Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friends! I’ve always loved this holiday, for many reasons. As a child, I looked forward to it so much because it always signaled the start of warmer weather and sunnier days ahead. And, while digging out all of the green clothes to wear in layers at school and making green goodies in the kitchen with my mom was always a fun time, I became curious early on (I was a rather studious, bookworm of a kiddo), as to what not only St. Patrick’s Day was all about, but what Ireland was like, too.
I remember breaking out the encyclopedia at the age of ten (side note: I spent HOURS as a kid reading encyclopedias and my dusty old set still resides in my room at my parents house) and looking up “St. Patrick’s Day,” which led to “St. Patrick” himself. I spent awhile reading about his life and the legend of him driving the snakes out of Ireland, and learning about the symbol of the shamrock. One curiosity led to the next and in the years that followed, I was regularly reading up on Ireland – about its history, its traditions, its landscape, I especially loved the folklore and Irish blessings – and tracking down any Irish-inspired movies, documentaries, or music that I could get my hands on.
Years later, when I’d traded in my Lisa Frank folders and Nancy Drew mysteries for a laptop and college exams, my love of learning about foreign lands (namely Great Britain and Ireland) only grew stronger. To the point that, halfway through university, I knew I simply couldn’t graduate without studying abroad.
I knew right away that I wanted to spend a year in either England or Ireland, and narrowing down my choice wasn’t easy. I decided on a university in England for several reasons, but am so, SO thankful that, while there, I became friends with a group of people who loved to adventure just as much as I do, and who were totally up for a last-minute, on-a-whim trip to Dublin, Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day.
It was a whirlwind of a two-day trip, but one that stands out among the many that I took while studying abroad because it was so perfect in every way.
I detail the account of the trip over on Have Love, Will Travel, the blog I kept during my time abroad, but I thought I’d recount it here and share some of the moments I captured (I haven’t looked at this photos in ages!)
Though I only got a small taste of Ireland on this short adventure, it was one of the most special trips of my life. I remember thinking over and over, how lucky am I to be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland? And, how excited would my ten-year-old self have been, had she known she’d be walking in the far-off land she’d only read and dreamt about?
One of my greatest goals is to get back to Ireland and experience more of the country one day. In fact, revisiting this memory has moved that goal way, way up the list. Ireland, I will see you again!
Read on for my post from St. Patrick’s Day, 2011 (original post and more study abroad adventures can be found here.)
The Land and the Luck o’ the Irish
March 20, 2011
* – Indicates what I believe to be an example of the Luck of the Irish.
Let me start this post by saying that no amount of blogging will do our visit to Ireland justice! It was absolutely, 100% amazing and has me beyond antsy for my upcoming travels through Europe in just a few short weeks!
Exactly a week ago, I began feeling rather sick, with a sore throat and high temperature. So, I was a little concerned that it would worsen before we left on Tuesday afternoon and put a damper on our adventures in Dublin. However, the symptoms stayed about the same, and fortunately, I think the excitement was medication enough and helped me to ignore them as we boarded the train from Canterbury to London.
The trip started off smoothly enough. We had to grab a tube on the Underground from St. Pancras after our train arrived in London, then from the second stop, board another train that would take us to the airport. Because it was rush hour, the trains were ridiculously packed and difficult to get onto. Well, at least for Leigh Anne and I. Clem jumped into a very squished opening on the second train, and before we were able to run to another coach, we realized the train she’d boarded was not going to the airport anyway. Its doors closed and it sped off with Clem still on it while we frantically waved, yelling that it was the wrong train. Since Clem doesn’t have a cellphone, we contemplated what we should do… she was heading in the wrong direction and we were unsure of whether or not she knew it. We decided the best plan of action was to stay put until she found her way back before getting on the right train to the airport. A complete sense of relief washed over me when we heard her voice yelling to us and saw her running from the crosswalk back to us. After a few minutes, we were able to catch the right train altogether and arrive at the airport just in time to catch our flight*.
Once we arrived in Dublin, around nine in the evening, we exchanged our pounds for euros and made our way onto a cheap bus to head into the city centre. We had no idea where we were going, and the bus didn’t announce the stops, so we hopped off at one that “just looked right” and luckily it was*.
