Finding Home

The bus ride from Belfast to Dublin is just two hours, but it can feel like a journey—from the North to the Republic, pounds to Euro, just enough time to feel momentarily weightless before the pace of life swoops in as you disembark. It’s too bumpy to get much work done, so I typically find myself resigned to “unproductivity,” putting in my earbuds and watching villages, meadows, livestock, and birds of prey fly by. This time, which I’ve been prone to view as inefficient, has turned out to be a gift—one of the rare moments for real reflection that has allowed me to witness Northern Ireland transforming from foreign scenery to a montage of landscapes promising home.

The first leg of the journey, I’m flustered, sweating, and out of breath, recovering from my mad three-minute sprint to Europa Bus Station. Perhaps I check my email and attempt some work before carsickness forces me to give up, looking out the window instead. It’s beautiful, whether the sky is overcast or not. Sometimes, you can barely make out the base of Belfast Hills before they disappear into the clouds; other times, the green hills stand visible and steadfast, overlooking the city.

I think of ascending Cave Hill for the first time and seeing Belfast sprawled out below me—the twin cranes Samson & Goliath, the hazy outline of Stormont, the divided neighborhoods and bustling city center. When my friend came to visit, I pointed out the familiar sights and, for the first time, felt not that I was a visitor, but that I was opening up my own home to someone else’s curious eyes.

Or perhaps as we pass Black and Divis Mountain, I think of Queen’s University’s soccer pitches. I’ve joined the soccer team for the first time with fellow Belfast Mitchell Maysa, and as the sun sets over the mountains, we sprint around in a light drizzle, my heart pounding with exhilaration. Despite myself, I take a time-out just to appreciate the glow of the dying light against the green hills.

Soon, we’re passing Portadown, where I took the train and biked to Brackagh Moss Nature Reserve on a sleepy Sunday morning to trim bramble and cut encroaching willows, birches, and alder with Grassroots NI, a practical conservation organization. When I forgot my lunch, the other volunteers pooled their resources together to keep me fed, introducing me to egg-and-bacon sandwiches along the way—a new favorite of mine.

By the time we hit the Mourne Mountains, I’m at peace, contentedly reminiscing on hiking Slieve Donard, the highest point in Northern Ireland, with fellow Mitchells in the “QUB Crew.” It was one of our first trips together, and a great bonding experience I cherish already.

Passing the lake just ten minutes outside of Dublin Airport, I’m moved by the nascent familiarity of this landscape, and the memories that this land already holds for me. I’ve realized that you aren’t conscious of when a place has become home until you leave it and return, suddenly finding the once-foreign land familiar. On the bus between Belfast and Dublin, I find myself discovering what home will be for me this year—a beautiful, emerald pasture of rolling hills, saturated with new and promised memories.

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