Irish cars don’t go in reverse. This is what Jen told me on our first day in Ireland when we were stuck in an alleyway in downtown Dublin at four in the morning. This was not a metaphorical statement about the ability of the Irish people to push forward in times of adversity. This was my wife telling me that if we would like to, at any point in the day, not have our car be in this alleyway, we were going to have to get out and push it backwards. And so, after being awake for 24 consecutive hours, we pushed a Skoda Citigo out of an alley. And this pretty much sums up our approach to navigating in Ireland: never elegant, but sort of effective. Sort of effective in the sense that we’re not currently dead.
For instance, we inadvertently decided to leave Dublin at the exact time that rush hour got into full swing. This is a “live like the locals” experience that we could have done without. On the second day, it only took us two turns to get lost. And it took me longer than I would care to admit to realize the benefit to looking at how long we were going to be on a given road and knowing the general shape of that road. It wasn’t all on the side of the navigator, however. Jen navigated her way onto the wrong side of the road more times than I was comfortable with.
The problem wasn’t just how we got to the places, either. It was the places themselves that didn’t seem like they particularly wanted us there. When we went to see the Book of Kells in the Trinity College library, the caretaker mumbled that some of the exhibits were closed. When we asked which ones, we were told–
Proprietor: The Book.
Us: The book…of Kells?
[long pause, and then begrudgingly providing an explanation]
Proprietor: They’re paintin’ in the room that it’s in.
Us: (unsaid, but not unthought) And you couldn’t have moved it to…not that room?
When we went to visit the Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh, we were told that there were no more tours of the caves for the rest of the season. The rest of the season! The earth needed to be in a completely different place in the solar system in order for us to be welcome there. So we asked if we could just walk down and tour the caves ourselves, and we were told that at this time of year, the caves are flooded. Now that’s nature saying no means no. Finally, though, we were allowed in to one of our destinations–Glenveagh National Park. And we relished every second of hiking through its natural beauty–that is, of course, when we weren’t being pelted by intermittent waves of hailstones.
But it was in the quiet, unsearched-for moments that we felt really embraced by the sights of Ireland. It was in an afternoon spent sitting in a castle drawing room by a coal fire, reading together in wingback chairs. It was in getting completely lost on the way to somewhere and stumbling on a Benedictine abbey founded in the 7th century–its beautiful ruins inviting us in and at the same time remaining completely indifferent to our presence. It was in a dozen other places–cemeteries, museums, castles, and ancient mounds–and people too, that stood indifferent to a casual gaze, but if we were willing to look and listen–willing to really investigate–would open up a world of beauty and wonder. Oh and the pubs were pretty good too.