“Why do people kiss the Blarney Stone?”
“It’s supposed to make you talk more. The ‘gift of the gab.’ So you don’t need to kiss it.”
My mom swatted at my arm, in the same spot she’s been getting for the last 23 years. We shuffled along in the line to the top of Blarney Castle. Ahead of us, someone reclined onto a safety net and edged out on his back. Hanging above stories of empty space, he craned his neck to peck a kiss on the rock from upside-down. I knew what my mom was going to say before she opened her mouth.
“Christ, look how high up we are!” she said. People looked our way. “I’m not kissing that!”
“It doesn’t seem that high,” I said, suppressing my own inherited fear of heights.
“What if we fall?”
“We’re not gonna fall, there’s a little thing you have to sit on. And they have people up here just to hold your legs, see?”
“And what if they let go?”
“They would lose their job.” Another blow landed on my arm. With only a few people ahead of us now, we had to make our choice soon.
“Did you say people pee on it?”
“That’s a joke. It’s so much effort to kiss it, who would pee on it?”
Having sufficiently built off of each others’ fears, when our turn came, we waved hello to the nice castle people and told them we had only wanted to see the Blarney Stone. Together, my mom and I headed back down to wander safely through the castle grounds.
Just over a year into post-grad life, caught between an adventure in my past and another one that I didn’t know was in my future, I was bored at my nine-to-five and loaded up on vacation days. Where could I go and with whom?
One by one, my friends declined, all possessing their own schedules and interests. I lamented to my mom and then realized what a jerk I was being. Here was a wonderful travel companion, someone with the unlimited vacation time and carefree wonder of retired life. We toyed with a couple of places before settling on Ireland, ten days in a tour group traveling from Dublin to Cork then around the coast to Galway.
Ireland was near the top of my “Return” list after backpacking around Europe a few years prior. Back then, I had spent a weekend in Dublin with friends, dutifully jumping from the Guinness Factory to Temple Bar. This time, I was excited to explore beyond the capital, though I don’t think my mom would have complained about spending the entire time in a Dublin pub. With 60 years of experience throwing back beers, she was always ready for another Guinness, yet no count of pints rendered her hungover at 6:00 a.m., the hour of most of our wakeup calls. Already, she was a pro.
While I had no trouble dragging her out of bed in the morning, I did have trouble dragging her around in general. To put it simply, she was slow. In fact, as the man who showed us around St. Patrick’s Cathedral said, the whole crew was “slower than an Irish funeral.” Our tour companions leaned heavily on the over-55 side, and Michelle, our patient tour guide, had difficulties getting everyone back to our bus on time—not just because we were too busy enjoying ourselves, but also because everyone except me had arthritis and bad knees.
This wasn’t what I had in mind when I decided to go to Ireland with my mom. I linked my arm in hers and matched her pace, around the wooded trails at Glendalough, on the walk to Ross Castle in Killarney, and through the grounds at Blarney Castle. Gradually, I would increase our speed until she was half laughing and half shouting, “Stop walking so fast! I know what you’re doing!” or until we were snarling at each other over the space we had to cover in our limited free time between castle and museum visits.
I thought I had to see everything to have a fulfilling trip, but really, I just had to see anything with my mom. The Ring of Kerry, the Cliffs of Moher, and all of Ireland turned from two-dimensional postcard views to fully-fleshed moments teeming with the sounds of our happy chatter, with the taste of salt in the air on the coast, and with the touch of the wind’s hand on the cliffs, forcing both of us to slow down and hold our ground lest we get blown over.
Near the end of our trip, we took a ferry to the Aran Islands, a trio of rugged specks in Galway Bay. The largest, Inishmore, was our day’s destination, known for an ancient fort named Dún Aonghasa perched on one of the island’s craggy cliffs. The walk to the heart of the complex, contained within three semi-circular stone walls, is long, and the distance seemed to grow rather than shrink at my mom’s pace.
“Go ahead,” she told me, knowing how much I had been anticipating this part of the trip in particular. I bounded ahead past one wall and then another, sliding through an opening in the last to the fort’s inner area. At the edge of the cliff, I gazed up and down the coastline on moody skies and a silver sea, and, from here, Inishmore looked like a flat gray disk topped with emerald fuzz.
One by one, our group filtered through, but there was no sight of my mom. Where is she? I wondered. As Michelle gathered us around to talk about the Bronze Age artefacts that had been uncovered here, my mom finally stepped through the last wall, and anxieties that I didn’t even realize were there washed away. Without her, the whole thing felt incomplete. After all, this was our trip. Together.
Four months after Ireland, I’d quit my nine-to-five and take a year to travel, solo and missing my parents the entire time. But as much as I longed to take the quick route home, I knew what a treasure it was to watch the world turn before you rather than try and race it around. And anytime I felt like giving up, my mom was on the other end of the phone, encouraging me onwards.