8 months ago I wandered into a quaint hostel in Dublin, Paddy’s Palace (a hostel I highly recommend if you happen to travel there), with my friend Andrea. We were nearing the end of our backpacking trip together, well in to country number 5 on the journey. We had just come from the island of Corsica so we were relaxed, happy and tan, but also lazily tired. It was midnight by the time we checked in to our hostel in Dublin.
Just as we were approaching the dark building, wondering if it was too late to check in, the door flew open and an extremely cheerful young man with a ready smile almost smacked us with the door, apologized and greeted us. In a Dublin accent so thick I could barely understand him, he happily ushered us in, promising to be back as soon as he unlocked a door for someone.
Long story short, after checking in we talked until well after the sun rose and I ended up sharing one of the most memorable 6 hour conversations to date with this amusing gentleman that I came to know as my friend Patrick, better known as Paddy. Speaking to each other about all of our similar interests and the experiences that have shaped us into who we are, we quickly found that we were mirror images of each other, just one American and one Irish. Little did I know that this chance meeting foreshadowed a grand adventure to come later.
Fast forward 8 months later to the present. Paddy and I had lost touch for a while, but thanks to Facebook, randomly reconnected 2 months before my planned return trip to Ireland with my sister. With no set plans I returned to Paddy’s Palace where Patrick happened to be helping a customer outside as we walked up. Expecting us, but still, surprised to see us he happened to drop the door on the customer, quickly apologizing as we giggled from the sidelines. Any chance of awkwardness from not seeing each other in so long evaporated in that moment. Once free he reemerged with a smile and a hug and we were welcomed back to Ireland. He handed me the key to the hostel that he’d arranged for us for 4 nights, an early birthday present to me.
Ireland immediately felt like home. The Irish believe in an assortment of wonderful fairytales and legends and I could feel the magic upon stepping outside the airport. Everyone my sister Stephanie and I came into contact with had a welcoming smile and greeting, inquiring as to where we were from and how long we would be around. This usually led right into suggestions on what to see and places to go. We soon realized not to be in a hurry to go anywhere, to factor in impromptu story telling time. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a population in which the majority of people are as friendly as those in the Republic of Ireland .
Thanks to Paddy’s recommendation, Steph and I had the opportunity to be a part of two days of bus tours through Paddywagon: One to see the Cliffs of Moher, northwest of Dublin, and another to Blarney Castle on the southern coast. If you ever get the chance to go to Ireland, these are must sees. If you don’t want to spend too much time planning, I highly recommend the Paddywagon Bus Tours that offer a glimpse into many different sides of Ireland, from the Republic to the North with hilarious and knowledgeable locals as guides. Be prepared for the possibility of some impromptu singing led by your guide along the way.
My guide to the Cliffs of Moher loved to sing traditional Irish songs over the PA as we drove, our group bursting into applause with the finality of each song. To reach the cliffs, you have the opportunity to drive through the scenic, windy mountain roads in a picturesque part of the country which I’m sure has been a backdrop of many rom-coms. If you’re as lucky as we were, on a clear beautiful day you will receive breathtaking views as you stroll from one peak to another. Make sure to stop by the remnants of an old tower that sits atop one of the peaks. The cliffs aren’t the only scenery however. Turn around from your vantage point and you’ll get a gorgeous view of the countryside, sprinkled with cows and livestock. It’s truly mesmerizing.
Blarney Castle is an entirely different but equally interesting experience. The old castle grounds offer a plethora of activity. Of course, the biggest attraction is to kiss the Blarney Stone. Legend has it, that if you lie on your back, tilt your head back and kiss the stone, you’ll be given the gift of the gab. For those women who need a little encouragement, they also say if you kiss the stone twice you’ll become pregnant. Doesn’t hurt to try! The grounds of the castle offer colorful gardens, archaic architecture, caves to wander through, places to eat and so much more. I myself need to return to truly see it all.
My previous trip to Ireland I took a tour also through Paddywagon through northern Ireland to Giant’s Causeway. I had never seen anything like the pentagon shaped rocks that make up this area. The legend behind the formations of the rocks can get anyone in the story telling spirit. If you’re a Game of Thrones fanatic, this tour may interest you for a stop at the Dark Hedges, where some of the filming was done. Don’t just take my word for it though, go experience it.
This time around I had the privilege of having my own personal tour guide. There’s nothing like wandering the streets with someone born and raised in Dublin. Paddy made sure Steph and I got a little taste of everything. We walked through the city, learning the history behind the harp bridge, the theater (where The Beach Boys just happened to be performing), Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, Temple Bar, the parks, and local hangouts. There is much to see and experience in the heart of Dublin.
I came to frequent a wonderful pub around the corner from the hostel called The Celt. The Celt offers live music from traditional Celtic to more modern covers of popular songs every night. On top of that, the traditional home cooked food is some of the best that I’ve ever experienced in my life. There was not one evening that I had a bad experience there. The bar tenders and staff are charming and cheerful, always encouraging another round of Guinness. Paddy and I enjoyed a number of pints over good conversation, breaking out into song when the occasion required it. All we had to do was nod to the bar tender and the next round was brought over. It was over Guinness that I began to probe him on the history of his people.
The Republic of Ireland has a unique and rich history. It amazed me to learn what the country has been through and has given me a newfound respect for the way the people look out for their brothers and sisters. The general population has an air of optimism and acceptance of all kinds that is hard to find. There is a sense of community that the rest of the world should model themselves after.
Walking through the streets you will see many homeless people, but turn a corner and there’s equally as many or more people raising money to help them, holding signs, ringing bells, bringing around meals. It was moving to see such empathy from people in comparison to the jaded version of humanity I’ve come to know. It’s not unusual to see people stop to ask someone lying in a sleeping bag if they need anything or to offer them food and money. Sometimes people will simply just sit down next to them and ask them to tell their story. Even more fascinating to me is that the government has a system in which they provide housing and a small wage to people who are in need, giving them a basis to help themselves out of poverty. While this can only make a dent in the number that need it, and it has its faults, it’s still a step forward. It’s refreshing to see a culture that cares to make a difference.
I am extremely grateful for my time in Dublin and the regions I’ve had the privilege of traveling to. I’ve learned so much from the culture, the people and experiences I have had. Never did I expect that randomly connecting with an Irish stranger would have this sort of impact in enhancing my travel experience and gaining a truly genuine friend for life. It’s amazing how one chance meeting can turn into something so much more. Being open to learning and getting to know people can be the biggest catalyst for growth. If I’ve learned one thing from all my travels, it’s that the people you meet along the way can make your experience significantly more memorable as well as exciting. I will be back to Ireland and I’m excited to see what will happen next.