Kilkenny was the medieval capital of Ireland and we only had one day to see everything we could before heading to Dublin for a few days. It was kind of funny, because when I asked the hostel staff if I could get a map and how long it would take to see the main attractions in the city, they said, “You can see the whole city in three hours. Maybe four.”
And they were right.
Kilkenny has an impressive cathedral, a castle, market, and some other interesting things, but I don’t think it’s worth writing so much about. It’s a typical Irish town with a large helping of older buildings, but is mostly for tourists.
There was a pretty cool castle (which cost money to get inside, so we admired the exterior). Outside there were a hundred people spread out all over a green field, playing frisbee and enjoying their afternoon sandwiches and tea.
“Oh, are frisbees a common thing here?” she asked.
“Only America has frisbees,” I joked.
I promised her a typical Irish tea experience like my old friend Andy from Dublin had shown me the first time I was in Ireland.
“Oh, well I don’t know. Your grandpa used to love tea with lots of milk like this, but I don’t know. I only ever have tea cold, and it’s that instant tea. I don’t know about this…”
“Well it won’t hurt to try it. This is pretty common here. They’ll take a break and jus have tea with milk or a coffee in the afternoon. Here you go,” I said, setting the table with tea and milk for two. And of course pie.
She loved it.
Then there was a weird flash mob outside the castle? They just walked around dancing slowly to some music and a bunch of kids ran around screaming and punching their heads.
When we were to head to Dublin, Grandma was really excited about the notion of taking a train, so we splurged a bit and headed for the train station. The tickets weren’t horribly expensive, but certainly more than the bus.
As there was construction on the track, we only got to ride for about half the trip on the train before switching to a bus. She seemed to really enjoy herself on the train though, saddened every time she saw something she wanted a picture of and didn’t get because the train was moving too quickly.
“These are way faster than those trains back home!” she remarked.
Grandma was getting really good at making friends with strangers.
Once we’d arrived in Dublin, I had no idea which lines to take to get where we were going. By the time we’d asked for directions from three different people and finally settled at a team station, Grandma was ready to kill me.
“I don’t know how you can live like this!”
“I don’t either. Here, try and look as unhappy as you possibly can to show how displeased you are,” I said.
This was the result:
Real Irish culture lies in the small pubs and farms of the countryside. Dublin is a sprawling metropolitan area, and the Temple bar area downtown serves as a hub for the most non-Irish people to congregate in the most stereotypically Irish setting possible. That being said, it was a ton of fun.
The hostel we stayed in was enormous and we were able to meet some more people, but no one that we made as much of a connection with as we did in Galway. There were just too many people. But Grandma seemed to love it anyway.
On one of the mornings, we were able to take a free walking tour from an amazing Irish lawyer, who focused on the oppression over the Irish by the British and the Catholic Church. She made such a good point about the trafficking power of the catholic diocese that Grandma actually began to talk with me about religious oppression. It was a bloomin’ miracle.
We took a short break after the tour to look around the Guineas gardens, which were donated to the city and became a public space several decades ago. And then, because no Eurotrip is complete without a Doner kebab, I dragged her to a little Turkish restaurant to get sloppy.
I wanted to our last day in the country a special one, so I planned on taking her to Howth, a small village on a peninsula northwest of Dublin. From there, we would be able to see the ocean (she had still never seen it) and walk along a cliff (to make up for not going to the Cliffs of Moher) before heading back into the city for a real Irish dinner.
After the FINAL bit of shopping, (“I’ll take the sterling silver bracelet!”), we celebrated with her first gelato, and then took a train out to Howth.
Howth is to Ireland what Cap Ferrat is to Nice, or Beverly Hills is to… California? LA? Whatever. It’s where the rich people live with beautiful views over the ocean with their stone fences and perfectly-kept tree gardens.
The unveiling of the ocean was perfectly set up; there was a pier that was built high enough that it obscured all view to the east, so I climbed the steps first and as Grandma followed, I said, “And here, let me present to you the ocean.”
“Oh, wow!” The wind slapped her in the face as she climbed over and looked out at the endless cerulean. We were blessed with perfectly clear skies. She scrambled to get her camera out like it was going to run away.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“It’s so big!”
“That’s what… she said?” I said, hesitating only for a moment. I couldn’t help it.
The next couple hours were spent obsessively talking about the ocean and snapping photos at every possible opportunity. The cliff view, despite being uneven and full of steps and climbing and mud and grass paths, was no problem for her.
We even saw a dolphin.
Grandma is one of the people who reacted negatively to my coming out. Since then, it’s been difficult to connect with her on any kind of personal level, and that was sort of what this trip was about. I thought if I could show her part of my life and share something special with her, she may be able to see me as more than just “a gay person.” Getting her to talk about personal things is like pulling teeth, but I managed to get her to talk as we sat and watched the waves crash on the rocks after the tide had gone down a bit.
“It’s going to be hard to go back home after this.”
“Tell me about it. I’ve got wanderlust, really badly. I don’t know if I can ever go back and be happy.”
“It was like this when Ray was alive too, though,” she said. Ray was my grandfather who had passed from cancer about a decade ago. “When we traveled places I would always get sad we were leaving. He used to get annoyed at how much I wanted to stay.”
“Maybe it runs in the family.”
“How did you guys meet?” I don’t know how I made it this far in life without asking my grandparents this question.
“Oh, hah! I bought his car,” she said, chuckling. She described the car in detail, down to the color of the seats and the engine. “We went up to see this car, and his friends had this bet going about what would happen between us…”
Back in Dublin, we hit up the Old Storehouse which is an “Irish pub” with live music. Of course the live music was just a (cute) guy with a guitar playing American folk songs interspersed with Irish songs that everyone but me knew. The food was excellent, though. I didn’t tell Grandma she was eating raw fish when I ordered the appetizer (“I’m not eating raw fish, Brandon!”) and naturally she loved it.
The fish and chips were too much for me to handle but were delicious regardless.
After leaving some time to digest, we went back to the hostel, got our affairs in order, and were ready to depart.
At the airport the next morning, I dropped her off at customs. She was sad to be going home.
“Next time, we’ll see more. Just imagine how much more there is to see.”
“I could never imagine all those things. I could never imagine I would see the things I saw this week while I was alive.”
Ack. Right in the feels.
“Bye, Grandma,” I said, hugging her. “Be safe, let me know when you get back. Love you.”
“Love you too,” she said, walking through the departure gate.