Going to Ireland was always like a shining jewel in Debbie Raynor’s thoughts and prayers, but the dream always seemed so far away — until last October.
She and her sister, Vickie Wetzel, went on a two-week adventure of a lifetime that began in Edinburgh, Scotland, and ended in Ennis, the largest town in County Clare, Ireland.
Raynor lives in Seymour with her husband, Philip, while Wetzel resides with her husband, Rick, in Des Moines, Iowa, where both sisters were born and raised.
“It has been my lifelong dream to visit Ireland,” Raynor said. “Our ancestors are from Ireland and Scotland, and my heart loves, loves, loves the music, the castles, the scenery and the people, especially their accents.”
She opened a savings account and periodically was able to make small deposits, but the Lord made the trip a reality because of an inheritance left by her father in 2019, she said.
“At first, it was an incredible thought that, ‘Wow! That’s enough to go to Ireland. Wow! Let’s go to Ireland!’” Raynor exclaimed. “It worked out that my sister, Vickie, and I could travel together and join a tour group that started in Scotland and ended in Ireland.”
Both sisters are retired, so they didn’t have to ask for time off from work.
Raynor retired in 2018 after working in mostly banking, in which she enjoyed her co-workers and the customers. Wetzel retired in 2022 from working in the field of IT health care, which she loved because it made her feel like she was helping people.
On what it was like to experience Ireland with her sister, Raynor said it was amazing and a gift to share with her.
They went to Scotland first and then took a ferry on the Irish Sea to Belfast, then on to the Nine Glens of Antrim, Derry, Londonderry, Bushkill, Letterkenny, Donegal, Belleek, Ballyfarnon, Carrick-on-Shannon, Ennis and Shannon, she said.
“We were blessed with rainbows just about every day on our trip, but the one that appeared as we crossed to Ireland on the Irish Sea was spectacular,” Raynor said.
Other favorites from the trip were the Titanic Museum in Belfast, where the Titanic was built, and Crosskeys Inn, which is the oldest thatched roof pub in Ireland, she said.
“We were thrilled to experience traditional Irish music while enjoying a very quaint, warm fireplace with a pint, which neither of us loved because we don’t have a taste for beer,” Raynor said. “We also saw the Giant’s Causeway, Glenveagh Castle, where we experienced the gardens and discovered lots and lots of shamrocks, Belleek Pottery, Kilronan Castle, where we stayed overnight, Ennis and County Clare.”
Raynor said she loved the food when they could order on their own and not follow the menus of the tour group.
“They had different stuff there, like meat and cheese pies,” she said. “We enjoyed steak and ale pie, mash (mashed potatoes), sticky toffee pudding and I even tried haggis, which I don’t recommend.”
Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is always special to Raynor, and she plans on a wee bit of the wearing of green.
Raynor said she would love to go back to Ireland someday and maybe take her daughter, Karen Haas, next time.
Wetzel said it wasn’t necessarily on her bucket list to visit Ireland, but it has always been a lifelong dream of her sister’s, and she couldn’t imagine anything better than sharing the visit with her.
“I finally retired and COVID-19 was winding down, so we thought it was time,” Wetzel said. “We really felt the Lord was paving the way for us to go.”
She said they were a little nervous to go on their own and thought a group tour might be best.
“It was an incredible experience to be there with Debbie,” Wetzel said. “We are very close and I consider her my best friend, and we think alike and enjoy similar things, so it couldn’t have been more perfect.”
She said Ireland is a beautiful country.
One of Wetzel’s favorite things from the trip was Crosskeys Inn, where there was a band playing traditional Irish music.
“We sat by the fireplace there, and seeing the pure joy in my sister’s face while listening to the music was the best,” she said. “Also, the town of Ennis was such a lovely town with lots of incredible shops and places to eat.”
Wetzel said Belfast was very interesting, as she knew very little about the conflict called The Troubles, a term used to describe a period of conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted about 30 years, from the late 1960s until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
As for the food, she loved the desserts, especially the sticky toffee pudding. Wetzel didn’t try everything that is part of a full Irish breakfast, such as black pudding or grilled tomatoes, but she did have beans, she said.
“I would love to go back to Ireland but plan our own tour and drive ourselves around so we could take our time enjoying everything more,” she said.
Wetzel said she usually celebrates St. Patrick’s Day by wearing green, but this year, she’s sure it will mean more, having experienced some of Ireland’s culture and beauty.