Roughly 50 million people worldwide claim Scottish ancestry. It makes sense that the country of bagpipes, haggis and kilts serves as a popular tourist attraction.
Thousands of visitors from all parts of the world take to the streets of Scotland’s major cities, as well as the small towns embedded in the vibrant (and muddy) green countryside, in search of something deeper than breathtaking views and lambswool scarves.
A trip to Scotland also offers an opportunity to explore one’s ancestry and roots, and ultimately establish a deeper connection with family.
Although I consider myself an even split between Irish and Italian (with no physical proof to actually back that one up), I, too, was in search of something similar when I touched down at the Edinburgh Airport about a week ago.
The reason stems from a letter my grandfather sent me a few weeks prior to my flight.
In that letter (pictured above), my 86-year-old grandfather—Michael Dailey, from Greene, New York — wished me well on my class trip and asked me to do him a favor.
He wanted me to go to Edinburgh Castle — a landmark he and my grandmother were supposed to visit several decades ago – that is, until the weather had other plans. On the day their cruise ship approached Edinburgh, 60-mph winds prevented the captain from docking the boat, and my grandparents’ trip to the castle never happened.
Although neither has made it back to Scotland since, my travels with Penn State gave me the opportunity to rewrite part of this story. I packed my grandfather’s letter in my suitcase before leaving for this trip and made a visit to the castle a priority on my busy, week-long itinerary.
Early in the week, I got caught up with schoolwork and couldn’t find the time to go to the castle. When I went Thursday, I arrived a little too late, and found out that the inside of the popular landmark was closed for the rest of the day. But I was determined that I wouldn’t leave Scotland without doing what my grandpa asked.
On Friday, less than 24 hours before I needed to wake up for my flight home, I managed to make good on my promise. And I enjoyed every second of doing so.
I ventured up the Royal Mile and toward the castle with two of my professors. Since we arrived right before 1 o’clock, we were able to see the cannon go off. At that moment, everyone in the castle seemed to stand still. The entire crowd was quiet. And all I could think about was how much my grandfather would have enjoyed being there, as chills went down my spine.
I tried to soak in this moment, with my grandparents in mind. At one of the overlooks, I reached for my grandpa’s letter in my coat pocket and read it silently to myself. I understood exactly why he wanted me to visit this castle so badly. I was surrounded by beauty and history in every direction. This was apparent to me all week long. Edinburgh, a city of castles and gorgeous stone buildings, was a place unlike any other I’ve ever been. I felt lucky to be able to experience any of it at all.
Later, I was able to Facetime my mom at the top of the castle (which felt like the top of the world in the moment). She had been sending me reminder texts each day, asking if I had done what my grandfather asked. I wanted to make sure she knew I was finally able to fulfill my promise for her dad. The smile on her face when I told her where I was made it even more worthwhile.
Talking to her, and simply being at the Edinburgh Castle, reminded me of just how important family is. From the family I have back home in New York, to the family I’ve made along the way (including this week here in Scotland), these are the people who make my life meaningful. That trip to the castle certainly would have been cool, but it wouldn’t have meant as much if I was just going for myself. Going for myself and my grandparents made this moment extra special, and one I will never forget.
I finished the trip a few blocks down the Royal Mile, to make good on the second half of my grandpa’s request: To have a pint in a pub and think of him while I was there. So, I did that, too. And I thought about how even though my grandfather was thousands of miles away from me, I felt closer and more connected to him than ever before. I have Penn State’s College of Communications, Scotland and the Edinburgh Castle to thank for that.