“The Irish: be they kings, or poets, or farmers, they’re a people of great worth. They keep company with the angels and bring a bit of heaven here to earth.”
We often hear the phrase, “travel moves you,” and while I have seen my fair share of the world, there has been no place that has touched my heart the way Ireland has.
It’s a land of legend, culture, tribulation, faith and pristine beauty, where the Atlantic Ocean batters rocky cliffs and brisk winds howl through the countryside. The emerald grass and rock walls that paint the landscape tell stories of a time gone, but not forgotten. The simple spirit of the warm-hearted, fun-loving people set my soul alive. Gentle songs that have been passed down through generations drift down the cobblestone alleyways and linger in the salty, sea air. Smiles abound, laughs are frequent, and a good pint of Guinness is never far out of reach.
Ah, yes. Ireland has most definitely moved me, every part of me.
I have just returned to America after a life-altering ten-day-journey of the Emerald Isle. Ireland is the place of my ancestors. My late grandfather, an O’Brien and descendant of the O’Briens of County Cork, never had a lack of tales of his family’s homeland. My siblings and I grew up with stories of quaint villages, numerous Irish tunes and Celtic Legends. It was the one place my late sister always wanted to see. We had actually planned to visit when she “got better.” Alas, she passed before we were able to fulfill her wish of visiting Ireland.
Witnessing the passing of both of these dear family members is what finally persuaded me to take a leap of faith. No more “I don’t have time,” or “I can’t afford it.” We have this one life, and what is the point of this life if we don’t do the things we want to do while we can still do them. So, my surviving sister and I, along with five of our dear friends, made the trip in honor of both my late sister and grandfather. The emotions were high and varied, but the love we now have for this country is deep, and inexplicable.
Ireland should truly be on everyone’s bucket list. Not just because of the beauty that abounds, but because we can all learn from the Irish people on what “living the good life” truly means. These folks have endured centuries of oppression, incomprehensible hardships, and have still managed to come out on top and enjoy life to the fullest.
We began our journey in Dublin, traveled by train cross country to the ocean-side city of Galway, and ventured to castles, landmarks, small villages, and, of course, frequented multiple pubs. This blog will highlight some of our favorite places and will also offer some tips for travel.
Enjoy, and be awed.
After speaking with numerous travelers who had ventured to Ireland previously, and listening to information provided by countless travel podcasts, our group made the decision to fly in and out of Dublin Airport. Many folks recommended Shannon Airport as well. Our determining factor, however, was simple; funds. We found it cheaper to use Dublin Airport, but I’ve heard many good things about Shannon, so don’t discredit it based on our choice.
With that being said, we found Dublin Airport to be highly efficient. The staff are wonderfully friendly, the process of security and customs were quite simple and very quick, and there are multiple options for food and drink.
As Americans, the thought of driving on the opposite side of the car, the road, and witnessing how incredibly small the roads in Ireland are (I’m not joking, the roads seem more like trails to the American eye), we opted to take public transportation the entire time we were there, and are so glad we did! You can call a taxi from pretty much anywhere. They also have Uber and similar services, although we found taxis and buses to be a more inexpensive option.
From the airport, we were able to hop on a bus which dropped us right in front of the Heuston Train Station in downtown Dublin. The train ride was comfortable and only about 38 US dollars for a round trip ticket to Galway (*note: do NOT lose your ticket during your trip or you must pay for a whole new one). By choosing to ride the train, we were able to save ourselves some heart-attacks, sit back, relax, enjoy an Irish Coffee and relish in the stunning views of the famous Irish landscape.
Once we arrived in Galway, we chose to walk, as the weather was pleasant that day, and it was only a fifteen minute jaunt through the city to reach our destination. This allowed us the chance to take in the sights up close and personal.
While many folks who travel to Ireland use their time to drive around the country and lodge at multiple hotels, bed-and-breakfasts or hostels along the way, we decided that we wanted a “home base.” AirBNB was the way to go, especially for a group of seven.
