Technically, as I sit astride this 1952 Sunbeam motorcycle, I am 3,937.7 miles from home, as the crow flies. Dublin City, Ireland, a few hundred miles from my destination, Donegal, my ancestral home. A long ride on a bike although I confess, I flew here. Alas, an old bike is no less fickle in a foreign land. My borrowed bike’s throttle has no close spring and needs a pull to open and a push to close. Almost as disconcerting as the traffic streaming in the opposite direction past me on the right side. As I leave the modern metropolis of Dublin, traffic flows steadily in both directions. Left side driving is as disconcerting as the narrow passages the locals here call streets. All I need do is follow the car in front of me. Though the driver happens to be seated on the wrong side of the car! Shifting with left hands, drivers pass me to and fro not realizing my ignorance of their driving habits and laws. I resolve to focus hard lest I forget and plow head-on into an unlucky Irish commuter. Trouble creeps towards me only at roundabouts which are every few miles in the diminishing suburbia I roll through. No interstate highway here. No States to connect as a matter of fact. The use of the word “Interstate” is foreign to my hosts as they have no ‘states’, just ‘counties’. 26 of them to be exact in the “Irish Republic”. The 6 counties in the “North” are technically not the “Republic of Ireland” and remain to this day, to the consternation of my Grandpa, the property of the British Empire.
The island of all my Grandparents is about the size of South Carolina. Roughly 300 miles in length and 150 miles in width, with about 4 million people, pretty small. Especially for a country whose expatriates have effected civilizations across the globe for a thousand years. Her biggest export, unfortunately for the Irish, is her young. 70 million people sharing this planet with us claim Irish ancestry. Most of my forefathers and their progeny still call Ireland home. If I were a dog, I suppose I’d be a purebred complete with papers and a predisposition for hip problems. I’ve been known as “Irish” since playgrounds of childhood, mostly because the elders of my family all “talked funny”, as it were. My own Grandfather Steve Murrin escaped Ireland for whispered reasons leaving a dozen siblings and a large family tree. A man fiercely loyal to a unified Ireland, he cursed the “Orange” till his dying day. He came to America with an Irish wife, had a “Steve Murrin” of his own, who in turn did the same, hence – me. Pop’s siblings had large families and remained in Ireland carving niches in business, politics, fishing and farming all through the Northwest of this place and its 40 shades of green. To see it is to believe it. With winding roads, charming people and over 3,500 castles built in the last 10 centuries, it’s a very old place and a great ‘ride’.
My old Sunbeam bike putters nicely with vertical twin cylinders displacing 500 cc’s. Its heavy frame is very Harley-like and well absorbs the abuse the thousand year old roads serve her. I’m told at various pubs ancient law required road to be constructed “two cows wide”. Thin damn cows is my thought. I traverse the whole country east to west in 3 ½ hours and arrive in Donegal City to check into my Hotel. The brunette girl at the desk takes my credit card and says with a charming brogue: “Oh, Steve Murrin, The Yank – We heard you were comin – I’m your cousin Kerry”!! Shock evident on my face she speaks to another girl next to her in Gaelic and they both smile, — then they giggle, I know not what they say. The “I’m Murrin too” pronouncement becomes less shocking throughout my travels in the weeks that follow. Bartenders, florists, a pharmacist, fisherman, shop keepers of all sorts, even Priests met me with the familiar line: “Steve Murrin – Well don’t ya know – we’re related – I’m _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Murrin, nice ta meet ya!!” In America I never met another Murrin my whole life, in Ireland I’m besieged by them!!
I met Murrins all over, both alive and dead (cemeteries). I happened through an old seaside village called Bruckles where my kin have tilled black soil with draught horses and caught herring in little skiffs for a thousand years on Donegal bay. The local watering hole, “Mary Murrin’s Pub”, had walls adorned with Murrins dating back a century and a half. My Uncle Ray, My Aunt Merry, My Cousin Jim and so on all now old and weathered, most dead, peering from picture frames back at me as children, shoeless, thick hair, long Murrin noses, lives before them. As I shuffled about in my heavy biker boots staring at the black and white photos I could feel the locals stare. Some related, some not, all whispering to each other speculation of my identity. They left me alone to roam about, mouth open, reading inscriptions and studying photos. I stopped at one, his face oddly familiar, a Murrin face. Donning a uniform – brass buttons, big buckles, epaulets, he looked to me like, well, me. The inscription read “Jack Murrin, 1923, shot on duty in CarrickonSuir, 1924”. The year the original Steve Murrin immigrated, Grandpa. Troubled times, fierce fighting, only a few years after the “Easter Uprising” where ordinary Citizens of Ireland rose up to strike out the British ‘Empire’, occupying their homeland. A bitter topic in my family to this day. His picture is printed herewith snapped quickly with my phone. He may look like me, he may not, his bloodline nonetheless runs to mine. The eerie photo haunts me. I sleep that night in a linen bed several pints in my belly ensuring dizzy dreams. I dreamt of him and extrapolate his life, the pipe he smoked, the woman he loved, the bed he slept in, his suffered death. Restless sleep. In my final days the old sunbeam develops an exhaust leak and the clutch gets sticky. Modern bikes pass me (on the right) waving, much like in the ‘States’. The Queen’s 50th Jubilee is celebrated a bit tongue and cheek. Bikes modernize, so do families I suppose. What draws us to the past it seems to me is human curiosity. Where are we headed? Where have we been? Only time, and miles, can tell us. God Bless you all, and your dead forbearers too. Well, signing off for now.
Cuimhnigh, turas trean, turas slan, agus I an deireadh, cinnnte sibhse turas baile. (Remember, ride strong, ride safe, and in the end, make sure you ride home). Written by Steve “Irish” Murrin, the ‘Original Biker Lawyer’