I turned 38 in Ireland on my “take-back”
trip. Conveniently, my birthday fell over Thanksgiving break where I would have four days to explore Dublin
and the Wicklow Mountains
, and I planned a fun day of adventures specifically for my birthday.
One of my former students told me of a little town just north of Dublin that had a beautiful shopping area and a glorious cliff walk. She showed me pictures online and convinced me that this what I wanted to do for my birthday while I was there. So the Friday morning of my trip I walked to the DART station (railway system in Dublin) and bought my ticket from the automated machine.
Only fellow Americans who live in areas without public transit will understand my stress in this situation. I live in the suburbs where there is no public transportation of any kind. We drive everywhere. I’d taken public transit in New York and Chicago, but that was only a handful of times. So as I stood waiting for the train, I nervously wondered if I was getting on the train going in the right direction. I looked for signage to signal that I was in fact going to be heading north out of Dublin, but was less than 100% sure that I knew what I was doing. So what do Americans do? We ask people who look like they know what they are doing.
I walked up to a woman who looked moderately confident and I said, “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this train going in the direction of Howth?” Now the Irish readers will giggle when I tell my American readers that I pronounced the word exactly like it looks to Americans, with the hard “th” sound at the end.
The woman smiled and nodded yes and then added kindly, “It’s pronounced Howt, dear. Howt. We don’t do the thhhhh sound like in America. Howt.”
I laughed, repeated the name of the town correctly, and graciously thanked her for correcting me so I wouldn’t sound quite so American the next time.
Howth was lovelier than the pictures. I hopped off the train and made a left out the station and encountered the quaint little shopping area along the coastline of the Irish Sea.
The town was bustling for a Friday morning, so I steered clear of the shops and headed straight to the sea wall that thrust itself majestically out into the water. The sound of the surf pounded into my ears and the smell of the water seemed to wrap around me as the wind tossed my hair around.
My entire trip to Ireland in 2016 was filled with glorious weather, but that Friday morning and afternoon were positively as if I’d ordered it straight from the heavens. The sun was shining and gave warmth to the cold air coming off the Irish Sea. The walk on the sea wall was very chilly, but when I started the climb to the start of the cliff walk trail, the cool temperatures were very welcomed!
I chose to do the cliff walk because (as those who know me can attest to) I am very afraid of heights. Like… really afraid… like getting on a step ladder makes me dizzy. However, for my “take-back” I wanted to push myself. This wasn’t the first time I’d tested my limits, but those had always been with my best friend (walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and exploring the sites around Mount Rainier’s more precariously situated pull-offs). This time I was conquering my fears by myself.
As I wound my way up steep hills to the plateau that constitutes the majority of the Howth peninsula, I saw architecture both old and new. Howth is growing, which is evident from the construction on older structures into more modern and spacious homes. But it is also a village proud of its history as evidenced when I just happened to look up at this house.
I realize for Ireland, the 1800s aren’t really “old” — but for this literary geek of an American, this small plaque made me gasp audibly and contemplate knocking on the door to see if I would be allowed to hear anything the owner could tell me about the story of this building. Alas, my shyness prevailed and I just went on my merry… quite merry, actually… way up to the cliff walk.
When I finally located the trail head, I was befuddled that all of that walking I’d just done didn’t even “count” as the cliff walk — but I soldiered on and began climbing the rock and dirt path to the cliff walk. I had underestimated the intensity of the terrain, but since I didn’t have anything else on my agenda that day until midnight, I decided to just take my time and enjoy the hike.
I stopped at a particularly beautiful portion of the walk and veered off the path to sit and eat a snack and rest for a while. This was my birthday view:
I sat there and wrote in my journal for a while, as I often do when overwhelmed by beauty. My trip to Howth was on my last full day in Ireland and this breathtaking (literally I was out of breath when I got there) location was the perfect spot to reflect on the trip as a whole. It was amazing to believe that I was actually there — I had stopped allowing the uncertainty of my future to paralyze me from getting what I wanted out of life. And I was actually in Ireland on a cliff walk, and I had the strength of spirit to do it by myself– something the “old me” would not have contemplated. As I sat on the rock, thinking over my “take-back,” I could not begin to express the pride I had found in my own strength.
So, I did what any person with a smart phone would do, I took a pictures of myself to capture that moment of joy.
In that moment I was Allison Gayle Bridget Paradise, also known as “She-Ra, the Princess of Power!”
As I made my way back down from the cliff, I stopped at a little sandwich stand – literally a man with a hot plate in what looked like a double-wide outhouse. He had a patio with tables, chairs, and flags, and so I chatted with him while he made my ham and cheese sandwich (2€). He asked me with an ornery smile if I was on the “Trump Train” (it was late November 2016), he talked to me about the state of education in America, and the greatest spectacle in racing: the Indy 500 (to which he had been, and ironically I had not despite living in Speedway – less than five miles from the track for a couple of years).
Since more customers had come while we were talking, he left me to myself on the patio. But I was not alone. An initially cute little Irish bird continually dive-bombed me while I was eating my sandwich, but finally fled the scene when these guys came to my rescue:
After my meal I walked toward the church steeple I could see from the cliff, and made my way into the main part of Howth. I saw beautiful buildings and even a few Black Friday signs. I gathered from the small crowds in the stores that Black Friday is not the same event that it is in American (thankfully).
Howth is a must see location! It’s peaceful and majestic, and it even has something to offer for those who like to spend money. Though I didn’t make it to the lighthouse on my solo trip, I did make it there March 2019 when I braved the cliff walk again– this time with a student. In full disclosure, it is a functional lighthouse, so you can’t go right up to it, but you can go to the gate if you’d like. But honestly the real experience is the hike, the cliffs, the rocks, and the sea.