Éirinn go Brách — “Ireland Forever”
Falling in love with Ireland was all too easy for us. This had something to do with the endless green spaces, the scattered stones of ancient ruins, and the rugged coastal landscapes seen through – but mostly, it had to do with melodies in rustic pubs, and pints amidst roaring laughter, and beautiful people who shared their lives so freely with us.
When we first arrived in Dublin, two of those people welcomed us into their home with open arms. While a friend of ours had put us in touch with this couple back in Canada, we were nearly perfect strangers to Elle and Greg before our arrival – and yet from the minute we stepped into their apartment, we were treated like the very best of friends. The wholehearted hospitality with which Greg and Ellie spoiled us was unexpected and entirely refreshing, and I must say that theirs is the kind of friendship worth crossing continents for.
While Dublin may not boast as breathtaking a cityscape as Edinburgh, there is something comfortable in the way the stocky stone streets are crammed with old pubs and small cafes to span either side of the river Liffey. Of course, a visit to the Guinness Storehouse was quickly set in motion. Personally finding the massive factory to be somewhat of a blight from the outside, our tour through the dynamic seven-story interior demonstrated why the Storehouse is such a staple experience. I especially enjoyed the Guinness tasting, though not for the reason you would expect. Just before being given a small cup of the brew to taste, we were lead through a white room with four columns emitting four distinct scents of malt, beer, hops, and roast barley in overflowing streams of white vapor – the smell alone was delicious enough for me!
Still, my favorite part of Dublin was the 1,760-acre Phoenix Park, the largest city park in all of Europe. Therein lies the Dublin Zoo, where we spent a sunny afternoon admiring the cohabiting animals in their fenceless island enclosures. We gushed over baby elephants and witnessed a rare vocal dispute between the chimpanzees when one refused to apologize to another for some misdeed. Our walk back through the entire length of the park to the apartment was marred only by a smattering of rain that proved too much for our cheap umbrella, which ultimately resulted in it’s very literal (and hilarious) undoing. With the return of sunshine, we were able to finish our stroll at a leisurely pace. Feeling surrounded by green, the expansive park held notes of familiarity for me, the seamlessness of the trees a crisp outline against a clear blue sky.
While the arrival of the weekend meant the departure of our hosts on vacation, we were again blessed by Elle and Greg’s generosity when they insisted we stay on at their apartment in Castleknock for a few more days before heading to our next workaway. (Thank you, Ellie and Greg! You’re both traveler’s angels!). Monday found us aboard yet another train, this time bound for County Kildare. There we met Robert, one of our Workaway hosts, and proceeded onward to our destination: Griesemount House, located in the historic Quaker village of Ballitore. Greeted by three furry friends named Zola, Kory, and Minnie, we were given a tour of the beautiful property before settling in for a relaxed meal together. In the backyard we were met with a rather picturesque view of a crumbling Quaker mill (the religion, not the oats; though it may have milled grains at one time!) nestled along the river. This became a favorite spot of ours during our stay.
Being that there were plenty of projects for Tyson and I to tackle, we happily kept busy on our working days. We dabbled in everything from tree felling, wood splitting, weeding and strimming, to hoovering, bedmaking and cooking for the BnB’s – there was even fence reparation and the rebuilding of a stone wall to be done. Needless to say, we were never bored! There was, however, an incident involving a very cheeky bird with impeccable aim, who managed to land a direct hit upon Tyson’s noggin. Not only that, but I was then chosen to wash said surprise out from his hair – lucky me, right? I will die a happy woman if I never see a bird’s semi-digested diet in such detail again.
A definite highlight from our first week at Griesemount was hearing traditional Irish music played live at a small pub in Athy. Crowding into an even smaller room and sitting nearly shoulder to shoulder with the musicians themselves, we were treated to some of the most delightful sounds. With a medley of instruments abounding, the room was filled with the kind of music that just makes you happy, plain and simple.
After a week of working with Robert, playing with the dogs, enjoying the warm(er) weather and socializing with a party of BnB guests, Carolyn, our second host, returned home from France. Carolyn is a spunky lady with a zest about her that makes her easy to love. Being one for adventure herself – and being that she was impressed with all the work we’d accomplished – Carolyn whipped up a plan to take us sightseeing through Ireland the following week. Before the weekend was over, however, our hosts first entrusted us with the overnight care of no less than eight BnB guests at the house while they went to a friend’s birthday in Dublin. After serving a full Irish breakfast for all of the guests from eight o’clock until noon, I think it’s safe to say that Tyson and I have perfected the art of an Irish fry. More importantly, the guests seemed to think so, too!
