Ireland: To The City, The Bog, and Back Again

Who would have thought the island called Ireland – posed in the frigid Atlantic – with little for geographic defense beyond some rocky islets called skelligs would have survived so much? That’s a cheery thought to start on – but thematically relevant (oh, just wait). When I think of the Irish in a historic sense, I think of an enduring people – able to survive numerous invasions – nine invasions to be exact from the Vikings all the way to the French. They survived famine. They survived civil revolts. Now, they laugh. If we do pass on the anxieties of our past through the human genome, then how could you not laugh after your ancestors have endured so much? But I’m not here to pontificate inherited trauma, I’m here to share with you my adventure with my sister and mother in Ireland. This is us:

Us hiking at Connemara National Park

I had a goal in mind to journal while on this adventure, a goal which I mostly accomplished until my journal got wet during the walk through the Blarney Castle grounds in Cork. Imagine what would have happened if I decided to put the small backpack housing my journal under my raincoat? Learn from me. Instead of boring you with the whole shebang, I’ve decided to highlight only portions I wrote in my journal. Sometimes in my ferocious scribbling, I forgot to add certain interesting bits from the day, so I have added them after “What did I miss?”:

October 6, 2019 – (Commenting on the Toronto Pearson Airport) “You don’t have faux marble tables to sit at and order food from in the US. Instantaneous food. Sparkling or tap water. Latte or cappuccino. The choice is yours. You could actually spend time with your loved one at [this] airport… Or you could just sit at a tablet, be anti-social and play some app casino-style games (I did this for a bit). It felt weird – being treated so well in Canada, and also for having such low expectations for airports from inter-state travel. Why should we expect such less? We even were fed on the plane [like a full meal, with repeated runs for beverages]. I cannot remember the last time I had a meal included. I took one of the complimentary blankets.”

October 7, 2019 – “The first cab driver we received gave us his life story in the course of the 20 min drive to the Ashling Hotel. It was great. He played soccer – apparently pretty well – because it took him out of the country. He settled in Ireland with his sweetheart and considered that ‘one of the best decisions’ in his life. He talks with such joy and charm that it’s difficult not to immediately feel warm and accepted.”
(A little later in the entry…) “We finished off the first day in Dublin at a literary pub crawl. Two actors – who have been part of what is now a 30+ year tradition – led the crawl. Their reasoning for leading the pub crawls: ‘We’re out of work actors who could use some pub money.’ Though they [jokingly] claim to be ‘out of work’ they were quite enjoyable. They waxed poetic on Beckett, Shaw, and I particularly enjoyed the Wilde impersonation [the] guide Frank performed.”

What did I miss? Before the pub crawl we walked around Dublin to explore the Book of Kells and the Long Library at Trinity College. The Book of Kells holds well-preserved liturgical writing from monks in 800 AD, all handwritten and illustrated with beautiful Celtic artwork. The Long Library is an 18th century library that is still in use today! Some of my favorite books on display were the 19th century medical textbooks which had elaborate, haunting pictures of human anatomy.

After the pub crawl we witnessed two boys taking a break from their studies to fetch pints at Davy Byrne’s Pub. In Ireland the drinking age is 18, and if I recall they were 19. They had a Physics test the next morning and two Irish mothers who were on the Literary Pub Crawl with us began to chastise them for being out while they should be studying. The entire scene played out like a play in that the boys and the mothers were positioned at a perfect viewing diagonal from our seating position. They stood or sat at the bar while Alisa and I sat with our pints and for the mum, Irish coffee, at a corner table. The sincerity with which the boys defended their position to be out (“because sometimes you study as much as you can. There’s only so much…”) and the level of unbridled sass emanated from two women who didn’t know these boys personally but felt a level of responsibility for regardless – that was something worthy to become a paid public performance. Frank, the tour guide walked through the scene, gestured to it and said “Welcome to Ireland!” with a glint in his eye and a chuckle in his voice, and I couldn’t possibly think of a better start to the adventure.

