Gulf Stream Stories

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A few days ago, I posted a picture and story on Facebook from of what looks like a US Coast Guard lifeboat wrecked on the shores of Ireland’s Aran Islands--- a mystery explained by the power of the Gulf Stream. I remember learning about the Gulf Stream in high school; how its current traveled from Florida to the west coast of Ireland. But it was not until my family and I visited Bantry and Bantry Bay that I saw the evidence: palm trees in Ireland. Who would have thought? Well, for one, Lord Bantry, who brought many lush, tropical plants to his Bantry House estate. He was Irish gentry with a role in parliament as well as peerage for his father’s role in defeating a French invasion and he changed Irish gardensin the 1800s.

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But, back to our palm trees which can be seen throughout Ireland’s west coast and in botanical gardens, estates and abbeys. They actually are cabbage palms from Australia. Lord Bantry started quite a trend and then the plants also went wild so it is not at all unusual to see the trees all around Ireland. They speak to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream which makes western Ireland so much warmer than its Celtic cousins. Recent damage in extreme frosts also speak to the dangers of climate change.

The best illustration of the Gulf Stream for me, however, is the story a friend of a friend told. She was a grade schoolteacher in Sarasota, Florida who had her class write a classic “note in a bottle” and then release it into the Gulf of Mexico. Months later, with the activity nearly forgotten, she was contacted by an Irish man. He and his family had found the bottle walking the beach on the west coast of Ireland! Luck would have it, he too was a teacher. The two of them exchanged classroom activities, then Christmas cards, met via vacations, then began housing exchanges. Because of that bottle, I actually got to spend a few days in their Burr home while they visited Florida. I seldom visit inland towns, loving the coast so much, but Burr was delightful; not close to the sea but the opportunity came from the sea through that bottle.

However, despite the warming influence of the Gulf Stream up the coast to the Aran Islands, the weather is the weather. One May, friends and I rented a house on the Beara Peninsula, southwest Cork where my book Amidst the Stones begins, confident of mild weather only to find ourselves in cold and windy April weather. The balmy days we had expected were absent that spring. 

But, I keep going back, finding May to be a delightful time to be in Ireland. It is mainly thanks to the Gulf Stream.

Jeanne Crane