Posted by: Michele Erdvig | September 11, 2011

A Yank in Ireland Remembers September 11, 2001

Ulster History Park 9-11-01

I remember 9-11 differently than a lot of you do. You were at home in the USA watching events unfold on TV. I was far away in Northern Ireland. My husband Barry and I were touring the Ulster History Park – sadly now defunct and closed. It was a gorgeous day with blue skies, fluffy white clouds and crisp weather. The director of the museum gave us a personal tour and then we wandered through the various outdoor exhibits. There were re-creations of a monastic settlement, various towns and houses.

When we look back on a couple of photos we took that day we can see the effects of the World Trade Center attacks even though we didn’t realize at the time what was happening. If you look at the photos in this article you can see the contrails of jets high over Northern Ireland. Usually when you see jet contrails they are straight. The ones we saw were curved. Why? Unknown to us, American airspace was closed and jets were making U-turns to return from where they departed.

Ulster History Park

After our tour we stopped in the museum’s café for lunch. While Barry was in the men’s room the museum’s director came up to me and said, “Planes have been hijacked and buildings in New York are falling down. It is on TV.” Then he left. The words didn’t make any sense to me but I could tell something was terribly wrong. Barry returned and I told him something was going on and we should go out to the car and turn on the radio. Without the pictures that everyone else was seeing of the tragedy, even the radio report seemed disjointed, unbelievable and still didn’t make sense.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and that is true. When we reached out self-catering cottage the first film we saw was of a plane hitting one of the towers. Barry yelled, “That was United!” At the time he worked for United Airlines. Later we learned that he knew several flight attendants and one of the pilots on the United planes that were hijacked.

Like everyone else in the world we were shocked and glued to the TV. Being so far from home we saw a different version of events than you did. At first we didn’t see American news reports. It was Sky News, BBC and RTE. Later the B&B we were staying at had CNN. But we didn’t see ABC, NBC or CBS. We felt that we were missing large portions of the news. There were a lot of terrible images on that day but for Barry and me the worst were the photos of people jumping from the towers, some of them holding hands as they fell. Those pictures were shown initially, but later on I never saw them again. Perhaps they were too horrific to revisit.

Michele Reading Newspaper

We were staying in a very small village in Donegal and were immediately adopted at the local pub as “the Yanks”. After the first visit they had our drinks of choice poured by the time we sat down. Everyone was so kind. Could they do anything for us? How could they help? The owner of the cottage stopped by and said since airspace was closed we could stay in the cottage as long as we liked as his guest.

The following Friday was declared a National Day of Mourning in Ireland. Everything was closed except petrol stations. Pubs, restaurants and shops locked up and everyone crowded into the churches. On that day we drove from Donegal to Bunratty. It was a long drive. I will never forget going through Sligo at lunchtime. We stopped at the Sligo Park Hotel to see if we could find a place to eat. We were initially told, “Sorry, residents only.” And everything was closed! The manager overheard our request and inquired, “Are you Yanks? You are very welcome. Come into the restaurant and have lunch.”

After eating we passed by the cathedral and people were exiting with tears streaming down their faces. In Dublin people queued up for hours in the rain to sign a Book of Remembrance. Later some criticized the Irish government for declaring a National Day of Mourning. But the Irish people were greatly impacted by events in the United States on that day too. Their relatives and friends in the US were affected. I later learned that a guesthouse owner I know who used to work in the trade center lost dozens of colleagues and friends on 9-11. He was never quite the same after the event.

We reached Bunratty and our old friends and a place that felt like home. None of us could tear ourselves away from the TV for very long. The reports were on CNN 24/7 and everyone was feeling extremely sad. But it was comforting to be with people we knew.

The next day we went to Shannon Airport to see what the situation was there. I have never seen that airport so chock a block with people. The moment we entered the doors an airport representative was there to ask what we needed and direct us to the correct place. There were thousands of people with baggage trolleys standing in lines that zigzagged all over the airport. It was standing room only. Then an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that US airspace was still closed and there would be no flights departing that day. A huge collective moan came from everyone there. As you might expect, all the accommodations in the airport area were full. So local people were coming to the airport offering rooms to those with no place to sleep.

We take for granted the planes and air traffic above us every day. It seemed very strange and quiet to look up and see nothing but sky. Especially being in Bunratty and so close to the airport.

Eventually airspace opened. We were very nervous about flying but had to get home. On the flight to Ireland in first-class we had china plates, real wine glasses and metal silverware. Going home it was all plastic utensils. The flight crews were very kind and tried to put the passengers at ease. But flying has never been the same since. September 11, 2001 didn’t only impact the United States – it impacted the world. It changed things forever. Although we go on, we live in a new reality. But I will never forget the kindness of strangers, the caring Irish people and how Ireland was one of only three countries in the world to mourn nationally for the loss that America experienced.

