Tuam: a traveler’s tale

Rachel Craft, Full Irish Breakfast

Last weekend I went on homestay, meaning I stayed in the home of Irish people and was treated like part of the family. Which, as it turns out, may entail shepherding, Catholic mass, and being bitten by small children.

But that wasn’t my experience – that was someone else in my program. I enjoyed a much more relaxing, uneventful weekend. I stayed with Patricia and Michael, whose children are grown and who now live a quiet life in the countryside near the quaint town of Tuam (pronounced “choom”).

Patricia and Michael have a lovely, comfortable home and a little bow-legged Jack Russell puppy named Milo. Milo has a little too much energy for his parents, so he stays outside and sleeps in the shed. He spent most of the weekend looking in on us through the glass kitchen door and bouncing up and down like a pogo stick – until we went outside to play with him, when he bounced up and down nipping at our arms. My roommate Anya (another American student) and I, being dog lovers and missing our pets back home, were happy to give him some much-needed attention. We even got him a toy in town to play with, because the apple he was gnawing on just looked a little sad.

Besides that, we didn’t do much during our stay. We spent most of the day Saturday wandering around town looking for souvenirs. Saturday night was TradFest, so we enjoyed some traditional Irish music in the pubs. On Sunday, we took advantage of the nice weather and went for a walk around the countryside to take pictures of sheep, horses, and the general greenery.

The best part was probably the food. Our homestay parents cooked for us – and by “cook” I don’t mean “reheat leftovers,” which is the only kind of cooking that goes on in my apartment. While Americans are often happy with straight-from-the-freezer meals, the Irish prefer real, hearty, home-cooked goodness, inevitably served up with a cup of hot tea. On our first night, we had the most delicious apple pie (homemade, of course, with homegrown apples). I’m not usually a fan of pie, but let me tell you, that pie was the stuff of legends. Anya and I spent the next day conniving how to (politely and nonchalantly) score another serving of that pie. We eventually decided to flatter Patricia on her superior baking skills and ask her for the recipe. When we did, not only did she give us the recipe and serve us another slice, she pulled an entire pie out of her freezer for us to take home. Needless to say, the other Americans were jealous when we got on the bus to go home.

After dinner with our homestay parents, we watched “Moone Boy,” a sitcom about a goofy little Irish boy with an imaginary friend. Then we talked to Patricia at length about various television phenomena like “The X Factor” and “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.” Apparently she is very familiar with the gypsies, or “travellers,” as they’re called in Ireland. Travellers live in “caravans” (RVs, essentially), but they don’t travel around so much anymore – they have to hold down real jobs in order to afford their famously enormous weddings. They invite people by word of mouth, so the number of guests is enormous. The wedding gowns, and often the bridesmaid gowns, are enormous and gaudy. There’s a woman in Britain who is apparently the go-to dressmaker, who by now must be enormously wealthy. The amount of money spent by the bride’s family is, needless to say, enormous.

Next item on my Ireland to-do list: seek out the travellers. Preferably the ones who look like Johnny Depp in “Chocolat.”