Following a rather late start for four of the guests – a rambunctious group of lads who’d attended a wedding and were obviously good friends – we were invited into the village for an afternoon pint with them. Spending time in their company turned out to be an absolute hoot, joking around good-naturedly as we all played a distinctly terrible round of darts together. I don’t think either of us enjoyed a pint of Guinness as much as we did then, as it reminded us of good times spent with our own group of friends. Once the guys had departed for their next event, Tyson and I returned to Griesemount to enjoy a nap in the sunshine after a satisfying day of work and play.
Having managed to keep the household in one piece, on Monday Carolyn treated us to a tour through the Wicklow Mountains. After a quick peek of Russborough House, we drove to the stunning Lough Tay (where Tyson was ecstatic to find a film set for a television series called “Vikings” upon its shores) and onward to Glendalough in order to hike nine kilometers of incredible hillside around the valley. In full appreciation of Ireland’s beauty for nigh on five hours, this hike unsurprisingly proved to be another experience we would add to our collection of favorites.
The next day Carolyn took us away from the beaten path in a different sense, exploring the ruins of an old fortress at the Rock of Dunamase before touring an immaculate estate called Emo Court. Though photography was not allowed within Emo, it was a treat to listen to the estate’s history and view the ornately symmetrical rooms. I especially liked the drawing room, boldly painted in a shade of bright green that my mother would adore to match the lawn outside. Afterward, we made our way to Mountmellick where Carolyn’s daughter Lexi lives and spent a wonderful evening with her family, again thankful to have crossed paths with such lovely people.
Then came our adventure out west! Piling into the car in the wee hours of the morning, we drove to the Cliffs of Moher and saw absolutely nothing. Seriously. The mist was so thick that we had no idea we were anywhere near the coast until we had passed the road sign telling us to turn left for the car park! After some concentrated deliberation, we decided to head back inland to see the Burren, hoping that the fog would clear in a few hours before trying the cliffs again. Thankfully, and in spite of the blustery weather, this gave us the chance to admire the otherworldly limestone landscape of the Burren. From afar the rocky hillsides seem to appear nearly mauve in some lights. To truly appreciate the Burren, however, closer inspection is necessary. Walking across the so-called ‘pavements’ gives you the chance to peer down into the deep horizontal rifts and witness the unique geological grooves that have been shaped by the elements. You might even find a host of uncommon flowers, or perhaps a snail or two!
In retrospect, killing time through the Burren actually proved quite productive. County Clare had much of the typical Irish countryside to admire, like the low stone walls outlining field and road alike, or the Connemara ponies grazing amidst flocks of sheep; even the dour weather seemed begrudgingly authentic. Spotting an interesting round castle in the distance, we turned down the lane and found that it was in fact an Arts College, complete with art gallery and cafe. Three delicious bowls of soup and one climb up a round castle later, we continued on through the dreary gloom with optimism about what else we might stumble upon along the way. We did make a few more pit stops – from a quick peek at an iconic megalithic tomb, to examining the small glen of an ancient fairy ring, or laying eyes upon the sands of Fanore beach just to say we had.
Finally, we bit the bullet and took our chances returning to the Cliffs. Though the skies were still brooding, the fog had lifted just enough to view the real majesty of the jagged outcroppings properly. Feeling inundated by the volume of people who were crowded about outside the visitor’s center, we continued walking along the right-hand side of the Cliffs, past the walls and fences and crowds until there remained only a bit of raised earth to deter the three of us from the edge. Although we weren’t entirely deterred from peering down to the sea far below, there was enough vertigo pumping through our veins that we didn’t keep close to the edge for very long! When all was said and done, we returned to Griesemount a tired yet satisfied bunch, thankful to have explored such a breathtaking piece of Ireland. We tied off our day of adventure with a delicious comfort-food meal of chilli con carne, generously prepared for us by Robert the Tobert himself.
The remainder of our time at Griesemount was emphasized by our attempts to put the finishing touches on whatever work projects we could, as well as having the pleasure of meeting another of Carolyn and Robert’s children, Benji. There were ping pong matches in the yard, conversation and laughter over coffee and meals, and last but not least, a late-night campfire in a freshly strimmed corner of the walled garden. Our departure from Ireland was thus a bittersweet one, as we knew we would miss all the wonderful people we’d met – and yet we feel so very lucky to have met them in the first place.
Until next time: sláinte!
From my wandering heart to yours,