There I was, stuck on a packed tour bus on the westernmost cliff of Ireland, while the sun set over the sea below and Coolio’s 1995 smash hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” played on the speakers. I closed my eyes, smiled, and took a beat to myself before rejoining my fellow busgoers in song. It was one of those rare moments of pure elation, often longed for but experienced so rarely in life. I couldn’t help but laugh and think, “How did I end up here?”
I’d joined four Irish friends at Other Voices, a music festival in early December in Dingle. We’d piled into a car in Dublin on Friday afternoon, forgoing my favorite fast food stop and souvenirs at Moneygall’s Barack Obama Plaza in order to make good time to the west, cruising on the motorways and then on the winding, narrow roads of the Irish countryside. I had been recruited for this trip as soon as I arrived in Ireland in September, and had spent the months leading up to the weekend trying to figure out what Other Voices really was. It seemed a rather under-the-radar, low-key music festival that brought up-and-coming bands from the island and beyond. In recent years, it has grown to become an annual invasion of 10,000+ people into quaint, unassuming Dingle. While there is one centerpiece lineup in the town’s St. James Church each evening, many of the gigs are small, informal affairs in any of a dozen pubs.
We had ended up stuck on Slea Head because we’d been lucky enough to snag tickets on the Music Trail West, a 100-person bus trip around the Dingle peninsula with stops at a gin distillery, a heritage center, and – of course – a few pubs, for private concerts and drinks. Now, as we headed for our last stop, we’d come upon a hairpin turn and found a line of small cars facing us. Because the road was so narrow, each of the two dozen cars heading toward us would have to reverse a few hundred meters and turn off to the side of the road to let our bus through. It was taking quite a while, but none of us minded. In addition to the musical stylings of Coolio, we now had pods of dolphins below jumping around (I can only assume they also felt much nostalgia for “Gangsta’s Paradise).
I have had those “How did I end up here?” moments increasingly frequently the longer I’ve been in Ireland. I have no doubt that this is because of the fine people whom I am lucky to consider my Irish friends. Whether their bringing me all the way to Dingle or just to Sunday roast dinner, they are enriching my year here beyond what I could have anticipated. Don’t worry: I’m sure they’ll give me a hard time once they’ve read this.