Approaching Dublin — Coming Home by Ken Hartke


Approaching Dublin — Coming Home
by Ken Hartke

The first smudge of low hills revealed themselves.
We approached across a calm and sunlit sea.
A few islands. Then an old tower. Then a lighthouse.
Then we arrived — to a safe harbor,

We came to Dublin and Ireland by sea — on purpose.
That is the way my people left — by sea. A few at a time.
That was the way the Vikings and the Celts first saw it.
That was my Irish ancestors’ last glimpse of home.

I was thinking about them as I retraced their steps.
My first visit, I did not expect it to feel like a returning.
As soon as I saw it, it seemed like coming home.
The passage was easy, and the place seemed familiar.

There were no gruff queries of “Who are you?” and
“What are you doing here?” Just a spoken welcome.
I’m used to crossing borders — it isn’t always easy.
This was a different experience: “Of course, you’re here.”

I’m a good part Irish. Not necessarily “the” good part
if you knew the whole story. My people survived the
potato famine and left for America to find tenements
and tuberculosis and staggering infant mortality.

The parents left grown children behind and never returned.
They were from Kerry, the “Wild West,” and dubbed “illiterate,”
at least in English. They knew the old language, old ways.
They knew old superstitions. I still never put shoes on a table.

The Irish remember. They know grudges and stories.
The so-called “Luck of the Irish” is a fiendish old lie.
Only a few of my folks lived to put down new roots.
In a clutch of ten kids only three ever really made it.

The curious locals asked, “Where are you from?” We’re obviously
Americans so they meant in Ireland. Were they waiting for someone?
We said Kerry there was always a response. “Ah…you are in for it.”
We wondered: was that good or bad? We pressed on.

Our own history and locations are murky. We knew Tralee
and we knew about Scartaglen and suspected Dingle and
Ballyferriter. All were beautiful places, even in the rain.
The people were friendly, but the weather was not.

An Atlantic storm was thrashing the coast. Wind and fog.
They said, “You surely didn’t come here for the weather.”
The wind nearly blew us away and the waves were crashing.
We are desert dwellers. We know wind but not like this.

The pandemic arrived in Dublin one day before we did.
It chased us across Ireland. We bumped elbows in Galway.
The schools all closed, and the hospital numbers added up.
We stayed a week in a cottage in Ballyferriter, waiting.

The weather improved every day. We roamed the headlands.
We visited a couple of Dingle pubs and restaurants before they
all closed. We burned peat in the stove to keep warm.
Moving on, Cork City was shut tight — no St. Patrick’s Day.

We attended the last Mass at a large church in Cork City.
The priest dragged it out long for the few worshipers there.
Dublin, in shock, was mostly locked up when we returned.
Our hotel closed, and they moved us to a different place.

The news from America was not good and hard to believe.
Things were getting out of hand, but we had to go home.
A few asked us to stay as if that was an option. So tempting.
Approaching was easy but leaving Dublin was hard.

The Irish might wander but never forget and are never forgotten.

PHOTO: Poolbeg Lighthouse, located at the mouth of the River Liffey, near Poolbeg—an artificial peninsula extending into Dublin Bay. First established in 1767, the lighthouse initially operated on candlepower, and changed to oil in 1786. The building was redesigned and rebuilt into its present form in 1820.

Ireland stefano valeri licensed

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My daughter and I went to Ireland in March 2020 to walk the Dingle Way and to search for family roots in County Kerry. This was our first trip, spending three weeks in Ireland, and it was a great experience. We crossed by sea from Wales to Dublin after a few days in London. The pandemic caught up with us there, but the Irish seemed particularly calm and steadfast in their reactions. They have a sense that they have seen worse and came through it. Fifty thousand people volunteered to be “on-call” health workers while we were there.

PHOTO: Ross Castle, a 15th-century tower house and keep on the edge of Lough Leane, in Killarney National ParkCounty Kerry, Ireland. The castle is the ancestral home of the Chiefs of the Clan O’Donoghue.  Photo by Stefano Valeri, used by permission. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Hartke is a writer and photographer from the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico, but was originally planted and nourished in the Midwest’s big river valleys. Always a writer, his writing was mainly work-focused until he landed in New Mexico in 2013 seeking a new second act. The state has been very welcoming. His New Mexico photography now inspires much of his writing — and sometimes the other way around. The great backcountry continually offers itself as a subject. He has contributed work for the Late Orphan Project’s anthology, These Winter Months (The Backpack Press), Silver Birch Press, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. He keeps an active web presence on El Malpais.

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