“I’m Baack”... On Sept. 5, I had the privilege of traveling to Ireland for nine days. They were days filled with amazing experiences, some of which I will share in my next few columns. This trip was indeed the icing on my cake, which has been every kind of cake as you may well know…. sponge, decadent, fruit and stale. I’ve long been drawn to the Celtic ancestry on my mother’s side so when this trip became a reality I was thrilled to be going.
I was one in a group of fifteen, organized by a friend, Mary Batinich of Lake Vermilion. Julie, a co-worker from Soudan’s Vermilion Park Inn was my travel partner. She and I flew from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh then to Dublin where we joined the rest of the group who had departed the States two weeks earlier and toured Scotland and Wales.
We landed at Dublin airport in the morning under cloud cover and drizzle, then traveled by taxi fifteen kilometers to our hotel in the city center. Our taxi driver, Thomas Kelly (Is that Irish or what?) entertained us with stories and jokes, although just listening to his Irish brogue was a treat in itself. There was much traffic moving on the narrow city streets along the River Liffey. My eyes feasted on the old world charm, thinking about the centuries of characters who had traveled the streets. Royalty, Viking raiders, peasants, hard-working women like sweet Molly Malone (fictitious as she may be) and gifted artists such as Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and the list goes on. Dublin has given much to the world. We passed quaint pubs with names like The Brazen Horse (Dublin’s oldest pub), The Auld Dubliner and Darky Kelly’s. We arrived near the corner of the old, brick Harding Hotel and scrambled out of the taxi. Stepping onto a cobblestone street, I lifted my gaze to see shops covered with carefree vines, colorful flower boxes and wrought iron signage. Across the street, rising up like an old gray giant, was Christ Church Cathedral, built in 1030 by a Viking king. So much to see...to eat and to drink and so little time! We pulled our luggage uphill about sixty yards to the doorway of the hotel and entered into the small inviting reception area. We couldn’t help but notice the foot-wide strip of the oldest medieval street in Dublin, Copper Alley, still passing through the reception area, preserved under heavy glass. I was impressed knowing all the generations of business owners in charge had felt compelled to preserve it.
The brown-eyed front desk clerk told us our room was ready, however the lift (elevator), was out of order so we would need to use the stairs until it was fixed. Weary from travel we bucked up, fortunate that our room was located on the third floor rather than the fifth. The hotel had narrow hallways, doorways built at corner angles were here and there, staircases that branched from other staircases with worn treads, divulging to me it was an extremely old building that had been renovated many times over. I appreciated the lack of “building code” as nothing was level or square but very fine and enriching.
We were to be in Dublin two days before traveling north toward Belfast by tour bus. There was time to shop and explore sites like the Guinness Brewery, Trinity College’s Book of Kells, Dublin Castle and take in an Irish dance show, too. However, of utmost importance, a few hours of my second day were to be spent at Reinkarnated Tattoo just a block away... under the skilled tattoo-gun of Irish artist, Kim Bale! Having had the notion to get a tattoo for a decade plus, Tonka, a bartender in Tower recently had suggested I get it in Ireland. I thought, what a grand idea! I had gone online weeks prior and found an artist and booked my appointment. I’d sent her a design idea with the Celtic triquetra (trinity knot) and black vines with green leaves coming from either side, wrapping around my right ankle.
I was the only one at the shop for most of the 2.5 hours of discomfort that was equal to being continually scratched by a cat or razored. As I lay rotating on the vinyl lounger as she worked, I felt compelled to endure the pain, after all it was nothing like living through the potato famine! When it was all finished I needed to find some cling wrap to put around it for a couple of days. I headed down Lord Edward Street and dashed into a pizza parlor explaining I needed cling wrap. The manager jovially made a spool from two straws stuck end-to-end and spun me some wrap to take…FREE of charge. The generosity of the Irish! I walked back to join my group for rich, dark Guinness and Irish stew with soda bread up at Darky Kelly’s pub. We hung there, in the dim, amber atmosphere listening to a trio of musicians play Celtic ballads and jigs. The blond, wispy-haired female with her rich alto voice and her full sleeved blouse added just the right amount of mystical touch to the evening. We raised our glasses in standard Gaelic toast, “slainte” or good health!
Early the next morning I ventured alone for a walk. I craved alone time, not having to converse but instead just exist in this old city so far away from my home on the hillside of Soudan. The soft orange and light blue morning sky cast lovely shining light upon the brick and stone buildings. A lone bird flew through the open spaces of the awakening street. I sat in a coffee shop and watched the morning unfold through a large glass window, quietly basking in the reality that I was in Ireland. I finished a great cup of coffee even though most others there were having tea, then went off into the morning air to find Dublin Castle.
I had a nice visitor map in my hand and knew the castle was tucked behind the buildings to the east, very nearby. I found it easily...just through a large stone archway. Small in size for a castle, it looked out of place in the city center, I thought. It was built in 1204 and until 1922 was the seat of English, and later British rule in Ireland. The castle started as a medieval fortress and as I looked into the eyes of the gargoyles above the front door I felt so much history breathing from the stone walls. It was amazing to me to be alone with it. I walked all around it studying its ancient characteristics, then wandered across a cobblestone street through the wrought iron gate into the castle garden, admiring the groomed greenery and dewy flowers. I was alone and yet I wasn’t. I passed under vine-covered stone arches, frequently peeking back over my shoulder. After twists and turns upon brick pathways, I exited the garden through another gate. I stood there a bit rattled, feeling like I was trying to escape some force, maybe history itself might come after me. I glanced down to my right and leaning next to the hinge of the gate was an empty, abandoned beer glass. Too bad it was empty! I picked it up and saw the Irish harp symbol etched on it and the word Guinness. “Well lonely souvenir glass, you are headed to America,” I said, and I stuffed it into my small shoulder purse and walked back to join the others for a full Irish breakfast at the hotel. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and boarded a very comfortable bus and headed towards Belfast.
I have gone to Italy and Ireland to date and find travel abroad to be without a doubt one of the most worthwhile things to spend money on. It is enlightening to see how other cultures live, to see where historic events happened and in the case of Ireland to have experienced things mystical. To travel for nine days and visit many vastly interesting places is like the saying about eating one potato chip...just a taste that leaves you wanting more! In future columns I will be going back to Belfast and the Aran Island of Inishmore with other stops along the way.
Scarlet Stone welcomes your comments and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org