(Set the mood with a little Celtic folk and travel back to Ireland with me!)
Summer ended in a gentle whisper this year. My housemate and I made the hour-long flight from London to Cork, where we bade August a calm, quiet, cool farewell. Ireland was a place to breathe deep, breathe clean. The velvet green of those Irish hills gets into your bones somehow and the golden flecks of sunlight shimmer off the cold Irish sea and settle into your heart.
After renting a car and spending a quick night in Cork, Jana and I drove to Killarney National Park. In no hurry, we spent the day ambling through the woods, stumbling upon churches that looked as if they'd grown from the ground, and braving twisty mountain roads only to stop every hundred meters for yet another can't-believe-my-eyes view. My favorite detour: after turning down a mysterious dirt path, we came upon an abandoned house. Nature had made itself quite at home inside those concrete walls and I was ready to move it too! Jana kept waiting for a "feral man" to appear, which, to be fair, was an very real possibility. As the daylight faded, we traveled into the Killarney town center for a lamb burger and then located the evening's Airbnb, where a delightful hostess named Bernie was awaiting us with tea and biscuits and Irish-accented stories of her grandchildren. She was perfect and I fell in love immediately.
After waking up in the coziest room to a mist-shrouded mountain view, we experienced the real wonder of Ireland: Bernie's full Irish breakfast. I'm still dreaming about those fried eggs. All fueled up and inspired by Bernie's recommendations, we rerouted our itinerary to hike the Gap of Dunloe. The beauty of this winding technicolor trek only intensified as the deep grey rainclouds rolled over the mountains. Just as the downpour began, a little teashop appeared in the heart of the Gap as if by a bit of Irish magic. We ducked in, filled up on scones, and completed the misty eight mile hike, where the Gap spilled into the Black Valley. Brimming with the glory of green and growing things, we headed to the Dingle Peninsula.
A pitstop at Ross Castle and many kilometers of treacherous-but-worth-it driving later we arrived in Brandon, where our hostess awaited us in the loveliest seaside cottage you could ever dream up. After tea and biscuits and life stories from our fabulous hostess Sue, we popped into a local pub for some stew and people watching. We happened upon a little public beach and, along with the residents of a mint green Volkswagen van parked in the sand, watched the sun sink into the sea.
After a night of that deeply good kind of sleep that comes from fresh air and long hikes, we joined Sue for a full Irish breakfast, starring her homemade soda bread. (She shared the recipe with a sort of secret import that suggested I should be very honored, and I was.) Our first stop of the day was Inch Strand Beach where I learned that a moody beach can be as wonderful as a sunny beach. We wound down the peninsula into Dingle, a colorful quilt of a town bursting with shops, bakeries, and art galleries. A few favorites: The Little Cheese Shop (we tried chocolate covered cheese!), the Dingle Record Shop (Bono is a patron!), and Lisbeth Mulcahy's gorgeous weaving studio. Per Sue's recommendation, we followed the coastline to the beautifully constructed Blasket's Heritage Centre where we explored the fascinating history of a tribe of people who inhabited the Blasket Islands until their forced evacuation in the 1950s.
Next came the centerpiece of the trip: a late afternoon excursion up Slea Head Drive. Every twist and turn of the skinny, cliff-hugging road brought a new sunbathed vista. Rolling green hills dropped sharply into sheer black cliff faces, where Caribbean-blue ocean waves crashed against the craggy rocks. White stucco cottages dotted the hills like confetti. Don't forget this, I kept telling myself.
Don't forget just how vivid the roadside tangles of wildflowers are– pinks and oranges and purples so bright they seem to be lit from within. Don't forget just how thick the wooly mist is as it swallows the giant black mountains whole. Don't forget just how perfectly a dormer window can frame the view of a chilly Irish beach.
And then, of course, a rainbow sparkled into existence. Just for us. It lingered only long enough to melt into a glowy pink sunset, a sunset so good we had to pull the car over. As Jana and I leaned against an ancient wood fence and let the rosy light soak into our skin, I thanked God for this life, a life where Ireland exists and I have the privilege to explore it.