop at the GPO to get a stamp and mail my postcard.

When I went to go back to my room, I discovered that the key card didn't work. It was after 10:00 by now, which is the check out time, and my card had expired. I went back to the desk and explained my situation and they put another couple of hours on it. Packing for the last time is a chore because you always seem to have acquired more stuff than you brought. In the past, I've anticipated this challenge by bringing some underwear that had seen better days. We've all been told by our mothers to always put on clean underwear in case we got hit by a car and had to go to the hospital, but I've found that if I have some threadbare unmentionables to jettison at the end it frees up space for new acquisitions. I managed to stuff a lot of laundry in the case for the breathing machine and tied that securely to the frame below the pack. This meant I would have only one shoulder bag to worry about and would have a hand free for whatever I picked up at the duty-free before boarding the plane.

Pretty soon I was all set to go and bade farewell to the staff at the desk. It seemed like I still had plenty of time so I stopped at the €1/hr cybercafe in Blessington street to update my blog and check my mail. After some time had passed it occurred to me that the hour of departure was growing near and maybe I better get out to the airport and check in, though I didn't expect there would be much of a crowd for a Monday in March. I only had to wait about a ¼ hour before the bus showed up, but it was jam packed and I had to stand so I kept my pack on my back and leaned against the post in the rear door-step where it said "No Standing". It turns out when they said this bus was a local, they really meant it and we were soon going off into neghborhoods I'd never seen on any previous run to or from the airport. Eventually I got a seat on one of the sideways facing seats near the front door that are up high and your feet don't touch the floor. I kept my pack on as there wasn't any available stowage space that didn't already have someone's suitcase or a pram.

Arriving at the terminal I found the ticket counters to be mobbed with long lines of people pushing their baggage along as they snaked forward. It took me a while just to figure out which line to get in and once I did it was clear this was going to take more than an hour before I would get to the counter. It was then that I remembered that I didn't have a paper ticket, but rather an electronic one. Off to one side of the line there was a free-standing console that said something about passengers with tickets. I fished out the piece of paper that I had printed out before I left home that had a code number on it and showed it to an attendant who was keeping the line in order. She said yes, I could check in with that and showed me how to use the machine which, when fed all the pertinent details, spit out a boarding pass that allowed me to bypass the crowd and head for the gate.

The security checkpoint was moving pretty well as they had several stations open. Everyone was taking off their shoes without being told. Soon I was through and reshod and heading for the duty free shops. I had only a few things to buy, some Bailey's for myself, some dark chocolate for my wife, smoked salmon for a friend and my son wanted some Caffrey's ale if they had any. Wright's of Howth supplied most of what I sought, plus I got some Bewley's tea bags for myself. They didn't have any Caffrey's but there was a 2-for-1 deal on the Bailey's so I got two litres and headed for the gate. It seemed like there was still time so I stopped at the cafeteria-style restaurant for an Irish breakfast, chips and a tea to sustain myself in case the Aer Lingus offering failed to satisfy. I also had some bottles of orange juice in my bag in case I got thirsty on the plane. The plane had already completed boarding when I got to the gate and they were paging "passenger Ahern" so I had to make a bit of a dash at the end, but got my seat OK.

It was only a brief hop from Dublin to Shannon where we were informed that we would all have to get off and go through U.S. Customs and Immigration screening and must take all of our hand luggage and parcels with us as the plane was going to be searched before we could reboard and anything we left would be confiscated. This was a nuisance, and guaranteed that I would not be making any additional purchases at the Shannon Duty Free while waiting to reboard. I did window shop a bit to kill time, and looked to see if Shannon's alcohol offerings included Caffrey's. Thankfully they had not as that would have been the straw that brought me to my knees. Going through the immigration control line, non-U.S. citizens had to put there thumb on a scanner that took an image and have their photo taken by one of those little tennis-ball sized cameras like they use for computer conferencing. Whereas I always use my Irish passport when landing in an E.U. country, I use my U.S. passport going home. The first time I ever used my Irish passport was when I landed at Heathrow in '93. I was through the line in less than a minute, while my companion was in line for an hour and forty-five minutes. I had time to retrieve our packs, buy a paper and have my morning coffee while I waited. Going home was another story, however. Going through the passport controls, I showed my U.S. passport, which I had previously used for a trip in '91. It had a stamp showing my arrival at Heathrow with the notation "Good for six months. No work allowed". The fellow perusing my documents looked at me and asked if I had any other passports that I travelled on. When I said yes, he asked which kind and when I answered "Irish" he said OK and waved me through without asking to see it.

