This post is the first installment of my Irish travel journal. You can view the whole series here.
I’m starting this journal on the plane from St. Louis to Newark, about to embark (or perhaps already having embarked) on my second FOCUS Ireland trip.
The morning began when I met up with the professors and students at Wash U. I was in charge of checking passports before letting people on the bus, and fortunately I took the role seriously – Dean Killen nearly left his behind in the copy machine! To thank me for saving the whole trip a lot of bother by realizing that before we got to the airport, he promised to buy me a really nice glass of whiskey once we got to Ireland.
At the airport, we herded the crew inside, wrote out baggage labels, and checked in. Despite the best efforts of the gate agents, we managed to get (at least) one set of boarding passes for everyone.
From there, it was off to Ireland.
The flights were mostly uneventful, although there was some excitement toward the end when my seatmate accidentally spilled all of the sticky syrup from a breakfast fruit cup right onto my pants. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long before I got my bag (and the rest of my clothes), at baggage claim. Unfortunately, I had only packed one pair of pants. This meant I got to make my victorious re-entry into Ireland in my pajamas.
This was somewhat fitting, since we arrived at approximately 6am Dublin time. By the time we made it through customs, recovered our bags, and drove up to Newgrange (a Stone Age tomb famous for the illumination of its interior chamber by the sun on the winter solstice), the Visitor’s Centre hadn’t even opened yet.
After watching the informational video, meandering through the exhibit and having a spot of breakfast (lunch? dinner?), we caught the bus out to Newgrange itself.
Our tour guide at Newgrange looked and sounded exactly like a supervillain, from his black hood and monotone voice to his walking stick and dead-eyed stare. He was also incredibly knowledgeable about the site and its history, and gave an excellent tour. In fact, his supervillain ethos merely contributed to the aura of magic and mystery about the the area (especially once we entered the chamber within the mound).
After Newgrange, we got back on the bus for the long (by Irish standards) drive up to Belfast.
When we arrived, my roommate Cigi and I explored the city for a bit before stopping back by the hotel for a pint at an historic pub, The Crown. We even managed to snag a snug (small private room)!
While there, our bus driver and tour guide Rory told us all about the sexist history of snugs. Apparently they were first created to keep women from drinking in the open bars with men, and that that system wasn’t entirely abolished until the 1960s. Yikes! But however they started out, snugs are a wonderfully cozy place to have a drink with a few friends.
Dinner at the hotel that night was delicious, but since we had all been awake for almost 48 hours, the conversation at the table was a little slow, and the time between the courses seemed very long indeed.