Two weeks ago today we departed Chicago for Dublin. Our flight was a mid afternoon departure from O’hare International airport. Our plan was to fly to Newark, which we did. We thought the best idea from there was to catch some dinner at the airport and a glass of wine or two so we would drift off peacefully on the flight to Dublin. Our choice to land in Dublin and spend one night before our sacred sites pilgrimage was based on two things. One, the proximity to the River Boyne area where we would start our journey. Two, my desire to re-visit the Temple Bar area and have a sandwich. With respect to all of those who call Dublin home, it is a choice we likely will not make again.
As usual when we fly across the Atlantic we leave in the afternoon or evening and wake up across the ocean first thing in the morning. The challenge then always is to stay awake as long as we can upon arrival as to adjust to the local time straight away. Our goal was to stay awake until about 8:00 p.m. and then crash early to be fresh the next morning. We exceeded our goal quite completely.
After a seamless car rental that somehow cost a good bit less than it did last year for an even better car, we started our drive from the airport to Dublin city center. With no traffic our drive would take about 20 minutes. In the morning rush the drive took us about 45 minutes. We knew that our lodgings for the night were near the Guinness storehouse so we set out towards St. James Gate which is the location of the brewery of the world’s finest beer.
As we arrived near our desired destination Christiana realized that the location we were supposed to pick up our keys at was actually in the Temple Bar area, a completely different location. We had just experienced our first of many re-calculating moments of the trip. I would have been less concerned about the re-route if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was all to anxious to make my first visit to The Lou. If you’re not sure what the means, ask a friend from the UK or guess or just wait until later in this story.
After our re-route we made our way to a coffee shop named the Dwarf Jar. I made silly references to the name of the cafe as I am like to do. Among other things, I referred to our key pick up point as the Leprechaun’s Urn and the Fairy’s Chalice. We arrived at the Dwarf’s Jar a bit earlier than our designated pick up time so Rhonda had a cortado and I had an espresso. Christiana was fading but had nothing. She was waiting for her first drink in Dublin to be a pint of Guinness. About 15 minutes after our scheduled key pick up time our Air B&B host dropped off our keys. It was our first of many future awakenings about Irish time.
We had already parked our car, crossed the River Liffey on foot, found the toilets and taken a few photos in front of the National Leprechaun museum. No urns were to be found in the area. Lunch and a pint of Guinness were in short order. We walked to The Temple Bar, the sight of last year’s famous Irish Christmas Sandwich story. Some say the second time around for things is never quite the same. I had wondered if such would be the case with this sandwich. The next hour would confirm that in certain situations it can always be like the first time.
We walked into The Temple Bar and found the same table Christiana and I found last year. The high top table was a bit too cramped for Rhonda, Christiana and myself so we sat a lower round table instead. I ordered the Irish Christmas sandwich and a pint of Guinness and then quickly became blinded by my tears of emotion. There was no live music this time, our waiter was Italian instead of Irish and the place was empty in its pre-lunch silence, but the sandwich was still as if cut by the hand of my father just like it was the first time. I savored every morsel. I was finally at Home in Ireland again after 15 hours of travel.
After our lunch we walked the city. We visited the grounds of Trinity College. We ran into the same tour host named Jeff that we met last year: the PhD candidate in neo-classical Judaism. We didn’t take the tour this time, but he was touched that we remembered his name. We walked under the arch that no underclassman dare go under for fear of failing all exams. We were clearly not at any risk. Along the way to the 200 year old Oregon maple trees, a local gentleman approached us and asked if we had been into the geology building. He told us it was the only part of the College that was open to the public and he walked us on an impromptu tour of the building. I think he would have led us around the whole afternoon and evening for no fee if we had let him, but we were still only starting to letting go of control and weren’t quite willing to go off plan yet.
He explained to us that it was the day of the Dublin Heritage Festival. He told us that every site in downtown Dublin would be open extended hours, in some cases until midnight, and that all admissions were free. Every museum, church and site was accessible at no charge. We asked him how often that this event happens. He told us it was only one night per year. We planned a single night in Dublin only and it happened to be on this night of the heritage festival? Remarkable! One of the first of our many magical serendipities revealed itself. Our 8:00 p.m. bedtime got pushed back.
We visited the Theater Royal built in the 1600s. We toured Christchurch Catherdral. We strolled past St. Patrick’s Catherdral but decided not to go in. We ran across a hen party, the Irish equivalent of a bachelorette. The ladies were all dressed in the classic Where’s Waldo look. It was more than bizarre. We ran across a Stag Party with all the men wearing shirts that said, “Tim It’s Game Over Mate” with a silhouette of a lady in stiletto heels and a whip standing over a man on all fours. The men and boys were quite charming despite the odd choice of uniform.
It was approaching 7:30 p.m. and dinner was calling us. We ducked into a small quiet place called The Larder and ordered a bottle of Spanish rose and a few starters. I went on to have a braised lamb shank to get the carnivorous menu for the journey off to a fitting start. I suggested that we consider heading back to the St. James Gate Area with a bottle of wine so we could get re-organized and get ready for bed. Our official journey started in the morning and I had plenty of driving to get ready for over the next 13 days.
Our best intentions to start the journey with an early bed time were met with a surprise visit from our Irish host Rob Hayes. Rob had told us he was staying in Kells for the night and would join us in the morning. Apparently Rob decided the one hour drive from Kells to Dublin was worth it even at the late hour. He said he planned on stopping by Dublin for a pint or two either way. We were honored that he found the desire to welcome us outweigh the need for sleep and driving in the dark. I would go on to learn that Rob is not foreign to either of those two things; long hours and driving in the dark.
Rob and Rhonda met for the first time. Any apprehension we might have had that the connection would not fit disappeared immediately. The four of us sat around the kitchen table of our 2-bedroom rental in Dublin. We finished off the six cans of Guinness and most of the half bottle of whiskey I had bought on the way back to the apartment. Our other pilgrims would join on with us in the morning.
Right before we turned in for the night Christiana and I had a moment alone in complete exhaustion and bliss when we realized that this magnificent dream that was dreamed up little over 90 days ago was about to unfold. We were about to lead a group to the sacred ancient sites in Ireland. Less than a year ago we wept in a hotel room on the last day of our trip fearing we might never have a similar experience in Ireland again. Little did we know either a year ago, or on the first day of this current journey, or even now after it has all drawn to a close how many awakenings are yet left to be unveiled.
We would have one more half day in Dublin in the morning with our other travelers. In all likelihood we will not spend another night in Dublin on future journeys. The richness of Ireland is in the sites and the hills and the valleys. It is a richness that calls deeply to my heart. It is a richness I am all too willing to surrender to. It is a richness that is our future. It is a mystery that I am willing to allow to emerge….