It was our last evening in Ireland and I had hoped to spend it touring Trinity College or the National Museum's collection of ancient Celtic artifacts, or maybe even the Guinness Storehouse. Instead, we spent it shopping. Not casual window shopping, strolling from one charming storefront to another to appreciate the wares that can only be found in Dublin. Nope, this was more like a mad dash through the maze of leprechaun infested, clover clad aisles, scanning everything from dishtowels to ashtrays stamped with “Guinness” in an attempt to grab those last minute souvenirs we'd neglected to gather all along. For future reference, get your shopping done the first day so you can actually enjoy the remainder of your trip minus the added stress of trying to find a needle in a haystack on a time crunch.
When we'd at last managed to tick off every name on our list, we dropped our bags at the hotel and relaxed in nearby pub, The Long Hall. I slowly downed my last pint of real Guinness and Nathan sipped his last shot of Paddy 'neat' as we tried not to cry into our drinks right there at the bar. Crawling reluctantly back to our room, we sat in bed and recounted all the things we would miss about Ireland: the daily trips to the pub, ordering beer by the pint, getting a Guinness mustache from froth so thick you could practically balance a quarter on it. But it wasn't just the booze we were having a hard time letting go. I, for one, would miss the sheep. I would miss their little speculative stares, grass hanging out of mouth, as they assessed me and my camera wondering, "Am I wool or am I mutton?" I would miss that green that only exists in one place in this world. I would miss waking up every day looking like a Pantene commercial (is it the water?). And I would definitely miss my new found favorite flavor of Pringles, Prawn Cocktail.
Nathan, on the other hand, had his own demons to face. He was going to miss his Paddy, a very smooth, very cheap Irish whiskey we've yet to find here. He would miss the mounds of potatoes that came with every meal. He'd miss the strong, bold coffee made by press instead of an automatic pot, and he'd miss the chocolate candy bars that had become his daily ritual, Yorkie Bars ("it's not for girls!"). But more than all of these, he was going to miss his Irish breakfasts. I am afraid our hosts and hostesses had him rather spoiled by the time we were to leave.
So, sobbing ourselves to sleep, we spent our last night in Ireland dreaming of soda bread and castle ruins, hedgerows and carpet moss, and all the other little things we'd already grown accustomed to. We awoke at around 2:00 a.m. to the boisterous singing of a drunken Irishman stumbling down Dame Street after a night on the town and I couldn't even be mad. It was a fitting serenade farewell from the country I'd learned to love in a matter of a week.
Since we got home, I've begun my one-woman search for a Guinness that can match the ones served up at the Stag’s Head with no success. I've also attempted my first batch of soda bread with slightly better results. But the real winner has been our switch from an automatic coffee pot to a French press. As I stood staring down into my trash can, our automatic coffee maker hovering above that gaping abyss in my hands, I felt strangely liberated. It’s just one of many lasting marks Ireland has left on me.
It’s been nearly two weeks now and I still refuse to put away my suitcase. The scarf I bought in Kinsale hangs on my bed post when I’m not wearing it. After all, you never know when that midnight snowstorm might pop up. I wear my little silver Drombeg replica daily and finger the collection of sticks, rocks and even a rusty horseshoe I drug home in our spare suitcase (I’m sure the airport people were loving that). In the mornings I munch my soda bread and drink my press coffee and at night I dream of Ireland. In fact, not a night has passed since returning home that I haven’t dreamt of Ireland.
Nathan fairs a little better. He has slipped more readily back into the Texas routine of work, computer games and countless hours of mindless television. Although, he sleeps in his scarf sometimes with no shirt, which makes him look like Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And on occasion, when he’s cursing some new enemy assassin on one of his games who’s given him the slip, I hear a “What the Christ?” or “Jesus, Mary and Joseph an’ all the saints!” come barreling out in a thick, imitation accent.
I took this trip thinking it a cure for my Irish obsession, but clearly, I was wrong. Since leaving Ireland, it’s evident: Guinness flows in my veins and there’s a thick sheet of soft, cushy, green moss covering my brain and clouding my thinking. My mind wanders to the scenic views from castle windows and the lovely decay of monastic stone walls. I picture myself in a tiny thatch-roof cottage, warming my Donegal socks by the fire, basking in the smell of burning bog turf. I am afraid there may be no cure for this disease, save a 30 acre plot of neon green land in my name, milling about with fat, happy sheep and a little stone house with a ruby red door and window boxes overflowing with heather.
It’s a sad fact dear readers, whoever the three of you may be, Ireland is my disease and Ireland is my cure. So here’s to plucking a four-leaf clover at the end of the rainbow and making a wish on a leprechaun’s pot of gold, because that’s what it’s probably gonna take to get me there again. But if such a thing were possible, and I’m wholly convinced it is, there’s really only one place in the world that’s capable of that kind of magic and I will find my way back there, vertigo or no. And the next time they’ll have to drag me out of that country by my toenails because once I set foot on that wicked green land, I’m not sure I’ll have the willpower to step back off again. So hold on to your green acres Ireland, I’ve got an old stone cottage with a slate roof all picked out somewhere off the road to Kinnitty and I’m about to bring the Texas tradition of squattin’ to the Emerald Isle!