Week 2: Friends and Family
Each week of my month in Ireland felt like a different chapter. Chapter 2 began in the lobby of the Fleet Hotel in Dublin.
My friends Christine and Gwyn had flown over to join me for the Pride parade, an idea I had proposed in late March the night I got confirmation I would be going to the writer’s retreat.
They arrived the Wednesday before the parade and I met them at their hotel that afternoon. It was weird and wonderful to see them across the lobby, so far from our usual surroundings.
That was the beginning of five days of laughter and conversation. If the first week of my trip initially involved adjusting and being out of my comfort zone, the second week included a handful of days that felt a little lighter, where I could relax in the company of old friends.
Highlights of our time together:
The Guinness Storehouse is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland, and it was easy to see why. We joined the herd of visitors the first afternoon the ladies were in town.
The place is enormous. It’s also carefully laid out.
The tour of the Storehouse is mercifully a “self-guided experience.” Visitors walk up six stories without a rambling tour guide, so everyone can decide how interested they are in the details of milling, mashing, and boiling ingredients.
Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities to check out old Guinness advertising campaigns and pose for pictures.
The view from the top almost makes circling the building six times on the way up seem worth it. You can sample the “black stuff” while you admire the clear view of Dublin and its surrounding areas out the windows of the Gravity Bar.
On the way out of the building, you and the other mildly inebriated guests are funneled through a well-stocked retail store.
We participated in all of it, and I have to say it was a lot of fun. Hats off to the marketers at Guinness.
P.S. My dad and I enjoyed drinking out of his new beer glasses last weekend.
Trinity College/Book of Kells
Thursday morning we walked around the campus of Ireland’s top-rated university, which is located in the middle of Dublin. The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels of the Bible, is housed on campus and is considered a national treasure.
We relaxed on the lawn in front of the Old Library while we waited for our entrance time to see the Book of Kells. That gave me time to recover from my harrowing trip to the men’s room. Long story, but as it turns out, “leithreas” does not mean “ladies,” as in “everything beyond this point is a ladies room.”
But anyway, back to the Bible.
The Book of Kells is kept in its own darkened room, like something out of a Dan Brown novel. I don’t know why, but I was surprised that we could only see two pages. (Did I think we’d be allowed to leaf through a book that was created in 800 A.D.?)
Hopefully it’s not sacrilege to say I was much more impressed by the library upstairs than I was by the famous book.
The Long Room was one of my favorite places in Ireland.
We did almost have a minor international incident in the Long Room.
Christine and Gwyn were ahead of me when one of their phones spontaneously started blaring the Indigo Girls. Loud lesbian folk music is generally not appreciated in a library built in the 1700s. It wasn’t clear which person’s phone was the source of the music, so angry accusations were exchanged through gritted teeth until it was determined whose phone was to blame.
Like a good friend, I kept my distance while that got sorted out.
Blitzkrieg Tour of Dublin on the Hop-on/Hop-off Bus
Because time was limited, the Hop-on/Hop-off Big Bus tour seemed like an efficient way for the Virginians to see as much of the city as possible. It did end up being a good choice, especially after our Trinity College/Book of Kells extravaganza. We kicked back on the upper deck of the bus and rode all around the city, hopping off only once to get some lunch.
(In fairness to them, the ladies did hop back on the next day to take in some additional sights while I relaxed at my Airbnb.)
Dublin Pride Parade
There’s a lot to be said about the Dublin Pride parade. It was colorful, well organized, relatively easy to navigate, free of protestors and commercial organizations, and generally well done.
But more important than the nuts and bolts of the event was the atmosphere. I would actually call it joyous. All three of us were taken with how friendly and supportive the crowd was. As Gwyn said, it seemed like the whole country was there and ready to celebrate.
There were rainbow flags all over Dublin, and the general sense of acceptance was really touching, especially when I think back to what things were like when I was in my teens and twenties. Being gay at that time was considered strange and embarrassing. Now it’s really not a big deal for most people.
The shift in public perception on this topic has been incredible to watch over the last 20+ years.
The parade was a lot of fun. We saw some of it from O’Connell Street and then moved to an establishment right on the parade route on the banks of the River Liffey.
The day after the parade, the ladies’ last in Dublin, was relatively low-key. They toured an art museum and the Jameson Distillery and then I joined them in the late afternoon for dinner, swapping pictures, and rehashing our adventure.
What a great week it was. There’s something to be said for making memories with old friends in a new place far from home.
After the Virginians headed home, I took a day trip to Dalystown, about an hour west of Dublin, near where my great grandmother was born and where my grandmother spent some of her early childhood years.
My initial plan was to see if it was feasible to hire a driver from Dublin to bring me there and drive me around; when I couldn’t line that up, I decided to just get to Mullingar and figure it out.
I took the train to Mullingar and then got a taxi to Dalystown, about seven miles away.
It did take the taxi driver a minute to understand what I was trying to do. I’m guessing he doesn’t get mumbling New Yorkers popping into his cab every day, looking to roam the area in search of old relatives.
Once he did understand, he knew exactly where to take me. First, we went to the pub where my parents visited in the late 1990s.
Next, the driver took me to Clonfad, my great grandmother’s birthplace. It was also farmland with no central village. He brought me to the only church in the area.
I got out and walked around. The only sound was the wind and the bleating of the sheep on the farm next to the church. It was incredibly peaceful.
I thought about trying to find gravestones marked Farrell in the cemetery next to the church, but we had already been out for 30 minutes, and I sensed the driver was anxious to leave. The church was closed and the cemetery was large.
The only Catholic church in an area that small was most likely my great grandmother’s family parish, and that alone felt like a valuable discovery. I was happy to have come to the area.
This was the first of several experiences that worked out better because I didn’t have the details all mapped out ahead of time.
The taxi driver, James Farrell (a possible relative? I knew better than to ask), was from Mullingar and knew the area very well. A driver from another city wouldn’t have known the back roads or where to find the old Catholic church.
The second week of my trip was obviously a very mixed bag, with a nice balance of connecting with friends and time for exploration on my own.
I had deliberately left the remaining two weeks unplanned, and though that gave me a pit in my stomach heading into the third week, it proved to be the best approach.