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Valley tourists experience compassion in wake of attack

| Monday, Oct. 1, 2001

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP: America had its National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, but Ireland practically closed its entire country for a day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Amid breathtaking castles and the greener-than-green vistas of the Emerald Isle, Valley folks on overseas vacations on Sept. 11 witnessed what they described as overwhelming foreign compassion for America.

The almost 30 Valley residents also saw their vacations to Ireland suddenly extended. The 12-day tour was supposed to end Sept. 13, but they didn't arrive back in the United States until three days later because airports closed after the deadly airplane attacks in New York, Washington, D.C. and Somerset County.

However, the Irish response to the American disasters made it easier for the American travelers.

Government offices and businesses closed for a day. Irish people offered the travelers shelter if they needed it. Thousands of Irish people signed a condolence book for American survivors of the tragedies at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin.

Irish children offered all they could, which often was their teddy bears.

'It was quite an experience to see how a foreign country felt about and depended on the United States,' said Connie Girt, of Washington Township. 'I just got to feeling that it demolished them as much as it demolished us.'

Girt, 61, wondered whether Americans would do the same for Ireland, which has been through terrorism from warring Protestant and Catholic extremists.

'Even the clerks in the stores cried when they talked to you,' said Girt, who traveled on the trip with husband, Bob. 'And they closed the whole country down. We (the United States) didn't even do that.'

Shopkeepers informed the travelers about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers. After, they were glued to the set: The British Broadcasting Corporation and an Irish network carried 24-hour coverage of the news, in addition to America's CNN.

'We ended up in a pub - there wasn't even any drinking going on. Everyone was just watching television,' said Burl Slaugenhaupt, a Washington Township supervisor who went on the tour with his wife, Sue.

Slaugenhaupt said the Valley's substantial Irish-American population would be proud to know how kind their 'old country' really is.

After the eventual re-opening of the airports, the words 'seat reservations' went out the window. Airplane tickets were given on a first-come, first-served basis. However, a hardworking tour guide managed to get all 45 tourists from the group onto an Aer Lingus flight to Chicago on the Saturday after the attacks. Aer Lingus is an Irish airline.

In a Chicago taxi cab, Slaugenhaupt and others got an earful from a cab driver who condemned the suicide attacks. The taxi driver, a Muslim, was indignant about how the terrorists were giving Islam a black eye.

The group used the Steiner Travel Agency in Ford City.

Jonathan Szish can be reached at

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