Travel

A Monster in a Box: An Ireland Travel Horror Story

Ireland Vacation Home Rental

There was no way I’d ever do it. None. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

I would never drive a car in Ireland because years earlier my favorite writer had done so, crashed on the impossibly narrow Irish country roads, suffered debilitating head injuries, and eventually took his own life once back at home in New York. This was a family travel nonstarter.

I vowed to never get into a vehicle as driver or passenger on the Emerald Isle immediately after Spalding Gray was discovered to have jumped to his death of the Staten Island Ferry into the East River as a result, in part, of his ill-fated Irish crash.

But here’s the rub, my wife is a redheaded Irish girl who’d long dreamed of visiting her people’s homeland. This was a problem. See above. For years I said no. Actually, I said hell no. No, no, no, no. No way. Instead of a trip to Ireland, I constantly pushed us to other destinations on the world map; Barcelona, San Francisco, Montreal, all the while citing Spalding Gray’s suicide. This summer however, with a U.K. trip on the docket because I was already over there hiking Hadrian’s Wall with the Dads4Kesem crew, I caved.

I was a tightly wound ball of nervous energy before and during the Ireland travel portion of our vacation but I attempted to not showcase any of my fears because the visit meant so much to my redheaded Irish lass. This was mistake number one. Being someone unaccustomed to asphyxiating his thoughts and enduring debilitating emotions, I wound up a monster in a box of a white Vauxhall for 5 days in Ireland and as such I managed to suck the air out of my family’s holiday balloon.

Ireland Travel Horror Story

The best worst aspect of our week in Ireland was the remarkable stone home we rented in County Clare, set  on six acres in the middle of a wild green nowhere. The house had two lovable dogs, tree swings, grass thicker than a malt and the color of a fresh lime. It was vacation rental home perfection but everything my wife wanted to do and see was a drive away, a gut-wrenchingly long drive away from our perfect Ireland rental home on countless country roads skinnier than a meal-deprived runway model.

With each passing car, a minor heart-attack rattled my fragile cage as I frantically moved our car as far to the left as physically possible, kissing hedges and nearly scraping ancient stone walls in the process. After a pleasant day one spent mostly in and around the house and down the way just 30 minutes in Killaloe for their weekly farmer’s market to buy Irish cheeses and soda bread, I became a hideous amalgamation of anger, frustration, fear and resentment who snapped over the tiniest of things said or done or not done by my wife and kids.

The tragedy isn’t that we crashed, we didn’t thankfully, but that this story was so goddamn close to being radically different. Our Ireland travel horror story could have been the exact opposite because upon pulling into the driveway of the stone house, we four looked at each other and knew immediately that our highly structured plans for our 5 days in Ireland had to change. We’d just come from a hectic and blisteringly hot week in London and we craved downtime, which is exactly what the Meelick House offered. To our credit, we did manage to pivot on the fly, cutting nearly two days of drives out of the itinerary in order to gain not an insignificant amount of idyllic time in and around the house, but in the end it wouldn’t be enough to prevent me from turning my wife’s bucket list trip to Ireland into a green, orange and white hot mess.

There was a lot of emergency work done to repair the family vacation in the days that followed the stressful Ireland travel portion of the trip, and even more service needed to patch up the marriage in the weeks that have passed since. And we’re still in the weeds of that. In the end, a lack of communication doomed us and that, not coincidentally at all, is what has been plaguing us as a couple for far too long. If anything positive is to come from the experience we had on and off the slim country roads in Ireland, it is likely that the two of us will resolve to get better at expressing ourselves honestly before situations become to dire to salvage. That AND a resolve to someday soon have an Irish holiday do-over.

Tags: , , ,

13 Comments

  1. As always, I appreciate the honesty.

    I relate, and have no good advice other than to look in those eyes of her’s and keep reminding yourself that she’s your best friend. It’s safe to talk, and it’s safe to listen.

    Yvonne always says, “I’m not going anywhere… I’m here!” to let me know that it’s safe, and we can get through this and actually talk it out.

    Thanks, Jeff.

  2. Can absolutely relate. Although we haven’t been on a grand tour like you guys were, we’ve still had our ups and downs while travelling even just to the other side of town. In a way it’s good because from the ashes of the unfortunate conversations comes better communication and action to fix certain things. Best of luck to you guys, and try not to let it add to the dark cloud you feel is over top of Ireland. It really is a wonderful place and I can’t wait to go.

