Friday, April 17, 2009

The Haunting Stillness of Ireland

Every year, or more often depending on my disposition and bank account, I'll travel back to the United States to visit my father. He lives in the Tampa area, and I'm always astonished by the transition from one geography to another. Obviously, the sun is a welcome sight (I'm always astonished by that small warm orb due to the fact that I haven't seen it in months), and it's always nice to slouch around a swimming pool with an ice-cold glass of tipple in my hand. I should explain that in Ireland, most establishments don't serve drinks with ice. Or if they do, the bar-keep will place exactly one cube in the glass, as if ice were as valuable as gold bullion, and look astonished when I ask for more. So I'll sit at the side of a sun-kissed swimming pool, tinkling my ice fondly between sips, and wondering why I left America in the first place.

But then I'll hear it. The noise. It will infiltrate over the hedge surrounding the pool, and make its way to my sun-soaked ears: the noise of traffic from the far-off super-highway; the noise of aircraft descending into Tampa International; the noise of wailing sirens, piercing my somewhat drunken reverie and waking me to the reality of living here.
And I'll remember what I have in Ireland, and what it offers: of the peace that is there for the taking, and which is absolutely free of charge every day that I choose to stay here.

That Haunting Peace
Sitting in that Tampa sun chair, choosing to ignore the frantic sounds of close-by civilisation, I'll think back to the walks that I've taken in Ireland and the places that I've been and the quiet people that I've met. I'll think back to the time that I stood alone on a golden Donegal beach, a cooling breeze kissing my cheek, gazing out on a deserted landscape. The sea lapped quietly nearby, and the only other sounds were the far-off haunting cries of hunting sea birds, and the thin whistling of the wind as it shifted through tall sand grasses.

I remember that time, only a few years ago, as a time of hardship: my mother had passed only months earlier. But in the beautiful silence of that place, I could easily remember her. I could remember her smile and gentle laugh and glittering eyes and the song that would come so easily to her lips, and my memories were uninterrupted by the frantic sounds of what we so often call living.

White cumulus dotted the sky above me, driven inland off the sea as I stood there. And for a moment it rained, the drops cold on my cheek, washing away my tears with their gentleness. I remember sighing then and feeling somehow cleansed, and thanking God for the memory of my mother and for the haunting stillness that surrounded me and that gave me the space to remember her.

Back in Tampa, my eyes opened as I heard the renewed wailing of a siren, and the memory was shattered. I finished my drink, threw the ice into the grass, and walked back to my father's home.

But as I walked, the memory of that haunting Irish silence came back to visit me, and gave me peace, and I thanked my stars that soon I would go back to Ireland, and to the silence that is so freely given to all of us who live here.


  1. Mr. Richards,
    I discovered your blog only yesterday, and I believe I have now read every word you've posted.

    I felt compelled to comment on this post, in particular, because it spoke so keenly to the desire -- the need -- that I am day-by-day uncovering and defining in my own life.

    My wife and I are recently returned home to the southern US from a stint in the US Air Force, and instead of the peace we thought we'd find away from the hustle and bustle and drama of life in the military, we've only found different kinds of anxieties to deal with. We are 26, and I can already feel the toll of the American lifestyle -- always moving, never having "enough," never finding peace -- being taken on us as individuals and as a married couple. We don't even have a child yet (much less the four we want...).

    I've heard the old adages that speak to home being where you hang your hat (as you've mentioned on this very blog), and I suspect that we could find a livable balance no matter where that hat hangs, but Ireland has, of late, begun to call to me.

    Listening to my parents' tales of the people and places and -- above all -- peace and comfort they experienced on their trip some five years ago, exploring the countrysides as I may (by Google maps, of course), and dreaming of picking up and settling on the Emerald Isle have already lent me some of that peace.

    I realize that every land and culture has its own anxieties to deal with, but I can't help the feeling that Ireland offers a safer, saner, and more spiritually sound environment in which to rear my children and to live my life in such a way that happiness is so much easier to maintain. We don't need a mansion, we don't need fancy cars, we don't need a vault of cash to subsist on. We need quiet when quiet is called for (and perhaps a good bottle of Jameson from time to time).

