Is Ireland real? That’s my question.
Or did my eight-year-old mind dream it into existence after hearing a Celtic Woman album for the first time – painting in the brightest rolling hills it could think up, lighting them from beneath, spotting the people’s faces with freckles just so, and using sunlight sparingly, but intensely? If so, I did a hell of a job.
If not, Ireland is exactly what I imagined it would be.
Emily, Colin Patrick O’Neill, and I landed in Dublin, our plane touching down on a runway that was neighbor to a flock of sheep and goats. I kid you not. We took a bus from the airport into the center of the city to our hostel. Ireland was not as far into spring as London was, so what green was on the trees was light yet bright. Some cherry blossom trees were just beginning to show their colors, but the daffodils. I thought London’s random, yet plentiful patches of daffodils were spectacular … they pale in comparison to Ireland’s.
We crossed the River Liffey and were in Dublin. The air was chilly, but crisp with sunlight. We checked in to our impromptu hostel, after our AirBnB host had cancelled barely 24 hours before our plane was due to take off. So, hastily, we booked this place, which I suppose could have ended up worse than it did; however, the digs were less than spectacular. We crept into the big room of 16, mixed-gender beds just as apprehension crept into our minds. Nodding once to shake him out, we found the lockers, deposited our stuff, and set off into the city to find some bikes.
Once on the bikes, we also found every construction worker and vehicle in Ireland, tearing up the very road we wanted to take. After some negotiating, we finally made it out of the city center just barely in tact and took a leisurely spin to the Glasnevin Cemetery.
It was positively striking and the perfect embodiment of the Irish obsession with crosses, blessings, and morbidity. As far as the eye could see, somber grey stone carved into headstones, crosses, and crypts protruded from the ground, marking the remains of an Irishman or -woman. Fittingly, the sun excused itself behind a cloud, as if to let us have our moment of grief alone.
We wandered through the graceful expressions of loss and love. Some graves were well kept; others were not. Some had fresh bouquets of flowers, some did not, while others still (almost more upsettingly) had wilted, crackly, long-dead bouquets, as colorless as the wintered ground.
Emily and I noted quite a few headstones of families, which had listed the patriarch and matriarch at the top, with their brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters below. Yet they had room at the bottom for future generations’ names. My mind vacillated between thinking this a loving gesture, wanting to be sure the children can be laid to rest with the rest of their family, and a morbid one, leaving an open, conspicuous space that must be filled, as if completing a checklist.
We then followed signs to a botanical garden nearby and picked our way through the various greenhouses that housed countless varieties of cacti and tropical plants.
The sun reappeared through the domed glass ceiling. My love for flowers, sun, and Ireland stimulated all at once, I experienced some kind of high. We strolled around the grounds of the park a bit more, taking advantage of the glorious sunlight, clusters of crocuses, and far-too-perfect-to-be-real scenery for some photos, then found our way back to the bikes.
Emily told us of a very quaint, very highly reviewed, very “close” place called Howth. We biked into the forty-fifth minute of travel and I mentally declared Emily an exaggerator. But I truly wasn’t all that mad about it. I definitely wish I had taken more pictures to share with you, but, as we were travelling quite fast, quite close to unsympathetic drivers, and my phone was at about 15% battery, I did not. I regret it fully now. We were driving along one of the most beautiful bike paths I’ve ever seen. Each turn round the bend was more gorgeous and photogenic than the next.
We drove past a sprawling park, with a serene lake surrounded by a full bed of daffodils, only interrupted by a pair of swans. The landscape had several gentle hills, dotted with clusters of rock, bushes, and small, budding trees. There was a long stretch of green, bordered with a path, which was bordered by growing trees. Three older couples were walking together, one holding hands, another arm in arm. There were children on scooters. There were freely roaming dogs and their owners walking leisurely nearby. I’ve decided I’d like to retire to Ireland. If my family is far away, I’ll move them.
We drove past what we are 95% sure was the ocean as the sun began to set, as Howth was at the tip of a long, thin peninsula. The tide was out, so I had the Irish words to the folk song Dúlaman rattling around in my head, as I gazed at the wads of lacy seaweed on the rocks.
At long last, we got to Howth, winded, chilled, and thoroughly famished. Luckily, the main reason for our adventure was not difficult to find: ‘the best fish and chips in the world’. Sitting ourselves in front of an unbelievably photogenic harbor, we sat in the setting sun and ate … or devoured.
A long, complicated, and unfortunate series of events later (that included all of our phones dying, leaving us with no way to get home, sitting in a Starbucks for far too long while Colin’s phone charged, trying to get on a bus with our monstrosities of bikes, being denied with a great deal of Irish sass, catching a train home, riding another twenty minutes to put the bikes in a shed overnight, then walking the rest of the chilly way home), we showered, got ourselves all gussied up, went to a pub, I had my first half-pint of Guinness since coming to the UK and sat quietly, a bit glazed over from our day.
