I am writing to you on my last evening in Ireland, my thoughts equal parts thankful for my time here, sad at the prospect of leaving, and eagerly awaiting what lies ahead of me in Scotland. My hiatus from writing was spent travelling the Irish countryside, first to the west coast where I stayed with a woman near Kinvarra, County Galway, and then in Wicklow, south of Dublin in the Wicklow Mountains. I do not know what had the greatest impression on me these last several days: the beautiful landscapes, Irish hospitality, amazing people, or unexpected twists in the road.
The last I mean in a few ways. Ireland, and the west in particular, is notorious for its country roads, which I got to experience during my travels. Scarcely wide enough for a single car, these two-way, rough paths twist and turn through mountains and fields, lined by hand-built stone walls, so there is not even a forgiving shoulder if you come across another car. They built the roads this way on purpose to keep the horses and drivers (now just drivers) alert and watchful. You have to keep constant vigilance when you don’t know what’s around the next bend. On expressways, where you can see for miles, animals and drivers tend to check out, go on autopilot, and lose that being ready for anything. The greatest lesson that I learned from my time in the country is the value of living life on Irish roads. It’s common among people, young people in particular, to want to know what lies ahead in the future. Like if I only knew ________________, then life and making decisions would be much easier. But life is more than arriving at milestones; it’s about the whole journey, and not knowing what lies ahead makes the entire way meaningful, not just the destination. There’s a real thrill in making a hairpin turn and being completely surprised by what’s behind it, and generally it’s much better than anything you could have planned for yourself.
I had several of these Irish Road moments over the last few days, some of them small and some that I am likely to remember forever. This last Sunday was Pentecost, which is the celebration of the Holy Spirit coming to the apostles. While mostly forgotten in modern American churches, it is one of the biggest celebrations in the Orthodox church, and I was a little bit sad that I would have to miss it this year. This last weekend the woman I was staying with brought me into Galway city so that I could look around there. I intended to go straight to a bookshop that she told me about, but was drawn to the cathedral in the town centre, which was open for visitors. It was part of the Church of Ireland, so I was surprised at the familiar, spicy smell of incense filling the cathedral when I walked in. That’s strange. The guide at the entrance told me that I was free to look around, but that they were currently having an Orthodox service in the side chapel, and to be respectful of its taking place. She was probably not expecting me to reply, “Great, I think I’ll go to it!” and walk right in. The service was winding down (and entirely in Russian), but with the melodies and actions I was able to figure out what was going on, and stood in disbelief that I just so happened to stumble across an Orthodox service for Pentecost.
I’ve been traveling alone these last ten days, which can be hard when you’re seeing amazing things and wish you had someone to talk about them with. I went to see the Cliffs of Moher (or Cliffs of Insanity, if you prefer) with a tour group, and at one of our stops a guy who was by himself asked if I was also travelling alone, and I would like to hang out throughout the day. I was not expecting to have a friend that day,but it made all the difference to have someone to talk to and share pictures with.
I was delightfully surprised to have a different hiking buddy two days later on the other side of the country when I hiked the Wicklow mountains. With the length of that hike, coupled with the presence of thunderstorms, it would have been much more difficult without someone to laugh about it with. Wicklow town was where I stayed at a hostel, which I had just planned to be a cheap place for me to crash between hikes, but it turned out there that I made a great friend from the UK, and I really didn’t want to leave the place where, originally, I thought I would be ready to depart from.
So as the Irish countryside has taught me, life is infinitely deeper and richer when it brings you on unexpected twists and into unforseen situations. I had planned on this week to be a time to see places I’ve always wanted to before I headed to Scotland, to busy myself with crossing things off of my bucket list before the real experience of living abroad began. But it’s turned into so much more than that. Never would I have expected to make friends from England, Ireland, Hong Kong, and Germany that have inspired and changed me, to experience an Irish Russian Orthodox church, to be so amazed by the beauty here, or to already be missing this fine country as acutely as I am.
So I leave you, reader, to think about the beauty of living a life on Irish Roads, of the places and people that it’s brought you to, and will still bring you to. Although relatively new, this song has become a classic Irish-American tune, and is quite loved over here on the Emerald Isle. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
May the road rise up to meet you, and may the wind be at your back,