I generally believe that what most people call luck is just chance. If I did believe in luck, I would say that mine is generally pretty awful in card games and the like, maybe to make up for my unbelievably good luck in the big things, like where I was born, the opportunities I have, and the people with whom I have been blessed. Still, coincidence never ceases to amaze me, so here’s to my 13th blog post falling on my unexpected trip to Ireland.
On March 17, 2019, St. Patrick’s Day, I got a text from a friend. Her family, who was supposed to come visit her and take her to Ireland, got snowed-in. They wouldn’t be able to make it, so she had plane tickets and an Airbnb in Dublin and no one to go with. Bad luck for them, but good luck for me!
Four days later, I was on a plane full of laughter and chatter and Irish lilts. I had never really thought of going to Ireland, but now I was eager to arrive. We flew with Ryan Air, where the tickets are so cheap they charge you for literally everything else. The head steward announced they would be handing out the magazines with everything you can buy and suggested that we take them, “Because that’s the last and only free thing you’ll get on this flight.” Everyone laughed. He wasn’t kidding, though. There wasn’t even free water.
Nevertheless, the flight was great, and the crew was excellent. More good luck, I was seated next to a really nice Irish guy who reminded me of a shy version of my grandpa. Seeing that he was the more awkward of the two of us, I overcame my own reticence and asked him what he was doing in Alicante, which led to an amicable conversation. During the rest of the flight, we didn’t talk too much, but when we came down below the clouds near the end of the flight I got excited at my first glimpses of the verdant fields of Ireland. “It’s so green!” I exclaimed. “Oh, well it’s a good t’ing you like green,” he remarked cheerily, “because everyt’ing in Ireland is green.” As soon as the wheels touched down, he turned to me, and with an old-fashioned courtly air, said, “May I be the first t’ welcome ya t’ Ireland.”
When we got to the passport check desk, the official asked us where we were coming from. When we responded that we were studying in Alicante, he looked up. “Why’d you leave there t’come here?” he joked.
It’s true though, pretty much everyone on the plane had been Irish, returning from vacation in sunny Alicante. Nevertheless, walking out into the cool, humid atmosphere of Dublin, I felt immediately at ease. The air had the texture of home.
We made our way to the Airbnb by way of the 7-euro airport shuttle (ridiculous for a fifteen minute ride; if you go, definitely buy the “go and return” ticket. You save 2 euro. Also, they use euro in Ireland, not pounds. They do, however, use the UK electrical sockets).
Luckily for us, our Airbnb was right across the canal from the center of the city, so after dropping off our stuff we set off for the famous (to people who know anything about Ireland, so not me) Temple Bar area.
We walked up the street and into Temple Bar, which was full despite it being a Thursday night the week after St. Patty’s day.
The waves of English breaking over my ears were a lovely relief. I realized I had missed speaking English without guilt. It seems silly to miss your language, but it made me realize how much my spoken words are also a part of me.
We shared a delicious meal of fish and chips and “shrimp scampi,” which was more like popcorn shrimp with lemon sauce, while listening to live Irish music and surrounded by buzz of happy conversation. I had my first sip of beer, Rockshore Irish Lager. Although I found the flavor disgusting (not surprising, it’s me after all), I was glad I had tried my first taste in Ireland.
After dinner, we walked the rest of the Temple Bar district, then one of the main thoroughfares, and finally up and down the canal. We began to realize that Dublin is not grand in the way of Granada or Madrid. Instead, you come for the atmosphere, which is relaxed and friendly when it’s not downright lively. Even its architecture exemplifies the themes of its country’s folklore: it appears almost a commonplace type of pretty, but will surprise you in unexpected moments with humor and mischief, like a rainbow-lit bridge, a restaurant filled with orange twinkle lights, an antique ship docked in the middle of the city, or a street covered with umbrellas. My rational mind felt almost tricked when I caught myself thinking it within the realm of possibility that a leprechaun might peek out from behind storefront. There were lots of surprises. Why not magic?
The next morning, we used a great app that Brianna had called Visit a City. It provides a list of tourist destinations in a city (or you can search your own). You add the ones you want to visit to your list, and the app arranges them with directions in the most efficient order.
We started out at the art museum. Like the city, Irish art has spirit. You have the normal, beautiful things, and interspersed, you find the spunky things.
On the way to our next location, we found this beautiful random relief mosaic chilling in front of a bunch of parking spots. Because, why not?
Our next location turned out to be trinity college, which is very famous and 400 years old. It is quite beautiful in a stately way.
