A Sort of Homecoming

I can’t remember watching a clock as closely as I did last Friday, when I bolted from my chair in the IRT at 2:30 on the dot and dashed to the Munich Hauptbahnhof to meet Jordyn and catch our bus to the airport. Ireland was the country that I most wanted to visit and I couldn’t contain my giddiness. That I crossed it off with one of my best friends made it even better.

Even the flight from Munich was great. I sat next to Father Thomas, an amicable, worldly priest from Kilkenny, and we talked for much of the flight about God and our various travels. He just returned from a year teaching theology as a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago, and told me about his time living in Pueblo, Colorado and backpacking around the southwestern U.S. I filled him in on last weekend’s visit to Rome, and how I heard the pope speak, and he said that “Francis” was a wonderful man, then made fun of how he walked. Apparently, the pope walks like a cow. I’ll keep an eye out. When I wasn’t talking with Father Thomas, I played peek-a-boo with the adorable little girl seated in front of me.

J and I dropped our stuff off at our hostel after we landed and went straight for the pubs. As we walked around I understood why Keith, our tour guide at Dachau, called Dublin a “shitehole.” It’s dirty and grimy, the streets are littered with trash and everywhere you look there are battered, closed storefronts. J put it best:

“I feel like I should have coal on my face and there should be holes in my boots and I should be yelling at someone for taking my penny!”

In spite of that, Dublin was totally our scene — low key, but still exciting — and I never once felt unsafe there, mostly because the people were so genuinely friendly. J dropped a 50-euro bill on the sidewalk and a random guy chased us halfway down the block to give it back.

The first pub we went to Friday night was Cobblestone, a traditional, un-touristy place. I ordered a Jameson (which I didn’t realize meant a glass of Jameson) and we posted up to listen to Andy Lamy, a traditional Irish clarinetist, who sounded absolutely beautiful. Three Guinness later we met Zoe, a terrifically drunk history master’s student at Trinity College, and we bonded with her and she told us that she’d get us into the Book of Kells exhibit for free.

Zoe pointed us toward a pub called the Black Sheep, so we went there next. I was hammered by that point, and J didn’t feel well, so we just shared a red ale and had a heart-to-heart, then passed out back at the hostel. The next morning I had my tattoo appointment. I planned to get drunk before, but my hangover put that out of the question. Instead we wandered around Dublin Castle, then went to the parlor at the appointed time.

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A pre-tat selfie
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ReINKarnated Tattoo, 5 Parliament St., Dublin, Ireland

I was the first customer of the day at ReINKarnated Tattoo, and I was nervous as hell when I sat down in Georgiana’s chair. I wasn’t having second thoughts, just realizing that, holy shit, this is happening. J drew out the design I wanted; she added shading that wasn’t in the original art, and Georgiana iterated off of it and created a beautiful border.

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J’s design

Georgiana loaded up her needle and analogized tattoo pain to a bad sunburn that someone continuously scratched. Then she told me that she would make a small incision, stuck her needle into my arm, and I realized that this isn’t so bad.The first phase of the tat, the outline, was only mildly uncomfortable. J left to shop and explore, and I dozed off for a while while Georgiana went to work. At one point, I yakked (thanks, hangover), but it was a good experience. Georgiana and the rest of the staff at ReINKarnated were unbelievably comforting and professional, and the atmosphere there is so friendly.

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Here goes…

Once Georgiana filled in the details, the shadows, though, it hurt. A lot. That took deep strokes and constant pressure, but J came back at the perfect time, and the three of us talked enough to distract me. Then, after two and a half hours, it was over. I still can’t believe it’s me every time I look at my right shoulder, but I’m so happy it is.

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The finished product. Thanks, Georgiana. Thanks, J

After the tat, J and I shopped and hunted for food, then stopped in the Dublin Writers’ Museum. It was a great little diversion, and it’s easy to forget how many great writers come from Ireland — Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, Lady Gregory, W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, J.M. Synge, George Bernard Shaw, Anne Enright and my personal favorite, Oscar Wilde.

Then we napped at the hostel before the night out. We ate Irish stew at a traditional place — beef, potatoes, carrots and squash with bread — then hit the pubs. First was the Auld Dubliner, definitely the wildest place we went. It felt like a college bar in the states. It was literally packed; there was no room to move without spilling your beer. A guy with a guitar was playing songs on request, and he covered everything from Bryan Adams to Journey to Steve Earle to Johnny Cash. We left after he finished playing, then hit the Brazen Head, founded in 1198, Ireland’s oldest pub. It was much more chill, and we sat at the bar and talked over our beers until they kicked us out.

Walking back to the hostel we ran into a prodigiously drunk middle-aged man who asked where we were from, then gave us a speech that summed up Ireland well:

“People come to Ireland expecting something grand, but don’t do that. Just accept us as we are. We’re all a little mad, you gotta embrace it.”

Then he embraced us. Several times. The great thing about Irish people is that they’re as friendly sober as they are drunk.

We started Sunday with Glasnevin, the most impressive cemetery I’ve ever seen. It’s filled with literal monuments, massive Celtic crosses and statues of Mary and Jesus. Many seminal figures of Irish republicanism are buried there, as are many others whose names no one remembers. I lost track of how many headstones for 20-something men said that they “died for their love of Ireland.”

IMG_2198We wandered all the way acrosIMG_2203s the city, to the Guinness Storehouse, but the line was too long and the tour too expensive. We took a pic outside and called it good.

Then we met up with Zoe at Trinity College. She was so friendly and accommodating; her master’s thesis is due in two weeks, but she took the time to wait in line with us and get us into the Book of Kells exhibit. It would have been worth paying for (How many times can you see an illuminated manuscript bible from the 700s that’s also the first book written in Irish?), but Zoe’s gesture was no nice, especially because she’s working 12 hours a day on a 20,000-word novel about 12th-century monastic friendzoning (at least, that’s how she explained it). Good luck, Zoe. You rock.

Then, too quickly, our weekend was over. I slept most of the flight back to Munich and the entire bus ride from the airport. Since I left I’ve been planning my next trip back. I’ve seen Ireland’s major city, now I need to explore the country, the rolling hills, the forests, the bogs, the rocky landscapes dotted with ruined farmhouses, the places where my family comes from. Places I can get lost.

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