Clem has a couple of friends from France who are studying at Trinity College in Dublin for the year, and Diane (pronounced Dee-anne in French) was kind enough to let us stay at her flat, since all of the hotels and hostels in town were booked for the week*.
We met with her in the center of Dublin, having seen only a bit of the city, and walked back to her flat, which was absolutely adorable. She shares it with another girl and a guy, and they have the wonderful luxury of having a living room. Oh, how I miss having a living room! That is where we made our beds (she provided us with an air mattress and a smaller, single-sized mattress.) She had also made a batch of scrumptious muffins, which we gladly ate while talking a bit before going to sleep, dreaming of the adventures that would greet us upon waking.
In the morning, we decided that we would first visit Howth (rhymes with “both”) – a seaside port city just a short bus ride from Dublin, before touring Dublin itself later in the afternoon. Best decision ever. We took in the sights we passed on the ride to Howth – gorgeous, wealthy Irish homes on the seafront being our favorite.
When we arrived in Howth, the sun shone brighter than it has in ages* and we hardly knew what to do with ourselves! We had a blast taking photos of the lighthouse and an island (called the “Eye of Ireland”) just a little way off the coast.
There were seals, there were seagulls, there were colorful boats, and we were in awe. As we walked along the pier toward the lighthouse, the first human interaction we had involved passing an elderly Irishman walking his dog who, no lie, tipped his hat and greeted us with, “Top ‘o the mornin’ to you.” Leigh Anne and I looked at each other, wide-eyed, with those kinds of smiles you can’t wipe off of your face no matter how hard you try.
From there, we walked around the little strip of town that exists in Howth, and picked up some food so that we could have a picnic on a bench overlooking town and the water.
We still insist that we got a little color in our faces from sitting in the sun*, and the Vitamin D gave us some unexpected energy that caused us to regress a bit back to our childhood and take advantage of the playground before leaving.
Upon returning to Dublin, we made a pit stop to purchase some St. Patrick’s Day memorabilia and then we met up with David (Dah-veed), Clem’s other French friend, who is also studying at Trinity College (which, might I add, is the most gorgeous campus I have seen to-date.)
Our first stop was the library at Trinity. We were able to glance at the Book of Kells before heading up to the main attraction: the most stunning, authentic, beautiful library I have ever seen, and will ever see*. Unfortunately, pictures weren’t allowed. We also learned that a few scenes of Harry Potter were shot in the library… I could have spent an entire day just walking through it!
We walked around Trinity’s campus a little while longer before taking off on a fast-paced tour of Dublin. With only two days and so much to see, we were literally jogging behind David while he pointed out the main attractions and gave us a bit of history on each area, snapping photos and “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” as we rushed by.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church were lovely and we saw them just as the sun was lowering in the sky, so the orange glow made it even more fantastic to take in*. We found it amusing that the cathedrals’ informational signs were sponsored by Bailey’s, but weren’t surprised.
We also had to laugh as David insisted we see Dublin’s castle, which is really only considered a castle because of the medieval tower that sticks out of the top, but it did look quite lovely and magical with the moon rising behind it!
We made a pit stop at David’s place (also a very neat apartment) before heading to Temple Bar, a part of town full of artsy, folksy, musical people and popped in and out of a few pubs, feeling fortunate to be hearing real Irish music played by real Irish people in real Irish pubs* so close to St. Patrick’s Day!
Clem took part in the Irish jig and we loved the fact that as people walked in the door, they were immediately grabbed and spun around, kicking up their heels and laughing, before making their way to the bar to order a drink.
Then we headed off to a house party, hosted by more French students (strange how the majority of people we met in Ireland were French!) and I spent a good deal of time talking to a Belgian guy who gave me lots of advice on travel, as he’s been to all of the places I plan to visit*, and a French guy who kept speaking to me in French until I began speaking to him only in Spanish, so we called it a truce, while sipping on Bailey’s and red wine.
We listened to some great, and some not so great music, and got our Irish flag face paint on before heading out on the town to visit a few more pubs – the one we stayed at the longest was a five-story building with different music and themes on each floor. Leigh Anne and I preferred the first floor, where there was live acoustic music. For those of you who are P.S., I Love You fans, I can confirm that “Galway Girl” is by far the most popular pub song in Ireland!