There was a large group of teenaged girls boarding at Shannon, all carrying fan-shaped garment bags. I deduced that they were step dancers returning from the recent world championships that had been held, I think, in Kerry. I wonder what they packed their wigs in. Those masses of curly ringlets that have become stylish since Riverdance are not their own hair I've discovered.

Horatio Lord Nelson and Daniel O'Connell
Horatio Lord Nelson looking down on Daniel O'Connell and Carlyle Bridge

The inflight meal was lasagna, at least that was the option I chose. It was reasonably good, but whenever I fly Aer Lingus I reflect on my very first air travel as a teenager in '61 on an Aer Lingus Boeing 707 from Boston to Shannon when the meal was filet mignon. And I wasn't travelling 1st class, either. That trip cost me $277 to fly Boston> Shannon> Edinburgh> London> Liverpool> Dublin> Boston and beverages were on the house, though at my age I was limited to orange squash. This trip cost me $412 round-trip Boston to Dublin, and drinks were not free. The other thing that was different was, in 1961 Nelson's Pillar still looked down on Daniel O'Connell, for whom Sackville Street had been renamed after Ireland won partial independence from Britain. When next I came to Dublin, in 1967, Nelson had been blown away by the I.R.A. His place has now been taken by the Millenium Spire, which cannot accurately be described as pointless.

Daniel O'Connell and the Millenium Spire
Daniel O'Connell and the Millenium Spire

The flight home was uneventful, certainly smoother than the trip over. I had a window seat which meant I could look forward to following the coastline of Atlantic Canada and New England, picking out from the air, geography of other trips by land and sea. Alas, when we approaced Newfoundland, it was hard to tell what were ice floes and what were low clouds. By the time we were cruising over the Gulf of Maine it was too cloudy to identify any of the bays and islands I knew from the nautical charts of long-ago vacations. The skies are not the only thing that seems to have become clouded. It appears my memory has been playing tricks on me. While I was in Ireland I somehow managed to write up my journal within a few days of events, but documenting the last three or four days of the trip has been the hardest thing to do. It seems there was so much catching up to do once I got home, that updating the blog became harder to do and the brief scribbles in my pocket notebook became ever more cryptic. Reflecting upon the return flight it dawned on me that the in-flight move was "The Incredibles". I knew I had seen the missing first part of this movie during my trip, but mistakenly mingled it with the other movies I had seen at the cineplex in Dublin Road in Belfast on the Saturday night. They say memory is the second thing to go, but I don't remember what the first is. I have this weird ability to recall where I saw certain movies decades ago, and in many cases, who I saw them with. For example, I can remember seeing both "Barry Lyndon" and "Tom Jones" with MP and LK at what was then the University Theater in Harvard Square, and around the corner at the Brattle is where I saw "Alexander Nevsky" and "Sundays with Cybelle", the latter with SJ, but Nevsky was truncated by the tear gas wafting in from the riot taking place in the Square to protest the bombing of Cambodia. We managed to maneuver my VW bus past the overturned burning vehicles to get to my companion's apartment near Central Square, but no amount of coaxing on my part could convince them to go back for the 9:00 show. "That Man From Rio" I saw at a long-since-gone theater that was on a side street behind Symphony Hall. I was by myself and confused. A friend had said I really had to go see this hilarious movie about a guy in a gorilla suit trying to win back his ex-wife. It turns out they had seen "Morgan: a Suitable Case for Treatment" but the movie had changed the night I got there and I spent the whole time wondering when the guy in the gorilla suit was going to show up. "The Graduate" was with JM at the theater across Boylston Street from the Prudential Center, and my son was two weeks old when I took him to see "The Empire Strikes Back" at the Fine Arts in Maynard. "Aliens", the second scariest movie I ever saw, was at the cinema in back of the current one in Lexington, and the scariest movie I saw was the original "King Kong" at the Capitol in Arlington. When that ape first came out of the jungle, I told my friends, Stevie and Paul, that I was going to get some popcorn. I went and got my dime back and went home. I never did see the whole thing until it showed up on Sunday afternoon movies on TV years later. I suppose it is not surprising that I can remember where I saw what four decades ago, but can't recall something from a month ago. That's one of the reasons I decided to write this blog. I've been to Ireland so many times in the past 14 years that the trips start to blend into each other in my memory. Most of this has been written while it was still fresh. There's nothing profound in this writing, but it may prove interesting to some. Who knows, maybe my grandchildren, if I have any, will someday find this floating around the Web like an epistolary flying Dutchman.

