Bleary-eyed and jetlagged, I stood on the sidewalk in Dublin with a dumb and confused look on my face (so I assumed; I hadn’t packed my vanity mirror). I was in the City Centre, I think. Okay, think… twenty-four hours without sleep was seriously inhibiting my ability to do anything productive. Well, I guess I’ll start walking. I’d seen signs for Trinity College, which seemed like a good place to start. Wait! First, a trip to the tourist office. Nothing makes you feel as stupid and lost as walking into the tourist office with a 50-pound backpack on your shoulders, greasy hair and bloodshot eyes, trying not to get hit by a bus while crossing the street because everybody in Ireland drives on the wrong side of the road and you habitually look left instead of right before taking a step onto the street.
But I digress. I got my phone up and running at the tourist office (€20 got me some minutes, data, and texts) and contacted my hosts. Not available until 5:00 p.m.? No problem, I’ve got an entire city to explore! I won’t go into the details, but at one point I fell asleep sitting on the boardwalk on the River Liffey with a tourist map on my lap. Upon awaking, I discovered my map was gone… must have been the breeze. At long last, my savior – I mean host – Guillaume Roux, called me and we set up a rendezvous. We arrived that evening at his flat, where I met my new roommates for the next few days, a fantastic mix of wonderful people from all around the world. That night, after 36 hours of NOT sleeping, I slumbered quite well on the comfy couch in their living room. Guillaume and Melissa were my wonderful hosts, and Melissa dedicated much of her time over the next couple days showing me around Dublin and practicing her English (she and Guillaume are French natives and both speak English quite well). To add excitement to my arrival, my good friend Rodney flew into Dublin the day after me, and we all got to tour the city together! Some highlights of our time in the city include drinks in Ireland’s oldest pub, The Brazen Head, as well as a Guinness brewery tour.
It wasn’t long before my captivatingly good looks and irresistible personality worked their magic on Guillaume and Melissa, and after only a day or two with them they invited me to join them and some friends on a car tour of the Ring of Kerry over the bank holiday weekend. Ah, but of course I will join you! Friday evening, I became a member of a secret society of international vagabonds bent upon wreaking havoc throughout the Irish countryside. We were an elite group of three French, two Brazilians, one Uruguayan, and one American, with two cars and three days to go where we would.
Driving in Ireland is an interesting experience, if one is from a country where the folk drive on the right (read: correct) side of the road. I had the privilege of driving our rental car for about half an hour one day as we rode up into Killarney National Park on a narrow, windy road. Upon reaching Ladies’ View, a lovely vista near the pass, I had decided that the tight muscles in my back, the dry feeling in my mouth, and the headache I’d mysteriously developed were, in fact, induced by the stress of nearly smashing into each vehicle I approached. I handed the keys off to one of the other guys for the remainder of the trip.
The remainder of the weekend was fantastic, with countryside drives, coastal views, mountain passes in the highlands (I saw Corrán Tuathail, Ireland’s highest peak), small villages, and exciting hostels. In fact, I met a French family one morning in the Sive Hostel in Cahersiveen, by the name of Le Bayon, and they extended me an invitation to stay with them should I ever come to Cork. Ah, Cork!
