At Home Abroad: “Go Gather by the Humming Sea” *
By Regina Costello
Water is a recurring theme in Irish poetry, literature, and life. Beyond its’ origin in and necessity for survival, there are a multitude of reasons for its recurrence in the Irish saga. Our beloved country is surrounded by this beautiful natural resource, where it greets the fortress of tall, jagged cliffs that forever protect our green fields. It greets our far away home with a thunderous welcome of crashing waves, wild weather and an ever-changing magnificent seascape.
The water’s bountiful gifts of plaice, cod and mackerel have provided sustenance for many a family over the centuries and continue to be gratefully consumed; it is a reminder of the Holy Water from Baptism, the celebration and welcoming of new souls to the world; an appreciation of this natural resource by Irish monks 1,500 years ago, who upon learning about distillation decided to apply the process to distill whiskey instead of perfume.
Interestingly, the beverage in the Irish language is Uisce Beatha, which translates into English as water of life. It has seeped into many aspects of our lives; water is part and parcel of who we are.
My love affair with water incorporates all the above and more. It is on my mind particularly so today, as I am scheduled to receive a much-anticipated Pfizer Covid 19 Vaccine. A key ingredient of this vaccine is – yes, water.
I am forever grateful to the monumental work and talent of researchers and scientists around the world who worked collaboratively and solely to make this a reality, in a ridiculously short amount of time. I find myself in an emotional turmoil as this calendar entry greets my day with reflection. Thoughts of the tumultuous past year that witnessed a deadly virus that shockingly stole life from 2.8 million people worldwide, leaving a painful void and irreplaceable loss in too many families.
My thoughts are of the survivors among us that may have a rocky road ahead, as the long-term effects of this determined microbe continue to unfold, also come to mind.
Good old Irish Catholic guilt is knocking on my door today, bringing with it uncomfortable questions and a disturbing mindset: “How do you get to be so lucky? How did you manage to escape this? Why do you deserve this vaccination while millions of others around the globe living in compromised conditions are still waiting for the rollout?”
I try to hush this futile noise by replacing it with a more fruitful one of my immense gratitude for good luck, appreciation of living in the best country in the world in my comfortable home abroad, and that I too am contributing to this battle by getting vaccinated. In doing so collectively, the global collaboration of the work that created this vaccine will not be in vain. On a related note, those of you hesitant to join this collaborative should check out the TEDx Hippos, measles & smallpox, oh my! with Clevelander Michelle Medina, M.D., who gives a definitive argument for the necessity of vaccines for the human race.
Thoughts of family, friends, and things Irish that live beyond the ragged shores of booming waves on the west coast and the humming sea elsewhere across the Emerald Isle, are also in my head, as they have been sorely missed in the past twelve months. The recent dream that maybe one day I may be able to cross that Atlantic Ocean bound for Shannon Airport to visit a much-loved family, with my two garrulous kids and an indecisive husband debating whether his first drink upon arrival will be a Smithwicks or a Bulmer’s, is happily to turning into a soon to be reality.
I expect the next adventure to Ireland to be most joyful, perhaps tearfully so, with spells of somber and poignant moments. I look forward to some quiet time to appreciate my life, think about my parents and family, the brutal times in Irish history at the hands of both mother nature and politics, and consider the survival of the country, our people and heritage as a testament to the human spirit of mankind.
The same can be said in a global fashion about 2020. We witnessed a year of turmoil both man and nature made. One can somewhat understand the natural disasters that occurred last year, from Covid 19 to the 400+ events of hurricanes, floods and wildfires resulting in loss of life.
However, one cannot excuse the continuing fabricated disasters of the wrath of man to his fellow man, in the form of discrimination and more, that also take away life. Words and actions that are deliberately aimed at berating and hurting others for nonsensical reasons can never be understood and should never be accepted. If only a vaccine was at hand to obliterate the ill for once and for all. The antidote can only be found by reaching deep into that human spirit of mankind.
Ireland, my home and your home, is the foundation of who we are and how we think. While we are far from it, Ireland lives in our hearts and minds. Our philosophy, culture, sorrows and joys are beautifully documented in the wide array of award-winning Irish prose and poetry that we revisit for respite and grounding.
The land of a thousand welcomes is surrounded by a moat of water that safeguards and protects all that we come from. Like you, I cannot wait to cross it, sink my feet into soft cold sand and walk the shores of Galway Bay, with the Burren mountains of county Clare breaking the horizon, tasting the salt on my lips, inhaling deep breaths of unsullied air and feasting upon what I know will be a sight for sore eyes.
The Water of Life
My husband can have his Bulmer’s or Guinness. My drink of choice will be the uisce beatha from Achill Island Distillery, preferably a Mayo Mojito at the hands of Seán McKay, a son of the Island, who continues the work of the Irish monks by distilling the only whiskey on the Irish islands.
Mitch Albom provides food for thought when he says, “You’re not a wave, you’re a part of the ocean.” Ryunosuke Satoro echoes the sentiment: “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”
Such poetry is a gentle reminder that the origin of the human race is that of water. Each one of us are a drop in the ocean of life, that together, can harmoniously rise to beautiful and magnificent breakers on the shores of life, at home and abroad.
*The Song of the Happy Shepherd”. W.B. Yeats
A Short History of Irish Whiskey”. John Callely
The Role of Water in the Origin of Life and its Function in the Primitive Gene. W. Good. Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, The University of Leeds, England, 1972.
Hippos, measles & smallpox, oh my! Michelle Medina, M.D. TEDx Cleveland State University. 2014
*Regina is a postgraduate from the National University of Ireland. Former Curator with the Irish American Archives Society, former Executive Director of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Commission and former Executive Coordinator of the Northern Ohio Rose Centre. Director on the Boards of the Mayo Society of Greater Cleveland and The Irish American Charitable Foundation. She resides in the Greater Cleveland area with her husband and together enjoy their family of two spirited teenagers and beloved wheaten terrier. She would love to hear from you: [email protected]