As I type this, I am sitting in a hotel room in Ireland. We are about halfway through our vacation. I like that the Europeans call these trips “holidays” since the root of the term is “holy” and “day” and was reserved for church-sanctioned festivals and celebrations. Time off of real life is sacred and important, might we even call it holy?
I did minimal research about where to go and what to see before we arrived. For some reason, and the first time ever, I wanted the trip to come to me and reveal what I was supposed to see. When we went to Paris and London, I knew much of what to expect since I had been interested in visiting those cities since time immemorial. With Ireland, at least for me, it’s a bit different. There are some very famous sites that were recommended time and again. But there aren’t a lot of major landmarks; certainly there is nothing like the Eiffel Tower that is plastered on all sorts of home decor and clothing. I had little familiarity, also, with the geography beyond Dublin and Belfast. What I do have on my side is a good bit of study in the history of Ireland and the rest of the UK. But that was about it.
So I arrived in Ireland mostly interested in seeing what I think of when I think of Ireland: rolling green hills, crumbling ruins, ancient churches, white cottages along the seaside, and lots of sheep.
It took a few days into the trip to really see that kind of Ireland. I was not surprised by Dublin’s sprawl, worldliness, and development. It is the capital city after all and I had been told it would feel much the way many big cities do. We actually shaved a day off of Dublin activities in order to move further into the rest of our plans more quickly. Belfast didn’t surprise me, either. It reminds me of many of the big cities in the Rust Belt of the United States, just with bloody civil war thrown on top. Once a manufacturing giant and more recently trying to recover and find a new identity in the years of peace in the last decade and change. I enjoyed every minute in these old cities and will continue to enjoy the other bigger cities we stop in- Galway is next on the tour.
For whatever reason, though, my heart is drawn to the never-ending green of the country. We’ve been blessed with abundant sunshine and the colors are glorious. I’ve never seen more shades of green in my life and the blue of the sea and sky stops my breath. That is the Ireland of my dreams, the Ireland that has existed before time and perhaps part of the motivation to fight to claim such a special place. From Vikings to Romans, English crown, Scottish settlers, and even Hitler, it seems like everyone has wanted a piece of Ireland. And now I wanted my part but I wanted to tread forth with respect to the past, to take what the Emerald Isle was willing to give with appreciation.
A big part of the appeal of travel for me is the chance to feel connected to things that are simply beyond your previous grasp; beyond your thoughts of identity. I like feeling small, though I never feel insignificant. Standing on a mountaintop with few souls other than the sheep today, I felt at once ancient and newborn, small yet extraordinary in the role I get to play in this life. If every day is a gift because nothing is guaranteed, then what a massive gift-wrapped present to open!
I’ve heard the phrase “Erin Go Bragh” for my entire life and only in this trip have I come to understand, in a small taste, just what is meant by it. Generations of my ancestors have whispered it, shouted it in battle, and wished for their nation’s unity and peace. The Ireland of my dreams is alive and well. May she live forever.