Irish Tourist Board
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Q: The CACHE News and Review heard that you recently took an overseas trip to Ireland with your husband. Where did you go and how long were you there?

A: We were gone a total of nine days. One of those days was lost in the air (travel/time changes). Five of those days we spent in Dublin (the capital of the Irish Republic) and three involved renting a car and roaming the Irish countryside staying in Bed and Breakfasts.

Q: Why did you decide not to write a Happy Trails about your recent overseas trip?

A: I really have been amazed at how many people encouraged me to do a Happy Trails about the trip. I was hesitant initially because many homeschooling families (including our own) struggle to make ends meet on a single income. The trip came about when my husband needed to attend a business conference in Dublin. I was able to go and extend the trip for little additional money. I hesitated to write a Happy Trails because international travel has never been in our budget (by a long shot).

Q: How did you approach leaving your children?

A: Our family, like many other homeschooling families, is close-knit with limited experience staying any length of time away from home or each other. Leaving the kids was certainly my biggest concern but in retrospect, I'm glad we did it. It was a growing experience for all. It allowed my husband and me the opportunity to have a memorable experience as a couple. I think all families should occasionally give the parents alone time. It doesn't have to be as extravagant as Ireland; it can be done in a very economical way...PATC log cabins are now cheaper than campgrounds...and can be very romantic!

The way we approached it (at the kids' request) was separate placements for each child. While we would never have attempted this when they were younger, their ages (9 - 11) made it possible. We stayed in touch through daily e-mail, as our provider had a local access number in Dublin. This proved to be economical and a great way to keep in touch - as well as return home with a running diary of everyone's adventures.

I can honestly say I did not worry about the kids those nine days. I thought about them, but I did not worry. They were all in good hands and I knew it. Asking people to care for your children for nine days while you go a third of the way around the world is asking a lot. I feel incredibly lucky to have friends and family so willing to give.

I also felt much better for having compiled a detailed itinerary, emergency numbers, mother's insight list, permission-to-treat in medical emergency forms, and finally, for finishing our wills assigning guardianship should we plunge.

Q: Did you do anything to ensure that you would remember this life-time experience?

A: I am no world traveler. I never had a passport before. But I began reading about Ireland from the minute the possibility of going appeared. I'm still reading three months after the trip. As always, the more research and knowledge, the better.

In addition to the e-mail journal, I thoroughly enjoyed shooting 15 rolls of film. I fancy calling myself a photographer. It was my first non-child photographic effort in eleven years and a refreshing change of pace. The entire island had incredibly beautiful, indescribably breath-taking views. Because it rains so much, the sky was always loaded with different shades of clouds and the rainbows were abundant and unbelievable.

Q: Can you share some of the historical sights that you saw and how they struck you as an American?

A: The whole time my husband worked, I grabbed as many tours as I could. The first tour was of Dublin so that I could get oriented. It was great. I could get on and off the double-decker buses as much as I wanted all day. The rest of the tours that I took alone were outside the city. Glendolaugh was a beautiful, mystic, and powerful ancient site of Celtic monastery ruins. At Newgrange (dated 3000 BC...500 years older than the Egyptian Pyramids) I saw stone-age carvings and magnificent rock-work. The winter solstice part was the best. One day a year (December 23 - winter solstice), the sunlight comes through this tunnel and lights up the center room of this underground structure for 13 minutes...if it's a clear day. INCREDIBLE! Malihide Castle was a 800-year-old castle in excellent condition and fascinating. We saw castles everywhere. Some were well-maintained, some were in ruins. All were wonderful to photograph.

Q: Did you have a chance to get to speak much to the Irish?

A: I have to admit I loved the pubs for this very reason. They were everywhere. When we found pubs frequented by the locals as opposed to the tourists, it was great. One of our most memorable experiences occurred in a "traditional" pub. We were finally able to communicate where we were from by sharing our nickels that show Monticello and Thomas Jefferson. Boy, were they excited to have American nickels (they called them "three pence").

Q: What was your impression of the people?

A: In Dublin, everyone seemed in a hurry (except in the pubs). In the countryside, folks were generally friendly and laid back. The more I read about the history of Ireland the more impressed I am with the people and their struggles.

Q: What was, in your opinion, the most exciting part of your trip?

A: Actually going to the Old World and seeing such a different culture where the majority of homes, churches, farms and roads predated the founding of our new republic. Having time to explore on my own and with my husband was also pretty exciting.

Q: What would you do differently if you could do it over again?

A: The changes I would make would be extremely minor. Although I did a lot of cost-saving maneuvers, I learned ways to do it even cheaper. I would love the opportunity to do it again with the children. My husband's conference is held every year in a different European city. Next year's meeting is scheduled for Sophia, Bulgaria. While the chance of going is extremely remote, we have begun enthusiastic study of Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, and Egypt. If we take this trip, we would take the kids. We dream of studying the "cradle of civilization" first hand and keeping our learning adventure on an exciting self-directed track for yet another year.

Q: What was your greatest challenge on the trip?

A. My husband was upfront from the beginning that he would NOT drive. It's one area where I have greater skill and we both know it. While in Dublin, we mostly walked and took buses...but I had five days to get used to things working the opposite of my instincts. So, the greatest personal challenge for me was driving on the wrong side of the road in a car with a steering wheel on the wrong side of the car. Everything was backwards! Not only was I doing everything backwards, but the roads were very narrow and the speeds were high. There was usually no margin...if I went off the side of the road, I would quickly hit a 1000 year old stone wall. With John navigating (which was in itself difficult as the road signs, if they existed at all, were in Gaelic), we managed to leave most of Ireland's historic statues intact...but not all.

This was another "best part" of the trip. We left Dublin bravely in our rental car and had a short three days to explore the countryside. Our main objective was to make it to the west coast and the Beara Peninsula. The Beara Peninsula is less well-known but even wilder than the famous Ring of Kerry. It was unspoiled and could be described as a moon-scape with sheep. Here, the views were so incredible that I knew a camera could not do it justice. I didn't even try.

Q: Do you have any advice for homeschoolers wishing to go overseas?

A: I found great information at our public library, on the internet, and in my favorite bookstore. Having never before left North America, I found the Old World history of Ireland fascinating. The more research and knowledge you master, the more meaningful the adventure. The ability to plan a general itinerary with enough flexibility to explore the unexpected is essential.

Q: Do you plan to use all the information and impressions that you got overseas in your homeschooling? If so, how?

A: I am sure this trip will carry over in our learning for years to come. How? Through an increased understanding of geography, political science, mathematics (money exchange), sociology, reading and writing, to mention a few. Not only did the knowledge I can share increase, my kids saw something even more important. Parents who enjoy spending time together. A healthy relationship. A sense of adventure and love of life. Aren't they some of the wonderful qualities that can emerge naturally through homeschooling?

Photos by Mary Wilson

Mary Wilson...

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