Dublin didn’t even need to try to win me over. When I stepped off the bus at Trinity College the connection with this city hit me like a speeding freight train. I noticed right away what made it appealing and different from any other city I had been in. There is a very distinct culture that lingers in every shop, street corner and little cafe. It seems so deeply rooted in the art of being comfortable, healthy, down to earth and happy. I stayed in a hostel right beside the famous Temple Bar. This area is flocked to by not just young travellers looking to drink Guinness but the locals as well. When the sun goes down, this part of the city is given breath and life. Every second shop is vintage and you can be sure to find “Whisky in the Jar” being played on a different instrument in each classic pub. I felt at home walking these streets, almost like I already lived there to be honest. After a long day of travel, I took it easy and decided to explore the town. The smiling lady at the tourist office greeted me with a “what can I do for yeah love” and I nearly jumped over the counter to give her a huge hug. These were my people. Just like I knew they would be. The friendly Irish stereotype was entirely real. She kindly circled all the key squares and streets on my map and I was off.
It was strange being alone to tell you the truth. I had just spent such a long time being surrounded by people and almost forgot what it felt like to navigate my way around a new country by myself. I’ve been getting pretty good at using these big maps (which are usually mangled and ripped in half by the time I’m done with them). Luckily, Dame street ran right through the centre as a clear landmark. Most of my evening was spent peeking into shops and drinking tea in Temple Bar. I was so content on those cobblestone roads. The sound of live music and passion filled the streets with warmth. Warmth was something I needed…did I mention a whole season had come and gone? I know, I barely noticed it myself. Dressedin my sandals, kapri’s and a tank top, I clearly wasn’t prepared for the bone cold Autumn weather that had thrown itself on the Earth. I ignored it as long as I could until I ducked into a little fish and chip shop to eat. Man did they ever know how to make a mean meal. As I waddled out (yes, waddled), I noticed a cute little coffee shop down the street that read “Brick Cafe”. The man working at the counter was the happiest barista I had ever seen and taught me how to mix Turkish Apple and Peppermint tea to create the perfect combination of cozy with a refreshing twist. I’ve since been in eight times. Leave it to me to become a regular in a Dublin cafe after only four days in the city.
I was up bright and early Tuesday morning with many plans. There’s so much you can do in Dublin but only select attractions really interested me. The best thing about this city is there is plenty you can see and experience without a tour. There are a ton of famous streets, buildings and homes of iconic writers. Just walking down Grafton street made me feel like I was a part of something important. I think Ireland is a country that needs to be experienced in a local way. I didn’t feel like I needed to visit every museum to get a true impression. Actually, I was the most excited to visit the famous Grafton stretch. A movie that speaks to me in such an exceptional way is called Once. I’ve talked about it and shared it millions of times so if you know me, you’re aware of my deep love for this film. This entire musical film takes place in Dublin and a lot of the main busking scenes are performed on Grafton. Walking down this street had me smiling like a love sick puppy with my tongue hanging out and it wasn’t just my inner fangirl freaking, I was in awe of this entire atmosphere. The vibe of that street was out of this world. The most amazing musicians played every two steps you took and all the sounds they made mixed together into an addictive melody themselves. Everyone seemed happy to be there. I certainly was. I stood where Glen Hansard poured out his soul singing “Say it to me Now” at the top of his lungs. I ate a berry tart from Brewleys and took a stroll through Stephens Green. All very simple things but oh so pleasurable. I ended up taking my own Once walking tour since I’m shocked they don’t have an official one in place. I wandered around inside Walton’s Music Store where the two actors played Falling Slowly and sipped a hot tea in Simon’s Cafe in the exact window seat they sat. Maybe it doesn’t seem as grand to anyone else but for me, it was a dream come true.
The opening scene of Once with Glen HansardGrafton Street, Dublin
St. Stephens Green
The Guinness Storehouse couldn’t be missed. I took a local bus down to the famous Thomas street, one of the oldest in Dublin and explored the unique people and markets before heading in for a tour. Each person is lead through a mock brewery and shown through photos, videos and big white phrases written on the walls how the beer is created and the story of Arthur Guinness. They treat “the black stuff” like God and don’t let you forget its significance in Irish culture. It was a really cool experience seeing how this beer I had in my hand 90 per cent of my time there was made and produced. I met a great girl named Sarah there from Vancouver who kept me company through the walk. Towards the end, we were able to pour our own pint and received a certificate when we achieved the perfect pour. I keep saying I’m going to place it right next to the certificate saying I walked across a country…which one I’m more proud of, I couldn’t tell ya.
