As I got off the plane at Dublin airport, I remember the strange looks of those around me as I started laughing to myself that I was actually moving to Ireland for a year. You see, a combination of lack of resources, a college baseball career, and a large Catholic family had limited my overseas travel to the year I spent running a non-profit in the Dominican Republic. Most of my previous knowledge of Ireland came from my love of “Chick Flicks” (P.S. I Love You and Once are two of my favorites).
When I was 13, I started to create a bucket list of dreams, ambitions, problems I wanted to attack, people I wanted to help, and things I wanted to do in hopes of becoming the most interesting man while dedicating myself to serving the world around me (I am still waiting for my royalty check from Dos Equis for stealing my thunder for their commercials). So upon my arrival, I decided to create a very simple rule for myself. I was not going to stop moving this entire year in an attempt to see it all and put a little dent in my bucket list.
Although weary from travel, I immediately knew that the Irish and I were going to get along famously. My first conversation in Ireland with customs went something like this: “Your surname is Graziano! Well how in the heck do you spell that?” (I felt a little more comfortable when the first shop I ran into in Galway was Feeney formal wear, which bears my mother’s maiden name.)
Upon arriving to Galway, I set about finding a way to fulfill this “never stop moving,” rule of mine and immediately ran into the Galway Tour Company and my current Irish partner in crime Declan. I have introduced Declan and the Galway Tour Company to most of the other Mitchells and we have used the Company to travel to the Aran Islands, the Cliffs of Moher, Clonmacnoise, Connemara, Cong, and the Burren. I have spent so much time on tours leaving from Galway that I convinced the Company to let me be a tour guide and get a little microphone time as we traveled (if I do say so myself, I give a wonderful tour). Time on tour buses has also given my fellow Mitchells and me plenty of opportunities to talk about my “most interesting man” dream, and at their urging numerous new activities have been added to my bucket list.
To further see Ireland, I recently spent a week driving (the other side of the road takes some serious getting used to) through the south of Ireland and visiting places like Dingle, the Ring of Kerry, Kenmare, and Doonbeg. For those of you out there that are thinking of ways to woo your significant other, I would highly recommend Doonbeg. It has some of most exquisite accommodation that I have ever stayed in, with picturesque views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Speaking of water, on my first tour to Clonmacnoise I fell in love with the Shannon River and decided right then and there to create my second rule for Ireland, “whenever I see water, I must jump in regardless of the temperature.” This rule has led me and sometimes other Mitchells (that occasionally needed some slight cajoling) to jump into the Shannon River, the Atlantic Ocean, Galway Bay, Lough Corrib, and Dingle Bay. There is certainly more water adventures to come, as I just signed up to attend surf school in Lahinch during Christmas break.
My travels have also led me to wonderful weekends in Dublin, which we have used as a meeting point for most of us to spend time together, a fantastic time in Cork for convocation, a weekend where Ryan Merola hosted a few of us in Belfast that ended with us taking in a sunset above the Giants Causeway, and most recently to London to see Van Morrison in concert.
When not traveling, I make my home right outside of Shop Street in Galway. I have become more than a little obsessed with Galway. I have never been to a place so in love with its own voice, and music seems to be everywhere. I grew up with traditional Irish songs constantly playing at family gatherings, and to be able to walk down the streets of Galway and hear the bands playing these same songs and dancing away the night is a dream come true.
On one of my first nights in Galway, I found my “Cheers.” It is a pub where the average age of the customer is 65, two lads named Wayne and Rory have such beautiful voices that their rendition of the “The Town I Loved So Well” can bring you to tears, and the conversation regarding politics, religion, and gals (the three topics Sammy Kershaw said never to discuss) is spectacular. I spend most of my time begging the lads to play my favorite song, Steve Earle’s “The Galway Girl.” On that note, during my Mitchell interview I jokingly told Ambassador Michael Collins that one of the reasons that I wanted to go to Galway was to find the Galway Girl whose hair was black and her eyes were blue. And he lightheartedly responded, “Son, she does not exist.” Well sir, I would beg to differ.
My time in Galway has also let a former athlete relive some of his “glory days.” I am currently on the University’s cricket, basketball, rowing, and boxing teams. It is great to be part of a team again and to train towards a single goal of winning intervarsity championships (although my foray into boxing has left me a little battered and bruised). I have also started to learn to play golf, and am taking lessons from a former American pro living outside of Galway. My golf game is still all over the map, as I think I was on pace to shoot a 300 while playing in Doonbeg. I am hoping that I can only get better.
More adventures to come.