We found an amazing 1930’s townhouse within walking distance of EVERYTHING in Galway; Shop Street, the Salt Hill Promenade, historic sights, restaurants, pubs, bus stops and the ocean. The cost was just over two grand for a six night stay. Divide that by seven and it was about 350 US dollars per person. Mind you, this price included all of the essential amenities; full kitchen, washer and dryer, back yard, plenty of beds, a wood burning stove, undivided support from our hosts, etc… It was so lovely and convenient!
TOP 5 MUST SEE/ DO in and around GALWAY
Afternoon Tea at Ashford Castle – Wow! Just, wow! As any little girl growing up in the states, I had frequent dreams of being a princess in a castle, but the only castle I ever saw was Sleeping Beauty’s at Disneyland. Ashford Castle was a fantasy come true, and while I’m nothing more than a commoner, they treated me, and all of my companions, as royalty.
For just over 60 US dollars, we were able to enjoy an array of delicious sandwiches, pastries, teas, champagnes, and unmatched Irish hospitality while enjoying the historic beauty of the grand estate. Unfortunately, there was a hurricane happening the day we were there, so we weren’t able to explore the vast and picturesque grounds, but I could think of worse places to spend a stormy day.
*Note – If you are without a vehicle, the castle was able to send a shuttle directly to our AirBNB for round trip transportation, for a fee. It was about forty-five minutes there, and the same back. Well worth it.
The Cliffs of Moher Tour – Attention all Princess Bride fans! Do you remember “The Cliffs of Insanity?” Well, you can see the real thing in Ireland! Indeed, this is the very place where they filmed that portion of the beloved cult classic.
We joined a day tour through The Galway Tour Company. At only around 30 US dollars, they will pick you up in downtown Galway, and you will spend the day (from 10am – 6pm) learning the history of the area en route. On the way to the cliffs, which are located in County Clare, you will enjoy visiting Dunguaire Castle, The Burren, The Gleninsheen Wedge Tombs, and a stop for lunch in the small, traditional village of Doolin. Once at The Cliffs of Moher, you are allotted about two hours to explore at your leisure. Once time is up, the bus travels back to Galway along the coast road, perhaps one of the most beautiful drives in all the world.
The one thing I will say about the Cliffs of Moher; GO. No matter how you get there. We frequently see pictures of awesome places in books, online and in magazines, but nothing can compare to the grandeur of actually witnessing these places in person. The Cliffs of Moher have no words that can measure up to actually being there. To see something so gigantic, so beautiful, so majestic, truly makes one realize the power of the natural world.
Self-guided -or- guided history walk through Galway City – Anywhere you visit in Ireland will be full of historic sites, so you can’t really go wrong wherever you are. Galway, in particular, has a cluster of these ancient places all within walking distance; the Galway Cathedral, the Spanish Arch, the Galway City Museum, Eyre Square, Lynch Castle, and Atlantaquaria, just to name a few. And all of these sights can be reached on foot! On the weekends, be sure to check out the Galway Street Market, where Galway’s bohemian spirit comes alive.
Take a stroll on the Salthill Promenade – This 2km walk along the shores of Galway Bay is a favorite pastime for both locals and visitors. Enjoy views of the Aran Islands, pass locals playing music, witness young and old alike taking a dip in the frigid ocean, or stop into one of the many local restaurants or pubs.
The Aran Islands – Speaking of the Aran Islands, take a ferry across the bay and spend a day frolicking on these ancient islands. There are a total of three islands that are located at the mouth of Galway Bay, and offer visitors a chance to see breathtaking scenery and glimpses into an ancient time that has long since disappeared from the country. You can either purchase tickets before your adventure or can simply stop into one of the tour offices when you arrive. Something to note, if the ocean is angry, the ferries will not run.
Ireland has stolen my heart. The Irish people have shown me what it means to be genuine, to find hope and humor in any circumstance, to learn from, and cherish the past, while living fully in the present. From the country’s modern cities, dotted with ancient remnants on every corner, to its thatched countryside cottages, to its grandiose castles, Ireland has captivated me, mind, body and soul.
In conclusion, I shall leave you with an old Irish blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
“It’s been one HELLUVA ride, but I’m okay.”
That’s the response I find myself uttering to the hundreds of well-meaning people who bombard me with the only question they feel is safe to ask…
How are you doing?