Then after a chat with Frank, in a remarkable show of kindness, Frank invited us back to meet with him again at Davy Byrne’s after we rounded the island back to Dublin. We had a chance to speak with the Irish mothers after the impromptu one-act play too. They gave the reasoning behind their relentless chastisement of the teen boys. “We raised boys…” one commented while the other followed with “they were little shits,” and so they felt it was their duty to spread wisdom to these teens. Bless the Irish. They wear themselves open, unafraid to share their true feelings. It’s remarkably refreshing. Not only were they so candid, they offered lots of friendly suggestions on where to visit along our road-trip west – notably one place called Doolin – the town known for its traditional Irish music. Also tip, when you’re drunk or tipsy you tend to not remember things as well, so don’t listen to that voice in the back of your head that says “Oh yeah right, I’m different. I’ll remember” – write it down, dummy. I almost forgot the name “Doolin”, and thought they were talking about Dulane which is in an entirely different direction than Doolin which could have, you know, been problematic.

October 8, 2019 – “The drive to Galway was long while the time to learn how to drive correctly was short. Drive on the left side. Simple enough. But nothing could prepare a midwestern or Southerner from the States for the distinctly tiny Irish roads.”

What did I miss? On the way to Galway we made some pit-stops including Athlone to Sean’s Bar, the oldest bar on in Ireland (circa 900 AD). Before bars were their own thing, bars were called “public houses” – they were essentially like hallways in houses where people gathered to drink.

Then we went to an old sixth century monastic site called Clonmacnoise which later became a burial ground. This was just one example of Irish endurance. The monks who settled here had to face much hardship. Clonmacnoise is positioned right along the Shannon River. It was an excellent settlement position in that it was right along the main train route in Ireland at the time, but living conditions were intensely windy, cold, and I bet – often rainy. They survived numerous invasions until the place became ransacked entirely. The beautiful stone-carved crosses survived inside the Clonmacnoise museum. Along with the stone crosses, you can find interesting facts about how the monks survived – ways that felt surprisingly innovative for their time.

Clonmacnoise, 6th century monastic site

While in Galway we explored the downtown area full of locally owned restaurants, adorable shops. We went to one special bookshop in particular, Charlie Bryne’s. There I decided I should start a new tradition – buy at least one book from a local author in every country I travel to in order to immerse myself in another culture through the written word. I ended up purchasing two books written by Irish authors, because I couldn’t help myself. One book I swallowed in three days – Ithaca by Alan McMonagle – a book that will be getting a Book Spotlight review soon!

While staying in Galway, we ventured to the nearby Connemara National Park, and went on a hike that was well worth the uphill climb.

October 9, 2019 – “I love Doolin. It’s the first place we lost GPS signal and [it] felt like we were on a real adventure with real stakes. We went in a recently excavated Doolin Cave that had fossils of sponges and worms outlined in limestone. Life preserved in rock…”

Stalactite over 7 meters long

“I love the countryside – as tacky as that sounds – of course an American would say that until he/she got bored and moved onto something else. But I really loved it. Being here eliminates my anxiety, depression. I feel like I could be content with this kind of disconnection. It isn’t a true disconnection, [it’s like feeling] connected to a culture [in the bacterial sense? I like to think I mean in the bacterial sense]. I’m surrounded by life here – the green pastures, the mossy trees, the swampy bog – all teeming with life, all connected…”

“Tree of Life” a Celtic symbol representing the interconnection of all things

October 10, 2019 – “From Galway we traveled to Limerick – only passed through for a meal. There we received our first negative greeting. Two local girls – one of them looked to be a mother [more likely an older sibling, in retrospect] another just out of school in her school gown (I’ve noticed the girls in the Irish Republic have to wear long skirts [floor length] as part of their schoolwear)… It was interesting hearing their perspectives on Americans from an impersonation. It went like this “Everything is so green here, it’s so boring…” Spot on. Sounds pretty much like the typical, unappreciative American to me. Our second transgression was in Bruff, a small town outside of Limerick. This was a real town – a town not invented primarily for tourists, a town with living, breathing – well perhaps smoking – people who discussed the “fookin game” or the “fookin weather” – a town of Irish people just living their lives and we intruded upon it…”

What did I miss? I was writing the October 10th entry in Killarney, a town essentially designed for tourists – made entirely of shops, lodging, and restaurants – so I had a certain level of resentment for tourist towns at this particular point in time which I think is why I focused on Bruff in that it just felt like a normal town. Back to the transgression in Bruff, we went to this one bar for a quick drink to wind down the evening. The bar we went into first was all men – maybe five. One female bartender. As soon as we entered this bar, you could hear the shift in attention. The men conversed sporadically, but it felt tense. You could tell that they were conscious of three American women, who knew nothing of rugby, were taking up space.

