Erin Go Braghahaha

I believe that a life well-lived should be a collection of happy memories, and there is no greater way to accumulate these memories than to travel. I consider it my great fortune to have taken many fantastic trips in my lifetime, but none has been so great as my trip to Ireland in 2001.  There were a lot of factors that contributed to this trip’s greatness.  First and foremost, I was with four of my favorite people:  my sister, my then-husband Tim, and my dear friends Kate and Eric.  My life was in a really great place, too:  I had finished my graduate degree a year prior, I had just landed the job of my dreams and my sister was moving to Milwaukee. But aside from all of that, there is something just blissfully, perpetually celebratory about Ireland.  We ran with that sentiment, and made this trip uniquely ours.  The trip was 8 days of unadulterated joy (and 20 minutes of rage).

I love laughing.  Laughing’s my favorite.
Day One: Preparing for Take-off.  This is a picture of me in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Our flight was going to be leaving in a couple of hours, and we had nothing but time on our hands.  I distinctly remember what we were talking about when someone in the group snapped this not-so-flattering photo of me.  It was a high-brow, very intellectual discussion about … pinworms.  Yes, pinworms. Apparently pinworms are little parasites that can live in your colon and rectum.  And apparently the way you determine if you have pinworms is to put a piece of Scotch tape on your anus.  For some reason, that visual led me into uncontrollable hysterics. Now what I can’t tell you is why we were having this discussion, because I am confident no one among us was suspected of having pinworms. Anyway, this is the kind of laughter I experienced for the next eight days. I loved every minute of it.
Sorry, Tim.  We had to crop you out for obvious reasons.
Day Two:   We Made It!  Look at us.  We have arrived, and we couldn’t be happier.  This was us, about an hour after getting off the plane.  I think it was about 9:00 in the morning, and we stopped for our first beer. There would be many, many more beers to follow.  But this one was special because a) we were drinking Guinness in Ireland for crying out loud, and b) the barkeep made a little imprint of a shamrock in the froth of said Guinness. Shortly after this picture we ate some bad Irish food and rode in a horse carriage.  Then, jet lag and fatigue set in so we checked into a hotel and took a nice, long nap. When we woke up we drank many more beers in a variety of Dublin pubs.  This beer-drinking business would be a recurring theme for us.
Strangely, Finbar has all of his teeth.  He is an Irish anomaly.
Day Three: Exploring Dublin.  Dublin is a fantastic city, and we had an absolute blast turning it upside down.  We did a few traditionally touristy things, including a tour of the Guinness brewery and a visit to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. After a long day of touring the city, mostly by foot, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner. Tim forgot to pack black socks for the trip, which prompted Eric to note that he was probably the only person to ever step foot in this fancy-schmancy establishment wearing both white socks and a Mickey Mouse watch.  The dinner, in the end, was over-priced and quite underwhelming. We needed to shake it off so we got off the beaten path to find a local pub.  This was our last night in Dublin, and we were ready for some fun.  Also ready for some fun was a group of local soccer fans in the pub we happened upon.  They had just attended a soccer match and were primed for a night of debauchery because the following day was a national holiday, the Queen’s birthday. (They didn’t like the Queen, but they liked the idea of a day off of work.)  We proceeded to have an evening of absolute, unbridled hilarity.  The picture is of me with my new friend, Finbar.  He, like all of his friends, was crazy funny and made me adore everything about this unforgettable night.
Day Four: Heading into Northern Ireland.  We made a decision when planning our trip to go to Northern Ireland.  Mind you, most tourists don’t. But again, we had heard and read many wonderful things, and we wanted to do things our way.  So after our night of Dublin debauchery, we got up the next morning and had a traditional Irish breakfast (they are big on breakfast, I tell ya) where the innkeeper, quite hungover himself, declared, “This bread is not so wonderful.”  It was such a funny and polite way to proclaim his distaste for the bread, that we have continued to use that phrase to this day. We checked out and started to make our way to Belfast.  We weren’t in a hurry, and this ended up being one of my favorite days.  One of our first stops was at this incredible cemetery.  Jess is standing here with a more contemporary gravestone, but there were grave markers from centuries prior.  (You know a date is old when it has “A.D.” after it.)  We continued to make our way up the coast, and stopped for lunch (and, you guessed it, beers) in a small coastal pub where we had the most incredible fish and chips.  It was absolute perfection.  When we got to Belfast, we were acutely aware of the tension – there was no way to miss it.  I will never forget riding through the streets on the way to our hotel, and seeing the curbs of each side of the street – one side painted orange and green, the other painted red, white and blue.  There were men, pacing the streets, armed with AK-47s. There was a helicopter perpetually flying overhead.  It was all a little unnerving, but I’m still glad we did it. About two weeks after we got home, “The Troubles” reportedly kicked up again.  Scary stuff.
If you don’t turn the sound off, I will cut you.
