When Colorado student Sarah McNaughton planned her four month trip to Ireland, she was prepared for all the clichés. ‘Friendly locals’, ‘green hills’, ‘the craic’ – but ‘home is where the heart is’ she wasn’t expecting.
I used to think ‘home’ was easy to define. It didn’t even require thought; every time a new acquaintance asked the inevitable “Where are you from?” out slipped “Denver” or “Colorado” or just “the States.” And so it went when I arrived in Dublin at eight in the morning on a Tuesday in late September. Whenever my standout American accent reached the ears of another friendly Irishman or woman (the stereotype is true – if you’re in need of friends, go to Ireland), I spouted out my home geography without any consideration or hesitation.
But over the next few months, my definition of home began to slip as I found myself more and more comfortable in a situation that was supposed to be foreign and mysterious.
The week I arrived, I had the true luck of the Irish, discovering that Dublin’s annual was taking place on my first Friday in town. With minimal effort, I happened upon an opportunity to take in heaps of Dublin culture in one night for free, so I spent the evening indulging in my lifelong dream of seeing the and gaping at the gorgeous Book of Kells. I also wandered around the campus, stopping to watch an informal football match before I went to an exhibit in the university’s modern Science Gallery. It turned out that meandering around Trinity was the ideal introduction to downtown Dublin for me because it had bits of everything that I love and need: Irish history, quality academics, youthful excitement, and a flood of culture.
I found one Irish stereotype is correct: they’re the friendliest people on the planet. I’ve never felt so welcome before. It was confusing at first – why were people being so nice to me for no reason? Passing someone on the street in Ireland is very different than in the States, people ask how you are, actually want to hear the response, and then tell you all about their day. I was fascinated for weeks by this exchange! At one céilí I danced at, I made more friends and had more fun than in my first two years of high school. By week two of my time in Ireland, I was already hooked.
My love of Dublin – particularly the literary aspects as the city began its celebration of becoming a right about when I showed up – only grew with time. Whether I was headed to a pub with friends or a walk around the city, it was almost guaranteed I’d stumble upon some piece of Irish literary history. On sunny weekends spent walking along the Dun Laoghaire pier, I’d get to stare out across the sparkling water at the and imagine the life of one of my literary heroes.
But it wasn’t just the written word that I celebrated while I was in Ireland. I’m aware discussing the greenness of Ireland is almost cliché, but after hiking along the coast from to , wandering around the gardens (better than any stony kiss, in my mind), and standing atop Hill (after passing Bono’s house, no less), I’ve decided that Ireland’s natural beauty is actually under-rated. I’ve never taken so many floral photographs in my life. Toss in a visit to the mythic and the breathtaking , and there’s hardly a reason to leave.
After being back in the States for several months now, I’ve decided my experiences in Ireland boil down to this: beauty is hard to miss in Ireland. You’d have to sit in a dark closet to not find something lovely in that place.
As I watched paper lanterns rising into the sky on New Year’s Eve, my last night in Ireland, I sensed something strange. The lanterns floated and faded into the stars as I realised the pit in my stomach wasn’t the usual feeling of excitement right before I returned home – it was dread at leaving. I was already starting to feel homesick for a place I’d only lived in for less than four months. I had become so comfortable and happy that I felt I’d lived here all my life. Besides the latitude and longitude change, the books and plants and laughs and friends were just like, if not better than, the ones I’d known all my life. So now I’m back ‘where I’m from,’ and the regular routines have started up again, but I stole a little Irish stubbornness before I left; I’ll be back home soon.