It was my very first day on the Camino and the spiteful Pyrenees had introduced me to a downhill slope. My legs strained to keep their strength. The sound of steps followed behind me for quite a while before I turned around and noticed a father and daughter duo, arm in arm, walking my pace. Jess and Tomas had to have been the sweetest pair I had encountered yet. You could feel the care they had for each other and it was so special seeing it between a teenage daughter and her father, someone who a lot of eighteen year olds wouldn’t dare be seen with. I related immediately to their connection. I couldn’t stop thinking about how wonderful this trail would be if I was able to experienced it with my own father some day. We talked the whole way down and all the way up into Roncesvalles and I learned that Jess was planning to study Irish in school, a language I wasn’t at all familiar with. They taught me a few phrases on the way down and the usual conversation topics flowed. After we were assigned rooms, the fates placed us together again in the same little nook made of four beds. Jess and I were roomies for the night and after meeting the two of them that day, I continued to run into Jess and Tomas several times throughout the Camino. They unfortunately were only walking for a week and I had hoped to spend more time with them, especially as their departure date neared and I knew they wouldn’t be around the trail much longer. I remember the very last morning before they planned to head to the airport and back to Ireland. It so happened that we stopped for coffee in the same cafe at the same time and said a teary goodbye. “If you ever need a place to stay, our house is open”, Jess told me. “You can sleep in our treehouse”, piped Tomas. He was kidding of course but I seriously would have taken him up on that offer! For the record: the treehouse is awesome (and I slept in a bed…just to keep things straight).
Before I knew it, I was heading out of Dublin and into a tiny town called Trim in County Meath. I never would have found Trim had it not been for this visit. The little village had so much charm and its surrounding area held some absolutely beautiful sights and scenery. As soon as I walked through the door of their cozy home, Jess’s mother Judy greeted me with a huge smile and warm welcome. Their son, Adam, is such a cool kid and together this family couldn’t have been more down to earth, hospitable and truly, genuinely good. I felt safe and comfortable from the second I sat down at the dinner table with all of them as we ate Chinese. I was lucky to have arrived on a Saturday where their family tradition included an evening mass, a Chinese food dinner and Baileys coffee by the fire. The mass was such a great experience. All the hymns were sung by a man on his acoustic guitar in a gorgeous and pure Irish voice. The church itself was stunning and intricately designed, covered in golds, blues and whites on the inside and beautiful stone on the outer walls. I was excited to eat a type of food that I had been without for a few months. Switching things up felt great and it was nice just being included in something they do together as a family. I shared the stories of my Camino as Jess and her Dad listened with bright eyes. The two of them are going to split up the trail over five years and I’m so excited to continue to hear about their journey.
I don’t even know where to start when I think about how much I appreciated that fireplace. After the shock of a new season and a slightly “roughin’ it” mentality over the past few months, a warm and cozy fire was exactly what I needed. With my Baileys coffee in hand, wild horses couldn’t drag me away. It was the perfect homey feel that filled my body until the nights end.
Jess and I became really close over the few days I was visiting. The family let me know I could stay as long as I needed which I was eternally grateful for. Every night I would look forward to what we called “half two chats” by the fire which lasted until at least 2:30am and sometimes later. Jess has such a kind heart and is a thoughtful and beautiful person inside and out. She’s dedicated and loving towards her family and friends. It was a joy getting to know her and I am sure that we’ll be in each others lives for many years to come. We laughed our hearts out and shared stories about the past, trying to grasp the layers of who we’ve been and who we are. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect in so many ways. Not only was this weekend the celebration of Canadian Thanksgiving but Jess had recently made a huge decision that I could relate to more than anyone she knew. She wasn’t really happy studying Irish in school. Although she has a passion for the language, she was forced to take classes she wasn’t interested in alongside her major and it wasn’t how she wanted to pursue it nor was that her number one dream. What she really wanted to do was become a P.E Teacher due to her love of the athletics. So, after many nights of deliberation, she decided to de-register from the program and is now working out her next steps. I’m so proud that she chose to listen to herself and create goals in order to achieve what she truly wants to do with her life. We had some great discussion about it and I assured her that everything was going to be better than okay. It was going to be great. She’s got some perfect goals ahead of her and is taking on just the right attitude to make her dreams come true. I’m thankful that we were able to be together just days before she walked into that office and made it official. I know that I would have loved just the same kind of example during my times of uncertainty. Go at it with all your heart my girl. I know you’ll make it happen.
The next day was spent driving around the County and seeing what it had to offer. Tomas, Jess and I piled into the car and set off for a little tour of their homeland. On our first stop, we wandered into a field called Bohermeen Bog where you could find something called turf. It’s a very common substance used as kindle for the fire and is exactly what has kept me warm over the past few nights. As a fun fact that you’d probably rather not hear…occasionally a dead body is found in a bog dating hundreds of years back. They call them bog bodies and some are displayed at the National Museum in Dublin. An interesting thought but if you saw the photos I’m certain you would be disgusted. Sorry I don’t have any of those to show you…
When I visited Dublin, I was able to see the book of Kells which is placed in a glass case and preserved at Trinity College. The Book of Kells is a latin manuscript depicting the four gospels of the New Testament. Its scripture is beautiful and the colours jump right off the pages. There’s a little town in County Meath which is called Kells and is where the book originated. We payed a visit there and were able to see the statue of Maureen O’Hara placed in the centre of town in honour of her visit to the city which represents her Irish heritage.
