I flitted from souvenir shop to souvenir shop scanning the magnet boards, skipping over leprechauns, shamrocks, and pots of gold under vibrant rainbows. None of them illustrated anything even close to the spirit of a country that I had grown to love so dearly in the short span of four days. I don't take my travel magnet purchases lightly. They must draw me in (oh my, what a pun). What experiences from my weekend trip to Dublin could possibly have made me so finicky about a magnet?
A Paddywagon Tour to the Cliffs of Moher
Yes this is a "tourist thing," but there's a reason they are an award-winning tour company. Get thee behind me, hipster, and book a tour with them. On our way to the Cliffs, we made a stop at Dunguaire Castle, then grabbed some hearty Irish stew in Doolin, the cutest little Irish town. Throughout the journey, our driver regaled us with Irish history and pointed out all the important landmarks. He was even kind enough to let me sit in the jump seat of the bus and pepper him with tons of history questions. #NerdAlert
The landscape of Western Ireland is extremely deceptive. It looks lush and green, yet immediately below the surface lies only rocks. These rocks were used to build walls during the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-1800s. The walls themselves served no real, functional purpose; they were built by the starving Irish people to make a little bit of money. Around one million Irish people died in the famine. Back in the USA, this tragic time is limited to a couple paragraphs in our history books, and this absolutely shatters me.
Seeing the Cliffs of Moher was an other-worldly, spiritual, out-of-body experience. I have never felt so grounded in the earth yet closer to God than in this place. It's wild and untamed, and it awakened something deep inside of me. Even now, I sometimes feel homesick for the forty beautiful minutes I spent standing on the cliffs in the sideways rain and gale-force winds. I have never felt more alive.
The Most Precious AirBnB
Exhausted and cold from our journey, Emma and I grabbed some fish and chips to-go and headed back to Sean and Marcin's place. When we arrived, they were in the living room with several friends, and we spent the evening talking and laughing with them by the fire. The spirit of openness and warmth from people in every country is by far my favorite part of traveling abroad. Also, I'm incapable of giving my whole heart to anyone else because their little sugarmuffin of a beagle, Poncho, has it.
*I was 30 years old when I learned that the word gaol is pronounced jail. I've been thinking it was GAY-ol for 30 years. May my mistakes be your lighthouse, dear reader.
In terms of gaining independence from Britain, Ireland had it so much worse than the USA. In short, seven men sparked the Easter Rising by signing the Proclamation of 1916 declaring Ireland's independence from England. The British quickly suppressed the rebellion and the seven signers, along with many of the leaders of the uprising, were held and subsequently executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol. One of the signers, Joseph Plunkett wrote letters to his sweetheart, Grace Gifford, during his captivity. His imminent execution made him bold, and my inner romantic sighed wistfully while reading his letters to her in the displays. They were married in the jail's chapel at midnight on the day of his execution. History is filled with reminders of how much evil humanity is capable of. The stories told throughout the tour of those who doggedly pursued freedom touched me deeply.
While wandering the grounds of Dublin castle before meeting up with a city tour, I saw a sign that said visitors were admitted until 5:15 pm. It was 5:13 pm, so I quickly snagged my 6€ ticket (thank you, Spain, for giving me a student ID card), and marched inside. The castle was beautiful, even though I had to constantly stay ahead of the security guard who was rapidly shutting the castle down for the night. He actually turned the light off on me in one of the rooms, and I had to feel my way along the wall to get out. Can one really complain about almost being locked in a castle, though? The upside of arriving at the last minute was that I got to experience the place all by myself. There were Christmas trees in every room with the Nutcracker Suite playing softly in the background. I may have danced like a ballerina in the throne room because everyone says you need to dance like no one is watching, and sometimes, no one is watching- except Irish Paul Blart, the punctual castle cop.
In 1979, Pete St. John wrote this hauntingly beautiful song. It details the struggles of the Irish people during the potato famine. Because they were starving, many had to resort to stealing food. The British officials punished this offense by putting the "criminals" on prison ships to Australia, never to see their families or their beloved Ireland again. The song has become an unofficial anthem of the Irish people and one of the most popular songs for the Celtic Football Club. In the Euro 2012 match between Ireland and Spain, Ireland was down by 4 goals with two minutes left in the match. Suddenly, you can clearly hear the Irish fans passionately singing "The Fields of Athenry."
I didn't cry in The Notebook, but I won't lie to you, this brought tears to my eyes. It is so intrinsically Irish. There's a deep-rooted, rock-hard stubbornness, a will to survive, no matter the cost, that has been passed down from generation to generation. How does one find a magnet that depicts this spirit? What a beautiful soul this country has: Keep going. It doesn't matter if the odds are stacked against you. Never lose hope.