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.
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.
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”
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