Day Five:  Getting out of Dodge.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sad to leave Belfast. We left and made our way to the Bushmills Distillery, where we mixed things up for our liver a little bit by giving it some hard liquor instead of beer.  This was a beautiful part of the country, with stunning landscape and rolling hills. We stayed at the inn on the Bushmills property.  That night, we made our way into town and had an incredible meal.  In fact, although the Irish aren’t known for their cuisine, we had many incredible meals while there.  That evening was low-key; all this drinking and touring was starting to wear us down.  I vividly remember the depth of my fatigue at this point in the trip. And, much like a toddler, when I haven’t had enough rest I might be prone to get a little cranky.  This particular evening, we were relaxing in the quiet hotel lounge.  Tim and I were playing cribbage, and Jess was writing in her journal. Eric was quietly reading a book.  And Katie? Why Katie had hijacked my Travel Yahtzee game and was playing it over and over…with the sound on. Beep beep, beepbeepbeepbeep! Those who know me well, know that I am very sensitive to noise. This is true ten-fold when I am tired.  I asked Katie to play the game without the sound on, and she politely declined.  I asked again and she pretended she didn’t hear me. Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep for a couple more minutes, and I lost my fool head.  I remember storming up to our hotel room and sobbing because I was so mad. Jess had to do her best to talk me off the proverbial ledge. It’s super funny now, because it was really, really stupid.  But that is the kind of fatigue and stupidity that can happen when you travel.  Especially when you travel with people who know your every button (and aren’t afraid to push it) crammed into a Volkswagen Jetta all day, every day.  The next day, after a good night’s rest, our own version of The Troubles had fully dissipated.  This picture is an airport re-enactment of Katie stubbornly playing Travel Yahtzee…with the sound on.
This is what love looks like.
Day Six: Giant’s Causeway and Other Cool Stuff.  We left Bushmills and made our way to Giant’s Causeway.  It was, in a word, breathtaking. It was the kind of place where you can sit for hours and just look.  Take it all in. Think about your place in this world.  Give thanks.  And that is just what we did.  After a few hours, we made our way out of Northern Ireland and down toward County Sligo. On the way there, I insisted that I needed to see some authentic Irish sheep. As we made our way through the rolling hills of Ireland, we happened upon a sheep farm.  We could see them, maybe a thousand of them, off in the distance.  We pulled to the side of the road and went up to the fence.  Katie had the brilliant idea to try lure the sheep over by pulling some grass and offering it to them. Sheep aren’t known for their high IQ, so they when they saw humans at the fence, they came a runnin’ – all of them.  They made their way over to us, and looked at Katie trying to offer them grass through the fence.  The look on their little sheep faces was as if to say, “Uh, lady…we already got us some grass. About a thousand acres of it back here. Thanks for nothing.” Fearing a full-on angry stampede, we ran back to the car as fast as we could and laughed our fool heads off. It was the funniest moment in Ireland, for sure.
The Queen and her castle.
Eventually we made our way to County Sligo, and when we got there we stayed in a castle.  This is a picture of Katie standing in front of it. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and there was everything to love about it. It was a small establishment, so after another incredible dinner the staff sat and talked (and drank) with us. They admitted that the castle was haunted and they had all kinds of tales to prove it.  I slept with one eye open that night.
“Come on, Major!  Let’s go!”
Day Seven: Horsing Around.  The next morning, we had arranged to go horseback riding on the adjoining grounds of the castle.  What I loved about this is that I would never have chosen this activity on my own – I really only did it because Katie insisted.  I think that is one of the great thing about traveling with others – they convince you to get out of your comfort zone. This is a picture of Jess on her horse, Major. Major was a laid back fella, and he was mostly interested in snacking.  Throughout the whole ride, Jess and Major were about ten paces behind the rest of us, and you would just hear Jess repeatedly say, “Come on, Major, let’s go!  Enough snacking!”  I, on the other hand, did not have an easy-going, snacky horse.  I had a beast named Taz.  Taz was an absolute maniac, and at a few points during the ride I feared for my life. Although it was a beautiful, sunny day when we took off, about 30 minutes into the ride the clouds parted, it started pouring rain and then it started to hail.  We had to gallop at full speed into a forested area until it cleared.  With my heart still racing, we eventually were able to make our way back toward the stable.  The guide warned me of yet another quirk about Taz:  He loves water.  Watch out, he said.  Well, sure enough, when Taz saw the stream along the way he ran full force down into it, stood in the stream and kicked up water at me for a good five minutes.  I was absolutely drenched by the time he was done, and it took everything I had in me to get him to go back up the embankment and out of the stream.  It was funny and kinda scary and another day of memorable bliss.
I am officially over you people.

Day Eight: Winding Down.  We packed up and left the castle with the acute sense that the fun was drawing to a close.  We made our way to Gallway and did a little shopping, a little eating, a little more drinking.  But by this point in the trip, we were slowing down.  Jess had already been nicknamed “Half Pint” a few days prior, and I had sworn off of beer.  I love this picture of Katie, because it depicts how we all felt:  spent, but happily so. Armed with a new collection of happy memories, our hearts were full and we were ready to head home.  Thanks for everything, Ireland…we did it our way, and it totally rocked.

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