It’s not their fault they don’t know what to say. Shoot, I never knew what to say either. Sometimes I still don’t.
Society has groomed us to put on a happy face and pull up our big-kid panties, because God forbid, we make any situation uncomfortable. I mean, how would someone respond if I answered, “Well, the same year I had to have my uterus ripped out, diminishing any chance to have more kids, was the same year my sister was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. Oh! She died, a few months ago, by the way. And hey! My grandfather, with whom I was extremely close, died last week. So, yeah. I’m kind of righteously not okay?” (True story, BTW)
But I get it. Human beings want to comfort those they love, and it’s a lot easier to let them if we respond in a way that allows them to fulfill this desire, and for that reason, I suck it up, far more than I’d like.
Each person on the planet is created differently, just as each person deals with grief in their own, personal way. Some of us want to talk about it, and some of us don’t. Some of us cry, and some of us laugh. Some of us need to surround ourselves with our friends and family constantly, and some of us hide out in our home for weeks or months on end. It’s truly not you, it’s us.
So, what do we say to people who are dealing with loss and grief? Are any questions truly safe?
The other day I was chatting with a girlfriend of mine. This sweet, genuine soul witnessed my entire journey, from the time my hysterectomy happened, during my sister’s diagnosis and death, right up until my grandfather died. A few days ago, she showed up at my home, not caring that my eyes were swollen and puffy, that my house looked like a frat den, or that I smelled like a living nightmare. She simply wanted to see if I was okay, with a bottle of wine in tow (if you don’t have friends like this, you need to find some new friends). Anyhow, as we sat at a bistro table on my deck, catching up on life and soaking up the last sun beams of the day, she told me something so profound that I just had to share it with the masses:
“MB,” she said, “I want to say the right thing to you right now, but nothing is going to take away the pain.” She held up her wine glass for cheers and continued, “Just know that I love you and I’m here for you if you ever want to talk.”
And that was it.
Boom. She nailed it.
Now, as I mentioned before, I’m one person dealing with loss in my own, unique way, so what makes sense to me might not for another. But man. Her words touched me, deeply. She didn’t ask the question that put me in the dreaded position to alter the truth. She simply let me know that she would be an outlet, a resource, a loving, non-judgmental ear should I need one. With that small statement she gave me a huge gift, the permission I’d subconsciously been longing for; it’s okay to feel all the feelings and to let them out around me.
A weight was instantly lifted, and I started sobbing like a child who just had their Halloween candy stolen by creepy clowns. We are talking hyperventilating, wine-spilling, convulsing sobs. I didn’t know how much I needed to let it out until that moment.
It is human nature to feel the need to be strong and resilient. But, IT IS OKAY to break down. It is scientifically proven to be good for your health to NOT hold things in. Loss is usually new, unfamiliar territory, and it is only natural that we turn into weird, blubbering, overly-emotional beings (trust me, I’m an expert).
I truly believe that all any person dealing with grief needs is permission to grieve! Like, openly and honestly grieve. We are trying to be strong for our family, our clients, hell, even our energy-feeling pets. How long can that last before we turn our lives (and our health) inside out?
If you are reading this, chances are that you are either dealing with loss, or know someone who is. Whatever your situation,
SPREAD. THE. WORD.
On behalf of every person who has, or ever will experience loss, I thank you.
First of all, let me give a big, warm THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to stop by this blog. A bit ominous in title, but I assure you, the content will be anything but.
Let me tell you a little bit about the origins and birth of Great, Big, Beautiful Grief
Currently, I am smack dab in the middle of my thirty-sixth year on this planet. I have lived, what some would call, a pretty decent life; raised in the mountains of Southern California, attended college on the stunning Monterey Bay of the Central CA Coast, worked and lived in a vibrant LA suburb where I met my Minnesota-born husband, and now, currently reside steps away from the famous Lake Minnetonka in the Twin Cities West Metro along with a little human boy that we created. I’ve experienced “good times, bad times, and everything in between” (c’mon, I had to throw in some Zepplin). For all intents and purposes, my life has been pretty typical for a woman my age with my particular upbringing, and thus far, I’ve been okay with that.
Then tragedy struck on August 3rd, 2016, putting life into perspective in a way that it had never been before.
