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Ray Geaney: Pilgrimage to Ireland helps soothe my soul

This summer, while indulging in a moment of languor, I browsed the Web and harped upon a user-friendly site – the “death clock.” With a livened curiosity, I filled in the required information. The site quickly performed the math, revealing how, for me, life is short – how few years, months, hours and seconds I have to live.

Attention riveted, I resolved to bring forward that far-off planned trip to my homeland, Ireland. I would enjoy a reunion with my family – one sister, two brothers – and visit relatives and places of interest from my childhood.

The voyage, Buffalo to Boston and onward to Ireland’s Shannon International Airport, was uneventful except for the necessary inconveniences relative to anti-terrorism. Tired and sleepy from the overnight flight, I disembarked at 6 a.m. There, thankfully, I was welcomed by my cheerful, well-rested brother, who stayed overnight at an inn near the airport. Driving onward to my West Cork destinations – my storied village of Kilcree and the historic Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff – we passed through Killarney and other beautiful towns and villages. While I dozed in and out of sleep my brother updated me on the latest family dynamics.

My arrival at the Eccles was, as in prior stays, delightful, a traditional Irish “céad mile fáilte” (a hundred thousand welcomes). The hotel dates back to 1645. Clustered by trees, it is perched on a peninsula protruding into the Atlantic Ocean. Although extensively renovated, it retains the unique character – and some of the period pieces – that attracted stays from legendary wordsmiths including playwright George Bernard Shaw and poet William Butler Yeats.

Touring Ireland, Americans and Europeans refer to their trip as a “vacation” or a “holiday,” respectively. Returning emigrants’ visits are akin to a pilgrimage – an opportunity to marinate their souls in the glory of their native scenery and culture.

Each night the family and I gathered together. We enjoyed entertainment in their summer homes – barbecues, a birthday celebration, gifts, wines, cheeses and chats. In typical Irish chatter, there was never a dull moment, never ever a pause for lack of words.

We, together with two of my brother’s grandchildren, whiled away a night at a ceili (traditional Irish music and dancing), a treat for our eyes and ears. Sunday afternoon we attended a recital by U.S.-based concert pianist David Syme, who tours internationally. Sunday’s Catholic Mass had a welcome surprise: The church was packed with worshipers despite reports that nationally, church attendance has suffered a massive decline due to clerical scandals.

Going to my maternal grandmother’s house, now occupied by an aunt of mine, brought back pleasant memories of days gone by. I visited her, together with her husband and five of my uncles, all lying peacefully at rest in the nearby local graveyard. Time limitations prevented a similar visit to my parents’ and paternal grandparents’ final resting places, a challenge for my next voyage.

Back home, I again logged on to the “death clock” website. I entered the required information, which was somewhat different from my original data due to those full Irish breakfasts and treats. The site processed the data and nonchalantly informed me that I died on Dec. 12, 2009. I don’t believe it.