"Excuse me, where abouts are you from?"
"Ireland." She started to turn back to her husband.
"Where in Ireland?"
She turned quickly and gave me a long look when she heard me say Ireland. I pronounce it AR-lund. Like my dad. It marks me as someone who grew up with the Irish accent.
"A small, well, county Monaghan." She started to turn back towards her husband but slower than before.
"You're joking!!" I grab her arm as my jaw drops to a location somewhere near my knees. I start to laugh.
She dropped her fork to her plate and looked at me with her eyes wide.
"You know Monaghan?"
"My dad's from there!" She was flabbergasted. She would later tell me that she's never met someone from Canada who even knew there was a County Monaghan, never mind someone who had been there. "He was born in Carrickmacross but grew up in Monaghan Town."
The location of Co. Monaghan in Ireland. It butts up against the border with Northern Ireland (red part).
"I'm from Ballybay. What's your family name?" After I tell her, she smiles. "That's a good Monaghan name." Her smile disappears and I can see her mulling something over in her mind.
"Not Gerry [last name]*?"
"Yes." My dad occasionally talks about his involvement in the local Irish community in the early 80's. His degree was in Irish (and Latin) so he used to teach classes. When the group started becoming too political for his liking, he cut his ties. Given our unique last name, I assumed she remembered him from that.
"My brother, Eddie, went to school with your dad. They were good friends. When I moved to Victoria, Eddie gave me your dad's address. I visited him once."
Now it was my turn to be flabbergasted. Not only is she the first person from Monaghan I've ever met outside of Monaghan who isn't related to me, but she knows my dad from living in Monaghan and we meet in Victoria at a baby shower. It's one of those crazy coincidences that I never would have expected.
We talked about Monaghan. We talked about my trip in September. We talked about her most recent trip last May. We talked about how I came to have two names which, she tells me, "is a very Irish thing". We talked about what my dad had been up to in the last 12 years since she ran into him at the grocery store. We talked about how she and her husband (from Dublin) ended up in Canada. We talked about how her family owns a pub in Ballybay. We talked about how visiting Ireland leaves you torn between visiting family and being a tourist. We passed away a good 30 minutes chatting before her husband reminded her that their daughter had a ferry to catch.
Sometimes it a good thing to talk to strangers!
*If my last name wasn't so unusual, I would be more willing to put it on my public blog, however, there are (including me) only five people with my last name in Victoria. All of them are my immediate family. I have only ever found one other person in BC with the same last name.