As we entered our five year plan, these were in many ways, the best years. We had the time to stay for longer periods. With Michael and Nora in complete charge, we were one big happy family. We took them on trips around the country. They took us to special “Pub Nights" that we could not have known about. Michael and I spent hours in the gardens with him teaching me all the tricks of the trade. Nora kept the inside of Liscrona so beautifully, and she and Maria had much to talk about. We all knew that the end was coming. We did not know when, but we squeezed each day, each month, each full moon, each rainbow, each season.
One year, we gave one of our fields to a local who had a mare in foal and needed a place to keep her. Each day we would visit the expectant mother and take her apples. She would come to us and we would brush and comb her.
I continued working in the woods. Often, Michael would come to visit and we would work together. Then we would go inside and have scones and coffee with Maria and Nora. Our supply of scones and bread “runneth over," along with Nora’s home made strawberry jam and apple tarts.
When we were not in residence, we gave Liscrona to more and more Americans seeking an Irish experience. We stressed the fact that Michael and Nora were family, and under no conditions were to be treated as employees. Without exception, glowing reports kept coming back to us.
We were not in a position to stand back and say, “Liscrona, what more can we do to you?" Well, Michael planted trees in the woods to take over the empty space created by the chain saw. One year, we went to Kilrush to a furniture store and bought all new beds to replace the ones that were getting old. We certainly made his day. Of course that brought on all new sheets and pillows and electric blankets. We bought an electric dishwasher and Michael hooked it up.
There was one room that had remained a kind of “catch all." It was the Apple Room of earlier times. We redecorated with new furniture, and after Michael painted the room, we were all pleased with the result. All along, Michael’s feel for color was exactly like ours. He never sought our advice. We never gave him specific instructions. He just went ahead and did what he knew was best.
By the end of our visit in 1994, we were able to see Liscrona as a finished product. In the beginning, we determined to keep it an Irish house, to preserve and protect it. We had restored Liscrona inside and out. We were content.
We hoped that it would be and Irish family would buy, or second best, an Irish/American family, but all along we realized that Liscrona was not an easy property to move. Its total isolation that we loved was a negative. Actually, Liscrona always was one big white elephant.
We had watched Galvin’s daughter, Geraldine, grow from a tiny girl to a very attractive woman working in Dublin. There was a handsome young man from Kilkee named Neil Ryan and he was the significant boy friend. We had always told Michael and Nora that come hell or high water we would be there for the wedding — whenever.
In the spring of ‘95 the word filtered back to us that a German named Tobias Eichmuller had visited Liscrona. Michael took him through on the tour and reported that Herr Eichmuller had said that Liscrona was the nicest house he had seen in Ireland. He said he would be back with his architect and his wife. We did not pay much attention.
The details are not that exciting. We had arranged for the Limerick law firm of Holmes, O’Malley and Sexton to represent us. They turned out to be critically important to the negotiations. It is not easy when Irish, Americans and Germans all get into the act. Gordon Holmes and his wife Hillary became our good friends. The firm took on all our problems and helped us to reach a final agreement.
Maria and I returned to Ireland in June and July of ‘95 to complete the property inventory and to sort out the personal items we wanted to keep. Pat returned to be with us. After all, she was the first to see Liscrona and she wanted to be with us for moral support at the very end. We packed foot lockers and boxes and took them to the post office in Kilkee.
On the last day, we realized that Michael and Nora and John would be down early the next morning to see us off. None of us had the strength to go through with the final wake. That final evening, Pat, Maria and I shared abottle of Dom Perignon and toasted our 24 years in Ireland. We rose early. I had already packed the car and turned over the keys. I closed the door. We drove away. I never looked back. The cycle was complete. I said,
"Thanks, Ireland — for everything!"
The wedding of Geraldine and Neil was set for June 29. Many years before we had told the Galvins that whenever the wedding happened we would give them Liscrona for the wedding party. Geraldine and Neil waited one year too long. I set the wheels in motion to get us to Ireland. I had a difficult time renting a car the preceding year, 1995, because I had reached 75. The rental agency and I had gone round and round and I ended up paying a stiff penalty. My valid American license and insurance meant nothing to them. It was purely my age.
