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Northeast Kingdom and The American Odyssey

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

I first met Pat and Tony Florio in July 1980 on a Sunday afternoon at their own Woodland Beach wildlife refuge home.

I was a member of an Irish teachers' exchange group in Delaware University. We had landed in New York and were going to meet our host families and officials from the education department. We were driving along in our tour bus through flat open country ringed with marshlands and suddenly we saw an Irish flag hanging from a tree with a directional arrow. This was our first official stop of our tour.

From the moment we alighted from our bus it seemed we were in a patch of the Emerald isle . We were wrapped in friendship and received a fantastic welcome in the great outdoors of Delaware. We saw the liquid refreshments, the food and the shamrocks but formalities had to be observed and we duly gave a great rendition of our National Anthem as Gaeilge to mark our arrival. We spent the rest of the evening chatting, eating ,drinking and singing. Also present were local dignitaries and other host families. There was a great atmosphere and there was instant bonding with all our hosts. It was a dream start to our three weeks stay in Delaware thanks to Pat and Tony Florio for hosting 40 teachers .

Next on our itinerary was the University of Delaware, followed by a trip to Washington and Capitol Hill, back to Delaware for a few more days and then on to tour New York .

Luckily my hosts were the Florios . Pat was a fine Irish lass whose forebears came from Castlefin, in County Donegal. She had visited the area for the first time in 1972 to visit the ruin of her fore-bears home .Tony was an Italian and was as Irish as a good Italian could be.

When we left for Ireland after our 3 weeks stay, we were exhausted after nonstop education exchange sessions, touring and wining and dining.

When I returned home, I wrote a nice thank you letter to the Florios and thus began a beautiful 40-year long distance friendship.

Each Christmas Pat sends us a lovely letter with a full chronology of the past year’s events and their plans for the year ahead . They were full of details of Concerts and social events and dinner here and travel there and of course family news about her children and their progress in life. She was so proud of each of them. Pat was the original blogger with her comprehensive annual newsletter. We get a lovely card on St Patrick’s Day. The envelope was instantly recognisable with the shamrock emblem seal. It always had the cupla focal gaeilge in honour of the occasion. My birthday was always remembered. We are in regular contact on the internet with frequent exchanges of articles and photos since then.

After Tony’s retirement they moved to North Troy in Leafy Northern Vermont and I was invited to spend some time there . Some years later I was heading to stay with cousins in Boston and I extended my holiday .I duly took a flight to Burlington Vermont and stayed 3 weeks touring an unpopulated region of Vermont known as the great `Northeast Kingdom.’ We strayed into Canada, up the ski slopes of Jay peak and met the locals, one of whom ran the local store. They had the most unlikely name of Moran and they came from west Kerry way back. The local postman had Mayo roots .The local priest , Fr Cherbaneau ,who lived on the shores of beautiful Lake Memphremagog with its 21 islands, had Canadian roots. He had his own boat and brought us for trips along the American side of this huge lake . He also hosted a couple of lakeside afternoon teas for us. This was an absolutely fantastic experience seeing so many moose and bears running wild and the beautiful multi coloured leaves on their trees. I could have lived there permanently; such was their lovely laid-back and healthy way of life.

The year after that the Florios were planning on leading a birding trip to Ireland and so we met them in Wexford touring the slobs and being flabbergasted by their level of knowledge of Irish bird life . When we arrived at their hotel Pat emerged wearing trainers with her trademark shamrocks dangling from the laces. It was a lovely experience and sadly all too soon we bid farewell to them as they headed for scenic Ballycotton and lovely Doolin and the Burren to continue their birding trip.

They had a great affinity with West Kerry too and knew the area and people around Camp Junction very well. This came about through their life -long friendship with the O Morain family whose son had stayed with them in Delaware in the teacher exchange programme.

Pat and Tony were really immersed in Irish affairs and rented a cottage in lovely Puckane in Tipperary for 6 months. From this base they came to stay with us in Gorey and we had a very pleasant few days including a great Irish music session in Sean Og’s pub in Kilmuckridge, County Wexford. One special memory of that night apart from all the great music was Pat’s trademark trainers.

Next year they were on a European tour and so we headed to London to meet up and tour with them around the Natural History Museum and other sights as well as meeting up with some mutual friends.

Two years later The Florio family were touring in Ireland, and we met them in Langton’s in Kilkenny and toured the Castle and Kilkenny Design and other venues.

As they were advancing in years, they began leaving their chilly Northern retreat during the long winter months and migrating to South Carolina for a bit of warmth. They still remained socially active checking out all the concerts and music recitals occurring in their adopted area during their visit and attended them all.

And then Last year I got a lovely email saying that Pat was coming to Ireland with her son Roger and daughter Gwen with their respective partners. We arranged that we would meet in Glendalough . We booked a meal in the Wicklow Heather restaurant in Laragh and what a lovely occasion that was . It was their first visit to Glendalough, so I gave them the full tour of this historic venerable place, the home of St Kevin. It was such a lovely day and we got lots of good photos and many happy memories before they headed for Dublin to attend a performance of Tom Crean / Antarctic Explorer.

Tony Florio worked for Delaware Game and Fish Commission as a wild-life biologist for 38 years . While there he was an active nature photographer and also a wildlife and historical artist. In 1982 he wrote the seminal history of that area “Progger, A Life on The Marsh’

His son Roger recently retired from a career in environmental law and regulation and now lives in California.

Gwen , their daughter , is a journalist and author and lives among the mountains of the American West. She has reported from such war- torn areas as Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Her journalism has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize. She has also published a number of books including , Under the Shadows, Montana, Dakota, Disgraced and Reservations , all well worth reading.

Their youngest daughter, Kathleen, lives in rural Pennsylvania and she is also the author of several books under the name D. C. Mc Loughlin, including A Slice of Unkindness, Legend of the Blood Raven and Wandering Choice. You can purchase any of these on Amazon.

Tony is now 93 and Pat is 87 and it is great to see them both hale and hearty and still well. They are truly amazing inspirational people whom I feel honoured and privileged to have been acquainted with. I aspire to being as active in retirement as Pat and Tony are.

Go raibh beatha agus slainte agaibh agus go raibh fada buan sibh beirte. Chuile dea ghui.

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