Whenever you discuss your future plans to travel, everyone inevitably sighs a wistful sighy-sigh and says, “Oh, just think of the people you’ll meet.” Usually when such a thing is said you shake your head and say, “Ya, ya, humanity is great… but did you hear about that castle I’m going to get to see? And the one waterfall? It has a bunch of falling water. It’s awesome.”
Now, I do not mean to downplay Mother Nature or Father Ancient Architecture in the slightest, because I am definitely a nature person—
—but I think as young people we tend to be really interested in the more glamorous aspects of traveling and overlook the smaller things… the smaller things like the lady who runs the music store down the street or the old man sitting next to you on the bus. Waterfalls and castles aren’t the only things that have stories to tell. Stories, histories are bing created every single day, and everyone around you is a witness to those stories. That being said, here is a list of the most interesting people I have met in Ireland (and the surrounding countries):
1) The Lady Who Runs The Music Shop Down The Street
My apartment and I went on a trip to a very small, very quaint town called Dingle (lol) a few weekends ago. After spending some time touring the local harbor and beaches we decided to just wander up and down the streets and do a little window-shopping. We weren’t having much luck, but stopped when we saw a building painted bright blue with white lettering loudly proclaiming that there were musical instruments and CD’s for sale inside. As the daughter of a man has an unparalleled enthusiasm for Celtic music, I went in to purchase a few souvenirs while the others waited outside. When I emerged from the store a few euros lighter and a few CDs heavier, I noticed them huddled around a map taped to the storefront window. Beside the map there was also a picture of three men and two women in swimming gear and a clip explaining how they had swum around the entire coast of Ireland. As we read the article one of the women from the picture practically leapt out from the nearest door and eagerly told us her story. It turns out that she had been born in Dingle and from an early age she and the same group of friends had taken an interest in long-distance swimming. As well as swimming the entire coast of Ireland she had also won several European competitions and swum across the Bering Strait, even doing a circuit as a motivational speaker for a bit.
Despite all of this she would always return to her small hometown— small enough that most addresses didn’t even have street names, just numbers— and live a quiet, unremarkable life. She was the most unassuming, normal looking woman in the world, and yet she nearly quivered with excitement when discussing her swims. She only ever swam for the love of the sport— she never wanted anything more than to just say, ‘Hey, I swam,” and that is pretty damn interesting.
2) The Old Man Who Sat Next To Me On The Bus
Riding busses is great because a) they’re cheap, b) busses run frequently, and c) I don’t have a car here so I don’t really have any other options, buuuuut they do have the disadvantage of being public transportation. This means that every once in awhile, you will be forced to sit next to a random, unpleasant stranger who will smell like lunch meat and be completely unaware that they are taking up half of your seat as well as the entirety of their own (I’m an incredibly patient person, but as soon as you drop me in public transportation that patience-ometer drops straight to zero). So naturally when I managed to make 4 out of the 5 hours on our trip to Dingle without anyone sitting next to me, I was a little grumpy when an old man plopped right down next to me. He looked to be in his late 80’s, was wearing one of those shepherds hats, leaned over, smiled at me, and grabbed my hand, before turning his attention out the window. He asked my name, I told him, and then he began to tell me his story. He was what you would call “a good ol’ boy”. He grew up in that area, married his childhood sweetheart, and had several children. He also happened to be the nicest person I have ever met. An Irish Mr. Rogers, if you will.
Occasionally he asked me questions, but mostly he just talked and I sat and listened, still holding his hand. Given his age he tended to repeat himself, but he always returned to two phrases— “It’s nice to be nice” and “You’re such pleasant company.” They were amazing things to hear.
We parted as the bus pulled to a stop in the middle of an country road, no buildings in sight, but he knew it was his stop and the driver waved to him as he left. He always had an air of being partially next to me on the bus, but mostly somewhere else, some other time and place. Here is what I find amazing about him: He never said goodbye to me— he saw his stop and left— and I’m fairly certain he never thought of me again, but even so, in his incredible purity and kindness, he managed to make a lasting impression he won’t even remember making.
3) The Lady Who Ran The Excavation Site
One of the classes I’m taking this semester is called “Gaelic Peoples: Identity and Cultural Practices.” It is an archaeology class, so it mainly revolves mainly around the different dwellings built in the medieval period. As part of a project we were taken to The Burren to examine ruins of different cahers or cashiels. For the most part the ruins were exactly that- ruins. One site however, Caherconnell (pronounced cah-her-kahn-ol and meaning Connell’s Castle), was incredible. It was beautifully preserved, easily allowing you to picture the castle that dominated the valley. It was also a standout site in that it appeared that the Connell family had resisted adopting Anglo-Normal culture, unlike the rest of medieval Ireland. They clearly were in contact with and interacted with the English, but, in a purposeful show of loyalty to the culture of their ancestors, they lived very traditionally Irish lives. Instead of using ceramic pottery they continued to use pots made of organic materials, wove their cloth the ~Irish~ way, and decorated pins/walls/toys/etc with traditional motifs, thank you very much.
The archaeologist who ran the site had been there since the beginning of the excavation. She had devoted her life to that castle, knowing its several thousand year story (it was purposely built around the gravesite of some prehistoric women and children), every single niche, every bit of castle, every pebble’s place. She lived on the premise and spent her spare time training border collies to perform in shows in an attempt to earn extra funding for the dig (and also because herding dogs are awesome). This woman’s knowledge was incredible, but even more incredible was her visible passion for archaeology and the very visible love she held for this ancient castle.
4) The Guy’s Grandson
I eat a lot of candy. That’s just fact.
Luckily for me, Ireland has a lot of candy shops. Mostly, however, those candy stores are filled with pretty commercial type stuff (still delicious, just widely available). One store broke that streak, being entirely and wholly and incandescently original. A very small little shop in Killarney, it had the very specific target audience of “people raised in the 80’s” and had recently grown successful enough to merit its own internationally shipping website. While sampling various sweets, the owner told us two stories. The first was how his grandfather, who had owned and run a convenience store, would often pass along candy to the owner when he was a child. Eventually the child grew up and opened a candy store in his grandfather’s honor, naming it after him and hanging his picture on the wall. The second was the story of “his chocolate lady”, who he got all his chocolate from. Her father was a very successful chocolatier in Germany, however her family was Jewish and after the onset of WW2 was forced to flee and leave their business behind. They successfully escaped to Ireland where her father taught her how to make chocolate, but was unable to resume his work due to financial strains. By her 40’s her father had died, but she was finally able to pick up where he left off. She is now in her 80’s, still making chocolate and selling it to small candy stores around the country.
5) The Boy Who Goes to Oxford
When I visited a fellow Spider who attended Oxford, I met the last of our very interesting people. He was by far the youngest person on this list, a student at Oxford, very tall and gangly with large glasses and a quite unidentifiable accent. His mother was a minister and his father was in the army for some unspecified country (I’m thinking America), so he had lived all over the world. Most recently he had come from Chicago where he was part of Second City’s junior troupe. I don’t know as much about him, but I can tell you that when he spoke, you listened to him with wide eyes, clinging onto every syllable and blindly believing everything he said. I mean, the guy just reeked of extreme intelligence and was positively dripping interesting stories. He was one of those mysterious people that just had some sort of… presence.
…I’m not saying he was a more advanced species of human sent back from the future to be a beacon of brilliant awesomeness, but I am saying that we don’t have any proof that he wasn’t a more advanced species of human sent back from the future to be a beacon of brilliant awesomeness.
Maddie, Class of ’17