The return of the wild geese!
Updated: Dec 6, 2021
On October 3rd, 2021, I walked through the doors of Dublin airport for the first time in nineteen months. The sun was shining through the scattered rain clouds, and I could smell all the different green hues of our fresh, rain-softened countryside—the scent of home. I was finally home to familiar local resonances and immediately hugged by random friendliness. It is pretty normal to be friendly to arbitrary strangers in Ireland, so don't let it spook you. It was wonderful to get back in the groove of my recognizable home country again. The honest genuine-ness of it all, of life in Ireland. Of us Irish.
Living overseas, people can become somewhat suspicious of nice, overly friendly people. Therefore, it is probably not wise to overuse that characteristic too much when far from home. But in Ireland, friendliness is the national code of conduct. I delayed my trip home to avoid covid hotels and to ensure that the vast majority of the Irish population, including my family, were double jabbed as much for their peace of mind as my own. I had been double jabbed pretty early on in Saudi Arabia, and I had been champing at the bit to get home for some time. But I delayed those travel plans out of fear of surprise lockdowns either in Ireland or back in Saudi. I also intended to save a bit of money on additional travel expenses such as numerous overpriced PRC tests. The other rationale was to avoid stressed out and harried catch-ups with the family and friends, since the ritual of visiting as many people as possible is the usual drill when you get home from abroad. "Ah look who's home!"
You have to fit in as many house calls as possible for a cup of tea, a slice of cake, and a complete life update since your last visit. Inadvertently leaving people out can ruffle feathers.
That said, this return to the olde sod and much-anticipated trip home to Ireland did have its differences; sure, Irish people are out now and moving a bit more freely. My hometown is doing its best to bounce back from covid disruption and business shutdowns that have put an enormous burden on the small family business owners that are the heart of rural Ireland. The vast majority of my catch-ups were out in the fresh air, often with a face mask on and in small socially distant groups with a takeaway hot drink. Pre-covid, we would have been packed like sardines into local pubs like Con's on Castle Street or Canton Casey's on the Market Square, catching up with all our friends in one fell sweep.
My hometown is called Mullingar and is situated in County Westmeath, almost in the middle of country Ireland; more specifically, it is in the midlands or the lake lands as we refer to it locally. Unlike the rest of Ireland, it doesn't have a flourishing tourist or passing trade right now like cities like Dublin, Cork, or Kerry to fill the local coffers with foreign currency. Life in all its forms relies on locals and local SME businesses.
Traditionally Mullingar was a market town serving the large agricultural hinterland in middle Ireland. An Muileann gCearr is its Irish name, and it means "the incorrect mill because there was once a mill that turned in a counter-clockwise fashion. This tale dates back to the 7th-century when a local monk, St Colman of Lynn, performed a miracle and caused a local stir by grinding corn in a mill that turned from the left-hand side. Doing anything left-handed in ancient Ireland meant you were a Ciotóg and, therefore, potentially a clumsy and awkward person!
Today Mullingar is the third most populous town in Ireland's midlands region, with a population of approximately 21K. When it comes to natural beauty, my hometown is surrounded by many picturesque lakes and waterways, including Lough Owel, Lough Ennell, and Lough Derravaragh, with the word lough meaning lake. Lough Derravaragh is particularly famous for us Midlander's as it is known for its connection to the fabled Irish legend the Children of Lir, which tells the tale of three children who were turned into beautiful swans and lived out their eternity on the lake.
My home town is linked to its nearest picturesque lake, Lough Ennell, via smaller waterways called Lacy's Canal and the River Brosna that slyly cut through town. In addition, there is a much grander waterway called the Royal Canal, which stretches across the country from Dublin and loops around the town in a protective embrace. In recent years the canal lines have been transformed with manicured walkways and official cycling tracks. And then there is the simple pleasure of having a walk in the Irish countryside because who doesn't like watching the cows in the field!
More recently, Mullingar has started reinventing itself as a hub for equestrian sports, with budding horse racing trainers and a major equestrian center that hosts annual FEI and SJI show jumping events. Of course, the local thriving pony club scene is the breeding ground for all these young equestrians.
Like all Irish people who return home, we usually have a lot of catching up to do and a lot of tea drinking to part take in. At this stage of life, I don't want to spend another extended period away from the special people in my life. I think we can all say that covid was stressful and not the healthiest experience we have had in our lives. We have all become so accustomed to having options and choices. Think about the simple task of ordering a coffee or a tea out these days. Do you want a latte, cappuccino, mint tea, flat white, iced tea, americano, and don't start me on the flavors! When covid hit, it was back to instant coffee or a simple tea bag in your cup, which you made at home by boiling the kettle. We know we can do this, but it's not quite as much fun.
Let us hope we are over the worse of this covid business and we can enjoy our family and friends in person for the 2021 Christmas period. Keep safe and keep traveling, I will be doing my level best to have both options in my life, and I wish that for you too.