What an exciting opportunity this might be - to win a trip to Ireland at age 77. When I was 32 years of age, my husband and I won two tickets on Aer Lingus to Ireland. While our grandparents had emigrated from the auld sod in the early twentieth century, John and I had never set foot in the Emerald Isle. What a delight when we saw the green fields from our airplane seats!
We went immediately by car to my grandaunt Alice McMahon's cottage in Miltown Malbay. Alice had emigrated to New York City in l910 but she returned to Ireland a few years later with her new husband who wanted to farm in County Clare.
When John and I pulled up at Aunt Alice's cottage, without giving her any warning, she immediately recognized me as Helen Marie, John's daughter. We had our first lesson in how much the Irish appreciate people. After a lovely visit with Aunt Alice, we went on to tour our ancestor's homeland for eleven days. I was pregnant with our third child, Tom, who has become a recognized writer. I have often joked that he picked up the Irish love of language while in my womb.
John and I had a spectacular journey, making a circle tour around Ireland: Clare, Connemara, mid-Ireland, Dublin, Wicklow Hills, Cork, and the peninsulas of southern Ireland. We were even entertained by a group of nuns on the Ring of Kerry. The sisters ran a school and were supporters of my uncle Jim Clarke, a Franciscan missionary in Ireland, who was carrying out the wonderful Irish tradition of helping the poor in lands far and wide. Returning home to the east coast of America, we felt culture shock even in the year 1970 when the states were far less hectic than they are today. We had been touched by people who know enough "to stop and smell the roses."
In l989, John and I returned to Ireland, this time with two of our sons, Brian and Tom. Our eldest son, Paul, had been to Ireland after participating in a summer Shakespeare course at Oxford University. He met up with some of our cousins in Dublin and took himself on journey across the country. We treasure a photo of Paul sitting on a dolmen in the middle of an Irish field. It is especially meaningful as Paul met his maker in 2008 and we picture him resting in the open fields of Ireland.
The 1989 trip came about because we had an Irish neighbor living next to us in Dallas, Texas. Nick Farelly had emigrated to Texas and become a butler to the founder of the computer company, Texas instruments. Nick had a wild Irish flower garden in his backyard and was the soul of generosity, bringing us expensive gifts when he returned from visiting his mother in Dublin. Nick invited us to stay with him in Kells so we took off once again on Aer Lingus for the Emerald Isle.
This time we focused on Sligo and Donegal. John once again drove on the "wrong" side of the road and successfully delivered us to a variety of bed and breakfasts where we were always hosted by charming folks, including one family where the wife was from southeast Asia and the husband a local Donegal man. Our sons are good travelers but we held our breath as they walked along crumbling walls at ancient monasteries -- at one spot the old caretaker, watching their activity, said that they could be buried in the cemetery next door! Brian took himself to the Aran Islands and Tom was happy to find the place where U-2 made their music in Dublin.
Among my happiest moments were the times that John and I spent in Dublin bookstores. It was there that I found a biography of an Anglo-Irish woman, Constance Gore-Booth Markiewicz.
This brings me to the subject of why I would love to win a trip to Ireland. I have written a novel, Leaving Lissadell, which features the life of Constance Markiewicz, a nationalist heroine who fought in the Easter Monday uprising of l916. She continued her fight for Irish independence from England and endured six prison stays, including the last one in l923 when she went on a hunger strike. Though well-born of Protestant parents, Constance died a Catholic in a poor hospital in Dublin in l927, having given her fortune to the poor and the nationalists.
Since discovering Constance's life, I have been focused on bringing her to a wider audience through the mechanism of an historical novel that also weaves my grandaunt Alice McMahon's story of emigration and return into the plot. As someone who has never written fiction, only memoir and academic papers, this has been a learning curve for me and I have been supported in this effort by a talented Irish woman, Vanessa O'Loughlin, of Writing I.E. located in Dublin. I will forever be grateful to Vanessa for her wise instruction as I made headway in my novel about Constance.
My agent, Paul Feldstein, a resident of Bangor, Northern Ireland, who has handled my previous writing, has been hard at work to have Leaving Lissadell published. Constance's estate, Lissadell, in Country Sligo, has new owners who have refurbished the mansion and the gardens at a considerable cost. My dream is to visit Lissadell and place my novel in their hands. Since 2016 is the anniversary of the Easter uprising, it would be marvelous to travel to Lissadell at that time. I am sure there are many other entrants who will write better essays but none who would appreciate this win more than myself.
Helen Clarke Molanphy
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