The Spire of Lloyd is a mock lighthouse created in memory of the first Earl of Bective Sir Thomas Taylor and was my first real taste of the Ireland scenery I had imagined all this time. As we walked up the hill and looked out over the fields, I could feel that spirit Ireland often holds sweep over me. The tower stood with its spiral staircase and wooden door proudly beside me and a few dogs ran up and down the green slope. I was anxious to continue through the back roads and see more history and landscape like the sights that stood before me. It always amazes me how these castles and landmarks were once built by hand long before the release of technology, machinery and architectural advancements. What a story they all seem to hold.
On the way to my favourite stop, we pulled over to look at the High Cross of Kells and Slane Castle which holds an event known as Slane Concert featuring artists such as David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Queen and The Rolling Stones. The Conyngham family have lived there for centuries but it’s still frequently used to host concerts and events. On this particular day, they were holding an auction (hence the cars obstructing the view) and we had to hoist ourselves onto a ledge and peak over the fence in order to see it. All very secretive and completely worth it. These castles never cease to amaze and capture me.
Newgrange still stands as one of my favourite sights so far. This old passage tomb sits in County Meath where tours are lead through each day. It’s known to be a place of spiritual and ceremonial energy and practice as well as a burial site for those of worship. The tour guide is actually necessary in this case because in order to get inside, you need to turn your body sideways and squeeze through a tiny, rocky passageway. If you’re claustrophobic I definitely don’t recommend a trip here. Only 10 people are allowed in at a time because although this tomb looks massive on the outside, there’s only a small portion of open space on the inside. Not even archeologists can figure out why it was built to cover so much land. Once I made my way into the tiny circle, I could immediately see the carved writing in the walls. Our guide told us that this graffiti dates back to the 1700’s and this tomb was built over 5,000 years ago. I wondered what it meant to them back then. Did they do it in order to be rebellious or were they trying to communicate a message to the future? I studied it for quite a while and ran my fingers along the lines they created. What drew me into Newgrange the most was its connection to the Winter Solstice. On December 18th-23rd, the sun aligns perfectly with the front entrance of the tomb. Keep in mind that as you walk inside, you begin climbing uphill so as the sun rises, it’s slightly beneath you. Somehow, someway, the people who built this creation were able to design it around the sun’s rise during that time of year so the golden rays would shine in such a way that they’d creep through the entrance and cast a line of light that would eventually illuminate the entire space with a bright, orange glow. Isn’t that incredible? Isn’t it almost hard to believe? There’s a lottery held every year and thousands of people enter their name hoping to get a spot inside on one of the six days. Even then, the sun may not shine that day and you would be out of luck. I entered my name, just for good measure and an excuse to come back. Regardless, I got the next best thing. Our guide turned off all the lights and we were in complete darkness. She used a special flashlight so we would be able to experience this magic as best as we could and even without the natural glow of the sun, it was incredible and I had goosebumps the entire time.
When we arrived home, Judy had a huge dinner all prepared and ready for us as we walked in. I was overwhelmed with how generous they had been already and this was more than I could ever ask for. In honour of Canadian Thanksgiving, we had on our table mashed potatoes, croquettes, yorkshire pudding, chicken, homemade stuffing that was truly to die for, vegetables and gravy. A beautiful meal with all the fixings. It was absolutely delicious and even more enjoyable sharing it with such a remarkable family. I had been wondering how I would be spending that day and had hoped I could find a place where I felt surrounded by love and good company. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be sitting at a table in an Irish home with all that and more.
We piled into the family room once again and shared warm apple pie with custard by the fire. As if that wasn’t enough, Tomas came in about an hour later and popped open a bottle of sparkling white wine, pouring it into four champagne flutes with a strawberry garnishing the bottom. They’ve now been inspired to celebrate a Canadian Thanksgiving themselves every year. Hopefully I’ll be able to join them once or twice again along the way. We sat chatting together for a while until Jess handed me a tiny pin holding a beaded Canadian flag that dangled down. “Happy Canadian Thanksgiving”, she told me and handed over the pin. I was so touched by their respect for this celebration. The Irish have something very similar that takes place on our boxing day and celebrates St. Stephen (the first martyr of Christianity) but this was still somewhat of a new concept. She told me that while attending an event full of cultures and countries, each person was told to exchange a gift that symbolized where they came from. Jess had received this pin from a Canadian girl. “It’s for you. To take back to Canada again.” I will treasure it forever. Another half two chat ended the perfect night and lead into our final day together.
We spent the last afternoon exploring the town. It was just Jess and I while her parents were at work for the day. I love the tiny town of Trim with its tea rooms, cozy shops and brightly coloured doors. In the middle of the town lies a beautiful castle that they are so lucky to have. The sunshine decided to poke out for us that day and cast its rays on the gorgeous stone and vibrant green grass. Wouldn’t it be beautiful having a castle to sit by and enjoy every day? It seemed like such a gift placed in the middle of such life and civilization. We spent some time sitting on the grass in the sunshine taking photos. Seeing where Jess had grown up and where she lived really allowed me to get to know her on another level. You can tell a lot about a person by walking through their hometown. She even took me to a spot by the river where her and her best friend sit and have chats. It was like a special inside view to her world and I am thankful she let me in to see it.