    I don't know if we'll end up moving over the pond, but I do know that some part of my heart has always been and will always remain there, though I've never laid my own eyes upon it (and we will be visiting within the year, if I can help it).

    I apologize for such a rambling "comment," but I wanted to thank you for the "haunting stillness" you at once described and, even if only for a moment, lent me when I discovered this post. I hope all is well in your neck of the woods, and I look forward to following your posts here in the future.

    All the best from Mississippi,

  2. Well Hello Mississippi and John Fitz! Glad to have you on-board, and I surely appreciate that you've chosen to 'follow' the mad ramblings of this American Ex-Pat. Do keep a couple of things in mind as you contemplate plunging into an Ex-patriate existence:

    Most ex-Pats will tell you that "...the grass is always greener." When they're living abroad they want to go back to the States. When they're in the States they want to go back to where ever they're living abroad. It's an emotional pressure-cooker that most of us will never escape.

    One thing you may notice about my Posts: you will never ever see me write words that criticize the land of my birth. The reason? Despite all of its shortcomings, I continue to believe that the United States of America is the best country in the world. By a long shot. Period. If I ever write otherwise, you are welcome to broil me over a Mississippi BarBQ.

    Yes. I like Ireland. And I LOVE living in Eyeries. But to be very frank, I've no other choice. My children are here. My grandchildren are here. They are worth more to me than life itself. How could I possibly travel back to my homeland? It would send a signal to them of parental abandonment - and I will never do that. Napoleon...I'm stuck! Mind, I'm stuck in a realm of sweet vistas and gorgeous sunsets.

    Mississippi ain't so bad. Heck, you've a couple of great ball clubs. I've never been there (would love to go someday) but I also hear that you've some great food over there, and welcoming people, and some beaches (those that weren't creamed by Katrina) that are a few of the best around.

    So before you contemplate doing what I did and coming here (to a new batch of problems) look around. Consider. You're living in a terrific country, populated by an extraordinarily talented and gifted people. If I could do it, I'd go home tomorrow. But I can't. I won't.

    I'll just have to make do with this absolutely WONDERFUL country, and count my blessings. (But despite my advice, should you choose to be as nutty as I was and emigrate here, by all means look me up. I'll do what I can to talk you out of it over a pint of the Best.)


  3. Tom,
    Thank you so much for your reply! I appreciate every word of advice I receive, and yours, in particular, are of enormous value.

    I hope my original comment didn't imply an overly-critical view of America; I am absolutely, without question proud of America and proud to be an American. I do not regret a minute of my service to Her (ok, perhaps a few of the more boring minutes in -20 degree Montana...) or my status as a member of the country or of Mississippi.

    My greatest concern is over the very frantic (even in Mississippi) pace of life around here. I'm over-prone to anxiety, anyway, and so I found myself at the age of 24 medically disqualified from my nuclear missile duties due to stress-induced migraines and a sustained pulse over 110 (and that was when I was "in shape"). Add to that my entrepreneurial drive in software development on top of a 9 to 5 (7 to 6 with the drive) and I'm afraid I'll be experiencing tachycardia far sooner than I should, and that's if my wife doesn't kill me for never taking a break.

    The food IS awesome, though.... :)

    I may be missing the mark by a long shot (and I intend to find out for myself), but it just seems that it might be easier to find the calm we're seeking in a cottage somewhere in Co. Wicklow, able to work when work needs doin' and rest and play and watch my kids grow up with the rest of my time. Plus it would be truly cool to have children with a native Irish brogue....

    When I say I'm contemplating a move, I don't mean I'm looking for a house and arranging tickets; it's more a possibility that I'm keeping firmly in mind. I'll be working to get out of our fairly meager debt as soon as possible, saving as much as I can to take the edge off of a home purchase, and planning to visit as often as we can. None of these things can be anything but good for us whether we end up emigrating or not, so I'm convinced it's a healthy start regardless of the outcome.

    In any case, if you're ever in Mississippi, let me know -- I'll run down some venison steaks and local micro-brew.

    Thanks again for your kind words!

    - John