 © 2011 Michele Erdvig

“Ireland Travel Expert”

Web: IrelandYes.com

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Responses

  1. [...] Click here to Read more of the story . . .  [...]

  2. Hello Michelle

    My name is Brian Deeney and I was the owner of the cottage in Rathmullan who called with you that day. I remember the shock that was felt not only in America but in every village in Ireland.

    If you are in Donegal again please do call by and perhaps stay a few days as our guest.

    Brian

  3. Hi Brian,

    Nice to hear from you! I remember you and the cottage as well. I believe it belonged to your sister? Plus we met your brother when he stopped by to take the garbage cans down. I only wish we had been in Rathmullan under nicer circumstances. I’m afraid we were in shock while there because of the 9-11 events and really didn’t get to appreciate the lovely area as we would have liked. We would love to stop by again under better circumstances.

    And here is the link to the cottages for those contemplating a stay in Donegal: http://www.rathmullancottages.com/ It is also on my Links page at http://www.IrelandYes.com

    Michele

  4. Hello Michele

    If you are ever in the area (or in Derry where I live now) please do call

    Brian

    • Brian, I will certainly be in touch next time we are in Derry.

      Michele

  5. Hello Michele,

    Tears streamed down my cheeks as I read your account of 9/11. While you watched news reports in Ireland, I sat glued to my television in horror as events of that day unfolded. As tragic as it was, I could not stop watching.

    Now, ten years later, I still cannot help but cry as the memories come flooding back.

    Thank you for this beautiful writing and for this reminder that lives all over this world were changed that day.

    Sincerely, Gloria

    PS: Chris just emailed the link to your lovely blog.

    • Gloria,

      Thanks for your note. Even 10 years later I think the wound is still raw. I couldn’t watch much of the anniversary coverage. Just imagine what it must be like for the families that lost loved ones. Let’s hope something like than never happens again.

      Michele

  6. Michele-

    Yes, your experience was very different from mine. Our sister, Lisa, called me and just kept letting the phone ring. I finally heard it ringing and staggered from sleep to the phone. She excitedly urged, “TURN ON THE TV!!!!!!!!” I did so only to see one tower burning. The reporter was talking about an ‘accident’ that had just taken place. Then, the second plane flew in a really odd pattern and slammed into the next tower. The look of it was as if the pilot wanted to hit it since he had to fly in such a tight circle. In fact, it appeared that the pilot almost missed the tower. By this time I was so shocked and terrified I could not believe what I was seeing.

    I ran into my daughter Julie’s room and woke her with the words, “I think this is the END! Get up immediately!” Then the two of us stood rooted to the living room rug for a half hour not speaking or moving from that spot as we watched the drama unfold on live television. They proceeded to show the Pentagon and then went to live coverage of President Bush reading a story to Florida school children. An aid came and whispered something in his ear and he paled on camera. It was a nightmare happening right before our very eyes.

    Yes, we were stunned and horrified that day. I cried and cried off and on the entire day. I was working from home and had to be an artist that day. Talk about having NO CREATIVITY in my brain what so ever. That day wore on and on for hours longer than any other before it. I believe that every single American can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing in those critical moments that have changed our lives.

    I was also worried for you and Barry, not knowing anything at all about any other countries. I remember that you were both in Ireland when Chernobyl melted down years before. I was extremely concerned for you then. How glad I am that nothing bad happened to you.

    Great writing, Michele.

    Love you Sis!

    Chris

  7. [...] she was a customer this year), but the third-generation matchmaker keeps the traditional alive. A Yank in Ireland Remembers September 11, 2001 by Michele Erdvig In a day that changed the modern world, Michele Erdvig reflects on her time spent [...]

  8. Michele:

    We were not there on 9-11, but were in Ireland a week later. I still vividly recall the kindness of the Irish people, who when they saw we were from the U.S., would tell us how much they were thinking of us and that they were sorry for what happened.

    In Galway several people at a church came up and started hugging us, smiled, and simply walked away with a a wave. The kindness of strangers that week was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

    Geno

  9. Interesting to read because my parents were visiting Ireland that very same week and were stuck over there an extra 8 days because they couldn’t find a flight home. I remember them saying how kind all the people were, and as terrible as it was being out of the country and having trouble reaching your family at home in the US, they avoided a lot of the scary media images and out of control fears we experienced those few days after.


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