My pint lies right in the middle
There’s a beautiful one woman show I’ve been blessed to see called Myra’s Story by Brian Foster. The plot features a witty and eccentric homeless woman from Dublin, Ireland as she so soulfully tells the story of how she found herself on the street, bottle in hand. The role of Myra was originated by Carmel McCafferty. I had the pleasure of seeing this role performed to its fullest so beautifully by Jennifer Cornish and this production has taken off successfully, winning awards and traveling from my community of K-W to the London Fringe and beyond. I remember sitting front row during one of the early performances and even sitting in a rehearsal where Jen began mastering Myra. I was moved by the way it dug beneath the surface view of somebody living on the street and showed in such a raw and real way that they all have a story to tell and a wicked journey behind and ahead of them. A lot of the time, they need love more than anything else. There’s often a stigma behind the homeless. We’re so quick to judge a book by its cover. I was so inspired by Jen’s flawless interpretation of the role and the ride that it took me on that I wanted to dig behind the surface too. The story had touched me. I wanted to open up the minds of others to a new point of view with my writing and photography.
As I walked down Grafton searching for inspiration, a woman reached out and touched my shoulder gently. “Please love, please”, she pleaded. “Please buy me some food. I have four babies at home, one is desperate for an operation and welfare won’t give me what I need. Please.” I hesitated at first. The story could have been a ploy and the baby carriage she had beside her could have been filled with balloons for all I knew. But there was something about her. She even looked like Myra. Her hair was tattered and her teeth were worn. I decided to open my heart and mind and give her a chance. “What is your name?” I asked her. “My name is Miranice”, she replied. I just about fell over. Whether or not this woman was telling the truth I didn’t know. All I knew was there was at least a chance that she could truly need someone to care about her for just a moment. I wanted to be someone that believed in her story. I lead her into the nearest store and told her to pick out the food she needed. She proceeded to buy four sandwiches and gratefully thanked me as the line dwindled in front of us. I assured Miranice that it wasn’t a problem at all and asked if I was able to chat with her for a little longer and take her photograph. She suddenly put a guard up, refused my offer and seemed eager to rush away. She thanked me several times again and rounded the corner with speed. I know little about her life aside from her children and desperate need for food. I didn’t end up walking away with a photo but her thanks was genuine and real and I needed to respect her nervousness towards interaction. Perhaps there was a story behind that too.
I was luckier the day I met Keith. He approached me on Chatham in between the ladies selling flowers and asked for two Euro’s in order to take a bus and see his son. This time, I decided to get to know him right away. He assured me that I could ask the flower ladies behind us if he was someone who could be trusted and quickly called them over. The two of them had obviously gotten to know this man over the years and patted him on the back while telling me he had lived quite the life and yes, was roaming the streets without a home. “Although he shouldn’t be”, the white haired lady said. “You’re a good looking man.” Keith leaned in and whispered to me, “did you hear what she said? She said I was a good looking man and I shouldn’t be homeless. Everybody says that. My Mother tells me this all the time and I want to believe her but I don’t know what in the world I should be living for.” Keith told me about his wife and son and how they were ripped away from him as he spiralled deeper into drugs and alcohol. Most of his family, aside from his Mother, had given up on him long ago and he was sick over it. “I’ve walked in these shoes and they keep telling me that I’m doing something wrong. I know there is a reason I am here but I can’t for the life of me figure out what that is. There are people in my life who would walk to the ends of the Earth for me but I don’t think they know where to walk to.” What I saw while speaking to this man was someone who was very lost. He seemed helpless and spoke to me with such a hope that I would give him the answers that he had been searching for. I couldn’t. All I could tell him was I had faith he would find his way if that’s what he truly wanted. “If you’re going to quote me or post this in your writing, go wild. Maybe someone will find an announcer that can tell me what it is I need to do.” Several times he told me that he hadn’t opened up like this in front of anyone else before and tears filled his eyes, afraid to fall. He was angry with God. Confused as to why it was him that was chosen to lead this life. I listened and nodded and continued to confirm my belief in him as he expressed his deepest feelings. As we parted, I asked him what he would want to say to a large group of people if he had the chance.
