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Flying Home on the Whiskey Bread

You’d be hard pressed to have even the briefest encounter with an Irish person without them telling you a story. Usually a funny story, but still, it’s not as though you have the chance to get away before it’s told. I’ve always known this in my bones, but I noticed it afresh on a recent trip to Dublin. In the taxi from the airport, the theme was how much the Irish male listens to football. One lad called in, the talk show host said, and he’d been dragged from his car where he was listening to the football. At his own wedding!

The next day I found myself walking from my dad’s house to SuperValu. I was pulling a wheely shopping bag, something my dad’s mother used to call a Geraldine, for reasons known only to herself. When you are a kid, you believe everything grownups say. I thought wheely shopping bags were all called Geraldine because, really, what else would you call them? My friends did not appear to know this fact. They thought they were just called shopping bags. Impoverished childhoods.

I was home in Dublin on an unplanned trip because my dad was above in Beaumont. In Dublin, they say someone is above in the hospital. I do not know why. Beaumont is the closest hospital to my dad. It has other names. I like to call it The Beaumont Spa Resort of North Dublin. I also often call it Fucking Beaumont. Take your pick.

One reason for this second name is how difficult it is to find your way into the place. It is situated in the middle of a housing estate and you have to take fourteen left turns to find the front entrance. Even taxi drivers who have clearly been there before get lost and need direction from the back seat. Yeah, past this building, that’s just, I dunno, a building. Past this set of prefabs, that’s just…yeah, keep going…follow that bus. This is a major city hospital, but people put years on their lives just trying to find the front door.

Another reason for the special name is that once you have found the entrance, it is unreasonably challenging to locate your family member. Beaumont still operates much like a hospital under Covid lockdown. Visiting hours are just two hours per day. If you arrive before 5:30pm, you have to wait with all the other hopeful masked family members in the foyer. Or you can wait outside in the freezing cold with the smokers. On the strike of 5:30, they allow you to flock past the front desk staff, to whom you have to state the ward you are visiting. My father’s ward was along the corridor past the cafeteria, round the corner, down a concealed set of stairs, round the corner, round another corner and through the double doors. Then you had to find which bed they had moved him to that day. I’m directionally challenged to begin with. The first few times, I just followed my brother who had been there before. Day #3, my daughter, who was visiting with us, wanted to go to the cafeteria. Follow me, I said authoritatively. I’ve been doing this. We got lost twice.

I spent a week visiting my dad above at Beaumont and then I was forced to return home to the Hudson Valley, where I provide hospice care to the dads of strangers.

Flying out of Dublin airport to the States is a little mini vacation unto itself. Dublin airport is one of the only airports in the world where you clear customs and immigration for entry into the United States before you board your flight. The result is a whole wing of the airport set aside especially for very special people who are flying to the special place that is America.

First, you have to walk down some very long airport corridors of the sort that make you wonder uneasily whether you are leaving all luxuries such as coffee and snacks behind you, and will have to sit for four hours at your gate without even a Mars bar. Then you show your passport and boarding card to an official at a weird sort of nonofficial looking desk, and the fellah in front of you gets told that he’s in the wrong place because he’s flying to Manchester, and Manchester is not in America. And you feel bad for him because he’s come all this way down the long airport corridors, past all the signs that expressly said Only Come This Way If You’re Flying To America and he has to go all the way back after that pointless worry about no coffee or beer.

Beer is something they definitely have at the special America gates. In fact, once you have passed through Customs and Immigration and proved to some fierce looking border patrol guard that you are eligible to enter the land of the free, beer is very much in your future. There is perhaps one of Ireland’s nicer restaurants at the American gates of Dublin Airport. It’s called Whiskey Bread. It serves both of these items, as well as wine, an array of delicious looking Irish dishes, and of course, Guinness on tap.

I was flying back to New York on the 11:55am flight. This meant I had to be at my gate around 10am. But of course I was there at 9am. Not because I’m an old fuddy duddy who gets to the airport five hours before their flight takes off for fear of missing it. But because Dublin airport was recently the scene of thousands of people delayed and missing their flights because of some security cock-ups and thus, all travelers were strongly advised by their airlines to be at their gates three hours early or they could miss their flight and end up camping in the Terminal Two parking lot for three weeks with hordes of other hapless travelers.

I am here to tell you that even at 9am, Whiskey Bread was doing a brisk trade in Guinness.

Not to me. Way too heavy a meal at 9am. But I decided that given the rigors of my week visiting my dad in the hospital, I deserved at least a mimosa. The bartender was a very stressed out Eastern European fellah who was dealing with some high maintenance travelers of the sort that send their friends up to the bar to order for them and then complain they got the wrong thing. When he finally took my order, he was handsomely apologetic for the wait. Say stop he said, as he poured in the Prosecco. I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly, as his accent was strong, so I may have ended up with less orange juice than the usual traveler.

While I sipped my mimosa in the very crowded and I have to say festive Whiskey Bar, I glimpsed what I thought could be my plane out the window. Aer Lingus have a very Irish habit of naming their planes after saints. My plane was the St. Carthage. I wondered who was in charge of naming these planes and why they didn’t put a little more thought into it. When I finally made my way to my gate, I noticed with relief that my plane was actually the St. Macdara. With still over two hours till boarding, I whiled away the time looking up St. Macdara to see what he had been up to in his time on this earth. I learned that his first name was Sionnach, which is Irish for fox. This was pleasing to me, as my husband and I put two little foxes on our wedding cake as a symbol of, well, neither of us knew exactly what except that foxes were cunningly resonant of something about our new life in the Hudson Valley. Irish fishermen, I now learned from my googling, felt the fox brought ill luck, so they focused on MacDara rather than Sionnach. Me, I focused on fox.

I made it safely home to upstate New York, but I’m composing a letter to Aer Lingus, floating the idea that they start naming their planes after Irish culinary triumphs. I kind of like the idea of flying home to Dublin on the Whiskey Bread.

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