The top item on my bucket list has always been to go to Ireland. Ever since I was a little girl, my father would talk about our ancestors from a small fishing village in County Clare. I knew I would go…. someday.
My husband is not much of a traveler. He doesn’t like to venture too far outside his comfort zone, and his idea of an exotic vacation is a trip to Tampa. So when the University at Albany men’s basketball team was invited to play in the Belfast Classic in Northern Ireland, I jumped on the opportunity and pretty much forced him to go. I knew there was no way I would ever get him and our kids there any other way. He traveled with the team, and I traveled with my mom and the kids separately. We met in Dublin and spent two days there before taking the train to Belfast for three days.
In Dublin, we visited the EPIC Emigration Museum to learn about where people settled when they fled Ireland because of famine or fighting, and the contributions they have made in the countries they emigrated to. We also toured Trinity College and saw the stunning woodwork in the long library (the Book of Kells was closed during our visit). We toured Dublin Castle, the Guinness Storefront, The General Post office which was the site of the Easter Rising of 1916. We also learned that the village of Labasheeda that my ancestors were from, was entirely wiped out by the potato famine and is now home to all of 60 people. Since our hotel was across the street from the famous Ha’Penny Bridge, we recreated a black and white photo of my favorite band, with one of us standing in for each of the four members of U2. But our favorite part of our stay in Dublin was the Celtic Nights show. It was a traditional dinner of Irish stew or ham hock combined with a night of Irish music and dancing. Some of the dancers had actually toured with Michael Flatley and Riverdance. They were fabulous.
Train travel between cities is easy and affordable in Europe, so we hopped on Irish Rail and enjoyed the beautiful countryside and coastline for a relaxing two hour ride to Belfast.
There, we toured the Crumlin Road Gaol (jail) that housed political prisoners until as recently as 1996. Our Uber drivers were also a wealth of information, showing us the different Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods and the series of walls and locking gates that separate them. Tension remains high between the two sides, even now. We visited the Titanic Museum, where the ship was built and saw the replica staterooms for first and second class passengers.
But my hands-down favorite part of Northern Ireland was the day trip we took to Antrim and the northern coast. I have never seen such amazing natural beauty in my life. Words and pictures can’t begin to describe the stunning views, and awe-inspiring point where cliffs meet the rocks and the coastline of Giants Causeway. I climbed up on top of the natural octagon shaped rocks, looked around at the waves below, and cried. I was overcome with emotion all at once, because at that moment I was standing in this amazing place, in a part of the world my father had always talked about and I had always dreamt of seeing. I wished that he could be there with me to share the wonder of it all. For a split second, I started to reach for my phone to call him, before I remembered that he is no longer here. Strange how that happens sometimes. My daughter (who knew I would probably cry at least once at some point during the trip) was watching from a distance and captured that moment with her camera, and if you look closely, you can see the tears welling in my eyes.
After we left Giants Causeway, we crossed the 100 foot high Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and wrapped up our tour with a scenic drive back to Belfast through fishing villages along the coast. Back in the city, we headed to the SSE Arena to cheer onUAlbany Basketball for the next two days, and headed back to Albany.
It was the most incredible experience for me, and the best part was being there with my family. if you ever have the chance to visit Ireland or any of the locations on your bucket list, absolutely seize the opportunity.