“Be happy. If you’re happy in this world, everyone else follows.”
I wished the same for him and made sure he had what he needed for bus fare. Just keep him in your thoughts. He’ll most definitely be in mine. I plan to continue to uncover the stories behind people like Keith more and more as I travel through this country.
The people of Ireland didn’t stop showing themselves in the most unexpected ways. Neil was sitting at his tiny desk in the George’s Street Arcade concentrating on a very detailed drawing of a tree. He was surrounded by sketches and photographs. I told him that his drawing was phenomenal and he said to me, “Oh this? Just a doodle. Something to keep my brain going on a Tuesday.” If you had seen this drawing you would have gawked at his modesty. I looked over at the framed sketches. “Oh those aren’t mine”, he said. “I take the photographs over there.” His photos expressed the exact style I have been striving for. He captured the candid moments of human interaction so perfectly and put such a unique spin on what the city had to offer. Even with his photographs he was still a modest man and shrugged off most of my praise as I flipped through each of the matted prints. I was shocked to hear that all of these were taken with an old film camera. He was very much against the modern digital world and refused to even create a website for his work. He thought that the images on a digital camera were too crisp and had him focusing on the wrinkles in a ladies dress rather than the picture as a whole. “If you’re on a photographers website and you see one image that you don’t like, what do you do? You click away. You don’t really get a chance to know their work that way.” Neil then pulled out his well loved camera and showed me a special, rubber device that he created in order to produce a unique blur technique in some of his photos. You could tell that he really saw people through a different light than the rest of us and captured moments in time that were so full of life and colour. I was inspired by his work. He so kindly told me I could pick out my favourite print to take home free of charge and he even wrote a few key must-see’s in Ireland on the back of it. I was so lucky that he took the time out of his day for a chat about something we both love.
I walked through the George’s Street Arcade and marvelled at the shops and stands in this cute permanent marketplace. Pat was the next crazy human to cross my path. Or perhaps I crossed his. A series of poetry books leaned against a mucky wall on College Green. Pat Ingoldsby sat on an upside-down milk crate with a funny brown hat on his head writing on several old bus stubs. I stopped for a second to catch a glimpse of the covers. He yelled at me over the roaring traffic, “hey! Girl with the camera. Do you want to hear something I’ve written today? I didn’t have paper so I had to write them on these bus tickets.” He then read to me the simplest poem I had ever heard about a spider and his web. It intrigued me to discover more. “When did you start writing?”, I asked. He shook his head and told me that was such an American question to ask and how everyone seems to start off with that one. “How long have I been writing? I don’t know…since ten minutes ago?” He had made quite the name for himself with at least 7 books published and features on several popular radio stations and television programs. He pointed to the stack of them and said, “All just as weird, wacky and bizarre.” Except he used even crazier words to describe his work, I just can’t remember them. Pat made a point of telling me that he lives without access to a lot of the modern world. He doesn’t have a cellphone or a computer with internet. He doesn’t even know how to internet. He doesn’t use credit cards, “just the money I make off of my book sales each day.” I liked his personality. He was blunt and honest but very confident in himself in a way that you just respect because he has a reason to be. We talked for quite a while and he flipped through some of his favourite creations and read to me a few of his favourite wild poems. Yes, they were weird but all of them outlined an aspect of the world that we usually don’t focus on. The littlest of thoughts and moments. Very much like what I try to achieve in my photography, actually. Here’s a little sample just to give you an idea:
BLIND COWS CAN’T HEAR:
In the land
behind the wardrobe
in your bedroom
all the cows moo
at one another
with speech balloons
so that you won’t know
they are there.
He even told me about the love of his life and how she lives in an entirely different country with her husband but comes to visit every so often. “We’ve been having a wild and passionate affair for 8 months now and I’m just smitten by her.” I couldn’t even argue with the man about morals. He looked so happy just telling me about this woman.
Every stop he travels to he carries with him a book and gets each of his customers to sign it with a message. He has sentiments from people all over the world and I was really happy to add to his collection. I asked if I could take his photograph after several minutes of chatting. He looked at me and said,
“I would prefer it if you bought a book to be honest.” I hesitated. “Well, I’m just a photographer and…”
“And I’m a writer”, he interrupted.
