This past weekend was a whirlwind of faces: parents, a brother, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, cousins twice removed. The Irish family, as I’ve come to experience first-hand, is extensive and close knit. Coming from a place where I maybe saw my extended family once a year (even longer for those who live across the country), the staggering amount of blood relations in such close proximity was a little overwhelming at times.
His mother’s house was a flurry of constant activity; doors opening and shutting, raucous laughter, feet on the stairs, shouts for another cup of tea. It is a full house, one in which you could never feel lonely. I was welcomed enthusiastically with hugs and kind words by his lovely mom who is clearly the matriarch and the one who keeps all the madness in check. I liked her immediately.
When I met his father and uncle, it felt like a scene out of a Roddy Doyle novel. Two middle-aged Irish men, standing around in the local hole-in-the-wall pub, sipping Guinness, not saying much. It should have been awkward but because their interaction, or lack thereof, seemed so natural, I stood among them, nodding intermittently while I gripped my own glass of the black stuff.
It was pub quiz night, so once we all got seated and the drinks started flowing, there were a lot of laughs and jokes, mostly at my boy’s expense. I was able to contribute two measly right answers among the many questions about Irish sport, history, and music I had never heard. The men in the group were quiz regulars and surprisingly knowledgeable. We ultimately came in second and were awarded boxes of cookies and wine simply labelled, “white.”
We FaceTimed my parents on Monday night from the pub. My dad insisted on playing his ukulele after announcing that he had practiced the featured song for five days (big for him, as he is one to get by on natural talent). The tune? Paul McCartney’s “Give Ireland Back to the Irish.” After the call, my boy announced that he thought my father was a legend.
At the end of a jam packed and dizzying weekend, we spent our remaining hours at a bar next to the river in downtown Limerick. We shared a giant pile of wings and book recommendations along with a few pints as the clock drew closer to my departure time. He smiled at me as talked with my hands, explaining my favorite ideas from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I jotted down the name of Peig Sayers, a writer whose tales told of life on the Blasket Islands, as he recalled classic Irish literature he had read over the years. We kept a close eye on the time all the while with a sense of regret. The minutes have a funny way of slipping away with cruel rapidity when you wish they would drag on forever.
Walking arm in arm to the bus stop, the river flowed on, dark and unending beside us. We said our goodbyes and before I boarded the bus, he looked at me and said, “keep in touch.” It was silly, yet accurate; this was our third time together and in any other circumstance would have been appropriate. But in that weekend, we had covered ground that has taken months for others before us. With that, we both laughed and I turned to climb the stairs to the bus that would take me away from there; back to the bustling capital city where my house sat much quieter in comparison.