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Darlene Meskell writes...

I grew up in Connecticut, and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Journalism from Northwestern University, where I’ll be celebrating my 50th Reunion in October. After graduation, I moved to Washington, DC, for a career in journalism that included writing for several Southern US newspapers, editing the White House News Summary and working at a trade association. I returned to graduate school at Yale for an MBA and went to work as a management consultant back in Washington.

My journey to IWO began in 1987 at the wedding in Dublin of a friend who had worked with me on a project for the former Irish Department of Posts & Telegraphs. As a consultant for Coopers & Lybrand (now PWC), I was sent to Ireland to help develop the financial infrastructure of the newly separated An Post, working closely with a young accountant in C&L’s Dublin office. We remained friends and my sister and I, on vacation in Ireland some years later, were invited to his wedding in Collins Barracks.

At the wedding reception, the bride’s father, in charge of seating arrangements, placed all the unrelated single people at the same table. Paddy Meskell, my friend’s business partner, was seated between my sister and me. At one point, he turned to me, I smiled, and I guess he was impressed by my American choppers. “Are those your own teeth?” he asked, seemingly innocent. That had to be a come-on for the ages—but when he followed that up with “Have you always been a blonde?”—I thought, “This guy needs help.” Out on the dance floor, however, sparks flew, and my sister said we looked as if we belonged together. She was right.

The following day, Paddy phoned and we agreed to get together to climb the Sugarloaf in Wicklow. The 500-metre climb and the session in the pub that followed, fanned the flames. Later that week, he invited me to spend the weekend in Castleconnell, his family home, on my way to Shannon Airport. I was warmly embraced by his family and loved the pretty little village where I stayed in his brother’s home on the Shannon. It was mid-summer and the swans on the river offered a beautiful background.

After 16 months of courtship via letters (remember those?), phone calls and trips back and forth every month or so, he moved in and we got married in Washington. With green card in hand, he got a job with the Student Loan Marketing Association and I continued to work as a management consultant. He later joined a couple of guys in opening a chain of American-diner restaurants and I moved on to work for the US General Services Administration, where I was marketing director and then head of its Global Government Innovation Networks, until I retired 20 years later.

The first few years of retirement, Paddy and I were as busy as ever. He took on leadership of an organization dedicated to bringing contemporary Irish arts to Washington audiences and spent several years promoting Irish poets, authors, musicians, films, plays, and visual arts. I helped found a local non-profit “Village” to help us and our neighbours avoid social isolation and “age in place” in our own homes. I still produce a weekly newsletter for them and co-chair the Program Committee.

Paddy and myself at Croke Park

I also fill my time doing research on some of the key people and events in Meskell family history and self-published a book last year, Burned out in Ballina, to commemorate 100 years since Paddy’s grandfather’s home was raided by Black & Tans and Auxiliaries during the War of Independence. The Killaloe-Ballina Local History Society is producing a plaque to mark the spot where the house stood, and will include an article about it in The Journal later this year.

Speaking of Meskell houses: After years of trying, we acquired a site on the Shannon in Castleconnell and hired an architect to design a house that would incorporate references to the eel fishery and farmyard that Paddy’s relatives had operated there, as well as stones from the house where his parents once lived. The resulting barnlike structure, set back from the river and raised on concrete pillars, originally failed to get planning permission from the county planners, who cited a risk of flooding. We appealed to An Bord Pleanala, which quickly sent its approval back to the county with a note that said, effectively, “What are you on about? It’s a fine, fit house.”

And so, I retired and we moved in the summer of 2016, planning to spend six months a year here and six months at our house in Washington. Though that schedule has required adjustment during the two years of the pandemic, we hope to resume our routine, heading to DC September 29th, with return tickets for the end of March 2022. We’ll be back to celebrate Paddy’s 50th Reunion with the founding class of the University of Limerick and the creation of a new UL Poet in Residence position with our support, and to carry on the Plan.

Nordic Walking: IWO ladies walking in Castleconnell

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