“Ireland is the same as Scotland, just different accents,” was what someone from running club told me leading up to our annual summer, ferry+camping holiday.
I confess, before I went to Ireland, I didn’t know much about it. What I did know was through the literature of Roddy Doyle and Frank McCourt, so I guess you could say I was familiar with working class, Irish colloquialisms, the damp and the drink 😉 I kinda knew about the history between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and of the sectarianism. I also know that Ireland has a great rugby team. Other than that, nothing more. So much so that I had to ask Miriam at Paleoirish two very burning questions:
- Do they drive on the same side of the road as the UK? (yes)
- Do they have the same power sockets as the UK? (yes)
After having finished an extremely stressful term at work and running to a new, sub-2hr half marathon PB, I didn’t really spend much time thinking about and anticipating our holiday. I went into it having no expectations whatsoever. This was good thing.
When I was little, I loved the book Three Days on a River In a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams. One line that sticks out to me to this day from that book was something we did much of in both Ireland and Scotland: we drove. We drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and drove and drove. It felt like we drove all day!
We drove across Scotland to Cairnryan, and stayed the night in our tiny tent, in the rain and wind. I was tired from the half marathon and hating the hassle of having my stuff all over the car. I literally was not a happy camper.
The next day, we sailed two hours to Larne in Northern Ireland, which is just north of Belfast. Someone recommended to Pat that we take the coastal route up to the Giant’s Causeway, and we did. It was so beautiful!
We arrived late in the day at the Giant’s Causeway, in the low cloud and drizzling rain. This was to be a theme throughout our holiday.
At least it was warm outside. I felt it was easier to walk amongst the slippery rocks barefoot than sandals.
We spent a while walking amongst the cliffs, along the paths and in the rain. It was good to get out after all the driving.
A friend recommended we check out Portrush on the north coast of Northern Ireland, so we headed there and, already sick of the rain, spent our first night in a hostel dorm room. I was so grateful for the roof over our heads, showers and use of the hostel kitchen.
From Portrush, we drove on to Londonderry (or Derry as it’s referred to in Ireland), and the border. Knowing the troubled history between the two countries, I anticipated some sort of official border crossing and took along our passports, just in case. Part of me also hoped for another stamp in my passport. But, like most countries in the European Union, there was no official border. There wasn’t even a sign. We had been warned by the hostel owner that the only way we’d know we were in Ireland is that the speed on the roads changed from miles per hour to kilometres per hour, and that the distances on signs along the roads were in kilometres, not miles. When we crossed into Ireland, the roads also became so much wider! In fact, Pat and I were both thoroughly impressed with the infrastructure in Ireland!
Day 2 saw us reach one of two final destinations for the trip: Sligo, in County Sligo (aptly named), in north(ish) west Ireland. We went to Sligo for the surf because Pat is a surfer. We spent 6 days camping beside the beach at Strandhill, a small village just outside Sligo, in the shadow of Knocknarea and the Queen’s Tomb.
Those 6 days consisted of eating, running (once up to the table top mountain that is Knocknarea), Pat cycling, Pat surfing, me writing, walks on the beach, going for meals to get out of the rain, eating, and going into Sligo.
The reception desk of the campground also had a room with wifi and a fully equipped kitchen – both came in good use when we needed to get out of the elements.
While we enjoyed Sligo and Strandhill, this is how we felt about the weather:
After days in County Sligo, it was time to head south to County Cork for the reason we traveled to Ireland: Lori and Andy’s wedding. Lori was one of my best friends in high school, and her and Andy came to visit us in 2012. Andy is from Ireland, Lori is Canadian, and they’re now living in Manhattan. Ireland seemed like a good choice for a wedding.
The wedding was held at Blackwater Castle, in town of Castletownroche. We were going to be staying IN the castle for the wedding, along with Lori and Andy’s other family and friends. Besides staying in a castle, I was also looking forward to seeing a few other friends from high school, and meeting their husbands.
I thought the castle would be like a hotel, and we would be sharing it with other guests and there would be hotel staff, but no! Lori and Andy, and guests, had the run of the place! Think of it as one massive holiday home, with plenty of bedrooms in the castle, the use of the grounds, and the use of the steadings, which had been converted into apartments, dormitories, and a large hall, which was to be used for the wedding meal.
The day before the wedding, us women drove down to the city of Cork for an afternoon tea (where I ate some bread, sandwich fillings and a scone filled with cream and jam), then we got our nails done! I opted for a post-half marathon pedicure. We then headed back to Castletownroche to the pub, and joined all the guests for drinks, laughs and music!
The next day was the wedding. The guest list, though small, was very international and full of expats, a testament to Lori and Andy as people, but also the time they’ve spent living in Dublin, Vancouver and now Manhattan. There were Canadians and Americans, and then us expats from all over, living all over: a Costa Rican living in Manchester, a Canadian living in London, a Sicilian living in Amsterdam, and an Irishman living in Vancouver. It was nice to speak to people who could relate to living in another country, and to people who also had UK visas. It was a real international crowd, but also full of familiarity with my friends Michelle and Melanie from high school, as well as Lori’s dad and sister, whom I knew from high school.
Guest list aside, Lori and Andy’s wedding was brilliant! The wedding of a lifetime. Their wedding was better than my wedding! Yes, they had a lovely setting, beautiful decorations, amazing food, and great souvenirs, but what made their wedding most special was the people. When Pat and I got married, we had all the people we love in a room together, I had all the people I love in a room together and I know that I will never have that again. When you live in another country, like Lori, Andy and myself have done, it’s these moments that are so special. You don’t take them for granted; instead, you make the most of them!
It was also a great day because Pat and I celebrated 4 years of marriage.
After the band, there was a DJ, and us girls changed into PJ’s and comfies, and danced to some of our favourite hip hop songs from high school, circ 1998. Ghetto Supastar anyone? People stayed up talking in the pub as well, and the banter, (or crack) was brilliant.
I don’t usually stay up late at all, but made it a point to stay until the end. This was my friends’ wedding, and my other friends from Canada were there. It was a rare moment that was worth the sleep deficit.
The next day was our transition back to reality. The wedding was over and guests were heading their separate ways. We packed up all our camping stuff, then said our goodbye’s to Lori and Andy, Melanie and her husband, and Michelle, her husband and kids. We also said goodbye to new friends made.
We then hightailed it to Dublin and back to Northern Ireland to camp the night before sailing home to Scotland the following day.
Our holiday was bittersweet for many reasons: while I enjoyed our surroundings and the scenery of both Northern Ireland and Ireland, the weather put a damper on things, quite literally at times. We have also come to the conclusion that we need a bigger tent and more camping equipment to ease the hassle.
Our holiday was also bittersweet because of the wonderful time spent at the wedding, followed by the sudden parting of guests. Pat and I feel truly honoured to have been invited to such a brilliant wedding, so thank you Lori and Andy. I had such a good time, that as we made our way down the castle drive, I had tears in my eyes. I didn’t want the moment to end.
But all good things – the wedding, our holiday, our time in Ireland – come to an end. We need that balance in life to make these special moments even more precious 🙂
And by the way, Ireland is sooooooo not the same as Scotland, but with different accents! 😉