This time around, I hit an absolute stone wall. The Irish auto insurance companies had made the decision that they would simply not insure anyone over age 75, and the thought of driving an uninsured car in Ireland is out of the question. I even wrote a letter of compalint to Matt McNulty, the head of the Irish Tourist Board in Dublin. He wrote back agreeing with everything I said but — he had to abide by the decision of the insurance powers. So I called off our trip.
In a few days Geraldine discovered that there was a firm in America named Auto Europe that had become aware of the driving problem for older drivers. They saw that there was money to be made and decided to insure our age group between 75 & 79 provided we drove a car with automatic transmission, not stick. I called our travel agent, Pat Walsh and sent him in pursuit of Auto Europe. Just like that, we had a car. I have been driving cars with manual transmissions for most of my life, but I had no problem going along with their policy. We restarted all the travel plans and departed for Ireland with an auto rental contract that was almost signed in blood.
We arrived at Shannon as we have so many times. I marched up to the Auto Europe desk in the central lobby and produced my contract. With a lovely smile the young lady set about the paper work. Everything was grand, simply grand, until she made a call and turned to me.
“Mr. Bellairs, you have a problem." My blood pressure immediately reached 190 and I said, “Yes , and just what is my problem?" “Well sir, the car we have reserved for you, an automatic mid-size Toyota, has not been returned yet. In fact, there are three people already here who are waiting for a car. The only thing I can suggest is that you go down the hall to the Burren Bar, have breakfast and come back later. We really are sorry. If you could only drive stick …"
“What did you say?’
“I said, if you handle stick we’d have no problem. We have several."
I exhaled and assured her I could drive stick.
Then she added, “That’s wonderful. Now this is a Ford. It is a smaller car. I could save you about 40 pounds. Would that be all right?"
“Yes, by all means. Let’s save the 40 pounds."
She set about redoing all her paperwork.
I said, “Gee, sorry you have to do this all over."
With another happy smile she replied, “Oh we just love you for being willing to drive a stick shift car!" Maria and I laughed all the way to Ennis.
We did some touring around the country, ended up in our familiar chairs at Nora’s table with Michael supplying the Irish whiskey and Nora following with scones, jam, soda bread and her apple tart.
I will not attempt to conceal the fact that Maria and I had a hard time. We felt disconnected, the old “ship without a rudder" sensation. We stayed with Mary McGrath at Green Acres. She and husband Tom are great friends. Our favorite “bridge people" came to visit.
We drove down the Glosheen road past our gate but did not enter. We heard about the new owner’s plans for Liscrona and wished we hadn’t.
The day of the wedding was clear and bright, the result of Nora’s prayers, I know. The bridal party was elegant. Michael and Nora were radiant. Neil’s family consists of 10 handsome brothers and sisters, all in attendance. As I sat in that church, I saw the altar where our Kim and Neal were married just 20 years earlier and I saw so many of the same people who had taken part in our celebration. I had a lump in my throat the size of a grapefruit. I was asked to do one of the readings and I nearly did not get through it. I felt like a sentimental, out of control, old fool. Looking out at those faces, probably for the last time, was pure agony.
The reception was held in a perfect spot, Castle Oaks, about 5 miles east of Limerick. The evening was without a flaw and the party went on and on.
The next morning we slipped away, spent several days in Kinsale at a B&B called the Moorings, with a view over the bay. Go there someday. You will love it.
On our last day we checked in at the Limerick Inn, and asked our dear old Limerick friends to join us for a final dinner. We invited them to come see us in America and I think they might just do it.
Afterward on the plane, the door closed with a thump. The runway blurred, the nose pointed west, and we slid into the clouds. Slan! It is Gaelic for good-bye. I do not believe we can ever go back. Another door was closed with all our love. In our 24 years we made a difference.
A house that was nearly derelict in 1975, was alive and well in 1995.
I have admitted that my party piece had to be something other than a song, so I memorized William Butler Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree." The Irish of course knew it too, but never seemed to tire of my rendition:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin built there of clay and wattles made; nine bean rows will I have there,
a hive for the honey bee, and live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of morning, to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I shall arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep hearts core.
In our final visit to Ireland, I added the following: I will arise and go now, and go to County Clare.
And a great house I’ll restore there, of stone and slate it is made.
Roses, ivy and woods, out to the east,
And Maria and I will live there, in Liscrona by the sea.
I will arise and go now for always night and day,
I hear Shannon waves breaking with low sounds by our shore.
While we live in America 4,000 miles away, we miss you in our deep heart’s core.