This city was my next destination. In fact, on our drive back toward Dublin, I asked my new friends to simply drop me off in Castleisland, a small down in western Ireland, for I was keen on hitchhiking the 60 miles to Blarney. I started walking, sure that somebody would pick me up. Irresistible charm, right? An hour later, I was sitting by the side of the road eating a pathetic lunch of bread and cheese, cursing the sore Achilles tendon I had and wishing for the luck of the Irish. Back on the road after lunch, with a failing faith in the feasibility of hitchhiking, was putting me in a foul mood, but at least the weather was good. A pickup drove by towing a sheep trailer… and stopped. Whoo! Dan was a sheep farmer, and as luck would have it, he was driving home to Cork. A pleasant drive and a good conversation later, I was dropped off in Blarney, for I wished to kiss the Blarney Stone before heading off to Cork. As it was late in the evening, I purchased my admission ticket to the estate grounds and quickly did my tour of Blarney Castle. What beautiful grounds the castle was on! And with so much space, and forested areas, and great looking sites for a camp…
The night found me hiding in the woods on the Blarney Estate, knowing full well I was locked in, for the grounds are surrounded by high fences with spikes to keep vagabonds like me out. And how was I to get out in the morning? Early to bed, early to rise, keeps a man healthy, wealthy, and out of trouble while he breaks out of an estate he shouldn’t have been in in the first place. Having found the main entrance barred and locked I searched for and discovered a stop in the fence where it met a river. It’s quite an experience climbing around the side of a high fence over a flowing body of water while wearing a backpack. Having secured my freedom from Blarney Estate Prison I was back on the street in Blarney Village, and it wasn’t even 7:30. Perfect time for a can of cold lentil soup for breakfast while I tried to decrypt the bus schedule to Cork.
Cork is an interesting city, and I’m sure it would have been much more interesting had my heel not become debilitatingly painful, and if the rain wasn’t so heavy. I ducked my way into a cafe called The Streat and quickly befriended Daragh, the owner, who was stricken by my incredible good looks (despite the greasy hair, bloodshot eyes and unwashed face) and allowed me to purchase a coffee from his fine establishment and rest my weary heiny. Daragh recalled later that, upon entering the cafe, my first words were “The road is long, and I’ve been dreaming about a cup of coffee;” surely the Blarney Stone did its work and bestowed upon me the gift of eloquence. After reviving myself for some time in the cafe I found the strength to suck it up and limp around the old Cork City Gaol and Fitzgerald Park, as well as The English Market before returning to The Streat to sit and contemplate my fate, as I was sure my foot would have to be amputated. But even this would not be a problem, for behold, I had called the Le Bayon family, and with their lovely French accents they made it clear to me that I was indeed welcome in their home for the night. That evening Damien picked me up, as he worked in Cork, and, despite the offensive odor I must have emanated, allowed me to ride in the passenger seat of his car to his family’s house in Cobh (say “cove”). Hélène (Damien’s wife) and their three boys – Augustin, Armand, and Louis – were all there to welcome me, as well as Hélène’s parents, visiting from France. Upon arriving I was keen to take a shower, as I was afraid of offending the family and forfeiting my right as a guest to sleep in the house. Once refreshed, I enjoyed a lovely evening with this lovely family, and I am happy to say I now have friends living in Cobh, Ireland. Homemade crepes, beer, wine, cider, and vegetable soup were our fare for the evening, and all-you-can-eat toast and jam with coffee and tea was my morning breakfast, all prepared with love by Hélène and Damien.
Damien dropped me off in Cork that morning on his way to work, and I made a beeline to The Streat to thank Daragh for all his help and hospitality. What was meant to be a ten-minute stay turned into a two-hour visit, and I got two free cups of coffee! Daragh and I had some great conversation, and we got a few photographs as well. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and I was bound for the Cork bus station to continue my journey. Next stop, Mullinavat, where I had a wonderful CouchSurfing host waiting for me. Fionnuala has a lovely home in the Irish countryside, and as luck would have it she was also hosting a guy from Quebec, named Ismael. We all got along well and had some great conversation. While in Mullinavat I took the opportunity to tour Kilkenny, the famous medieval town. Besides that day trip I decided to lay low and let my heel heal (don’t get confused there) up. Plus, I had developed the beginnings of a chest cold, the price I paid for my insolent behavior on the Blarney Estate and subsequent wandering of Cork in the rain. Fully rested and ready to move again after three days in Mullinavat, I hopped a bus from Waterford to Wexford, where Dónal, my next host, met up with me. His parents and brothers live in Kilmore Quay, a lovely town on the southeast coast of Ireland. I immediately felt at home with the Byrne family. So far, they have fed me and given me a place to sleep, and there have been no beatings. I hope my luck continues to hold. Irresistible charm…