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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I will never forget swinging above the swirling sea on the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in County Antrim, holding on for dear life.
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 feeling of wind in my face atop the Slieve League Cliffs of County Donegal will stick with me.
And so will the glow of Lough Gill when I recited the poetry of Yeats by its shore in County Leitrim.
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.
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.