My good college friend, Nicole, met this wonderful man, Shane, from Ireland about 7 years ago. They live in Boston together and finally decided to tie the knot. Since he has 6 brothers and sisters, and she's an only child, the only logical thing to do was to have the ceremony in Ireland. I'm in Nicole!
I wasn't expecting to get emotionally attached to a country that I would be in for only 9 days, but it happened. Ireland is a country full of literary masters, beautiful countryside, fun-loving people and good whiskey...what's not to love?!
I flew in early July 20 and found my hostel rather easily. It was a nice place full of young traveling folk. I locked up my luggage and walked to the nearest park to take a nap. Now, I have to admit, I've never minded traveling solo; in fact, I've often embraced it, but I'm at a different stage in my life that I've been transitioning into for a few years now and I think I finally understand the new experienced me (is that an oxymoron?). I've put myself in these traveling positions many times and I now feel confident and competent in myself and my own capabilities. I very much know who I am and how I do in foreign places with foreign people: I do fine. Now, I want someone to share it with. I don't want to be alone when I travel anymore; I've done that enough. I was excited to know that the next day I would be meeting up with Nicole and other guests of the wedding to share memories with them.
We met at a pub to watch the football match. Now, I was assuming that would be rugby or soccer, but it was a strange game that mixed together rugby, soccer and basketball, and that's about as well as I can explain it. But Nicole and Shane's friends were lovely and we all started to get to know each other.
Monday night I was able to get out of my hostel and go to the other extreme: the Shelbourne at Dublin. Sara, Nicole's friend, had Mariot points and got the room at an incredible rate. It's one of the nicest hotels in Dublin. I mean, men in top hats taking my luggage at the door as we passed by a grand staircase and chandelier. Everyone was so friendly and were not allowed to be annoyed at us! We had an upgraded suite with fluffy down beds and scented toilet paper. Yes, scented toilet paper. And Sara was an amazing roommate: we clicked instantly!
In Dublin, we checked out the sights: old churches, Viking ruins, the Guinness brewery, the oldest pub in Dublin, Trinity College, Temple Bar (the drinking area) and the shopping district. I started to understand the history of Ireland. There are about 4 million people residing on the island, but the unemployment rate is 26%! About 100,000 people emigrate every year out of Ireland to work, which is why all of us in some way are Irish and there is an Irish pub in every town. And the English have really been terrible to the Irish! Even until recently. But I am so impressed by the good humour of the Irish people. Honestly, they never get stressed! And we put them in some stressful situations! And everything is "no bother" or "a good craik" (meaning a good time). Someone may say, "Come over for some tea and craik." To which you say, "Yes."
The Lego Castle
James Joyce's statue
On Tuesday, we all took a privately rented bus to Donegal, up north, where Shane is from. I was staying in a chalet with 7 other people, and we had a helluva time finding it. We had that bus going up tiny roads while we knocked on people's doors trying to find the chalet that we were assured would be no problem finding. (And the driver never was stressed). We threw money at him for the trouble, which he did not want to accept. That's what we do in America though, tip people for their trouble, a foreign concept in Ireland.
Anyway, the chalet was amazing, and new! It had a wonderful view of the bay, and we quickly got to making a family dinner. We played an awesome game that a friend of mine in Portland invented (Blurble) and started the bonding.
Wednesday, we all took a bus into Northern Ireland. There was no actual border, but you knew where you were based on the British flags flying from every house, flags which the rest of Ireland "wipes our arses with." There has been conflict in the past, but Northern Ireland is actually half Catholic. It was strange to see the British culture (red phone booths and all) in part of Ireland.
Anyway, we went there to take a tour of Bushmills whiskey distillery. Our sample at the end was worth the tour! Well, and so was the tour, which was very educational. Makes you appreciate a drink that's been stored in a barrel for 12 years and is half evaporated by the time it reaches the correct maturation date.
Anyway, I started talking to these 2 harmless older men, who were a good craik. Paddy and Michael wouldn't stop talking! Paddy was drinking tea and reciting narrative poems while Michael couldn't stop talking about how he wanted to go to Mississippi. They were good fun and Paddy (the one in the middle) invited me to breakfast on Saturday...I told him I'd try to make it.
