Lady Nancy and St. Patrick’s Day

My wife and I took our first trip to Ireland on the day after St. Patrick’s day of 1972, An Air Lingus flight from New York to Shannon, the path trod by so many folks looking for some piece of back home from back home. That was interesting, because I was primarily German and Linda was about totally German. Still, the name sounded Irish and we liked to drink then so, off we went. We were in the Aer Lingus lounge at JFK waiting to board with roughly a million other Irish people in various stages of hangover when a graceful elderly woman came walking by. I insisted she take my seat. She introduced herself as Lady Nancy Dunraven, widow of the Fourth Earl of Dunraven. We had no idea who she was, or who he was. But she told good stories and was quite friendly. When we got off the plane in Shannon, she insisted we come to her “cottage” in Adare for a visit and we said we would then skittered off into the Irish countryside to look at some beauty, talk a bit and drink lots of Jamieson and big pints of Guiness. We were about to forget about it when, suddenly, we remembered and decided to look her up. We had a phone number and vague directions. We had no idea what we we’re getting into, but that has pretty much been the description of our lives together, so off we went. The Driveway to Lady Nancy’s “cottage” was miles long and lined with blooming daffodils. It was one of those things that carried you up a little rise until you could see the top of it when you were just about there. It was not a cottage. It was a castle, a big, lovely castle. The man who met us at the door was in full dress and as proper as he could be. We were put in a library to await Lady Nancy, who would lead us into dinner. We had no idea how to behave, so we accepted whiskey (we always accepted whiskey in those days) and waited for a bit. Loads and loads of interesting books in there, including a whole collection of books in Chinese. When Lady Nancy arrived, she noted that she collected only first editions and each was signed by the author. Even the Chinese ones. It was getting very interesting. Her dinner guest was the Horse manager for the Maclean family of Canada. They published Maclean’s magazine. I was a reporter for UPI at that point, so I thought we might have something to talk about. We did not. What he talked about was Catholics and their unacceptable behaviors. Fortunately, that was interrupted by one of the most fantastic meals I have ever had followed by a big chocolate soufflé’ and more drinks and cigars. Lady Nancy and my wife went wherever women go in castles while the men are drinking and having their cigars. Because the man was such a danged toad, I could not wait for the dinner to end, although the rack of lamb and French fries made it worth the discomfort. I concluded that what irritated him about people in Ireland were people like me. I bade him farewell. I recall hugging Lady Nancy and giving her a genuine thank you. She said I should write the true book about the relationship between the aristocracy and the commoners in Irish history. “Certainly,” I lied. She invited us to go stay at her hotel in Adare if we wanted. That was also fantastic. Then we went back out into Ireland and resolved to return, again and again and again, but for the adventure, not for the dinner guests. We went back four more times, one of which included a stay with a family who had a band I played and sang with. Now that was an adventure. This leads to the only piece of travel advice I have. If you go to a place like Ireland, skip the touristy things and try to make at least one friend who knows something, about anything. We met a man on a road in Connemara who talked for 45 minutes about this thyroid problems and how his children thought he hated them until he got it fixed. By the time we had ended, he felt like a friend.

There are no bad conversations in Ireland.

6 thoughts on “Lady Nancy and St. Patrick’s Day

  1. interesting story! enjoyed it. I went on one of those awful bus tours with my mother and sister in the ‘80’s. Hated the touristy stuff. We met a man at church who asked us if we were going back to eat our steak dinner (a vegetarian at the time, I took offense). The second and third trips were much better. Things got better for the economy later on, I guess. Would love to go back! After reading this, I’ve a thirst for a Jamieson.

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  2. What an adventure. Brought to mind happy memories of sitting by a peat fire with an elderly man in an old farmhouse who shared stories and wanted to hear about Kennedy, The best was attending a Ceilidh in Ennis being the only tourists and so warmly welcomed to share their music and dancing.. Thanks Charlie!

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  3. What a charming story. My family spent 3 weeks in England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. During those weeks we met many wonderful people including a local historian in Laytown who took us to the burial place of my mother’s ancestors the Sols and the Cassidy farm in County Tyrone to visit with my mother’s relatives. Some of the memorable events were chatting with the Earl of Bantry in whose magnificent home we spent my birthday and visiting New Grange which goes back 7,000 years. Staying in farm houses and B & B’s gave us an opportunity to talk with the local people.

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  4. Where to begin? I have sung by the ocean at Doolin with grand fellows, howling at the moon.I have crawled in the belly of oweynagat, the cave of the cat and the source of Samhain,Ihave climbed the caves of kesh coran, aged 1000 years to be saved by a sidhe cap found on a sacred beach at malin head,I have seen the powers manifest in storm and rainbow at sleeve na caillach,beheld the sun pass into the seat and visited ancient presence in the cairns of carrowmore and carrowkeel,I have walked by the margin of the ocean at dun aengus and listen to the song of seals on innishbofin and the great blasket, I have talked to ghosts in the mountains of Kerry, I have sounded a prayer in the monks cells of skellig Michael, watched horses champion on the ancient race courses of the Curragh,I have watched as the old working huciers with their red sails race on galway bay…heard old men and old women break into ancient gealic songs in an old church beyond time, I have seen miraculous sites on top of caher conri, snowsprites and ravens flying in an inverted snowstorm, at the seat of the druid chieftain stricken down by cuchulainn, I have walked the giants causeway and sung songs at Ushnea, I have called up a goddess in jest and learned the short temper of the elementals,left blood on stone at pulnabron,, played a final song for my father atop the great cairn of newgrange, crossed the boyne in flood in an ancient curraigh to be chaised by cattle and guardi…and play whistle and drank my fill with so many strangers that were to become friends and then pass into memory…and I am honor bound to paint it all, a great gift I have given to myself for the love of it all.

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