Solo Flight: Back to Ireland

Guest Post by Nancy Forde

Traveling back to Ireland with my young son

I envy Amelia Earhart’s courage and feel nervous buying tickets for a solo journey overseas to Ireland with my 3 year old. For a brief moment, I mistakenly think the email subject line of flight purchase confirmation reads, “Are you crazy?” Only my own subconscious playing tricks. Phew!

"Ready for first flight to Ireland -- Toddler looking out the airport window at planes"

First flight excitement: the last time we flew together, he was in utero from Vancouver to Toronto

The term ‘Island Paradise’ may not bring Ireland immediately to mind. It’s my parents’ birthplace and I haven’t been “Home”, as our family refers to it, since the autumn of 1999. And getting truly “away” feels like it hasn’t happened for me since the last millennium! For the next decade, I make a less desirable trek through the emotional and physical mire of longtime infertility struggle. I finally end my marriage and push off solo in my own curragh of sorts: In Vitro Fertilization surgery via anonymous donor which, by some sort of miracle, results, at long last, in my giving birth at 42.

Single motherhood is its own Mount Everest ascent and when I visit Nepal someday, I’ll write that article, but I am loathe to complain after years of longing for motherhood. He is my greatest joy and a genuine blessing. His biological father also shares Irish ethnicity. My son comes by these roots, and their 40 verdant shades, honestly.

So it is no small thrill to finally return accompanied by my most precious cargo to the land of our shared ancestry. I’ve been asked to capture my friends’ nuptials in a magical spot at the very bottom of Cork: Inish Beg. I pack one large suitcase for us both, half-filled with diapers and hope and set forth, laden with camera equipment and tucking a good, healthy dose of naiveté into the stroller storage compartment. I have no clue what lies ahead for us.

"Runnin' up that hill in Ireland: finally footloose and fancy free after long journey"

Runnin’ up that hill: finally footloose and fancy free after long journey via planes and bus

Don’t attempt explaining to 3 year olds that we’re thousands of miles from home or those tiny objects below are cars. Like a jumbo jet, that information just flies right over their heads. But after countless hours of bustling, when we stop at An Drom Beag, an ancient site of standing stones dating from 153BC to 127AD, my son parties like it’s 1999. His joy at the chance to gad about the landscape is palpable and infectious. Clearly, he doesn’t care whether the soil’s Canadian or Irish; his feet are doing a happy dance!

"An Drom Beag: standing stones dating from 153BC to 126AD"

An Drom Beag

I feel well equipped for each leg of the journey: thin storybooks; sippy cup; toothbrushes; snacks; wipes; change of clothes; diapers; comfy, padded, toddler-friendly headphones; and, if all else fails, an iPad chock full of toddler-esque entertainment. Heading first to London for 2 nights, then to Ireland for 5, we board five planes in total and, challenging as that is, we not only survive but have one marvellous time, projectile vomit notwithstanding. [My thanks, O Ye Goddesses of Aer Lingus flight attendance training, for your immediate care and for wishing me, according to the Irish calendar, a ‘Happy Mothering Day’ on that memorable flight: most appreciated and more than fitting, really.]

Luckily, for our first trip, people ferry us to and fro. I carry endless stories of getting lost in the Irish countryside and wheeling down windows to directions like, “ye can’t get there from here, ye must go back to where ye started” or “go as far as ye can and then do it twice more, turn left and you’ll find your way, no doubt.” At some point, a traveller of Irish soil must simply ditch the map and the detailed, intended itinerary and let their feet and hearts wander where they will. But with only one week in which to reach the wedding site and a bride and groom expecting to be photographed, I can’t leave much to chance.

In some ways, it is too far a distance for such a short span, but I happily throw caution to the wind. There is no more enticing reason for flights of fancy than the marriage of dear friends and one week proves long enough to throw him out of his regular daily routine. It’s the perfect duration to dip toes into our first authentic adventure.

"Cold hands, warm hearts: the rosewood-ringed hands of the bride and groom in Ireland"

Cold hands, warm hearts: the rosewood-ringed hands of the bride and groom, Maureen and Denis

My best advice (inspired by the Blarney Stone) for would-be travellers, particularly parents flying solo with child(ren): KISS ~ Keep It Simple, Silly! Early on, I ditch the idea of including Dublin or Dingle and of car rental to make my own way. Instead, I surrender myself to trust in the generosity of others and I am not disappointed.

What warms the cockles of my heart is how people unexpectedly reach out to assist this (clearly) exhausted mum and her wee laddie. At terminal check-ins, while airborne, loading taxis and buses, boarding boats, loved ones and perfect strangers (fast becoming friends) equally make our travel smoother and give me a chance to feel that I am, in fact, on holiday!

The ultimate acceptance that there are many hands and hearts looking out for my son while I sit, imbibe (be it teacup, pint or dram), snap the bride and groom, sing an Irish ditty or stride the breathtaking landscape enables me the gradual release of the 24/7, hawk-eyed, control-freakish weight of responsibility that is single parenthood. My heartfelt thanks goes out to each selfless soul who lent a hand to make our journey so memorable and much less burdensome.

"Seeing Ireland in the snow"

“Canada meets Ireland: our two “Homes” collide as snow falls in Inish Beg the eve of the wedding

Greatest of all is my pride in my toddler! A better travel buddy could not exist: he was fun-loving, spontaneous, polite and, for the most part, patient throughout ~ even giggling his way through a Gaelic rendition of Sesame Street in an Irish hotel room because no English version could be had. My buttons burst!

"Travel bug: a boat on the island of Sherkin, Ireland"

Travel bug: a boat on the island of Sherkin, a literal invitation to set forth again. We’ve definitely been bitten!

Currently, I’m browsing flights for a summertime jaunt within Canada and I know I’ll click that “buy now” button without hesitation, secure in the knowledge that the kindness of the human heart has a global reach and will smooth the road for us both wherever we next set forth, near or far.

Photos courtesy of Nancy Forde

"Nancy Forde, photographer"About the Author:

Nancy Forde is a Canadian photographer, the eye behind the lens for Maple Eye Photography and a lucky single parent to the best kid on the planet. Her photography has been published in Green magazine (Spring 2012) and in Grand magazine (January 2013), both of Metroland Media. She makes her home in Waterloo, Ontario.

Maple Eye Photography on Flickr

Follow @nancyfordephoto on Twitter and Instagram

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5 thoughts on “Solo Flight: Back to Ireland

  1. santafetraveler

    Ah beautiful Cork! Great memories and a blog post or two of An Drom Beag. Traveling with a 3 year old is definitely an adventure! Good on ya!

  2. Mayura Stratopoulos

    Nancy-I just loved your article! I felt that I was part of your journey. Thanks for taking me along and please keep writing and snapping pics.

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