Rich and I flew from Boston to Halifax, NS, then on to St. John’s NL, on October 11, 2010. When planning the trip, I’d neglected to note that October 11th happens to be Thanksgiving Day in Canada...next time I will be more aware. We almost missed our connecting flight to St. John’s and ended up running through the Halifax airport, surely raising suspicions as we rushed through security and customs in order to make our flight. If we’d missed it, we were stuck because there were no more flights to St. John’s that day. Another lesson learned for when I plan my next trip—leave plenty of time between flights.
|Great Uncle Jerry and Great Aunt Mary Doyle|
I loved Newfoundland right away. I don’t know why exactly, but I felt totally at ease from the moment I arrived, like I’d come home. I ended up falling in love with St. John’s as well, after spending the following day wandering around downtown. We were lucky to find a parking spot, left the car behind, and explored on foot. We went into many different shops and cafés and without fail were greeted warmly by everyone we met. It took some getting used to at first, but by the end of the week, it had rubbed off on me and I found myself talking to just about everyone I ran into. I think Rich was starting to wonder what was happening to his wife.
One of the highlights of this trip was the second day, Tuesday. After an awesome lunch of fish and chips at Leo’s, (has to be one of the best places to have fish and chips in St. John’s) we stopped in O’Brien’s Music shop, which is one of the oldest shops in St. John’s. There, I bought an Irish bouzouki. Gordon O’Brien, the owner, was extremely nice, helping me choose my bouzouki, then taking care of the case, some personal adjustments to the instrument, and shipping to the US. What a great shop the O’Brien family has there- I will be stopping in the next time I’m in town, for sure. Oh, and, since I know some of you are wondering…No, I don’t know how to play the Irish bouzouki, but I am slowly teaching myself to play. (key word being slowly) So far I can play one song, and I’m working on some more. My cousin Alan Doyle plays one, as does his band mate Bob Hallett, so I figured, why can’t I learn? I’ve played guitar since I was 15, and I have a degree in music education from Berklee…if I can’t teach myself who can? Turns out it’s a lot more difficult than it looks.
|Leo's had the best fish and chips|
We also went up to Signal Hill that day, where stands Cabot Tower. From there you can see some of the most magnificent views of St. John’s and the harbor. Windy but well worth it!
That night my cousin Leslie-Anne had us over for dinner. She has a beautiful new home, which was warm and welcoming just like her. Her young son Liam was there too and he entertained us with a few songs. He is adorable, and was such a good boy during our visit. Dinner was delicious, and afterward some other Doyle relatives arrived. I was getting excited, because I had a feeling this was going to be a fun night! We all ended up in Leslie-Anne’s living room-Rose with her accordion, and a few other cousins had brought guitars. There was even a set of spoons, which we gave to Rich. We all sat in a big circle; everyone taking turns singing/playing songs.
Suddenly I felt panicky and nervous, because I didn’t know any of the songs they were doing! It had also been at least a decade since I’d performed in front of anyone, and I was suddenly wracked with stage fright. What was wrong with me? This was my family…ok, I’d just met them but still, they’re my family! And they are all so wonderful and warm and friendly, I had no good reason to be so nervous. Finally, after a few drinks, I forced myself to sing Raglan Road, an old Irish tune I had just recently heard and tried to learn. Better than nothing, I figured, but it was certainly not as good as the music I’d heard in that room up until that moment. I just couldn’t allow myself to let that night go by without participating, so I had to literally force myself to sing that song. I’m glad I did it, now, but trust me, next time I’ll be much better prepared! I think the highlight of that evening, besides getting to meet a bunch of Doyle family, was when Great Uncle Jerry stood up and recited, from memory, a few poems. Great Uncle Jerry is 93.
The next day, Wednesday, was rainy. I think it was the only day it rained the whole week. Rich and I went back downtown anyway, and wandered around in the rain. I just love walking around downtown St. John’s no matter the weather. We ducked into a small café, had some coffee and watched people walk by the front window. We went to Fred’s record store, a funky looking purple shop, and browsed for a while. I have to admit to spending more than I probably should have on music that week. Five or six new CD’s came home in my suitcase, if not more. I wanted to bring Newfoundland home with me, and the music was a huge part of that.
That afternoon my cousin Jim came and picked us up at our hotel. He drove us to Petty Harbour, where my grandfather was from. I’d been really looking forward to seeing this area, and it was too bad that the weather was so wet, but it was still a stunning place to see. Jim showed us where several relatives were born or had lived, telling us stories and stopping now and then so I could jump out of the car to snap photos. I tried to imagine what it was like growing up there, in a simpler time. Though I know it was not during the easiest of times, it must have been beautiful. I loved how families all lived close by to each other, and stayed close. I don’t think I ever experienced that here in the States, which, regretfully, is probably why I don’t know my relatives very well. Jim also took us to see Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America. That night we had dinner downtown (for some reason I was constantly drawn to downtown) at Velma’s, where I had cod tongues…yes that’s right, cod tongues…and they weren’t bad. Then we went across the street to Nautical Nellie’s for a few pints before heading back to the hotel.
|Cape Spear Lighthouse|
Thursday we visited The Rooms. What a place that is—art gallery, museum, archives, restaurant, all in one. And it has one of the most amazing views of St. John’s you could possibly imagine. We spent a few hours there, although I did not go into the archives. I wouldn’t even know where to begin searching for information about my family, and it was a little overwhelming. I think I would need a whole day for that.
That evening we had a great dinner with Rose and Bill after doing some more driving and sightseeing. Everywhere we went was so beautiful! Portugal Cove was amazing, especially the sunset. After dinner, Rose and Bill dropped us off on George Street.
|beginning of George Street|
We went to O’Reilly’s, because I had heard that Fergus O’Byrne was playing there and I wanted to see him. When we walked in, instead of Fergus on stage, there was this young guy, playing guitar and singing. He sounded a little bit like James Taylor, I thought. Turned out his name was Allan Byrne. I thought, could he be related to Matthew Byrne, the St. John’s musician I had only recently discovered before the trip? About a week before we left for Newfoundland, I stumbled upon the music of Matthew Byrne, listened to it, and downloaded his CD. I thought he sounded a bit like James Taylor too…funny. I asked our friendly barmaid, and indeed Allan was Matthew’s brother. A few minutes later, who should walk into the bar but Matthew himself! Well, if I couldn’t see Fergus, this was a pretty good substitution! I sent pints over to both Allan and Matthew, and then after a while I walked over and said hello. They were both very nice and friendly, and more than a little surprised when I mentioned that I was from Cape Cod, and had been listening and sharing Matthew’s music for the past two weeks! It was such a fun night at O’Reilly’s that we ended up staying there, and missing out on all the other pubs on George Street! (It just gives me yet another reason to return.) We took a cab back to the hotel that night…neither of us was in any condition to drive after a night at O’Reilly’s!
|Allan and Matthew Byrne|