Bruff led us to the Cliffs of Moher which were spectacular. For those with small children, I advise caution. It is very windy, very muddy, and there isn’t much railing – but it’s so worth it. The views were breathtaking, and yes these are the cliffs featured in Harry Potter, Potter fans. Also consider the drive around Dingle peninsula. It feels like something unique to Ireland. The temperature and environment changes, for a second you may be fooled that you are close to the Pacific – until you step outside your car.

From Killarney we went through the Ring of Kerry, a circular road which takes you around through some scenic parts of Ireland. I took on driving for this one, because at this point in time I weirdly fell in love with driving in Ireland. Nothing like tiny roads and the fear of falling into a ditch, a rock wall, or a sheep to make you want to keep driving? I guess that’s how it was for me. It was thrilling, and it was fun. Sharing the road on streets that looked like one-ways where you are only (what feels like) inches away from the oncoming traffic became second nature.

After we had our fun in Killarney we made our way to Cork, the home of the popular Blarney Castle. Endurance. Remember that theme I mentioned? Also remember how I just said how much I loved those narrow, winding, hilly roads? Well, my body – when sitting in the back seat – didn’t. On the way to Blarney, I vomited – like held-my-hands-to-my-face-and-asked-to-suddenly-pull-over spewed onto the rain-coated asphalt in front of my sister and mother as cars passed by honking. I have a very romantic notion of myself as a Tommy from Rugrats but maybe I’m just a Chuckie.

But Blarney was worth the vomit.

You may think the rain would have made Blarney a miserable experience, but it actually made it better. There is something about seeing a medieval castle in the rain that makes it easier to picture the medieval environment in its glory days – because even in its glory days it had to have been gloomy, harsh. The gloom actually made all the views more vibrant, the contrast between the dark sky and the bright green grass looked stunning. We topped off the Blarney experience with the most tourist of touristy things to do which was kissing the Blarney Stone for which you are suspended upside-down as you lean back and kiss a stone. Millions of people have kissed this stone. Cue “ew” noise from all germaphobes reading.

Legend has it that when you do kiss this stone, you obtain the gift of eloquence. When you hear someone use the term “you’re/that’s full of blarney” it means what you think it means – full of flattery, or as I also like to call it – bullshit. If you kiss the Blarney Stone you will become a good bullshiter. Because the world needs more bullshiters!

After Blarney, it felt like a little slice of home when we went for a pint at a place that sells microbrews and pizza. Much like Texas, Ireland has a brewery culture too that is alive and well in Cork. We got nice and toasty there and started telling dark stories from the past…as you do.

Now for the most exciting albeit most embarrassing part of our journey – our time back in Dublin at the Jameson Distillery – a place where we proceeded to enjoy Jameson, lots of Jameson, along with other whiskey cocktails. In our drunken state, we decided to get some grub and meet up with the Literary Pub Crawl guide Frank, the guide who we promised to meet with again at the end of our trip. P.S. the gift of eloquence does not work when you’re drunk. Exhibit A, my conversation with the other tour guide beside Frank:

Me: "I don't know if this is a compliment or an insult..." (Already off to a great start) "But has anybody ever told you that you remind them of Rowan Atkinson. Like from Black Adder."

Tour Guide: *Under his breath* Oh I love Black Adder...

Me: "I love that show. Because you just have that quality-"

Tour Guide: You should stop while you're ahead.
(Because wow among other things wrong with this conversation, Andrea, maybe don't compare an Irish actor to a British one, especially for a show about the history of the British)

Beyond that infraction, we all proceeded to goof off in the background on the pub streets of Dublin as the tour guides finished their current tour. I may have touched Molly Malone’s boobs. Now, before you ask – she is a statue.

Sorry Molly. Call me?

And finally – after our last day of drinking we ended our trip in Ireland on a somber, one might say sobering (Because indeed I was definitely hungover) note. We visited Kilmainham Gaol, a jail infamous for jailing (and death sentencing) revolutionists with a rich history that deserves time to dissect.

Just kidding about it being our last day of drinking, we headed over to the Guiness Factory where we learned how to pour Guiness the proper way; you have to let it rest to get the lovely foam at the top!

You could say this entire adventure started with a pint, and ended with a proper pint. We had an overall experience that was – by all regards – properly Irish. I loved it. I miss it. I’ll most certainly be back.


1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s