In September 2001, my mother and I enjoyed an idyllic holiday in Ireland. On September 11, after touring the verdant, rolling hills on The Ring of Kerry, our group gathered for lunch at a local pub. Before we even placed our orders, a woman exclaimed: " They're attacking New York City!" All eyes fixated on the pub's television as we watched images of the World Trade Center under attack. Such as when people recall where they were when learning of the JFK or MLK assassinations, the sight of that destruction left an indelible image on our memories.
Our tour guide received a command to return us to our hotel immediately. It was a somber ride. I recall one woman, inconsolable as she worried for her son, a UPS agent who delivered to the World Trade Center several times daily. Another couple sat near us praying, rosaries in hand. This was before the age when cell phones became everyone's appendage and overseas phone calls were impossible as the lines were jammed. Yes, prayer was the only alternative.
I shall always remember our arrival at the hotel. The entire staff assembled in the lobby and as we entered they began singing: "God Bless America." Not a dry eye in the group. That afternoon the hotel installed several televisions in their tap room. We congregated there and learned of the other attacks in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. I still remember the BBC newsreader being barely composed as she brought sad news to the world.
It was announced that a local church was having a Mass that afternoon for the victims and their families. Mom and I decided to attend and walked the few blocks in the crisp, almost-autumn air. When the beautiful service was over, and while walking back to our hotel, we noticed a small group of people standing in front of an apothecary watching the news on a television placed in the front window. We joined the group, desperate for more news.
After a few moments, the store owner approached Mom and I and invited us into the flat in the rear of the store where his family lived. His sincerity convinced us that we had nothing to fear. A few minutes later we were in their comfortable living room, watching the news as we were served tea and shortbread.
I have often thought back to that experience, sitting in a stranger's home while watching horrific destruction to our country from half a world away. The compassion, kindness and love of the Irish will never be forgotten.
I left my heart in Ireland and the sentiment hasn't faded with the passing of time.
Robert Bull, M.D., resides in Lewiston.