I arrived in Ireland introspective, uncertain, and a little disheveled, carrying everything I owned on my back. After spending most of the year studying in France, I wanted to experience living elsewhere for a spell. The prevalent and bizarre American fetish with Irish culture was not what initially led me there. I had left my summer destination to a literal a coin toss, and Ireland prevailed. And so as I sat on the train out of Dublin I found myself in unfamiliar territory, having no expectations or knowledge of this place.
A small, older gentlemen with white hair in a tweed jacket from another era sat across from me on that first train. He began to strike up a friendly conversation. I remember being jolted in a way, the French don’t typically speak to strangers and I had become accustomed to that. His cheery demeanor, crooked glasses and film-worthy County Clare accent awoke me out of a haze in the best way. He spoke to me as if he’d known me his whole life, telling stories about his mother’s bread and the best pubs in the south and the finest mountains in Ireland.
When asked, I said it was my first day in the country, and I was moving to a town called Westport, which I had never seen and where I knew no one. He was in utter disbelief of this, so much so that he interrupted a woman across the aisle and said, “This lass is American and she doesn’t know a soul in Ireland but she’s movin to Westport, can you believe it?” So this was Ireland, sent to awaken me, and rather unexpectedly, it had. Surely a fated coin toss.
If you sit on a train due west from Dublin, you will leave the Irish Sea and reach the Atlantic coast in three hours. The entire country is near the size of Ohio, and everyone knows somebody somewhere, or somebody’s brother somewhere. I arranged a work exchange at a hostel in County Mayo. It was the last stop on the train, and as the sun set I trailed through a quiet brick town to my new home. After getting acquainted in the common room where the staff were all having a beer, the French in me instinctively asked, “is there any good wine I can get a hold of here?” “Of course,” Fergal answered, “it’s called whisky”.
The months I spent in County Mayo were spirited, warm and perfect. I worked alongside an array of other internationals and local people. We hitchiked to the mountains, snuck into festivals, climbed Croagh Saint Patrick, swam in the Atlantic, and drank Guinness with black current. County Mayo is hands down the most beautiful part of Ireland, although surely the next county would argue differently with passion over a drink. Nestled in rolling hills, Mayo boasts gorgeous scenery, rugged coastline, quaint villages, and an innumerable amount of cozy Irish pubs. Yes, it rains, but no, not really as much as people think. Everyone should travel to Ireland, it truly has so much to offer. Cheap in comparison to many parts of Europe, beautiful beyond reason, and home to the most hospitable people in the world. To those with a travel itch, I encourage you to venture out of Dublin. Ireland is a wanderlust playground offering many superior roads less traveled outside of her capital.
As a west-coaster I highly recommend Cork, Killarney and Galway, each bright young, lively cities. Ireland’s natural wonders are a dream, Connemara and Killarney National Parks are top on my list along with Achill and Aran Islands. Public transport is easy enough to navigate, but even as a female solo traveler I scaled much of the country hitchhiking comfortably. If you are young and broke like I am, look into work exchange programs like workaway, helpx, or woofing, which allow you to work part time abroad in exchange for board. Your wallet will thank you, you’ll become involved with local communities.
Whether it be luck, fate, or curiosity that brings you to Ireland, come with open arms, and you’ll get the same in return. Like many others before me, I gained more than I came with, and left a little piece of my heart behind in payment. Surely there are few other countries in the world which are so small and so vast all at once.
This article appeared in the March issue of The Vindicator.