Introduction – in which I explain what on Earth I’m doing

A very brief biography of my father

My father was a complicated man. I know that’s a cliché, but really, not everyone is.

He was born into your standard poor catholic family in Tralee, Ireland in the summer of 1947. After a rough childhood, including a traumatic stay at an orphanage – because his parents could not afford to take care of all their children – he had to leave school at the age of 12 and moved to London at the age of 14.

Perhaps it’s the Irish thing, but music was in his genes. And in those days he discovered he could scrape by as a busker, playing his guitar and singing on the streets. Much of his life was spent this way, on the road, never settling down, never feeling truly at home anywhere.

Though busking was his primary way of life, he had many other adventures. He helped build railroads in Australia, he worked on an oil platform off the coast of Norway, he lived in Budapest for a time where briefly rose to fame as a folk musician, and he spent some time in jail in Haarlem, the Netherlands for smuggling drugs.

He fathered 3 daughters with 3 different women.

On the surface his life may seem romantic, and sure it was full of adventures and experiences and he always had a story to tell that I’d never heard before, but it was also full of emotional and physical hardships. These hardships led to strained personal relationships as he learned to either run away from any conflict, or to blame others for his misfortunes.

Life on the road combined with excessive smoking and drinking also led to the inevitable physical decline. After multiple heart attacks, a triple bypass surgery with complications, and COPD, it was a stroke that ultimately ended the life of a man I’d come to believe could survive everything.

About this journey

I loved my father fiercely. I also carried a lot of anger and unresolved issues with me through most of our journey together, because of things he said or did, promises he broke, accusations he made, and for forcing me from an early stage to be the adult in our relationship. I knew that there was no point in bringing any of these things up with Dad as he’d either get defensive or – when drunk – incredibly sentimental and apologise for everything while still not really taking any responsibility.

I am no longer angry. I have only love for my father. But the impact of his presence (and more often than not, lack thereof) in my life always remains.

Because I want to explore this impact, our relationship with each other and the challenges we’ve both faced and experiences we’ve had, I’ve decided to take a journey.

I have 50% of my father’s ashes (one of my sisters has the other 50%), and I plan to travel to the places that were important to him and spread some of his ashes there, while chronicling my travels and the life of my father. It is a way to honour him, and a way for me to properly say goodbye.

The entire journey will no doubt take me years to complete, as I need to save up money and holidays to go as far away as Australia and New Zealand, as well as places closer to home, such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Hungary and the UK.

But the journey starts tomorrow with a return to Galway, the city my father chose to spend the last 10 years or so of his life and where he met his end a year ago in a hospital bed, with me and my sister on either side, holding his hands.

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