My latest adventure was to the beautiful island of Ireland. This was my first time off of Great Britain since returning from Christmas and the travel bug inside me was ready to go. Although I was originally intending on traveling solo, I was joined by my conservation buddy, Emily, and her boyfriend, Liam, who made the trip all the more fun. Both English, neither of them had been to Ireland either so it was a new and exciting experience for all of us.
My ticket from Cardiff to Dublin was only £30 but the catch was needing to leave for the airport at the ungodly hour of 4am. That said, I would gladly wake up at any hour of any day to get to see Ireland again! It was one of the greatest trips of my life.
Emily and I arrived in Dublin at 7:45am where we met up with Liam and traveled to our hostel, Isaacs. This was the only disappointing part of the trip. The hostel was a bit rough around the edges; the wifi didn’t work, the beds were creaky and uncomfortable, and there was a lingering smell of old Chinese food and my grandparents’ cold room. It was fine though for I feel I finally understand the stereotype of a true “backpacker’s hostel.”
We started the day exploring the city on foot. Picking up what was referred to as “a good coffee but not the best” (which was pretty accurate) we walked around Trinity College and the National Museums of Archaeology and Natural History. Here, we got to see a load of dead things from 2400-year-old human Bog Bodies to some local British Columbian taxidermy.
We made our way around Dublin, walking past cathedral after cathedral (but not paying money to enter them) and soaking in the unusual spurt of sunshine. I spotted sign for “the unicorn and the fencing mouse,” which we investigated to discover was a show at Marsh’s Library– Ireland’s oldest public library- which was displaying historic doodles in their book collections (including the fencing mouse).
We ended up getting an unintentional tour of the library where we were shown bullet holes in the walls from the Easter Rising, cages where librarians locked in readers to prevent theft, and the cast of the skull of Johnathan Swift’s lady-friend, Stella. Having just read Gulliver’s Travels- this was especially exciting! The story was that Swift and his lady were buried in the neighboring St. Patrick’s Cathedral which 90 years later flooded and their remains floated to the surface. The skulls became a dinner-time conversation and were brought around to the upper class as a morbid show-and-tell. Oscar Wilde’s father, a doctor, took the skulls to examine them and ended up making casts which now reside at the library.
~fun facts with Sophie~
Making our way back to the beaten track, we did the obligatory Guinness Storehouse Tour. Having Asian-alcohol intolerance, I’m hardly an alcohol drinker- and if I am, it usually isn’t beer. That said, I don’t actually mind Guinness and I went along anyway.
The storehouse was pretty much what I anticipated. A lot of money put into a “well-executed” tourist trap with fake antiques and a lot of brushed brass. The Disney Land of Beer- the Los Vegas version of Europe. I didn’t mind but was perturbed by the giant vat of barely laying near the floor as my pest-management siren went off. It did, however, have spectacular panoramic views of Dublin!
The storehouse may have been touristy, but far from the worst I did. Over the next two days, I embraced my inner Japanese tourist to the fullest, and embarked on a real god-damned tour bus. Although I would have never chosen to take a tour bus if I was by myself, I have to say I had an excellent time on both my trips and got to get out of the cities which I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Yes, I would have preferred to discover the country at my own pace in a less embarrassing manner, but I had neither the time nor the ability to do so.
I often refer to myself as “the UN.” Half Japanese, a bit Icelandic, a bit First Nations, a bit of this… and a bit of that. But I never really connected to my “bit of Irish.” Was it too mainstream? Everyone in North America is a “bit of Irish” aren’t they? Despite never really considering my Irish heritage, I made sure to visit the Medieval city of Kilkenny (you bastards!) where my ancestors hypothetically came to Canada from. Like so many of Ireland’s emigrants, my kin were poor undocumented farmers so I didn’t have a lot to go on. Nonetheless, Kilkenny was adorable and I was able to climb up the round tower at St Canice’s Cathedral and think about family.
We drove to the Monastic site of Glendalough through the Wicklow Mountains. It was rainy but beautiful- you may know them as the locations for Braveheart and P.S. I Love You. We even watched a Shepard demonstrate how his sheepdogs work! Unfortunately, the CD player was stuck on the same 8 Beatles songs and by now my head was about to explode from repetition.
