Counties You Can Count On

Since arriving in Ireland in August, I have been consistently blown away by the island’s breathtaking beauty, especially as I have come to discover that said beauty is itself anything but consistent. They might call Ireland “the Emerald Isle,” but it has become clear to me that there’s more than just one shade of green – not to mention other colors – adorning its canvas.

In front of the Campanile at Trinity College Dublin and my dorm, the Graduates Memorial Building

Dublin in particular has been an incredible home base from which to experience Ireland, encapsulating much of what I love about this magical place. Walking the cobbles of Trinity College, I feel lucky to stand at something of an epicenter. Surrounded by gorgeous Georgian architecture and more pubs in Temple Bar and around Grafton Street than I can count, I can conveniently enjoy both tranquil walks through the paths of St. Stephen’s Green and exhilarating hikes along the cliff trails of Howth, both of which have become favorites. With theater to fill my nights and incredible food to fill my stomach, Dublin offers plenty to keep one entertained.

Climbing the ruined fortress walls of the Rock of Dunamase in County Laois inspired me to undertake the challenge of visiting all 32 counties on the island of Ireland

Yet, driving one August day through County Laois and chancing upon the Rock of Dunamase – the ruins of a medieval hilltop castle on the side of the highway – I could not help but get out and explore, climbing along the remains of fortress walls to peek out at the fantastic green of the surrounding farmland. That moment demonstrated to me that Dublin and did not own a monopoly on what makes Ireland special. Gems, both famous and hidden, were spread out across the whole of the island, often far off the beaten tourism trail. To truly appreciate this island means to travel it, taking in all of its wonderful diversity.

As such, I’ve made it my mission to embrace as much of the rich treasures that Ireland has to offer by setting an ambitious goal to visit all of the 32 counties on the island during my year here as a Mitchell Scholar. Simply passing through does not count – I intend to do something to take in all six counties in Northern Ireland and all twenty-six in the Republic of Ireland. So far, I have documented visits to 11 out of 32 and have enjoyed my time in each, creating memories in all that will last a lifetime.

Visiting Glendalough in County Wicklow on a sunny September day

I will always treasure the feeling of the sun warming my skin in County Wicklow as I lay down in a field of green grass at Glendalough, taking a page from St. Kevin’s book as I shut my eyes and opened my thoughts to the nature and history around me.

Sitting between two neolithic passage tombs at Knowth in County Meath

I will always be mystified by the megalithic remains of Bru Na Boine in County Meath, where I crawled through an earthen tunnel to reach the center of the Newgrange Tomb where the sun works wonders on the winter solstice.

Holding the keys to the castle at Termonfeckin in County Louth, where this medieval tower sits in the yard of an otherwise inconspicuous modern home

I will always chuckle when I recall pulling into a local woman’s driveway in County Louth to check out the castle casually sitting in the backyard of her modern home only for my rental car to break down in her driveway – she offered me tea as my friend and I repaired the vehicle.

Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge was a highlight of the beautiful star-studded coastline of County Antrim

I will never forget swinging above the swirling sea on the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in County Antrim, holding on for dear life.

The Guildhall in County Derry was converted into the Museum of the Moon for the city’s annual Halloween extravaganza

Nor will I fail to remember the spooky Halloween I spent in County Derry – dressed as Batman – listening to a pipe organ concert under the moonlight in a costumed crowd.

The Slieve League Cliffs in County Donegal are amongst the highest in Europe and certainly amongst the most beautiful in the world.

The feeling of wind in my face atop the Slieve League Cliffs of County Donegal will stick with me.

You could see why Lough Gill in County Leitrim was so inspirational to Yeats when you visit

And so will the glow of Lough Gill when I recited the poetry of Yeats by its shore in County Leitrim.

Lady’s View above the Lakes of Killarney with the other Mitchell Scholars on our group trip to County Kerry in October

The Lakes of Killarney also shine in my memory as I think of the boat ride I embarked on with fellow Mitchell Scholars during our cohort trip to County Kerry, arriving at an abandoned monastery on the island of Inisfallen.

Behind me on top of Knocknarea in County Sligo is no hill or mountain but a cairn, a massive pile of rocks created in ancient times which supposedly marks the tomb of the mythical Queen Maeve.

And no vista I lay eyes on can now escape comparison with the one I beheld after hiking Queen Maeve’s trail to the top of Knocknarea in County Sligo, rocks in hand.

The island of Ireland is replete with more colors and hues than I can count in a lifetime, but I am determined that this year I will encounter at least 32 of its varieties.

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