They say it's the same sky the world over but it isn't, not really. I'd never been so far north and east of home before and my body was in shock for one full day of the seven that we spent in Ireland this summer, husband P and me, half a world away from everything we knew and everyone we loved.
Nearly seventeen hours of daylight per day but temperatures like our winter back home. The softest rain I've ever felt against my skin. Everything in Texas wants to kill you; the sun cracks you open and the rain leaves welts and the insects sting and the reptiles drip venom and the scrubby vegetation holds no sustenance or comfort. But Ireland seduces. It promises soft rain and succulent grasses, hot whisky and peat fires, a woolen blanket of heartstring-thrummed music. It catches your eye and then glances away, brushes against you then shows you its shoulder, caresses and then draws back with a sharp slap.
We arrived in Dublin on a Sunday morning, brilliant and crisp, church bells pealing, giddy with lack of sleep. P had told me we would fly over land almost the entire way, right up the Eastern Seaboard and across Canada to Greenland, up and over, hardly any water at all, but that was a lie. We flew up the Eastern Seaboard and Canada until we ran out of Canada and then we shot straight across the Atlantic. I have a phobia of heights and depths and the shock of having done that left me feeling completely reckless and outside of myself. I didn't even think about punching the cab driver at the airport when he called me "sweetheart".
I was left to my own devices in Dublin as P was attending a conference, the whole reason for our trip. The furthest I walked on any one day was from Christ Church Cathedral all the way back to our hotel near Upper Leeson with stops at Dublin Castle and St. Stephen's Green on the way. I sat in the Long Room in the Old Library at Trinity College for an hour with its soft light through the vellum-covered windows, perfume of old books and comfortable rustling of faded ghosts while French tourists whispered to one another over my shoulder and tried not to get in the way of my photos. Nice happened three days later.
I wandered across the stunning tilework at Christ Church Cathedral, gawping at the beauty of it all, and snorted down the ancient stone smell of the crypt like a line of coke, trying to draw every last particle of it into my body to keep it a part of me forever.
I wandered the grounds and gardens at Dublin Castle, home of Tana French's fictional Dublin Murder Squad. I inhaled my way through St. Stephen's Green, startling tiny ruffled birds in the undergrowth. I stomped my Keens up and down Grafton Street until tourists started asking me for directions.
I spent an entire day in bed in our hotel sure that I was dying, lifting the "Do Not Disturb" sign just long enough to accept cups of rooibos tea and bowls of beef and Guinness stew from room service.
I ate rashers of that odd hammy bacon that only exists outside the US, I ate black and white pudding and the most delicious little crisp-skinned pork sausages, I ate salmon and hake and smoked mackerel at Farm and Hatch and Sons and The Sussex. I ate the most gorgeous flourless cakes with clouds of whipped cream. I forgave Ireland everything all over again -- the spitting rain and wind and sentient, malevolent gloom -- every single time I put a fork in my mouth.
And just like that, P's conference was over and we were on a train to Limerick.
We stayed in the Medieval Quarter on King's Island, within walking distance of St. Mary's Cathedral and King John's Castle and the Milk Market. All of which were absolutely spectacular.
And then one day we piled into a van with another American named Arthur, a lovely English lady named Carol and four nameless-to-us Italians while an Irishman named Frank drove us around County Clare, through The Burren, up to Black Head and around to the Cliffs of Moher and it was quite possibly the best day of my life.
I can't explain quite what it was about County Clare that burrowed deep inside me and has stayed there ever since. A good many of my ancestors came from Ireland and I have no idea whether any of them ever even set foot in County Clare, but walking through The Burren and wandering Caherconnell and Poulnabrone, driving through Ballyvaughan and Lisdoonvarna, seeing those karst domes razed down to bumps in the last ice age and the erratics left scattered around Galway Bay by the glaciers -- something about that felt familiar. Not in a past life sort of way or anything woo-woo like that. It felt like something I didn't even know was missing had been returned. It mended something in me that I hadn't realized was broken. I don't have any other words to describe it.
I don't sleep when I travel. It doesn't matter whether I'm in the same time zone as home or six time zones away. In Dublin the view out our hotel window looked like this:
And so in Dublin I spent long hours staring toward the ceiling in the pitch dark, listening to Hindu devotional music through my earbuds, conjugating German verbs and otherwise trying not to wake P before his long days of conferencing.
In Limerick, though, we were right on the River Abbey.
And so every morning when I inevitably woke before sunrise, I'd carefully insert myself between the curtains and the glass and just sit in the window for the hour or so before P woke up, watching the eastern sky for signs of light and the water for signs of life. And then the final morning we were there, just a few hours before we hopped a cab for Shannon Airport and home, this:
Two swans somehow made their way up the Shannon to the Abbey to just below my window in the paper-thin morning. And as corny as it sounds, it felt like Something. Like a gift. Like a promise.
Oh, and if you're looking for the craic? It's at the Locke. You're welcome.