Exploress in Ireland
Words & Images by Amanda Reeves
“What brings you to Ireland?” asked an elderly woman from Cork as we descended over the patchwork green landscape.
“Oh, just holiday.”
“Who are you going with?”
“Oh my! You are a brave woman!”
“Or crazy,” I thought to myself.
This conversation was echoed a number of times before and during my month-long visit to the Emerald Isle. As plans for a mother-daughter road trip unraveled, I found myself preparing for a solo, backpacking adventure. I had never traveled internationally by myself. I had never been to Europe. I had never even taken a train! Would I be lonely? Would I become bored on an island the size of Indiana? How would I get around? And what, in heaven’s name, can one (literally) do in Ireland for a whole month? Even as these questions (and more!) looped in my mind, I trusted that—no matter what—I was in for a fantastic adventure.
Keeping with my intuitive, whimsical, and generally last-minute nature, I hardly planned any of the month—a fact which alarmed my parents and made my friends shake their smiling heads. I landed in Dublin with a list of ideas and the Hostel World app at the ready. The list was loose: walk part of the Wicklow Way, Christian history, dramatic coastline, surf/sea kayak, Belfast, history of The Troubles, pub music. I had the intent of traveling clock-wise around the whole island, leaning on the recommendations from locals and fellow travelers for the can’t-be-missed spots and tips on where to stay.
What ensued was the best kind of wandering—immersed in refreshing solitude, surrounded by surprising beauty, and intersected by chance encounters with such quality people that you believe humanity must be fundamentally good. My travels took me from Dublin south through Wicklow Mountains National Park; along Country Kerry’s dramatic coast; through the beautiful and strange Burren landscape and the Cliffs of Moher; up to Galway and County Mayo; north to the surf town of Bundoran; and across political and historic Northern Ireland. For the price of a €6 map, humility in asking locals for help, and many hours on the Bus Éireann site, I successfully made my way around the country.
The pace was “as-you-like.” A day’s activities could be as full as a 60km bicycle tour or as uneventful as an afternoon spent reading in the park. And this is one of the joys of traveling on your own: where, when, what, and how is all up to you! The experience taught me to listen and care for myself better. Whenever I felt deeply lonely, I was always reminded of the beauty of solitude or surprised by a chance encounter. The traveling community, per my experience, is lively, interesting, and open. Traveling without the comfort of companions challenged me to be open to people and experiences I might otherwise have shied away from. What is more, Ireland proved to be a place of warm and hearty hospitality. On one occasion, I found myself alone in Galway without a place to stay. Plans to stay with a Couchsurfer had fallen through due to a change in their work schedule. In desperation, I pleaded to stay there just one night. They graciously agreed and, after hitting it off really well, offered me their flat for the remainder of the weekend while they were out-of-town! The people I met during my adventure made the trip rich and memorable. It is always a little surprising and comforting to relate how similar human beings are, even across such differences.
After a month of wandering I was forced to return to Dublin and catch my flight home. I went somewhat begrudgingly, immensely grateful for the rich adventure and acutely aware that I had just scratched the surface. I would miss the quiet of walking the vast and colorful landscape. I would miss the cozy pubs with the impromptu dancing and music. I would miss the brave whimsy that traveling seems to afford better than everyday life. I would miss the community of interesting and kindred spirits. And even now, I have serious nostalgia for Ireland. In my opinion, however, that is the sign of traveling well. Ireland successfully captured a bit of my heart and imagination, but it seems a small price to pay for the wealth of wild beauty, hospitality, and inspiration it left me with.
“Postscript” by Seamus Heaney
And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.