Michelle Thomas (second from left) was joined by (from left) her father, Richard, mother, Karen, sister, Dorothy, and brother, Patrick, on a trip to Ireland sponsored by the Make a Wish Foundation.
The Northern Arizona chapter of the Make A Wish Foundation contacted the chapter in Ireland and the planning process began. The two chapters worked together and set up hotel and travel reservations for the Thomas family.
The family left Phoenix on July 26 and flew on a 777 to London, England. “We got to go into the cockpit and look over Chicago. It looked like all the cities were right next to each other because we were going so fast,” Michelle Thomas added.
The family landed in England and had a four-hour layover, so they decided to do some sightseeing. A couple that worked with Make A Wish in London met the family and took them to lunch at an Italian café that is located next door to Windsor Castle. Michelle and her sister Dorothy were excited to see the changing of the guard at the castle.
After leaving London, the family landed at Shannon Airport, which is located on Ireland’s western side. Michelle happily explained that Pierce Brosnan, most recent portrayer of James Bond, was on their flight and she was standing right behind him in line to board the plane.
After landing, the family met up with another couple that worked for Make A Wish who escorted them to their hotel.
Beginning the next day the family of five toured Ireland in their very small rental car heading up the west coast, across the country and back down the east coast. Along the way, they stopped and toured seven castles including the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.
The castle and park consisted of houses from the different social classes during medieval times. The family returned to Bunratty Castle that evening for a medieval dinner where Michelle was named “Princess” of the castle and her brother Patrick was named the “Earl.” The two were treated like royalty and were faced with some difficult decisions throughout the evening, like deciding if the food was edible or what punishment a wrongdoer deserved.
As the family made their way around the country, the noticed how friendly the people were and how narrow the streets are. “We were hoping to get a mini-van, but I think we would have brought back a dinged-up mini-van,” Karen Thomas, Michelle’s mother, added.
On the fourth day, the family finally reached the Blarney Castle and Michelle’s wish came true. Kissers of the Blarney Stone are legended to be awarded the gift of “Gab,” or eloquent speech. Michelle said she hadn’t noticed any difference since kissing the Blarney stone.
During the trip, the family stayed one night in a castle that had been converted into a hotel. The Ballynahinch Castle is set next to a river and to the delight of the tourists, the mist that usually accompanies castles in movies and books actually arises.
They also got to visit where the film The Quiet Man starring John Wayne was filmed.
While continuing on their journey, the family toured the Waterford Crystal Factory. Michelle got to blow crystal, which is similar to blowing glass into desired shapes, and to etch her name into a piece of crystal.
While touring the factory, the family was introduced to an Italian glassmaker who was experimenting with some new techniques at the factory. He made Michelle a one-of-a-kind crystal fish by heating the crystal and stretching it with tools. The factory has promised to send her the fish and she is patiently waiting by the mailbox.
Their final destination on the trip was Ireland’s largest city, Dublin. Michelle said it was difficult getting around the metropolis because the streets are not laid out in straight, parallel lines like they are in the Unites States, “they kind of just go everywhere,” she said. “We got lost twice and finally found our hotel by accident,” she added.
The family flew back to Arizona the next day. They returned with 16 rolls of pictures of their voyage, along with an appreciation of the beautiful landscape and friendly people of Ireland.
Michelle chose the trip to Ireland as her wish because she had always heard how beautiful the scenery is and the Thomas family has ancestral roots there.
The Make A Wish Foundation paid for the first week of the trip and the Thomas family covered the second week.
Gerry Birch, Wish Coordinator for the Make A Wish Foundation of Northern Arizona, said in order to become a Make a Wish kid, the child’s doctor must qualify, or verify, them as having a illness that could be but not necessarily terminal.
Although it’s been a year since being diagnosed, Michelle has been treated and is in remission. However, she is still required to see her doctor regularly for checkups, but for about six months the reports have been that she is healthy.
The foundation works to grant a wish of children from the ages of 2 and a half to eighteen. “We sort of feel like fairy godmothers,” she explained.
The most popular wish the foundation grants is to go to Disney World in Florida, or Disneyland in California. The foundation has also granted wishes for trips to the Grand Canyon and singing the National Anthem at an Arizona Diamondback game. Some kids ask to meet celebrities and even the President of the United States.
Birch said some children decided to forgo meeting celebrities or the President because of the long wait required to set up the meetings.
The foundation pays for the families’ air travel, hotel accommodations and even provides funds to cover meals. The Make A Wish Foundation receives its funding through donations and fundraisers. “People send us money because they love the program,” Birch added.