Tag Archives: belfast

Marking Dad’s birthday

Dad would have turned 91 today. This is the earliest photo I have of him, taken at school and addressed to his beloved mother.

Such a serious young man, with his whole life ahead of him.

Dad didn’t have an easy life, but I’m sure while his feet were planted in the grass of his beloved Belfast, Northern Ireland, he never thought he’d live in sunny Los Angeles. His journey as an immigrant shaped his life, but he never forgot home.

At the end of his life, while in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, he talked about returning home, to see his sisters. We were able to honor his wish, in a way. Some of his ashes were sent to his family in Belfast.

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Celebrating the Irish spirit

My father was fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, but was not a fan of the commercialized St. Patrick’s Day festivities. As I grow older, the more I appreciate the culture of my Irish ancestors: resilient, creative, and brilliant storytellers who can tell the funniest of jokes and sing the saddest of songs and care deeply for family and country.

Of course, there is a darker side to every culture and I witnessed my father struggle through what he called “black” moods of depression and over-indulging in alcohol. I touch upon this in my book, The Reluctant Caregiver. But his love of his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland and his hopes of a united Ireland never wavered. In fact, in the last conversation I had with him just a month before he died, deep in the fog of dementia, he told me he wanted to go to Ireland.

So I will raise a toast to Dad with some Irish whiskey tonight and continue my exploration of my Irish heritage.

Murphy showing off his St. Patrick’s Day spirit.

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A trip of a lifetime



In Belfast, Northern Ireland

What an amazing trip. Ireland was everything I imagined it to be and more. The people were wonderful, the weather was surprisingly good (mainly dry with plenty of sun!) and the sights were breathtaking.

If you want to see all of my Ireland trip photos, I created a public Google Photos album.

I started in the southern part of the country in Blarney and Cork. Blarney Castle was fascinating to tour. I air kissed the stone (couldn’t quite lean back far enough due to my vertigo) but also enjoyed walking the beautiful grounds. Spent the next day in Cork, a charming city. Then I made my way to Westport, where I took a break from being a tourist and enjoyed a stay at a writer’s cabin at a retreat. There were country roads that offered picturesque, serene walks and I loved how the owner’s pets came to visit me during my stay.


Blarney Castle

writer cabin montage

It was in Westport while I was at the grocery store that I happened to see the Alzheimer’s fundraiser. It truly is a global movement and I was happy to support it.

Dublin was a lively, bustling city full of history. Seeing The Long Room at Trinity College was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

I saved my father’s hometown of Belfast for my last stop. I had so much anticipation as the train neared town. Of course Dad would not recognize modern-day Belfast, but there were markers of the past everywhere.


I’m not a big fan of group tours but I did take a walking tour on The Troubles in Belfast. The guide provided an excellent historic overview of the origins of division and unrest, how The Troubles unfolded in the 1970s and what the future may hold in store for Belfast. From taxi drivers to shop owners, everyone I talked to in Northern Ireland and the republic were concerned about the upcoming Brexit actions that could trigger increased violence along the border.


The above mural was taken in the working class neighborhood near where my father’s family members lived. I was able to locate the street that was on my father’s birth certificate and the street where my grandparents lived until their deaths.

While Belfast is known for its politically-charged murals, a new crop of murals have also emerged, offering a fresh perspective and are quite artistic.



I visited my aunt’s grave at a sprawling ceremony just outside of Belfast. She lived to age 95, and while she was plagued by physical ailments in her later years, her mind remained sharp as far as I know, while three of her siblings (including my father) ended up with dementia.  She was a resilient woman, raising three children on her own after her husband died while working overseas.


Giant’s Causeway was one of my favorite destinations. What a breathtaking site.


I ate really well while maintaining my gluten-free diet. The awareness of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet is quite high in Ireland, and I ate as well and in some ways even better there than I do here in the U.S. The highlight food-wise was gluten-free fish and chips in Dublin.


The modified Irish breakfast that was gluten-free came a close second. (I had a few variations of it during my travels.)


I am grateful I was finally able to complete this trip of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to return.





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On the march

Tomorrow in my dad’s hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland there is a march to honor the Ulster Covenant Centenary. Authorities fear violence as these Protestant parades have historically incited the Irish Catholics in town.

The AP offers some background on the marches.

If Dad were still around, he would be following the events closely. As a staunch Irish Catholic, his Irish temper would flare during any discussion of the “troubles.” He had little tolerance for the British government. Since his death, I’ve come across numerous letters he wrote to newspapers and book authors challenging the status quo thinking about the political and religious strife in Northern Ireland.

Some of Dad’s relatives still live in Belfast, and I hope peace reigns over the city tomorrow.