We then continued through the city toward the commercial street of the city, Grafton Street. At this point, I just kept hearing “I met her on Grafton street outside of a bar,” on repeat in my head. Thanks, Ed Sheeran. But actually, thanks, because that’s a really fun song.
Anyway, next we ended up in a very elegant mall which is several stories tall.
We continued on through the city, finding a pub marked “The Smallest Pub in the World (Probably)” and these other cool things:
Eventually, we made it to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Fun fact, it’s technically not Catholic, but rather was built for the National Church of Ireland. In it are buried archbishops and Jesuit supporters alike.
We saw the cathedral, then were resting when a man came by to open the pews. Turns out every evening, they close the church with an Evensong service given by the choir school boys. So we stayed to hear the ethereal voices rising to the vaulted ceilings. Cathedrals were made for music.
We rounded out our day with the outside of Christ Church Cathedral, the Ha’penny Bridge (people used to have to pay a half-penny to cross it), my first hamburger since being in Europe, and a taste of Guinness, which was surprisingly not awful. We also saw a street performer, singing “Give Me Love,” which was icing on the cake.
Then we went home because we had to get up early in the morning. The Airbnb host had said we could help ourselves to anything in the cabinets, so we heated up some milk on the stove and poured in the Cadbury Drinking Chocolate. Quite possibly the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.
The next morning we were out of the house by 6:15 am for the part of the trip we were both most excited about: a bus trip across Ireland to the Cliffs of Moher, with stops along the way including Galway. The guide advised us to sleep for the first hour, which we were too tired to refuse. I woke up at a rest stop that was amusingly marked as winner of Best Roadside Stop 2018. But I stopped laughing when I tried the raisin scone that I bought there for a euro, which was absolutely delicious. They deserved that title.
During this leg of the journey, the tour guide started talking to us about what we were seeing, namely the stunning, verdant farmland, offset by low grey stone walls. He continued with a little Irish history lesson, which is good because I knew next to nothing about Ireland. First of all, the island is split into the Republic of Ireland, an independent state, and Northern Ireland, which is still part of the UK. This partition came about a few years after the Easter Rising in 1916. Although the rebellion was brief and brutally snuffed out, it largely contributed to the independence of 27 of the 32 counties of Ireland (they were originally called shires… an unexpected discovery on my unexpected journey), while an open border sectioned off the remaining six, which would remain part of Britain.
Before the cliffs, we stopped at an abandoned monastery nestled in the Irish countryside. For defense, the valuables were all kept in the tower. I walked all the way around before realizing that it has no door. When I mentioned this curious fact, the tour guide corrected me; there is a door, it’s just 7 meters (23 feet) above the ground. On holy days, they would hang relics out of the door and the pilgrims would come and pray beneath them.
Of the local culture, our tour guide informed us that County Clare doesn’t particularly like the government and is known for protesting everything. Not ten minutes into the county, he pointed out a road sign that had an A pasted over an E to change Lehinch to Lahinch. He explained that the government has it registered as Lehinch, but County Clare residents firmly believe it is, and should be, spelled with an A.
He also explained that the beautiful stone walls traipsing through the countryside came about because the ground is very rocky, so in clearing it for farming, the Irishmen concentrated all the rocks into walls. In this part of the country, most of the rock is limestone, leading to limestone castles, cliffs, and buildings. There are a lot of sheep and cows in Ireland, so it’s not surprising that those are some of their big food exports. A large portion of those exports go to England with a great commercial advantage due to the open border. Wherefore, Brexit is cause for concern, because it would likely result in a closed border and the imposition of import taxes on Irish products. These changes would decrease their competitive pricing and hurt Ireland’s economy.
Of the native language, known both as Irish and Gaelic, the guide shared that only 10% of Irish denizens speak it as a first language. However, it is one of the oldest languages in the EU. He decided to teach us a phrase, and chose something useful, “pog ma thoin,” which means “kiss my a**.”
Speaking of language, the whole day I found myself enjoying the complement of his deep voice with his Irish lilt, which has to be the most endearing accent of English. It turns “th” into “t” or “d”, slightly rolls the “r” into a “d”, and often lightens the vowels, most notably turning the “oo” or “oh” sound into “eh”. So, the phrase “God and Mary be with you” sounds like “God an’ Maery be wit’ yeh.” It’s really quite adorable.
We finally made it to the cliffs, which no picture can do justice, but I’ll try. You just can’t capture the scale. We spent two hours walking up and down outside, and we could have spent more. The tour included tickets to the visitor’s center, but we spent only about ten minutes in there at the very end, on our way to the bathroom. We didn’t want to waste any time inside reading when the beauty needed no explanation.
