Connellsville native's images capture the 'Emerald Isle'

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 6:18 p.m.

Melissa Galik didn't witness St. Patrick's Day's “Wearin' ‘o the Green” when she visited Ireland, but she sure reveled in “seein' ‘o the green.”

The Emerald Isle was almost — but not quite — in full bloom when Galik traveled there in May 2009, but she saw plenty shades of green. Galik, who describes herself as “three-fourths” Irish, had longed to visit Ireland ever since she was a small girl growing up in Connellsville. Her grandfather, the late Mark Hanlon (who was a Dunbar Township tax collector for many years), enthralled Melissa and her brother about the Hanlon family's Irish roots.

Galik's mother, Rose Marie Galik (who lives on Ridge Boulevard, Dunbar Township), visited Ireland several years ago. Emerald green with envy, Melissa decided an overseas visit was long overdue.

Melissa has lived in Florida (near Tampa) for more than 10 years. Her father, Jack Galik, and stepmother, Geraldine (Cuddihy) Galik, live near her. Melissa traveled to Ireland with Geraldine to visit Geraldine's relatives.

10-day venture to County Clare

Galik and her stepmom stayed in southern Ireland in Maurice Mills, County Clare, with the Cuddihy and Howley families, during their 10-day jaunt — long enough to have a close look at daily Irish living. “The nuclear family unit there is still strongly intact,” Galik emphasized. “Homes are much smaller and space is used efficiently.”

She was equally impressed with Ireland's lush landscapes, which were the perfect backdrop for photographs. She snapped more than 1,500 photos — including many of Spring Gentian, a purplish flower that grows only in southern Ireland. “I couldn't get enough pictures!” Galik exclaimed.

After she returned home, her mother was so impressed by the images that she suggested Galik sell some of the photos at ArtWorks Connellsville. So far, several 8 by 10s have been purchased and others remain available at the West Crawford Avenue gallery.

Enjoyed seeing ancient with new

“I couldn't believe how ancient buildings, including castles, were mixed in with newer buildings. You can walk right up to them and go inside. Some of them go all the way back to Medieval times,” said Galik. “You don't see vandalism and graffiti the way you do in the United States. Irish people preserve their culture and respect their heritage.”

Her tour guide was a teenager nearing high school graduation, after which she planned to enter Ireland's police force, which is called The Guard. “Their education system focuses on careers at a very early age.”

The Connellsville native also saw Ireland's health care up close, as Geraldine's father was ill during their visit. “The doctor came right to their house and wrote prescriptions for medication and tests,” she explained. “People in Ireland don't run to the emergency room right away. I think physicians recommend a hospital stay. Their medical treatment seemed much more personal than ours.”

‘Bangers & Mash'? No, Thank you!

Galik said that Irish cuisine is blander than American food, but noted that it is high in quality and fresh, without preservatives. Her favorite meal was seafood chowder — seafood is most popular because Ireland is an island — brown bread and Hennessy cognac. She screwed up the courage to sample blood pudding (“It was good, actually”) but professed dislike for “bangers and mash” (sausages and potatoes). “There was an odd spice in them and they were too fatty.”

Coming from staunch Roman Catholic stock, Galik was particularly interested in Ireland's religious practices. “We were lucky enough to attend a First Holy Communion service and party. It was like a small wedding,” she said. “The number of extended family members was amazing. The children also have great respect for their family's religious beliefs.”

St. Patrick's Day wasn't even mentioned during Galik's “seein' ‘o the green.”

“I think Americans make a bigger deal about St. Patrick's Day than they do in Ireland,” said Galik, who vows she will make an encore visit to the Emerald Isle in June 2014. “I'm already making my plans.”

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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