OK, OK, I promise to wrap this up without further digression. My flight was due to land at Logan at 5:35 p.m. If I was lucky, I might be able to catch the 6:15 commuter train from North Station and be home in Acton by 7:12. Of course, the arrival time given on airline schedules is when the wheels are expected to hit the tarmac. Getting your stuff and going through customs is another matter. What about those little boxes you were asked to check off on the landing card form? Is smoked salmon a meat product? Should I have checked it? When I came home from a summer in Scotland in '61 I brought some haggis, two of them actually. I was already the last one of the plane due to a misplaced Hummel I bought for my aunt Fran at the Shannon duty free. My family was already wondering if I had missed the plane home and here I was being interrogated by a customs official as to what exactly was a haggis, or haggi in this case as I had obtained a pair. Standing there in my newly acquired kilt of the MacIntyre tartan and my Scottish boy scout uniform with broad-brimmed hat, I was trying to explain when I was interrupted by the Aer Lingus stewardess behind me in line who said "De ye no ken wha' haggis is? Let the poor wee boy through with his haggis" whereupon the customs official shrugged his shoulders and waved me through to the bosom of my family. There was to be a bit of a party to welcome me home, and on the ride from the airport I told my parents all about how the flightless wild haggis has one leg shorter than the other in order to run around on the steep hillsides of the Scottish Highlands and that they have quills like a porcupine to protect them from predators. With this buildup I proceeded to boil the turnip-sized beast in the kitchen while my family and friends sat around the dining room table in expectation of a feast. Presenting it steaming on a platter, I drew my skean duibh (black knife) from its stocking sheath and pierced the intestinal skin. When the swollen innards broke forth, my mother didn't even try for the bathroom, but ran out through the kitchen and threw up under the lilacs.

Oh, right, I promised no more digressions. I got through customs with little delay, my backpack having surfaced early on the carousel, but by the time I was out to the street it was six o'clock. There was no way I could make it to North Station on public transportation in 15 minutes and the next train after that was 7:35 so I called my wife and asked her to activate our fallback option, which was that she would drive in and meet me at the Alewife station at the Western end of the Red Line subway. The great thing about Boston is that you can get into the city from the airport quite easily and quickly on what some call "the T" which is short for MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority], but used to be the MTA [Metropolitan Transit Authority] back when the Kingston Trio were singing about poor Charlie who had to "ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston" due to a fare increase he couldn't afford to pay to get off. The only bad thing about getting someplace from the airport is the blue line doesn't connect with the red line. You have to either change for the orange line at State Street and go one stop to Washington Street [now Downtown Crossing], or change for the green line at Scollay Square [now Government Center] and go one stop to Park Street. Either way is a bother, but I prefer the green line as it is ever so slightly shorter, and the connection from one platform to the other is easer at Scollay Square. Unfortunately, the escalator was out at Government Center and I had to climb the stairs with my bags and parcels. The platform was crowded but I managed to squeeze into a trolley heading for Park Street, where I hopped off and headed as fast as I could for the stairs down to the red line platform. You have two options at this point. You can go down to the middle platform, from which you can access trains going in either direction, or you can take the stairs to the outer platform for the direction you want to go. By experience I knew the latter option, though a slightly greater distance, would put me on a platform that was less crowded with a better shot at getting a seat, which was desirable given the load I was carrying. Unfortunately, I got myself behind a young woman who suddenly became indecisive, halting, and weaving from side to side as if unsure this was the right platform. That's all it took for me to miss the Alewife-bound train by seconds. At this rate, my wife would be at the Alewife station before I even got on a train. The silver lining in this cloud was the perfectly good, floral-print umbrella someone had left under the bench I collapsed onto. I thought about whether or not I should take it with me. It was raining out, but I could expect to be inside all the way and not in need of a protective device. On the other hand, it was doubtful the owner would come back looking for it, so I added it to my collection of encumbrances. I eventually got on a crowded car and stood all the way to Harvard Square, my pack on my back, my parcels between my legs, and my latest acquisition hanging from one arm. Even once I got a seat I had to perch on the edge as I opted to keep my pack on my back rather than have to hoist it up yet again. At Alewife I was further challenged by yet another non-functioning escalator. By this time it was a struggle to put one foot in front of another up the long stairs. A young man passing by offered to carry some of my load, but I declined his offer. By the time I got to the passenger pickup spot in the garage I was glad I missed the train at Park Street as I might otherwise have to wait some time for my wife to get there. As it was she was there to help me off with my pack and we were soon on the road home. Except that I wasn't going straight home. I had to go to a trustees meeting at the Library. We stopped at a convenience store to get a bottle of milk and at the meeting I drank the milk and polished off the rest of my McVities cocolate covered digestive biscuits for my supper. My wife had dropped me off so I had to hitch a ride from one of the other trustees after the meeting. Home at last. It was about five or six o'clock in the morning Dublin-time when I crawled into my own bed and fell fast asleep. So ended my Irish travels, until next time, God willing.

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