After getting a good amount of sleep that night, we woke up on Thursday morning and got ready for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. We were all in love with our pre-planned, very green outfits and a little upset that we were going to have to cover them with bulky, very non-green coats, but when we stepped out of the door, it was warm enough that we were able to head back in, toss our coats on the couch, and head off to the center of town without them*!
It took awhile for the parade to begin, but we were having lots of fun watching all of the people, news cameras, and kids hanging out of their apartment windows and balconies, whistling and hollering. In the next day’s paper, it was reported that over half of a million people crowded in the streets for the parade, and we were a part of that number*!
The parade was better than any I’ve ever seen, not surprisingly. The theme every year is to tell the story of Ireland, so every few minutes a big banner stating which “chapter” is coming next goes by.
It was full of quirky floats and costumes and my favorite bit was the parade participants’ interactions with the crowd. We gradually squeezed into the front row*, where it became even more impressive to take in.
After the parade, we were getting a little chilly and decided to go back to Diane’s for lunch and for our coats. My only desire before heading out for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations later in the night was to visit Merrion Square, where a statue of one of my favorite authors, Dublin-born Oscar Wilde, had been waiting for a visit from me. =)
Diane took us through a few parts of Dublin that we had not yet seen before getting us into the square, which was full of green grass and spring flowers.
A security guard informed us that the square would be closing in five minutes, which gave us just enough time to hunt down the statue and snap a few photos*. Had we gotten there just five minutes later, I wouldn’t have had another chance to visit it!
Immediately after Merrion Square, we pushed our way through masses of people into a pub where, amazingly, we were able to find a few stools to sit on* and drink our Guinness. And by we, I mean all of the French and myself. Leigh Anne did attempt one, albeit through a straw, but gave it away to an Irishman who, in turn, bought her a tequila shot instead.
We chatted with a few Irish guys while there, and I received even more travel advice. We then headed to McDonalds for a restroom break and for a few people to fuel up with food before going to the next few pubs. I’m not really sure how many we visited, but they were all unique and fun in their own way.
My personal favorite? Chaplin’s. When we walked in, there was a guy playing acoustic guitar and a few songs in, stated that he’d gotten a request from some American girls for an American song. Jokingly, I turned to Leigh Anne and said, “If he plays Tom Petty, I’m never leaving Ireland.” So, he says he is going to play a John Mayer song, which was all good and well, but then said, “Although, the song credit goes to Tom Petty.” *** I screamed, I jumped up and down, and then, as hard as I tried not to, I let a few tears slip when he broke into “Free Fallin’.” I have yet to meet an English person who has heard of Tom Petty, and here, an Irish guy played him without my even requesting it! Of course, I thanked him afterwards, and before we left, he made a point to play another one, “I Won’t Back Down.”
We visited one more pub after Chaplin’s, and I met an Irish guy wearing a Notre Dame hat – which surprisingly, I saw a lot of there. We also ran into a few guys who we chatted to for about the last hour of our night out, who were hilarious, and had wonderful taste in music and literature.
We decided that since we only had about three hours before we had to head to the airport (we got a cab around 4:30 a.m.) that we should get a bit of shuteye, and walked, with an uncontrollable case of the giggles, back to Diane’s.
Thanking her for her hospitality, we said goodnight and goodbye to her, then slept for about two hours before leaving for the city centre in the dark, early morning hours. We were surprised that we weren’t the only visitors who had decided to head out early. Loads of people lined the streets waiting for buses and cabs, still decked out in their green attire, green hair, and green body paint. I was quite sad flying out of Dublin, watching the pinkish purple sunrise on the coast as we flew away, entering the grey skies of England. We dozed off and on during the flight and train rides that brought us home to Canterbury, where we were greeted with pouring rain.
Within thirty seconds of entering my flat, I hopped into the shower and laid down for a few moments, reflecting on the fact that I had just experienced such an amazing journey.
In one moment, while we were sitting on the bench in Howth, taking in the sun and the happiness, Leigh Anne stared into the water and then looked at Clem and I and said, “We have to be the luckiest people in the world.” I think that sentence sums up our trip perfectly.
I hope this finds you surrounded by luck of the greatest kind!
“May the Irish hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.”
Bonus! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve earned a little extra… here’s a video I put together shortly after our trip that captures some of the sights and sounds we experienced. Forgive the poor quality, I was using an outdated point-and-shoot camera while under the influence for most of the clips. Ha!