Touche Pat. Touche.
I did buy a book and he was right when he said it was going to be my traveling companion.
Before I left, he signed the inside cover and told me to crouch in as he read me something important. “This is a poem that I don’t think you need to read at all. So skip it, okay?”
VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY FEW PEOPLE WILL EVER TELL YOU THIS
You don’t need permission to be free
As I walked away he called out to me,
“You’ve got the freshness of youth on your side. Surf it.”
That night was spent at a recommended vegetarian restaurant where I met Aly. I usually eat alone which I seriously don’t mind doing at this point (it’s all about owning your choice. Anyone familiar with the scene from the movie Hope Floats? You totally planned this). Aly was just finishing her meal and since the empty tables were scarce, she told me I could sit there while she packed up. We started talking and sharing by candle light and before I knew it, I had made yet another friend. Aly is finally following her dreams after much struggle wondering what following her heart really felt like. She traveled a lot in the past too but has since become busy with marriage and school and thought that her backpacking days were over. Our conversation inspired her to give that a second look and continue to check in with herself to make sure she’s always doing what makes her truly happy. I received an email from Aly last week saying that if I ever needed anything at all, she has a car, a house and a family in Ireland and she’ll always be there if I need her. Seriously, this Irish hospitality is overwhelming. Oh and it’s worth mentioning that I ate at this Veggie restaurant called Cornucopia about four times…so….every day. I love changing it up but when you have a good thing going….
A night out in Temple Bar ended every evening with a bang. My hostel wasn’t overly social this time so it was up to me to find the party. It’s never a problem and I’ve gotten so used to just sitting at the bar sipping a beer or mingling around alone until someone pops into my life. It happens every time without fail. There’s a series of lines that I stringed together in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love which says:
“I can make friends with anybody. I can make friends with the dead. If there isn’t anyone else around to talk to, I could probably make friends with a four-foot tall pile of sheetrock.”
Yes, I am confident in my ability to meet someone anywhere I go, and I did. Temple Bar brought me friends from Germany, Colorado and Texas. The Auld Dubliner brought me three beautiful people from Germany and Switzerland who I ended up meeting up with twice and we partied hard at a three floor gay bar called The Dragon. Those friends are the best kind because there’s no better place to know someone as they are than in an Irish Pub while the music plays.
My final day was busy and far different than I expected. I’d spent my time here experiencing a lot of things I didn’t think I would before I started. The no-plan plan really leaves opportunities wide open. I took a look at a small photo gallery and walked to the old stomping grounds and home of Oscar Wilde. The house is now a section of the University of Dublin where you can study Liberal and Performing Arts. To think that those steps could have been sat upon as he wrote…
I was even able to squeeze in both a Tarot card reading and a night at the Theatre. The Dublin Theatre Festival was on over the next month and I chose a new play called The Hanging Gardens. It was a clever mix of humorous and absolutely depressing content about a man with alzheimer’s struggling over the battle with his family. It was enough just to be sitting in a Theatre again. That smell was just as cherished as the old books in Trinity.
I have always wanted a Tarot card reading. I came across an independent shop called Black Rabbit on Crow Street in Temple Bar and the lady who owned it talked my ear off about Thin Lizzie, Paul Linen and Jameson whisky for hours. Amanda was my card reader and was just as sweet as this shop lady had described her. We only had a half hour session but it shocked me how much she was able to guess about my current life right off the bat. I didn’t ask about anything specific but the cards chose a few topics for me. Career, love and my life when I return home. I’m quite happy with what they told me and am prepared for a few things I didn’t expect. I don’t believe that anything or anyone can predict what will happen to you in the future. These cards can only speculate options based on your energy and of course these are potential events relevant to that exact moment you’re being read. The course of your actions can change anything. It was just a really exciting experience and if what they told me ends up becoming a reality, my life is heading in all the right directions.
There’s no question that I will be back in Dublin a lot sooner than I planned. It stole my heart and won me over in so many ways. Everyone has that place where they feel connected. Ireland is definitely mine. Incredible people entered my path wherever I stepped. I felt safe and at home in each coffee shop and pub I sat and enjoyed music in (and trust me, the amount of places I ate and drank here was ridiculous). I seemed to have packed in all of that and more in just four days and there is still so much waiting to be seen and experienced. Take me away, up and around to the North.