There’s a secret spot in Ireland. And the locals don’t want you to know it exits.
I found it by chance – though I recommend renting a car in Ireland that means a good deal of alone-time for solo travelers. Time spent following the directions of lonely brown heritage signs, standing as sentinels of history on the side of the road. In you go, into the overgrown grassy fields filled with sheep and in the search of elusive ruins. Sometimes it’s just a rock in the ground. Old to be sure, but really, let’s be honest, it’s a rock at the end of the day.
Other times that venture on unnamed road leads to stone circles visible through the low growing purple heather — tumbling stone archways and altars alluding to a distant and pagan past.
Finding your way back to the car is an adventure into itself, one low stone fence looking remarkably similar to that last gray fence you just hopped ten minutes before. But you continue hopping fences until the sound of the nearby ocean draws your ear.
Though you’re certain the car lies east of where you’re standing the lapping of nearby waves and the bark of a dog leads you inexplicably closer. The Irish are world-renown for being a friendly lot and yet you hesitate as you crest the hill and see a fisherman storing his gear, the dog good-naturedly circling his feet.
The camera comes out. The scene is so in line with the postcard Ireland you remember seeing pinned to the wall growing up. The weathered lines etched on the fisherman’s face, strong hands and a heavy jacket to block the buffeting wind all accented with the only two colors that truly exist in Ireland — the green of the grass and moody blue of the ocean.
Walking closer you drop the camera until you’re close enough to simply watch and listen. The water laps at his boat. The thunk of his gear hits the dock.
The dog has discovered you sitting so quietly on the hill and although he’s been playing in the water he knows no sense of decorum and bounds toward you –only a slight glitch in his step as his owner bellows out a command. It slows his progress toward you, but only marginally. That dog is about to give you the wettest and hairiest hug you’ve had in weeks.
The dog has opened the door to conversation now and as the dog leads you to the fisherman you glance toward the sound of an approaching car, his wife, here to pick him up and transport his catch back into town.
The immediate pleasantries unfold. I’m an obvious American and don’t deny it, they’re intrigued as to why such a healthy and pretty young lady such as myself is wandering the cold hills in such a remote area of Ireland. “Single are ya? Well why in the world are ya traveling by yerself, you’ll never meet a man that way?” demands the wife.
She’s a tough customer and can’t fathom my answer “because I enjoy it,” evidenced by her long-suffering sigh and a muttering about “young people.”
The sun is sinking lower and my fleece is no longer blocking the cutting wind. With a pitying glance, the woman motions to her car, “get in if ya’d like and we’ll drop you off at your car, I passed it just a wee bit back on the road.” It wasn’t a question, so I squeeze into the backseat and perch myself next to the dog.
As we’re parting just minutes later, the man recommends a nearby bed and breakfast and the best local pub with good music. He notes that he just might be around that way later himself, if I was inclined to get a pint this evening.
I thank them profusely only to be met with a waving and dismissive hand from the woman, “You were no bother really, now go find yerself a place to sleep this evening.”
And as their car drives away, swallowed up by the tall grassy bend in the road, you sit back and take stock of your afternoon. So pleasantly normal and with the promise of a pint, some music, and a warm bed the day seems somehow whole. Just perfect.
There’s a secret spot in Ireland, and I’m not going to tell you where it is. It could be that tiny speckle of a dot on the map that looks like a mere blip of a town. I’m not going to tell where it is because I know there’re other Irish towns out there just like it. They have a man tying his boat to a dock, a friendly local perched at the pub with his pint of Guinness and fantastical stories about the fairies and leprechauns, gritty reminiscences of the IRA — all laced with joy of simplicity.