It is freezing cold. No, it is colder than freezing cold. It is June in Ireland and I am dressed in my newly purchased Donegal wool sweater. To make the cold even more bone chilling, we can’t seem to get the peat fire started.
At the top of the northwest end of Ireland in Donegal County, the little village of Teelin can’t be heard. It is quiet with only a couple hundred people if that. The day my family drove into town, I think the population added on 7 for good measure.
There are many that boast Irish heritage. I am definitely one of them. Sadly, most do not still have relatives in the old country as they would say. I, however, still do. I am taking a trip back here to the young age of 14. Forgive my awkwardness and angst below.
We pull up to a cottage. This is our hotel. There is no sign to tell you it is a hotel for it isn’t. Within these walls, my grandmother’s grandmother was born. I am told there is running water and electricity. The Irish do tell a good tale.
We walk into this home, the distantly familial house to spend a few days becoming acquainted with those Irish ancestors. Everyone gears up for showers, expecting the worst, yet hoping for the best. The water is ice cold and so too is the weather outside. I am beginning to wonder how my relatives could live this way. How could I be related to people that can withstand the cold and deal with ice showers every morning? There may be nothing worse in my book than a cold shower on a chilly morning.
We all bite the bullet and just embrace this lifestyle, taking 30 second showers each. You can see the earth as you shower, literally. There are chucks of Teelin’s land that must find its way into the pipes somehow. The funny thing about the water in Teelin is that I am almost positive it made my hair more red.
We set out to spend the day with my mom’s third cousin Gene who lives nearby. He takes us on a walk to Slieve League. For those that are not familiar, these are the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe. They drop down 2,000 feet and are not for the faint of heart. We wander around the coastal side as he explains to us this is the playground of the fairies. “Fairies” in Ireland seem to be what many of us believe to be ghosts. I am picturing little men dressed in green suits lugging around pots of gold. Somehow I don’t think that is what the Irish picture the fairies to be.
Little stone settlements still cloud this playground as Gene calls it. There is not a jungle gym or swing set in sight, but the Irish don’t need those forms of entertainment, for they have the wildest of imaginations. Gene crouches down in one of these stone formations. He cautions us though to not upset or disturb the fairies for they are tricksters and will have no problem making things difficult for my family on our stay in Ireland.
Wandering around that emerald greenery, I really do feel as though there is a presence along those cliffs of Slieve League. I picture little entities running around playing tricks. Something tells me the fairies followed us back to the cottage that night. We couldn’t figure out the hot and cold water, finally giving up and just accepting the icy wake-up call in the morning. I notice a long string hanging from the ceiling of the bathroom. I pull it. Sure enough, warm water is produced. One battle with the fairies has just been resolved. Then, the peat fire will not start on this cold night. My Dad and brother attempt several times. Finally I have a shot at it. The fire becomes a enormous flame after my magic, producing the warmth that wool sweater cannot. The fairies have nothing on this redhead.
Leaving Ireland, the man at the car rental comments to my dad, “she looks just like a little Irish Colleen doll.” I guess not only do I look Irish, but I posses the Irish spirit for wanting to outsmart the fairies. I found my roots by way of roughing it like the ancestors with muddy water and discovering the true luck of the Irish, getting peat fires to a roaring flame.