(This is continued from my previous entry “Truly Seeing the Emerald of It All.” And, if you don’t feel like reading all of this – stay tuned for a movie I made of our trip instead. It’s only 9 minutes long! – movie is finished and you can click here to view it.)
The beginning of the trip was still so much fun, but by the end I was awake, aware and in love with the earth around me. Perhaps it was the wild west of Ireland clutching my heart strings or maybe it was the weight of my world releasing into the lakes below me as the time passed. Either way, nature has incredible effects on the soul. As does a good pint of Guinness (or Murphy’s if you’re in Cork).
After our other traveling couple left back to London, Jock and I stayed with his friends Deirdre and Paul in Cork. They have three adorable Irish children all between the ages of 2 and 6. They truly lived up to reputation of Irish hospitality with a full homemade dinner, some poteen to put some hair on our backs and just a good craic overall.
One thing I found fascinating was how Paul knew what area of Ireland the name Breckenridge (my grandmother’s maiden name) came from just from hearing it said. He knew we would be protestant and Northern Irish. So incredible to me that a name can put an exact location to ye – Jock seems to have understood this quite quickly, whereas to an American, it seems so bizarre. The history that we learned along the way is another entry entirely. However, one of the big reasons we stayed away from Northern Ireland was because I would have no problem, but Jock may still get some slack for being English. We vow to go back though.
Original-gangster Baltimore was stormy, tiny and astonishing, and the mussels melted in my mouth (it even felt like Baltimore, Maryland when a busload of Americans came in the cafe we were eating in – speaking loudly, asking in a big way for Irish coffees, and generally taking over. More on Americans on the trip later).
The Ring of Kerry was stunning at every turn. A full day of mountains, herds of cows in road, blustery beaches and incredible rock formations. Plus, we had four days of living hotel free when Deirdre so kindly and generously offered us their two-bedroom holiday home in Kenmare to base ourselves. Soo nice to have a house to come home to!
Killarney National Park couldn’t have been more captivating to drive around – waterfalls, mysterious abandoned 500-year old buildings, gorgeous old one-way bridges, flooded castles, and lake and mountain views that Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting exclaimed at.
Dingle Peninsula was raw and wild. The colors leapt out at you, and Jock and I were blessed with the rain stopping each time we had a view to see. Literally. Thank you Mother Nature.
Dingle, the town, had this pub called Dickie Mack’s where the owner, Oliver, is fifth generation owner. To the left, as you walk in, are old shoe boxes and shoes from where his grandfather ran the shoe repair shop. To the right, is the bar where Oliver wears his big ole hat, drunkenly delivers you a pint of Guinness and offers his anecdotes with a wild-eyed Irish flourish. He offered us the room next to the bar to sip our Guinness where he had just lit a warm fire. Truly magical – even the guy from Philly sat at the bar giving us advice on where to go didn’t really bother me.
The Cliffs of Moher were spellbinding. I’m not just reading this from a tour book either. When Jock showed me a postcard of the Cliffs of Moher, I said, slightly jokingly and a bit harshly, “Oh, that looks boring.” And, to be fair, the postcard did make them look slightly boring. Oh wow – a cliff (I personally think we took some better pictures than any postcard we saw – still, it does them no justice).
I didn’t want to leave from that cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The wind was so forceful at times that I would get pushed forward – nature daring me to take the plunge or was it just showing its abundant power? The waterfalls tried to live up to their name and fall but, instead, leapt upward into our faces as we passed. The edges are so dangerous and are falling at such a rapid speed over the years, that they have to considerably cut back on where they let people climb. After all, it is a naturally eroding cliff. We couldn’t help but peer over once or twice.
I have this constant dream of me standing on a cliff with my arms wide open, overlooking the ocean. I felt I was there at that moment.
And then, we walked into the cafe and bookstore, and I fell sharply into focus and back into the modern world. I was constantly finding myself jerked back into harsh capitalism just after a magnificent natural wonder. I wanted to hold onto those moments of standing on cliffs and edges of waterfalls. But, maybe that’s what it’s all about – the moment. Realizing how swiftly it can be taken from you and relishing it when you can.
Jock reminded me that even in the Victorian era there were cafes and people trying to make a buck from nature. It’s not exactly a modern phenomenon. And, if I’m to be completely honest, I gobble up the literature in the bookshops and truly enjoy that warm cup of tea.
Being in Ireland in November meant there were very little people around – not like leprechauns, but a few amount. Sometimes driving around, we were the only car on the road for hours. It also meant many exhibitions were closed, but that just gave us more time to enjoy the scenery and pubs.
Galway. We almost didn’t go to Galway. We almost missed my favorite city thus far. It was a long drive and we only had half a day to see it, but it was so worth it.
I don’t know exactly what it was, but the atmosphere of the pubs, the locals playing Irish music outside and the romanticism I’ve picked up over the years from the movies put this place in a corner of my heart. I am such a sap for Irish music and the romantic vision of what Ireland has to offer. We may have met more Americans in Galway than we had met anywhere else (although, they were literally outnumbering the Irish at some points on our trip), but it still felt more authentic somehow.
We met an old couple at the end of the evening Friday night, and I was talking to him about the sheer amount of us over here – he said, “Irish don’t think of us as foreigners, they think of us as one of their own.” I’m not sure if he’s right or not, but the Irish did a hell of a job making us feel like one of them. And, considering there are only 3 million Irish people in Ireland – how is it that 40 million of us Americans have Irish in us?
Ok, quick note on Americans. Every time I saw one or heard one – I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and shudder at their loud mouthed ways and absurd clothing – hoping I’m not pigeon holed as the stereotype I saw everywhere I went. On the other hand, every time I spoke to an American, I felt comforted and at ease. After all, these are my people – love it or hate it, and they are what I know, and love. Yes, love.
Our last stop was Blarney Castle. I have to admit, it was the most alluring castle we saw. Up the narrow winding steps. I didn’t know you had to bend backwards in order to kiss the stone. You feel like you’ve earned your right to kiss this magical stone by the time you get up the stairs. None of the castle is protected from the elements. The wind blows right through all the layers. The poor men who work there to help you kiss it. Imagine, your only job is to make sure tourists don’t topple off a castle when in the midst of kissing a stone in the hopes that it will give them the gift of eloquence. Only in Ireland.