The Emerald Isle

After months of living with a language barrier, Sarah and I were excited to be headed to an English-speaking country at last. When we arrived in Ireland, we realized we’d been missing more than the language. People in Central Europe and France had seemed quite reserved to us, so when we arrived in Ireland and were greeted with big smiles and chit chat about the weather, it felt a bit like a homecoming. Iowa Nice meets Irish Nice!

Dublin, City of Literature (and Guinness)

First stop on our Ireland visit was Dublin, which was named a UNESCO City of Literature—4th in the world, just after Iowa City, Iowa—an honor that designates cities as literary hubs involved in publishing, education, and cultural events. As a confirmed book worm, I was eager to explore a city that has played such a role in the world of literature. Plaques with literary quotations line the sidewalks, literary tours, walks, and readings are plentiful, independent bookstores abound, there was an exhibit at the National Gallery devoted to poetry…and to top it all off, the local beer (Guinness) has the taste of coffee!

I went to a reading one afternoon at Sweney’s Pharmacy, which features as a setting in James Joyce’s Ulysses. The pharmacy is run by volunteers and now sells books and soap instead of medicines, and has been made over into a sort of shrine to James Joyce. A small group of tourists and locals trickled in, and we got comfortable with some cushions, tea, and our copies of Joyce’s Dubliners. In circle style, everyone took turns reading a page. My American accent stuck out like a sore thumb next to all the posh-sounding European voices, but it was fun to participate in a reading instead of just sitting around listening. We stuck around to chat for a bit afterwards, and then everyone trickled away again to continue their day.

An Irish Halloween

Besides Dublin’s literary heritage, Sarah and I were also excited to celebrate Halloween in its country of birth (yes, that’s how far behind we are in blogging!). Though I usually think of Halloween as an American tradition, it originates in Ireland. It began more than 2,000 years ago as the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which marks the end of the old Celtic Year and the beginning of the New Year. The Celts believed that on Samhain, the border between our world and the next became blurred. They wore costumes and lit sacred bonfires to ward off ghosts that might cause harm to them or their crops and winter supplies. Long story short, the Catholic church eventually got involved and All Hallow’s Eve (the night before All Saint’s Day) was combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain. Halloween enjoyed limited popularity in America’s early days (all those hardcore Protestants weren’t that into fun and games, I guess), but with the massive influx of Irish fleeing the potato famine in the mid-1800s, the holiday became more popular on our side of the pond…so that’s your history lesson for this post!

Sarah and I spent the day of Halloween perusing Dublin’s many charity shops and thrift stores for costumes. We had a lot of fun and ended up stocking up on basic everyday clothes instead—mainland Europe had been a bit lacking in the thrift store department, and we were starting to feel a little threadbare. In the end, we bought some face paint instead of costumes. Sarah painted a candy skull, and I did a classic scary skeleton.

Halloween in Dublin was a lot like Halloween in Iowa City—except bigger and better! Everyone was dressed in costumes, roaming the streets. Most costumes were scary, rather than the funny/sexy themes you usually see in the US. Everyone was in a festive mood, and lots of people called out to compliment our make-up, or even asked to take photos with us. We made a bit of a scene in one bar when Whitney Houston came on, attracting attention with our passionate lip-synching (special thanks to Celine Dion for teaching us how to really sell a song).

We returned to our hostel at 3:00 am, satisfied with our Big Night Out and certain that we would no longer be the chill (a.k.a. boring) ones first to bed in our room. Alas, Dublin is something of a mecca for college partiers, who proved more dedicated than us. We still found an empty room. Our roommates finally stumbled their way back in around 5, 7, and 8am…guess I’m not as young as I used to be.

County Meath

Our next stop was to be Galway for a few days, but we were loving Dublin so much that we decided to stick around. We ended up going to little Mornington, in County Meath (just up the coast from Dublin). We wanted to pay a visit to Bernadette, a longtime friend of our Aunt Linda. Bernadette and Linda were pen pals as kids, and Linda came to Ireland for a summer to visit Bernadette. We had heard a lot about her through the years and wanted to finally put a face to the name!

After about a month of hostel hopping, it was truly lovely to stay with Bernadette and her family in their cozy home. We drank coffee by the fireplace and chatted with Bernadette and her kids, hung out with Nala “McBarker,” put in a long overdue load of laundry, and gobbled up a delicious full Irish breakfast cooked specially for us by Bernadette’s husband Jim.

Our relaxing time in friendly Dublin and cozy Mornington had us well rejuvenated for our next adventure—a trek to the Isle of Eigg, a tiny, remote island off the coast of Scotland. Come back soon to hear that tale, but in the meantime check out our pictures to see more of what we did in Dublin and Meath!

-K

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