My beloved sister, three years my senior, was diagnosed with colon cancer, and on her thirty-seventh birthday no less. For two and a half years my family and I watched as she fought a most courageous, faith-filled battle. But on December 30th 2018, at approximately 4:45 AM, cancer won the battle, and she left this world, leaving behind her sweet, young family.
Life. Was. Changed.
It was heart wrenching, awful, a nightmare come true. How could this have happened to someone so young, so vivacious, so good? She would never get the chance to watch her children grow. She’d never have grandchildren. She’d never have the chance to check off items on her bucket list. My parents lost a child, my niece and nephews lost a mother, my brother-in-law lost a wife, and my surviving siblings and I lost a sister. Nothing about this was even close to being fair.
Still, it happened. She’s gone, while we remain.
During my sister’s last few days on this planet, fighting through massive amounts of pain and fear of the inevitable, we were able to have a little chat about life. I remember it as though it happened seconds ago. It was a moment that will remain forever imprinted in my memory.
I was sitting on the edge of the couch in my parents living room next to the fireplace. A fire was burning brightly. The golden, California sun was sinking below the horizon, and a peaceful glow illuminated the room, dancing off the ornaments that hung on the forgotten Christmas Tree. In my lap lay my sister’s delicate, balding, head. I was gently stroking what remained of her once thick, full hair. While we were enjoying the simplicity and familiarity of each other’s company, cracking jokes here and there as we often did, I asked her the question that I’d been afraid to ask throughout the prior two and a half years:
“If you could have changed anything about your life, what would it have been?”
In true Marnie fashion (that was her name, Marnie, which was born from a nickname for Margaret) she chuckled and quoted one of our favorite Monty Python scenes, “I’m not dead yet, MB!”
We laughed, loud, but towards the end it was hard for Marnie to laugh. The cancer had completely infiltrated her lungs and each breath was a struggle. After hacking for about a minute straight, she was able to catch her breath and continued, “You know sis, I don’t think I’d change much, but I’ve been thinking a lot about things I haven’t done that I’ve wanted to do. But there has always been a reason not to. We’ve wanted to save money for the future, I was working, or some other factor always got in the way. If I could do it differently, I’d have had less EVERYTHING; cars, house, things, so that we could have made more experiences.”
Upon hearing these words, I began my downward spiral of denial, that my sister would be able to experience life in the way she dreamed. Some miracle would surely happen in the next forty-eight hours and her cancer would magically disappear. The hair on her head would grow full and bright once again.
But that didn’t happen, and two weeks later we were laying her to rest.
Her words that day in the living room struck a very sensitive chord somewhere deep in my soul. There have been very few people in my life who have spoken authentic words, born from their unique minds, that have truly resonated with me. Marnie’s were the most profound by far; If I could do it differently, I’d have had less EVERYTHING.
And here we are today, nearly eight months since my sister’s passing.
My husband and I have made a number of noteworthy changes to our lives. We sold our unnecessarily-big house this past May, downsizing significantly. We took over four car-loads of “stuff” to the local donation center. We sold seven pieces of furniture. I have a trip to Ireland coming up in October, and more trips in the works. I switched careers to allow me more time to raise our son (who is a miracle and our only, I might add), and life has never been more blissful.
It. Is. Happening. Each day I begin by focusing on the good. I wake up thankful, grateful that my son is alive and well, that my husband is such an amazing provider and support system, that I have so many incredible friends in my life, that I have a roof over my head, and that I have my health. Sure, there are days where I’m tired, exhausted actually. I’m a working parent. It comes with the territory. Still, I’m powering through and am absolutely falling in love with the person I am becoming.
So, in conclusion, why is my grief great, big and beautiful?
It is simple. Grief brought me back from the dead. Grief taught me that life is so much more than what we do for a living, how big our house is, or what kind of car we drive. Grief taught me that love, compassion and forgiveness give meaning to our lives in ways we cannot comprehend until we’ve trudged through the deepest darkness.
Most importantly, grief taught me that we only die once, but we live every day, and for that I am forever grateful.
Stay tuned for more life hacks on how to LIVE LIFE after LOSS. You won’t want to miss it.