Just finished an 11 day journey around Ireland with a small group tour company and it was incredible! I was the only solo traveller and by the end we all felt like one big happy family who'd gone through this amazing experience together. I live alone and spend a lot of time alone so spending 16 hours a day with people I had just met was something I feared might be too much for me, but it ended up really being great. Just jam packed, on and off the bus all the time and super luxe accommodations.
This was my fifth trip to Ireland. My first was in 1984, then '92, 2000, 2009 and 2019. I will be back. I love this country. I actually fell in love with it before I ever came here - was just infatuated with it for some reason and don't remember what started it - but it started around college time. I talked my two girlfriends into coming here when we flew to London in '84, when we were all 23 years old. We were backpacking and had very little money, but traveling was pretty cheap back then. We had no plans, no reservations, and spent our first night (after taking the sea ferry from Holyhead to Dublin) in Dublin at a very grotty hostel downtown (when Temple Bar was still a slum!). We got up the next morning and asked some locals where we should go and without even having to think of it they said "The Dingle Peninsula". So we went to the train station and took the train to Tralee, and rode the bus to Dingle, til we walked around and found a B&B we could afford. We hit the pubs and drank Guinness with locals for weeks...there weren't too many Americans around at that time and Dingle was still only slightly touristed (now it almost feels like Disneyland). Me and one of my friends immediately fell in love with two Irish boys and spent a week with them before we tore ourselves away to tour the rest of the country. I stayed in the Republic while my two girlfriends with North with a plan to meet at the train station on a certain date. I hitchhiked around by myself and had some boring and weird experiences, and finally went to the train station where my friend did not show up (today, we could have just texted!). When she didn't show up I felt despair and decided to hitchhike back to Dublin and go home early. I was hitching to Dublin and a guy picked me up and I ended up in Galway after riding around for a couple of days with him. He dropped me off in a park and said he'd pick me back up at 5:00pm to take me to Dublin and he never showed up. Just writing this makes me feel sort of sad for my 23 year old self - that I was so gullible and did not take agency over my own life - but how could I have known any better? I think of how utterly different I am now, 35 years later, where I can afford to travel exactly how I wish and don't cut corners and deeply, deeply take care of myself. Just writing that makes me see how far I've come. Being sober is a huge part of that. Anyway, back to the story (that I was not intending to write!), I made another Dublin sign and spent all day hitching and no one showed. I went to a phone booth and called the restaurant in Dingle where the boy I had fallen for worked and he begged me to come back. I did not know he felt that way so I got back to Dingle somehow and we reunited in romantic bliss for the next few weeks. We even blew off our plane tickets (my girlfriend had come back to be with her man also), and I think I remember us crying together on the ferry back to London as we said goodbye to this country that we had fallen in love with and in. I flew back to NYC where I was living (rather dreadfully to tell the truth) and she flew back to Houston. We talked on the phone every day from our jobs and obsessed over going back to Ireland. I moved back to Austin in January of 85 and she moved back to Nebraska (her home). My Dingle boy came to the US (I have a stack of a year's worth of beautiful love letters) and we met up the next summer of '85 in NYC and had a nice reunion, but my feelings had changed, and when a few months later (after working in NY for a bit) he wanted to come to Texas to see me and I said I was involved with someone else. That was the LAST time I spoke to him before two weeks ago. I had spent the last 35 years hoping for some sort of reunion or meeting of some kind, and to apologize if I'd hurt him in any way (and to be honest, hoping that there might still be a spark). On my second day in Dublin, which was a Monday, I knew that was my chance to go find him. He had not responded to my Facebook messages and I thought maybe he wanted nothing to do with me or was just too busy to be bothered with some 58 year old lady who is enraptured with sentimentality about this time in her life (talking about myself in third person now: interesting). I had looked up where his doctor's office was (surprisingly close to my hotel) and made a plan to just drop by at some point that day. I got up early and rode the hop on/hop off bus around Dublin (those always sound like fun but usually suck; this one was particularly bad) and got off around Temple Bar area and nervously made my way the two miles or so to his office. I stopped off for a bite to eat and then used a hotel bathroom to freshen up and make sure there was no food in my teeth, and then marched to the Georgian townhouse where he performs surgeries. I got there and balked. I paced around and walked up and down the street thinking this was a really bad idea...but then I just sucked it up and said to myself What is the worst that can happen? fully knowing that no matter how horrible the outcome could be that I would KICK myself for not being brave enough to do this. I walked up and rang the doorbell. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking. I am never that nervous so shaking hands is a very surprising thing for me to have. I tall man answered the door and I said real fast that I was an old friend of the doctors and could I just leave a message I don't want to bother him. And the man said I'll see if he's available! And I go sit in the waiting room and I hear this familiar voice say "Marsha Kendall!" and bounding down the stairs is that tall & handsome man I met 35 years ago. He was delighted to see me. We went and had a lunch around the corner and tried as much as possible to catch up on our lives. He had somewhere to be so we only had about an hour together. I walked back to my hotel and don't know if I even tried to process it...I had to get up early the next day to go on my tour so I don't think I wrote much about it - maybe to my NYC friend who gets my TOMES(!!!). All I know is that when the trip started I felt a bleakness that was raw and hollowed out and I off. I was tired, I wanted to go home, and I'd only been in Ireland for 72 hours with THREE WEEKS to go! I think a part of me felt like I'd done what I came here to do...fast forward to today, where I only have one week left and am on my break in Dublin between tours. The trip was wonderful beyond words (the bleak feeling dissipated quickly) and there were such beautiful, tender moments of connection with the country and it's citizens. We all really bonded on the bus and everyone was kind and gracious. I surrendered to the tour and had a great time.