In the evening we went to a pub called the Celt, where I apparently impressed an old Irishman by knowing the lyrics to most of the songs. Thanks to my family’s obsession with the Irish Rovers and morning singalong at Dickens Annex- I was covered for about 80% of them. I cannot tell you how pleased this made me. I wanted to stay and sing all night, but alas I had to get up at five the next morning so we retired back to the creaky leaky hostel.
Back on the tour bus at the crack of dawn, we headed up to Northern Ireland. I met two Asian Canadian girls who are studying abroad at Warwick and we bonded over the UK’s heinous butchering of food. It was quite nice to complain about this to people who understand! Now for politics: I will say here that I was completely ignorant about the still current troubles in the north. Of course, I knew who the IRA were and I love the song “Orange and the Green,” but I had never thought about it as a current problem in the world. I took a trip around the Catholic and Protestant areas of Belfast in a taxi tour and I have to say I was incredibly saddened and disturbed. There were areas that I was advised not to get out of the cab because I wasn’t white. And there were areas where my English companion was advised not to get out because he was loyal to the Crown. If you’re ever in Ireland- this was probably the most moving and important educational experience I have ever had on “vacation” and I cannot recommend it any more.
After Belfast, we drove to the very top of Ireland, passing lots of castles, cattle, and coastline. I somehow lost my friends and ended up exploring Giant’s Causeway on my own. The Causeway is made up of thousands of basalt columns and is absolutely phenomenal. The weather was also perfectly grim and felt very epic.
On our way to our final destination, the clouds disappeared and we had a good hour of gorgeous blue skies. The views from Carrick-a-Rede were again just absolutely asphyxiating.
Juxtaposing the wonderful day of adventure we had, we finished the night at a terrible and overpriced Japanese restaurant in Dublin. My English companions were hilariously complimenting the umami while I just shook my head and dreamed of the days when a roll of sushi actually tasted good and was less than $10. My mood was easily fixed though as we returned to the Celt for another night of merriment.
The next morning, after Liam left to catch an early flight, Emily and I went on a final stomp around Dublin. We ended up at Glasnevin Cemetery, “the final resting place of 1.5 million souls.” Wandering aimlessly amongst the tree lined graves, an authoritative man in fluorescent green approached us and asked what we were doing. I responded that we were casually looking around and he offered to give us a tour. After some ramblings, we came to know him as Martin- an amateur enthusiast of Glasnevin. He took us to important and interesting graves to show us their quirks and tell us their history.
We were with him for nearly an hour and learned so much! For instance- that watch towers were introduced to stop grave robbers from taking fresh bodies to sell to anatomy students and that all graves point East except those of the clergy. We also learned to analyze grave images- like the photo below, which depicts a wife giving up the drink. He even showed us a crypt which had obviously been sealed over because it contained the bodies of a hated family in Dublin and the cemetery didn’t want people visiting.
We said goodbye to Martin and continued our walk around Dublin. We picked up a Shamrock Shake from McDonald’s (which was surprisingly minty) and then had the traditional Irish meal of pho (it was actually quite palatable!). On our way, we found a bench which had been consumed by a tree- love it!
We ended our stomp at Trinity College Library where we viewed the Book of Kells. It was an interesting exhibition but I was mostly there for a glimpse of the famous Library. I have been staring lovingly at the photo below on the internet for years and I was eccstatic to see it in real life. I have to say it was just as grand and beautiful as I had hoped! Imagine studying in there… what motivation!
Saying goodbye to Ireland was surprisingly sad. I have traveled more this year than I probably will for the rest of my life, but Ireland was special. In a way, it felt like home. When my mom and I go to Portland, I definitely get whiffs of Vancouver. But this is different. Ireland is not at all like Vancouver- it is not at all “hipster” or anything like that… but in a strange way it feels comfortable. The stews and music of my childhood warmed my ever homesick heart. But I know I’ll be back.
It’s not goodbye but a “see you later.”
How do you say Auf Wiedersehen in Gaelic?