While watching Olympic coverage yesterday afternoon, I saw a piece by Tom Brokaw about the people of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada and what they did for the passengers of 167 aircraft during the 9-11 crisis. It reminded me of my own 9-11 experience in Ireland. I thought since this is March - the 17th being St. Patrick's Day and all, that it was probably appropriate that a shout out be given to several people for what they personally did for me that week.
I was traveling with my sister and we were in Kilkenny when we heard the news. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. I remember feeling like the floor was opening up beneath my feet. Our innkeepers were very solicitous. Just the fact that we were Americans, they wanted to do whatever they could for us. We were so shell-shocked that night though, that we just curled up in our room and watched the news. I talked to my husband on the phone. He was able to confirm that all our family, including his aunt who lived in Manhattan at the time, we all fine. I wanted to come home even though we had another week and a half of our trip left to go. He told me no, absolutely not. That I was to continue on; I wouldn't have been able to get home anyway. What? I asked, he told me, US airspace is shut down, we don't know when they'll open it again.
The next day we headed to Killarney, and the next through Limerick. That night, we heard about the Limerick airport; how there were so many stranded there that they'd run out of food, pillows, blankets. And there were no more hotel or B&B rooms to be had because new travelers had come in to the country with reservations. It was a mess. All due to the fact that the US airspace was closed and the people couldn't fly home.
The next day we were working our way north visiting the Cliffs of Moher, and the Burren; making Gallway our stop for the night. That was on Friday which was the Day of Mourning. We had been keeping posted on the news by radio and heard that everything was expected to be shut down by ten in the morning on Friday. We were up and out early so we could go gas up the car before the stations closed. Then, we were off. Along the way we heard about what had happened in Limerick the night before. People from the town and outlying areas had come to the airport and said we have a bed, or we have a couch and by the time the night was through, there were no more stranded passengers left. Boy, did that make me cry. Everywhere we went, all we had to do was say two words and the Irish knew we were Americans and then in the next sentence they wanted to know were our people alright, did we need anything? It was so wonderful. We'd just had this awful crushing blow and were now being wrapped in cotton wool to make us feel better.
Then there was Galway. When we arrived, it was pouring rain. We found our B&B for the night, a place called St. Jude's on Lower Salt Hill Road. It was about supper time. Having been on the road all day and not finding any place open, we knew the chances were that we'd be on our own for supper. I'd been saving biscuits from breakfasts and we had two of those. We each had a bottle of water and we had eight tea cookies left and one candy bar. Enough carbs to keep our stomachs from growling, that was for sure.
Inside we were greeted by our hostess, Ita Johnstone. After getting set up in our room, we went back down where Ita met us in the hall. We told her we were going out to find some dinner. She expressed her concern that we might not be able to find anything. Intrepid travelers, we thought that surely not everything could be closed. But, we were wrong. ALL the restaurants were closed. Then we had the bright idea that a hotel would have a restaurant and we'd be able to eat there. But, the hotels had put signs on the doors "Restaurant for Guests Only Tonite". Guess they were running short on supplies.
Dejected, we walked back through town, in the pouring rain, to St. Jude's. Ita's husband, Tony, met us in the hall. Had we found anything? No, we said, but that was OK, we had some supplies, we'd be fine. Then he said, Ita could probably fix us up some soup and sandwiches, did 7:30 in the dining room sound alright? WOW! it sounded wonderful to our chilled, wet little selves! We hotfooted it upstairs, hung our wet things in the shower, got dressed into fresh and were back down in the dining room at half past seven on the dot.
Now, a little bit about our experience with B&Bs in Ireland and especially St. Jude's. Most of them are in people's private homes where they've set aside a section of the house to rent out. And then for breakfast, you go into the dining room and you are served a hot or cold breakfast and are very politely asked if there's anything else they can get you. And there is nothing wrong with that at all - except for those bloody sausage things that they can keep all to themselves, thank you very much. St. Jude's is just different. An old home that is architecturally beautiful with old family furniture and luxurious style. The linens were crisp and soft all at the same time - and clean, fresh, white. We felt like we were staying at a country house as opposed to the extra room at Aunt Sallie's. Mind you, there was nothing wrong with any of the B&B's we stayed at - St. Jude's was just a touch above, that's all.
So, there we were in the dining room - did I mention that most days we did not each lunch in order to save some dinero? So, there we were in the dining room, pretty hungry and expecting soup and sandwiches (which was just fine with us). And in comes Ita with a bowl of homemade tomato soup, a bibb lettuce salad with vinaigrette dressing and garlic bread; we had gone to heaven! When we were all finished, she came back in and was clearing the dishes and we were thanking her so much for her hospitality and she said, we weren't done, that was just the first course. I think our mouths were hanging open. She asked if we liked lasagna. We must've nodded because in a few minutes she was back with plates of noodly loveliness. And OMG! it was SO good. The absolute BEST lasagna I've ever had in my entire life. NOT kidding. When she came back in after we were done with the main course, she asked if we'd like to have some carrot cake and coffee - or tea? At that point, we could only nod in mute stupefaction. And it was good cake too.
Finally, when all was said and done, she came back in and I thanked her again. I told her that we knew she'd gone out of her way, that her day had ended up being a lot longer because of us and she'd done such a marvelous job with the meal; could we please pay her for it? She would absolutely not hear of it. Because of what had happened in America and because we'd been unable to find a place to get a decent dinner that night, she said it was what she wanted to do to make us feel better. And we graciously accepted her gift. Of course, the next day we went down into the City and found a big florist shop and arranged to have a huge bowl of white roses delivered to Ita. But, I will never forget her kindness. Or the Irish who were so kind to us every step of the way after that awful day.
In case you're headed to Ireland and are looking for a B&B in Galway, here's a link to the St. Jude's website. Ita and Tony are wonderful, take it from me!