We were expected to lose a ton of balls in the tall grass that surrounded everything, but we actually did alright. Some of the holes lined up next to the beach and were breathtaking. It really was an honor to play that course, and it only rained on 4 holes. You would either get a lucky bounce or a terrible bounce, depending on your karma. I hit the best drive of my day and couldn't find it...guess I need to do more community service.
Later in the evening we had a buffet dinner before the wedding day near the golf course. Then, the party returned to our chalet. Shane's dad called the local grocery store (2 towns over) and said, "We need drink." They delivered 75 beers and 6 bottles of wine. Good service around here!
Friday, the wedding day! We took a bus up to the old Catholic church where Shane's parents were married. It was beautiful. It had rained earlier in the day, but now the sun was out (it's been a strange summer for the Irish). It was a Catholic wedding and Nicole asked me to do the 2nd reading. The priest called my name and the first reader to come up. She read and then I started toward the podium when a song started playing. I had to wait in front of the church until the end of the song, which I wasn't expecting! But it calmed my nerves and was a nice perspective. Shane and Nicole looked so happy together and were overjoyed to have so many people they care about at the service, and with them for the whole week. They really extended the celebration by having us all be together in Ireland, sharing in more memories than just the wedding.
They had a band AND a DJ. The band was quite good, but the Irish didn't really start dancing until the DJ came on, as by then they had had enough whiskey. It's typical for an Irish wedding to go well into the morning, and ours did. And the Austrians wore their traditional attire and organized a hilarious drinking game that included a coachman and carriage. Then they served "supper" (sandwiches, etc) to soak up the whiskey. It was an incredibly fun wedding and I returned home as the sun rose.
Saturday, I met Paddy. He was there waiting in his car. Now, I thought we were going to just eat there in town, but he wanted to take me to another place, so off we went. We had breakfast, then he wanted to take me to a bookstore. Ok. He bought me a book of Irish quotes and told me that it was my day. He was a very sweet and endearing man, and we enjoyed each other's company. I thought of him as a kindly grandfather, and it was as simple as that. He had never married, and worked in the states for a long time. He knew everyone in town, including Shane's family, and we even ran into his sister on the street. We visited a cathedral and another bookstore where I returned the favor and bought him Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. He took me the back way to return home and we came upon an incredible view of the hills and bay, with sheep in the foreground. It was truly lovely to spend time with someone from the area and truly connect with the country and culture. I didn't expect that to happen in such a short trip, but there are incredible people populated throughout this grand world, and if we're lucky, we'll have the chance to really get to know a few.
I got back just in time to catch the bus to the singing pub with everyone else. They were worried that I would be the next case on "Dateline Ireland," but everything turned out fine.
The singing pub was a beautiful little pub with a hill behind it that we decided to climb to take in the views, which were completely worth it. Shane's dad took us on a coastal tour and when we got back there was a rainbow in the sky. I never heard anyone mention leprechauns in the country- they were only on tourist things. It's amazing how an image of another country can be exploited globally and really have no meaning in the country itself. Anyway, when we got home, we realized we were covered in ticks!!!! So if you tramp around in the tall grasses of Ireland, don't mind the leprechauns; beware of the ticks.
The bus dropped a load off at the airport, but Sara and I continued on into the city. We had one more night's stay at the immaculate Shelbourne Hotel...wahoo!
It was raining quite a bit that day, but we managed to shop around and I ran into our tour guide from the week before. I guess I can consider 'meself' Irish now. We went for a swim at the hotel and just took it easy and it was one of the most relaxing times of my life. I felt so spoiled being in such a luxurious hotel in such a grand city. And all I wanted to do was enjoy my time there with Sara. We had time to go cram in a viewing of the Book of Kells or visit the museum, but instead we just talked about life experiences in a café and gained new perspective, which is what traveling, and life, is all about: the people, not the place. I've been on a journey to try and flip those items into that order, and I feel it has happened now. I am comfortable and conscious of my identity; now it is about intimacy. I'm excited for that new journey ahead and to become even closer to the people I love and care for.
Thanks Ireland, you were a beautiful experience.