"I'm supposed to be in Portugal," I told Michael Gleeson's sisters as we inspected a graveyard on Holy Island on Lough Derg on Tuesday. Michael Gleeson is our neighbour, a master beekeeper and one of my mother's graveyard friends. She's into graveyards.
Whenever we drive around we're given to exclaiming, "There's a graveyard!", with a heavy mix of enthusiasm and irony. Her group have copied and mapped every graveyard in the Credit Union ward area of Enfield, creating a website (enfieldgraveyards.ie) containing a searchable database of all the records.
As such, odysseys to notable graveyards are entirely within our normal parameters.
When my parents first asked me to drive them on this particular mission, I thought they meant the Lough Derg with the fasting and praying. Half way down the M6, I learned that one is in Donegal. Our destination was Lough Derg on the Shannon, nestled between Tipperary and Clare.
A native of the area, Michael had proposed the trip, correctly identifying Tuesday as the best day of the week.
So here I was on Holy Island, instead of Portugal. At least the sun was shining.
We cancelled the foreign trip two weeks ago, crushed by social judgment, uncertainty and the realisation we'd have to quarantine for two weeks to take a one-week holiday. I cried for two days.
Don't judge my self-pity. I'm worn out. My nerves are shot. I need to lie on a sun-bed on the beach getting cocktails delivered from the bar, feeling the heat in my bones and sleeping in the afternoon. I've been working too hard, as usual, and need to rest, properly.
Don't get me wrong; I love a blast of Atlantic air, and no year is complete without a trip to the west coast. But those holidays require nuclear levels of energy and my reserves are low.
However, a skite to Lough Derg was a good excuse to get out of the house, and our little convoy hared off to Mountshannon, one of many beautiful harbours dotted around the lake.
Gerry, our boatman, dropped us on the island and left our party of nine - me, my parents, their three friends, Michael and his two sisters - for a few hours to explore.
I love these old monastic sites that pre-date the parochial system. We took the Pilgrim's Path, and slowly made our way around the various ruins. It's a small island with rich soil, and the monks would have had an easy time here were it not for the usual problems with Vikings.
For hundreds of years, it was a destination, just like the other Lough Derg, for penitents. Thousands of people would come out to walk the "patterns" on a Whit Sunday in their bare feet, finishing up with a punishing round on their knees. Most would have committed to the ordeal when in the throes of illness, offering it up in desperation for a cure. Though I liked the get-out clause that allowed you to send a proxy if you weren't up to it yourself.
Alas, the popularity of the Whit Sunday pattern was its undoing. Once the crowds had completed their penance, they got roaring drunk.
According to one account, the island was polluted by "the most gross debauchery". So the "pattern" was suppressed by the clergy. Rightly so, by the sound of it.
Greatly satisfied with our island visit, Michael's sisters then led us up Tountinna Mountain on the Tipperary side of the lake to take in the views at the "Graves of the Leinstermen". Supposedly it's the site where a Leinster king and his men were killed by Brian Ború in a dispute about chess, but it is actually the remains of a megalithic tomb.
Much impressed, we proceeded on to an award-winning graveyard in Castletown.
It's the prettiest graveyard I've seen, where Welsh miners carved ornate slate headstones taken from nearby mines.
We saw cocks crowing; lambs and deer leaping; shells symbolising a pilgrimage to the Camino in Portugal (a poignant reminder of my loss) and a death date expressed as 8ber.
It took us a few minutes to work out this meant October - the eighth month after the spring equinox in March - the old Roman new year. Octo, of course is eight. Septem, novem and decem being seven, nine and 10. Thus was enlightenment delivered onto us in Tipperary.
We descended into another lakeside village, Garrykennedy, for a gorgeous al fresco dinner in Larkin's bar.
Our touring was not quite finished.
The highlight of the day for my father was a stop at the working watermill in Newtown - and finally on to Nenagh for another "octo". Michael showed us the old prison; the last remaining wing of five once attached to the fine octagonal-shaped governor's residence.
For a group of pensioners, most over 80, it was some day. It's a stunning part of the country and if only the sun would shine more regularly, sure there'd be no need to go to Portugal.
On the road home, somewhere between Tullamore and Birr, my father broke a period of tired silence: "Do you know something?"
"What?" I said, wondering what profound insight would be shared.
"We haven't seen a graveyard for about 15 minutes," he said in his customary bone-dry tone. We laughed, and I knew the memory would sustain me in the long winter months ahead.
I'd say the graveyards aren't half as good in Portugal.