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Dad’s sisters come to visit

Another memory mainly before my time was when my aunts from Ireland came to visit us in California. I was two. I have one lone memory of this incident, really just a like a couple of stills from a film. I remember holding someone’s hand and crossing by the pool to the other side of the apartment complex, where my aunts were able to stay in a vacant unit for the time they were visiting. There was a sense of anticipation as we approached the door of the other apartment. I have absolutely no memory of anything else from that time period.

Why this visit sticks out in my mind is because of my mom’s memory of the visit. It was not a happy one.

For whatever reason, Dad’s sisters were not fond of my mom at the time. I don’t know if this was because of natural sisterly protectiveness or an actual dislike. Obviously, Mom was probably not the bride they would have pictured their “darling brother Pat” marrying. She was a farmer’s daughter from Tennessee with a thick southern accent that follows her to this day. Dad was a shy guy from Belfast who had been doted on by his older sisters as a kid.

Mom prides herself on making everyone like her, event difficult people. My two aunts proved to be tough cookies.

Mom tried her best to impress them by cooking for them and basically waiting on them hand and foot, but from mom’s side of the story, they were impossible to please. They didn’t like her cooking, they didn’t like the accommodations and they made it clear that they wanted to spend time with their brother alone. Mom was very hurt by their behavior, but even more so by Dad’s reaction.

He chose to take his sisters side, and not defend Mom.

Mom would tell the story about their visit many times during my childhood, and I could remember actually feeling the pain and humiliation she suffered. I think Dad did eventually apologize to Mom, but she was still bitter. I’m guessing Dad was just trying to keep everyone happy, and being surrounded by all of that estrogen was overwhelming for him!

Over the past year, my mom has reconnected with my dad’s sisters and they have been great about writing letters and talking to us on the phone. A concern for Dad brought us all closer together, making our differences and all of those miles and years apart vanish.


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A stop in Alamogordo

The last time I visited my mom and picked up my dad’s cremains, the shuttle made a stop in Alamogordo on the way back to the airport. I had some time to kill and I roamed aimlessly in the hotel lobby, as it was an unusually chilly, blustery day outside. This tourist guide for Alamogordo caught my eye, especially the phrase, “View the Past, Explore the Future.” How appropriate for me to consider at the time.

For most people, if they were to associate anything at all with Alamogordo, they might mention White Sands National Monument or the White Sands Missile Range, as that is the area where the first atomic bomb was tested. The White Sands monument is definitely worth checking out if you are in the area. But for me, Alamogordo will forever remind me of the final place my dad’s body rested in before being cremated.

Since my dad died just five days before Christmas, there was an issue with getting his death certificate signed and he ended up spending five long days in Alamogordo, in a chilly locker awaiting cremation. Of course he wasn’t feeling any part of his cold, antiseptic final home, his spirit had long flown from this earth. I think I’ve mentioned before that my mom was oddly comforted by knowing that dad’s body was at peace in Alamogordo all of those days, just an hour away from her. In fact, just this week she told me she finally has put Dad’s urn on display.

I was vaguely disturbed by the thought of my father’s dead body lingering in this world for all of those days. It just made me think how random and unpredictable life is. Dad never would have thought that his life, which started in Belfast, Northern Ireland would end in Albuquerque and include a post-death stop in Alamogordo. So many miles, so many memories in just one ordinary life.

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Dad’s hometown gets media attention

As the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking takes place this month, I want to dedicate some blog posts in April to the Titanic’s history. As I’ve mentioned before, dad was a Titanic fanatic, on the same level as he was obsessed with the Kennedy family. He used to relay stories about the Titanic to us at the dinner table, and his knowledge of the ship’s fascinating and tragic history was impressive.

The Titanic leaves Southampton, England on her maiden voyage to New York City, April 10, 1912. File photo.

Dad had good reason to be interested in the Titanic. The ship was built in his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland. The city has opened their own homage to the ship, called Titanic Belfast. Shipbuilding was one of Belfast’s major industries at the time the Titanic was built. The famous shipbuilding company Harland and Wolff built the Titanic, beginning in 1909. The company is still in existence today, with a new focus on renewable energy. The ship was considered a technological marvel at the time and was designed to be the most luxurious ocean liner in the world.

Of course we all know what happened ultimately to the Titanic. The legacy of the Titanic in Belfast is met with mixed emotions. The shipbuilders felt shame at the massive disaster their ship endured, though many place most of the blame on the ship’s captain for not doing more to avoid the icebergs. But the people of Belfast are a proud lot, and they also reflect with pride on their ancestor’s contributions to a piece of history recognized around the world. I believe the latter is what my Dad felt as he immersed himself in Titanic history and lore.

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