  3. It’s a metaphor, isn’t it? As your roads narrowed, coming dangerously close enough to kiss other cars, walls, hedgerows, and such, your relationship did the same. I know this all too well, as sometimes, we can avoid and brush over things we know we need to face as married partners, but choose not to in favor of procrastinating. But then, something forces us to come face to face with what’s been left unsaid, and only through communicating (both speaking our minds AND listening carefully to the other, with the latter being far more important, IMHO), can we reconcile. I wish you the best, my friend, and should you ever need to chat, I’m only a message away…

  4. Alexandria says:

    I think you were a baby. You should have done everything you could to make this trip enjoyable for your wife. I see all the men who commented are understanding but I am a woman and I think you were selfish. You owe your wife another trip to Ireland. Next time get over yourself!!!

  5. Dear Alexandria,

    You’re an idiot.

    – Everyone

  6. dear Alexandria… did you read the article? He did. They worked on it. They are working on it.

    It’s expectations like your’s that can crush us and make us give up.

    We gotta try. We blow it sometimes… but we keep trying. I know Jeff keeps trying.

  7. We all have our limitations and fears. I would share the many of the same. I don’t think you were a baby. I don’t think you were selfish. Vacations are stressful and communication seems to be the most difficult during these times. Like you said, no matter how bad the trip may have been, or felt, there is still something to learn from it and take from it. I applaud you and your family for making the most out of it and working on what you feel you need to. Thank you for sharing what probably isn’t an easy thing to share. I have mad respect for you, sir.

  8. Sorry to hear your trip didn’t go as you had hoped.
    Your pictures were beautiful, maybe you can sit
    and go thru them and talk about the problems and the
    good times.
    That seemed like a jam packed vacation, maybe you all
    just need to decompress.
    Good luck!

  9. I actually hit a public bus the first time I drove in Ireland. Not a lot, just a tiny little bit, not even a scratch or a fine. But still!!! It’s freaky, man, I feel ya! And my wife got a speeding ticket. They sent it to our mailbox in Cali…in Gaelic! But that’s all beside the point. The point is, Guinness is better than Murphy’s.

  10. I think you did the best with what you’ve got. We’re all superstitious about something and we all have weird demons. I can’t understand others’ anxiety, but I will always be there to support it when I can.

  11. You know what? Vacations are hard. Being out of your home routine for more than a couple of days and being in 24/7 contact with spouse and kids is hard. Knowing you have a premonition about bad things beforehand is hard. Muscling through that fear because you’re tough and you can do it for the family is hard. Owning up to the fact that your behavior in said situation was perhaps not the best is hard. Being away and coming back to “normal” is also hard. Having conversations about how the trip was not as idyllic as your photo stream might suggest is hard.

    But people (especially online commenter type people) forget that being married and having kids and trying to be a decent parent is ALWAYS hard. So it’s nice to have a reminder that we all have our tipping point and crap to work through. I appreciate you coming clean and sharing your struggle here. I should do more of that on my blog.

  12. I think that it’s important to do things for our loved ones, such as visiting Ireland. Perhaps heading to clare for your first trip if you were worried about driving here (I’m from just north of Dublin) wasn’t the best place to start.

    New York and Ireland are very different. Dublin is slow and relaxed compared to NYC. Clare is beyond slow compared to Dublin.

    I spend a lot of time in the North West, and whilst there are car crashes her and around 166 deaths per year on our roads it’s much lower than a lot of places including the US.

    I know I find it stressful with work at times and have to take breaks in Donegal to unwind and perhaps having a bit itinerary of things to do wasn’t the best plan.

    Good to see you have identified some of the cause of the stresses and perhaps understanding ireland a bit better will help manage and over come them.

    If you plan a return visit, drop me a line and I’ll offer any advice needed.

  13. Maybe you can reframe things a bit before your next family trip – that sometimes our loved ones ****really**** need us to emerge from our comfort zones. Travel is one of those things that can bring that out. And where your sense of dread about the roads comes into play…I don’t think anyone can ask you to just turn off the fear, but you can be brave in the face of that fear – as an act of love. And you can let that fear sharpen your senses when you’re on the road. I’m eager to see how you grow as a family from this experience.

joc