Early last year I got a weird notification on my phone: "FeerickFamilyReunion2013 is now following you on Twitter." After a couple months thinking that this was just incredibly creative spam, I found out from my parents that a massive Feerick Family reunion was going to be occurring in Ireland in the coming September. I was lucky enough with my change in jobs and the timing of the trip that I would be able to attend with my parents--as well as my cousin, aunt, and step-uncle. After 16 hours of travel and plane flights, we landed in Dublin on a Wednesday afternoon and began our drive westward across Ireland to Westport, a small town where the reunion was being held. The town our family hales from, Ballinrobe, in County Mayo, was about 20 minutes away, but Westport was the nearest town that was big enough to accommodate so many people comfortably.
The reunion was scheduled to take place from Friday evening till Sunday morning, so we had time to explore the area for a few days beforehand. I don't think my family has ever truly taken a "relaxing", if you will, vacation. Bright and early Thursday morning, we all piled back in our rental car (a tiny "van", which was a glorified sedan with a third row of seats), and headed to Croagh Patrick, the third tallest mountain in Ireland.
Croagh Patrick is the mountain from which St. Patrick (a Catholic Saint) banished all the snakes from Ireland, chasing them into the sea after they attacked him during a forty-day fast he was completing during Lent on top of the mountain. The mountain climbs to a height of over 2,100 ft. over a hiking distance of around 4.5 miles. I was under the impression this was going to be a little hike up a paved path. Turns out it was a treacherously steep climb over rocks and streams, with a final climb over steep, jagged, unstable rocks to the top. The higher we climbed, the colder and windier it got and my cousin and I, two very fit people, mind you, were drenched in sweat by the time we got the top
At the top of the peak was a spectacular white stone church. I don't know how it was built (I could probably google it), but it must have been incredibly difficult to do. The wind was so strong at the top that we had to keep walking into it so as not to be blown over.
As my cousin and I had forged ahead, on the way back down we passed my parents--my dad beaming from ear to ear, loving every minute of it (as he did every moment in Ireland) and my poor mom cursing that she couldn't take another step... yet she kept going and completed the trek! That was probably one of the funniest moments from the trip. Back at the bottom of the mountain, we rejoined with my aunt and uncle, who made in about 400 yards into the trek, realized there was a pub at the base of the climb, and made the smart decision to drink Guinness until the adventurers returned. We collectively agreed that this was the hardest hike any of had ever been on.
Lest we take a day to rest (or just not do strenuous physical activity), Friday's agenda called for a 50km bike ride through the Irish countryside. We picked up our bikes at a shop in town, then were driven miles away and were
abandoned dropped off at the start of the Greenway, a path for walkers and bikes that goes along the Western coast of the country.
While these weren't quite the bikes I'm used to riding, they were still fun to ride! They were just your basic hybrid road bike... sort of like a little bit nicer than the bike you probably had when you were 14. They countryside was gorgeous, but the ride itself took quite awhile given the bikes and the terrain, so the pub we stopped at for lunch (and Guinness, obviously) 3/4 of the way through the ride, was a welcome sight!
That evening sparked the beginning of the true reunion. So far we'd just been doing our own thing, but this evening there was a reception and meet & greet, plus a welcome from some notable figures. Among those who spoke were some key Feerick's who were responsible for organizing everything, as well as the Mayor of Westport and the Governor of Tourism (or something to that effect) for all of Ireland. His speech was lost on me however, as I was more focused on the Mayor and saving him from being bored to death by old (like literally aged) Feerick family members. He was a young guy himself, and while he enjoyed being mayor, his true passion was photography and he was regarded as one of the best in town.
That being said however, he donned the most baller gold chain I'd ever seen. On it was an engraved the name of each mayor who preceded him in Westport. So, naturally, I managed to talk him into letting me wear it (granted, I have kissed the Blarney Stone which bestows one with Blarney, which is defined: "Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit")
That concludes the first part of the trip! Coming up next is the Reunion itself (I promise I'll skip any boring parts--there's actually a pretty cool story!) That will be followed by our trip to Galway and closing out in Dublin!