The two days in Dingle were a deep dive in the layers of limbic memories where this 1984 love story still lived. I felt like I inhabited my body in a way that I hardly do anymore: younger, sexual, full of future possibilities...in short: being a young woman. A girl. There is nothing like entering the crone period of one's life to truly, truly appreciate what it was like to be young and to not have realized at all what you had. I just thought of myself as an edgy party girl, and that guys liked me because I was funny. But they liked me because I was cute. Cute...and Young. And now my deep limbic love feelings get stirred when I interact with babies or children. I could not be more delighted that this has happened. I spent the shorter of my overseas flights next to a boisterous baby who I played peek-a-boo with for two hours and his mom was so happy that I helped keep her baby entertained. I say what I always say...that this was an absolute treat for me as I don't get to be around babies very much. But back to Dingle, my body was obsessed with tracking the route from my Hotel past the B&B we first stayed in, down to O'Flaherty's Pub, up past Dick Mack's and back to Benner's. It was my own Ulysses. I walked it over and over again in the two days...my eyes hungrily taking in every molecule of those streets, as if somehow I could relive those days once again by just following this crazy circle. I made myself hang out in both pubs, as awkward as that can be as a non-drinker. I ordered my sparkling water everywhere so I'd have a glass with something in it, but it never felt the same. It was ancient, it was over...my mind could tell me that buy my bones and my soul ACHED to feel that sense of freedom again. Yet I have even more freedom now, so memory is an interesting character.
Wow. What a rambling, all over the map post this has become! I was going to write about this tour but ended up writing mostly about the 1984 trip and ended up with how much I love having the grandma gene. I suppose what is really interesting to me is how aging changes what one loves, or what one thinks is the source of what will bring one love...for most of my life I thought only romantic love could save/cure/rescue me. I had felt so love starved in my youth that that hunger drove me for decades...it has only subsided in the last 7 years (with lots of help and work), and what a blessing that has been...all the other forms of juicy love that are available have rolled gently into my sphere the fill the space vacated by romantic yearning. Interacting with babies and toddlers everywhere when I catch their eyes, giving food to homeless men at a shelter and feeling the oneness with them...getting to inhabit my own body and feel all my edges and practice the incredibly hard job of actually trying to love myself, and the riches that that has brought. When I think about how many hours a week I spent focussing my attention on romantic drama it amazes me that I figured out how to break free of it (or that I needed to). I was stuck in a pattern that I did not create and did not even know what it was until very recently. Without going into the amazing insights I now have about that part of my life, I am making a new map into an unknown place that I am traveling as I am overhauling it. It is truly a journey into the unknown and filled with lots of sharp points that I have to stop and bandage. I am making new neural pathways in my nervous system...ones that flourishes on safety, security, and kindness...(I just looked at that last sentence and cannot believe it came from my fingers), and not on drama, lack, and chronic abandonment reenactment.
I won't write about the details of my lunch with the Dublin doc I met in Dingle, but something about it felt like we had just been hanging out the day before. It was so comfortable and fun...and the details of his life were surprising enough to me to realize that no, I hadn't sabotaged love for myself, I had created something so beautiful and wonderful as to have it's own life and beauty and to be the inspiration for this blog's inception. I hadn't sabotaged love, I had held out for the greatest love of all: the carving out of my own beautiful life, of which romantic love is a really sweet piece, but just a piece...not the whole pie. My relationship with this country and the romance with the Irish boy now has an ending. And it was a really, really great story that I got to tell everyone on my tour van!