by Maryanna Savage Phinn
September 11th, 2001 was my 39th birthday.
I remember changing my eight-month-old son’s diaper when I first heard the news about the terrorist attacks.
Most Americans can vividly recall where they were that day.
Almost 20 years later, another unimaginable event invaded the world as a silent killer called, “coronavirus or Covid-19.”
On March 11th, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency in the United States, imposing a travel ban on most European countries, excluding travelers from the United Kingdom and Ireland or American citizens already abroad.
This time, I found myself in another unusual situation.
On the evening of March 11th, I flew to Dublin, Ireland for a 10-day vacation to celebrate with Woodland String Band of South Philly for its 20th anniversary trip to Macroom, County Cork, Ireland.
We had 169 people on this trip, as well as banjos, saxophones, bass fiddles, accordions, costumes, St. Patrick’s Day gear and mummers’ umbrellas.
Woodland’s retired captain, Tom Loomis and his wife Mary, coordinate the biennial trip, which has become a cherished tradition for the band and for the lovely townspeople of Macroom.
The town’s 12th century medieval castle, The Macroom Castle, has a special connection to Pennsylvania.
In 1650, Admiral Sir William Penn, the father of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was gifted the castle for his military successes.
We landed in Dublin at 6:00am on March 12th.
Our cell phones ‘blew up’ with the news about the European travel ban. Woodland traditionally marches in the town’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade; however, Dublin cancelled its parade and other Irish towns cancelled too.
But, other activities, concerts and excursions were to go on as planned.
For the first few days, everything went according to our itinerary.
Upon arrival at the Castle Hotel Macroom, we were greeted with complimentary pints of Guinness and welcomed by officials from Macroom and Cork City.
The mayor serenaded us with an Irish ballad, “Mount Massey, the Flower of Macroom.”
Our second day, we kissed the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, sipped Bailey’s Irish coffees, shopped at the world famous Blarney Woollen Mills and hoisted a few pints at the local pubs.
That evening, Woodland led us on a most memorable pub crawl through Macroom and strutted with the locals.
But each day, the European and American news grew more ominous. The town’s shops, pubs and restaurants received mandates by the Irish government to enforce social distancing.
By March 16th, all Irish tourist destinations were closed.
Restaurants offered take out only.
Ireland’s famous pubs and bars were ordered shutdown the day before St. Patrick’s Day – something unthinkable to the Irish people and certainly to the Mummers!
It was surreal.
Our hotel provided restaurant and bar services to guests only.
We continued to take pre-arranged trips but with restrictions.
The Castle Hotel staff worked tirelessly to accommodate us, especially on St. Patrick’s Day.
The staff decorated for the celebration and served us the most delicious ham and cabbage dinner ever!
Woodland String Band entertained us with impromptu jam sessions throughout the week.
The band did an exceptionally memorable job at our St. Patrick’s Day dinner.
Our trip coordinators worked diligently to make sure our return flight was secured.
We had departed from Philadelphia but our return trip was rerouted to New York City and split into two flights.
We knew that thousands of Americans were trying to return to the United States.
However, we safely returned without any problems.
When we disembarked the plane, we quickly had our temperatures checked and were handed instructions about self-quarantining for 14 days.
Two buses brought us back to South Philly.
Maybe it’s the luck of the Irish, but fortunately, no one traveling in our group got sick on the trip.
I encourage anyone planning a future trip to Ireland to visit Macroom. You will find an enchanting village with gracious folks in a whimsical and historic setting.
To our Irish friends, Philadelphia sends a fitting salute of, “Slainte!” which translates to “Good Health” – a greeting most appropriate at this unprecedented time in history.