Fun fact, the scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where Harry and Dumbledore visit the cave to find Tom Riddle’s horcrux was filmed at the Cliffs of Moher.
We also stopped at the Baby Cliffs, a bit down the coast from the Cliffs of Moher. They’re also pretty, just quite a bit smaller.
Back on the bus, settling into the ride to Galway, our tour guide’s talent continued to amaze us, because in addition to his knowledge, jokes, and contagious good humor, he also sang. He actually had a lovely, rich voice, which he put to use singing “Catch Me if You Can,” a fun Irish song about a man who’s got a acres of land and a bit of money and is looking for a “honey.” Despite admitting, “I’m awful shifty, for a man of fifty,” he flirts, “Catch me if you can, me name is Dan, sure I’m your man”. By the end, he had the whole bus singing the chorus, and it concluded with laughter and applause.
He also told us the story of Grace O’Malley. I knew of her from the musical about her, The Pirate Queen, in which my brother had performed the year before. The daughter of an Irish chieftan, Grace became very wealthy and powerful through securing an advantageous political match and assuming the lordship and fleet of her father on his death, despite having a half-brother. Over time, she grew the fleet into a pirate armada, wreaking havoc on the Irish coastline and clans who crossed her for years. Eventually, her sons and half-brother were arrested by British Lord Bingham. She sailed to Queen Elizabeth I’s court to petition for their release. On her arrival, Grace elicited shock by refusing to bow to Elizabeth, thereby not recognizing her as Queen of Ireland. Nevertheless, the two red-haired, ruling women got along “smashingly” (words of the tour guide) and struck an accord; Grace agreed to stop her piracy and support of Irish insurgencies in exchange for return of her lands, removal of Bingham, and the release of her family. Powerful in her own right, politically smart in marriage, and remorseless in revenge, she became somewhat of an Irish legend.
We spent the afternoon walking the streets of Galway, stepped into shops full of unbelievably expensive clothing made of soft Irish wool, and visited the cathedral where Christopher Columbus (may have) attended a mass.
As it happens, our guide mentioned that “Galway girl,” a term made famous by the Ed Sheeran song, actually refers to a combination of hair- and eye-color signature of Galway. It resulted from an invasion of (if I am remembering correctly) Spanish sailors, who intermixed with the native population to produce women with blue eyes and black hair, renowned to be very beautiful.
I also bought a Claddagh ring, a traditional piece of jewelry originating in Claddagh, a small fishing village in Galway. It is composed of two hands clasping a heart, bearing a crown. The heart symbolizes love, the hands friendship, and the crown loyalty. The ring is to be worn on the right ring finger with the heart pointing out if you’re single, looking for love, or heart pointing in if you’re in a relationship, or not looking. Then, when engaged it moves to the left ring finger, heart pointing out, and on marriage is turned to point toward the person’s heart. I love things with symbolism, so it was right up my alley.
On the way back to Dublin, we watched a movie called The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne, which was filmed near Galway. I enjoyed it, although like most older movies, certain parts made my inner feminist cringe. At least the main woman was headstrong, fiery, and determined to have her due in spite of the men around her.
That night, back in Dublin, we ate dinner in the orange tinted restaurant. Surprise, it turned out to be decorated with weird collectibles like creepy dolls and death reaper statues. But hey, it was novel.
On our last day in Ireland, we chilled and strolled around Dublin one more time. We bought souvenirs for our families in the enormous, bursting-with-green gift shops in Dublin. We also went to the Museum of Archaeology, where there is a wealth of Irish artifacts and historical exhibits. The biggest crowd-draw is an exhibit Bog Bodies, which consists of “well-preserved” (obviously preservation has a relative scale foreign to me) ancient bodies mummified in the bogs of Ireland. Personally, I found that exhibit pretty macabre, but plenty of other people found it fascinating. I preferred the exhibit of gold metalwork, jewelry, coins, and other curiosities of Irish history.
On the plane out of Ireland, it seemed as though my luck was fading back to normal. I was seated next to an Irish lady who was definitely pre-gaming for her vacation in Benidorm. She had earplugs in, probably for the pressure, but from a combination of that and the alcohol she didn’t realize that she was speaking above a comfortable inside voice. Also probably from the alcohol, every time she started a sentence, she had a weird catch in her voice, kind of like a bray, that she overcame by talking louder. It was fine though, she quieted after she got a drink, and I fell asleep against the window.
As the sun set over the clouds, I waved goodbye to Ireland, thanking my lucky stars for having brought me there.