A party of rowdy Irishfolk began to gather near us and we watched quietly. They convened, greeted each other fondly, ordered a satisfactorily Irish number of rounds, and began to play a game. One man with a suit and red tie whipped out a blonde, terribly cut wig and put it on. Another blonde woman in a blue pantsuit, with purposefully terrible eye makeup took out a folder. They began to sing a barely coherent song about a wall. The three of us were stunned into silence. We watched as they played what we think was a drinking game where one man was Trump, a woman was Kellyanne Conway, and the rest were members of the press or government (we’re not sure and don’t know if they were sure, either) who asked Trump questions, to which he would give an appropriately stupid response. The three of us were shocked, amused, and a little scared they would discover our nationality. So we bounced and went to bed. We never figured out the objective and perhaps there was none other than to ridicule Trump. To which I say, sláinte!
The next day was fairly straightforward. We woke up, went to return our bikes to their rightful owners, and took a walking tour with a guy named Cathal (pronounced CA-hl, with a laryngeal ‘h’ sound), who, quite frankly, did not live up to the Irish meaning of his name (battle) as he was rather sweet.
We walked around a bit, did some shopping, and sat in a park for a bit. The sun was coming in and out when we felt it begin to mist. No one else seemed to mind so we didn’t either and simply sat and enjoyed the beautiful park. Eventually, the sun came back out. We stood to go and looked up. Call it the luck of the Irish or a physics phenomena, I don’t care … but there was a full rainbow curving right over our heads. Tickled by our Irish halo, we took an excited picture.
Next, we got dinner at famous pub called O’Neill’s and Colin was tempted to ask if he could drink for free. Unfortunately he didn’t because if he did, so would half of Ireland. I got shepherd’s pie and my first Irish coffee and, tummy bulging a bit, was very happy.
To finish the night, we went to a comedy club that, while fun, wasn’t quite the entertainment we had hoped for. But it was worth it!
We returned to the hostel, showered, and went to the common room. There, we had my favorite experience of the trip. We met a wonderfully open woman with a delightful sense of humor called Amelie (pronounced Amalia) from Barcelona. She was an au pair, working in the suburbs of Ireland. She had gotten a degree in physical education in Barcelona, but was having trouble finding a job. So, she jumped ship and moved to Ireland for a year to be an au pair. A weekend trip to the capital with some friends from home brought her to Dublin. She had a minimal grasp of English, but was eager to chat and learn. Watching her listen to us and work out the sentence was fascinating. You could see she was a very quick study; she double-checked with us about a grammatical rule and when we politely corrected her, she thanked us and used it perfectly the next time it came up.
At first it was just Emily and I talking with her, but when Colin came over, it seemed she grew increasingly nervous and embarrassed when she didn’t know the word for something. She probably felt outnumbered, even though we were happy to help and talk with someone so interesting. Then, another girl from Amsterdam, named Dewy, heard our animated conversation and came over. We discussed everything from the weather from our respective homelands to what we want in life. Everything, I was happy to note, but Trump. At about 1 AM, we parted ways after friending each other on Facebook. The two consistently like things of mine and vice-versa, which heartens me. It seems we all made something of an impact on each other in the best way possible.
Next day, Colin and I did the Guinness tour, which was a blast and a half, while Emily walked around a park. We met up, got some lunch, and I caught an early flight out of Dublin, while the others found some fun things to do for the extra two hours they were there. Leaving, I felt lucky and very proud to be Irish.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Dubliners are the best. They’re hearty people with a sparkling sense of humor and a leprechaun-esque twinkle in their eye. An example: in 2002, the Irish were doing quite well economically, with dozens of American and English corporations setting up shop in its inexpensive areas, and had wads of money they didn’t know what to do with; so, having never had so much money, they decided to build something. They built a needle in the middle of their city. Eventually, the crash of 2008 affected them and they didn’t have so much money anymore. But they had their needle. Which, in hindsight, they saw was actually pretty silly looking. So, they gave it a few Irish nicknames, my personal favorite being ‘the stiffy by the Liffey’.
They are so proud to be Irish they have launched government programs to revitalize the Irish language; they have specific towns where the people can only speak Irish and you have to have governmental approval that you speak Irish well enough before living there. Additionally, the government will check in on you to make sure you’re improving. If you’re not, you’re out.
They are proud of where they come from and where they’re going. They like their beer, their music, and maintain that they do everything better. Which, from what I’ve seen, is entirely true. Though the weather can be dull, the city’s sparkle and glow makes up for it.
Éirinn go Brách!
Proudly and luckily,