That first morning, we stood in line for the Book of Kells for about a half an hour. It rained the entire time. When we finally made it into the building, damp and cold, we were jabbering excitedly to each other about what was to come, and failed to notice what was already in front of us.
Bashful, we approached the grinning cashier to buy a ticket.
“We’re American,” I said by way of explanation.
“We’re sorry,” Lauren added. (This would become our trademark phrase at future stops.)
“Wait a minute!” the cashier said, waggling his finger at us. “Be proud of your country! ‘We the people’ and all that…”
Laughing, we nodded and went inside.
The Book of Kells was stunning; so was the rest of the library at Trinity College. I was elated as we left the building, which led to the following exclamation:
“It’s not raining!”
Without missing a beat, one of the museum guards calmly said, “Give it time.”
It was indeed raining again by the time we reached Queen of Tarts (a cafe and patisserie) and sat down at a quaint little table beneath the bright red awning. The rain softly tapped out a tune overhead as we ordered what we had come for: coffee, tea, and scones.
When I bit into my scone, I made a sound that no human should be able to make. Lauren had a similar reaction to her own portion. I made eye contact with her.
“I’m never leaving,” I said. “The Irish are going to have to drag me out of here.”
And then proceeded, in true, eloquently American fashion, to stuff my face with food.
Later on in the day, we began our quest for pubs. At O’Shea’s Hotel, a pub not far from our hostel, we finally got the explanation for the street signs from a local.
“So, basically, fewer signs equals more cooperation?” I asked.
“Yeah, ” said our bartender. “You usually just ask someone for directions, and most Irish people use the nearest pub as a guide…”
“Like, take a left at O’Sheas and then…” he said, gesturing widely with the hand that wasn’t holding a glass.
I grinned into my Guinness.
You see, Ireland (along with England and Scotland) has its street signs mounted up on buildings (if they’re there at all). They’re very hard to see, and it took me a few days to stop looking for them on street corners. (And, to add to the fun, the stoplights are positioned along the side of the road, rather than hanging overhead. So, as a pedestrian, you can’t see when the light is green, and therefore have no idea when cars have been given the signal to drive.)
So cooperation between strangers is encouraged. As are questions.
“Irish people tend to answer a question with a question,” said our host on the Musical Pub Crawl. “If you ask, ‘How do I get to Temple Bar?’ an Irishman will typically respond with, ‘What you want to be goin’ that way, fer?'”
Everyone in the room laughed.
Grinning, our host began picking out a tune on the bodhrán, and the second musician began to play the Irish pipes. I took a gulp of my cider and looked around. We tourists were packed into this upper room in a pub just south of the river. The two musicians sat on a small wooden stage, while the rest of us huddled on stools around a series of small tables, like loose, slapdash semi-circles.
The fellow next to me kept swaying to the tune, bumping into me every few moments. I tapped my foot to the beat, in true Irish fashion; there’s no clapping along to music in Ireland, because, if there was, then how would you hold onto your beer?
Even so, I could barely hold onto my beer when we were back at O’Sheas the next evening. A singer and a accordionist had paused their playing to bring up an important point.
“This is Phillip the Tip Jar,” said the singer, as he held Phillip high up in the air. “Please don’t put sterling in Phillip because that’s not worth a shite at the moment.”
I almost choked on my Guinness. (I drank a lot of Guinness on this trip.)
After more music, Lauren and I decided to make our way back to the hostel. To get there, we had to walk across the entire room, including right in front of the two musicians. I placed some coins — NOT sterling — in Phillip on my way past.
The music paused again. “Why you leavin’? We aren’t done yet,” called the singer.
Caught, we turned to face him.
“You ladies have changed,” he said, shaking his head in fake outrage. “…you’ve changed.”
Grinning, I just threw up my hands at him — the universal shrug.
“Lads, they’re single, looking for handsome men,” the singer continued. “Young, rich– rich?”
Lauren and I just laughed.
“Rich. Rich men, of course.”
We waved to the folks gathered at the bar. I made a heart sign at the musician. And then we left, like a well-timed trick.
We did encounter several men throughout the trip. There were the two Frenchmen, which we met on our bus ride to the Cliffs of Moher. Lauren threatened to push Louis off the cliff if he spoiled the latest episode of Game of Thrones for her.
I had a different sort of conversation with Louis later on, once we were back on the bus.
Louis: Nebraska is…what, four hours away from Florida?
Me: Ah. Hmm. The U.S. is…a bit more spread out than it is here.
*a brief pause*
Me: Nebraska is twenty-five hours away from Florida, by car.
Louis: Oh, shit!
And then there was the (extremely hungover) Frenchman at our hostel. Lauren sat across from him one morning at breakfast, and I followed her lead. Phillip, a fellow from Arkansas, also joined our table.
Frenchman: *Rolling a cigarette* You Americans, you do not have these because of…money?
Lauren, me, and Phillip: Oh no, we just buy them pre-rolled. Because we’re extremely lazy.
The Frenchman grew tired of talking shortly after that (and I could not blame him — I can’t speak in a second language when I’m sober, let alone hungover). So I turned to Phillip.
Me: I was just in Arkansas, actually.
Phillip: No way, where?
We went on to discover that he was from Fayetteville and that he actually knew the people I had gone to visit only a couple of months prior. The world is a small playground.
On our tour through the Wicklow Mountains, we got to know Brett, a fellow from South Africa.
Brett: You know who you remind me of when you smile? Kate Middleton.
Me: *without hesitation* Oh my god that’s an awesome compliment. Thank you!!
Everyone laughed at the enthusiasm of the American gal. …I suppose there are worst things.
Like Ulysses, for example.
Lauren and I, both English majors, have a vendetta against James Joyce and his nightmare of a book, Ulysses. (Lovers of that book, I welcome you to meet me in the pit.)
So imagine our horror when we kept seeing Joyce EVERYWHERE WE LOOKED. At one point, when we were hunting for the W.B. Yeats memorial in St. Stephen’s Park, we encountered the Joyce statue. Our very mature response?
“FUCK YOU, JOYCE!” *both turn around and run the opposite direction*
…Enthusiasm takes many forms; some forms are cruder than others.
And some forms are, granted, much more subtle, like Niall’s (our Wicklow tour guide) approach to certain obstacles.
Niall: So that’s the bridge from “P.S. I Love You.” You can see it’s very narrow. Now look at the size of this bus. …That’s why we tour guides call it the “P.S. I Hate You Bridge.”
For my part, all I can say is:
P.S. Ireland, I love you. I can’t wait to visit again.
Thanks for reading,
And finally, author’s note: Only Northern Ireland is technically part of the UK, and I apologize to the rest of Ireland for lumping them in with the Brits!