Like many graduates of a long — and occasionally tedious — Catholic education, I have a cultural pining for Ireland. I formed a tacky, haphazardly constructed vision of my heritage that was informed by annual St. Patrick’s Day singalongs in the gym of St. Jane de Chantal. Somewhere in the crowd of that auditorium full of children singing Irish drinking songs at an oh-so-sober 10 in the morning, I’m sure I felt connected to this green, cheerful island where everybody rhymed instead of talked.
The school’s principal stood in the front of the gym leading the singalong, cantering the story of Molly Malone to her congregation* of mostly Irish-Catholic children. She would tell us stories of all the trips to Ireland she and her family — half of whom had kids at the school — had taken. She was especially fond of the time she kissed the Blarney stone and attained the gift of gab.
After the hours-long liturgy to the motherland, my sister and I would come home to a lovingly prepared briny mess of a corned beef that our mother made exactly once a year for St. Patrick’s Day. Years later, the summer before my sophomore year of college, Avianca Airlines lost my luggage in Brazil, entitling me to a several hundred dollars’ compensation. I would later blow this money on a five day trip to Ireland, to see the emerald isle for myself.
My sister, who also has the words to every Irish pub song latent in her childhood memory, agreed to come with me before her senioritis even set in. We created a Google doc called “Ireland” for brainstorming all of the ways we would connect with our heritage. We landed in Cork with four days to get to Dublin for our flight home. We had absolutely nothing, not even a hostel, booked for the trip. We were there to live it up and play it by ear.
It’s worth prefacing an account of our trip with the disclaimer that my sister and I live predisposed to disaster. We have terrible luck, all of the time, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We transpose the luck of the Irish for the charm of the Irish.
It was raining sideways when we landed. I had a sweater. I threw my red woolen blanket of a sweater over my head and hoped for the best as we walked to the airport bus. We compromised on finding accommodations and picked the moderately overpriced Sheila’s Hostel, halfway up the hill. “Are you Sheila,” we asked the softly-accented woman who checked us in. “No,” she responded, throwing our sheets and towels on the counter, welcoming us to Cork. We were at a loss for charming B&B accommodations on a foggy meadow complete with a full Irish breakfast and lambs to play with. We ate neither a cockle nor a mussel. We definitely didn’t spend 20 dollars to kiss the fucking Blarney stone.
We took our time going from place to place. We went to Galway on a whim and befriended the crowd of professional vagabonds in the hostel kitchen, the best part of any hostel experience. We felt so naked and ashamed when a white woman with dreads asked us how long we’d be in Ireland for and we responded that we were leaving the day after next.
Looking back at any trip on your phone’s camera reel, the clusters of photos reveal the moments that mattered. Our Ireland reel has clouds, food, urban decay and 17 shots of my sister and I taking pictures of each other in Cobh (pronounced “cove” — I asked someone where the bus to “COBB” was and I feel like I narrowly avoided a fight). One could argue that the only transformative part of this trip was a new Tinder profile picture. I never got my blood sausage, and we missed the Cliffs of Moher. We made a concerted effort to hear Irish music in a Dublin pub, but promptly left after 10 minutes on account of jet lag. I still cherished the time I spent with my sister. I love that Ireland gave us the time to bond over a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc gifted to us by a literal ship captain in the Dublin Airport. I’d be hard pressed to say that I experienced closure after all my years of cultural “education.” I took a picture with a statue of Oscar Wilde on the same day that I hitchhiked the width of Ireland with my sister, and maybe that’s enough.
*Only when I went to college did I think about how bizarre this exercise must have been. At least one of those songs was about a prostitute, and in retrospect that feels off-brand for a school that taught fundamental Christian thought.
John Besche | firstname.lastname@example.org