Ireland is enchanting. It’s the land where the emerald hills heave and the Guinness flows like the river Liffey. It’s the place where the music forces you to jig and the landscape urges you to admire. But most importantly, Ireland is a country where charm & a smile comprise the daily attire and hospitality & kindness are a common virtue. After this recent Saint Patrick’s Day, I’ve been inspired to commemorate five instances of Irish kindness I experienced when traveling the Emerald Isle. These little moments, I’ll treasure more than any pot o’ gold.
The first brush of Irish kindness occurred before the journey to Ireland even began. As I fidgeted in Heathrow at the gate, a middle-aged woman sat across and asked if I was a nervous flyer. “No, not nervous of flying. I have no plans once this plane lands. I’m nervous of the unknown.” I explained to her how I’d been backpacking with friends and this was my first time trying the “solo travel with no pre-established plans” thing. I said I really wanted to make Galway my first stop, but wasn’t sure how that would work logistically. My lack of wifi inhibited the research I planned to do while waiting in the airport. She jumped on the internet right away. Then made a few phone calls. Right before we boarded, she provided all the coordination information I needed. “If you want to go to Galway first, there’s one more train going out today after our flight gets in. But you don’t have enough time to make it unless you hail a taxi to get to the train. Since you have a Eurail pass, it should be free or discounted, but I’m not sure. It’s going to be really tight, but you SHOULD be able to make it. There are no transfers; it’s a straight journey.” Haste was clearly the key. After we landed in Dublin, she led me to the taxi queue. She left me with a hug, her phone number in case of emergency, and the confidence that I’d make it to Galway. I barely made it to the train, with only a few minutes to spare. Had it not been for this woman, who knows if I would have made it?
“No Girl Should Walk Alone in the Rain.”
There was a reason the tour to the Aran Islands began with: “You’re SURE you want to go today? Did you see the weather?” The sky was cloaked in a gray cloud. The rain relentlessly pummeled the ground. A sharp chill pierced the wind.
My clothes soaked uncomfortably to my skin; my bones rattled with cold. Despite a wonderful albeit wet journey on the island, I couldn’t wait to return to the hostel and defrost in a steamy shower. I avoided thinking about the trek across town after the bus drop off. Walking in wet jeans? An uncomfortable, chaffing nightmare. As I exited the drop-off location, the tour driver asked where I was heading. “Kinlay Hostel.” “Stay on the bus. This is my last tour of the day. I’ll drop you off at the door. No girl should walk alone in the rain!” I was delivered right at the doorstep of the hostel. I didn’t even have to walk more than 3 feet in the rain.
“You Look Like You Need This.”
The next predicament after the Aran Island SoakFest was my lack of towel. Yes, I forgot my shower towel. I only had a hand towel maybe large enough to wrap my bicep. It worked for most of the trip but sometimes I splurged and hired a towel for rent. This was one of the cases where I would pay any price for a towel.
I looked like a pathetic, abandoned, soggy dog shivering in the long line at the front desk. Warm shower, dry towel. Warm shower, dry towel. This was my mantra. As I waited, an employee approached me, handing over two fluffy, white towels. The gray clouds parted, a beam of golden Jesus rays radiated upon this man and angels sang the Hallelujah chorus. “You look like you need this,” he said as I sincerely thanked him and numbly fumbled for my money belt to pay the rental fee. “Don’t worry about it. Just bring it back when you’re done.” This man probably saved me from pneumonia.
The Lone Traveler Was Not Alone
My brief time in Killarney included a Ring of Kerry tour from O’Connor Autotours. The bus driver, John O’Neill, was a dapper gentlemen who took note of my solitude and went out of his way to keep me company on our tour bus full of travel buddies. First, he invited me to sit right up front with him at the head of the bus. I had a full on view of the road stretching ahead. Sometimes it didn’t feel like I was on the bus, but rather in a glass pod zooming & twisting forward through the Ring of Kerry. At the conclusion of the tour, he took me to McCarthy Mor Castle, a crumbling ruin swallowed by nature. We enjoyed a pint of Guinness together at The Lake Hotel, overlooking a small lake and that devastated castle. He talked about his granddaughter and his love for Ireland. When I declared that I had to leave to have enough time to gather my backpack at my hostel and walk to the station to catch my departing train, he was adamant that he would take care of me. He called a cab, gave the driver a wad of cash, and insisted that I’d have more than enough time to grab my backpack and make it to the station without the stress of time and trudging around town. As my cab drove off, I watched Mr. O’Neill return to his tour bus. My heart burst with happiness and sadness and gratitude. What was supposed to be a lone trip, wasn’t so lonely, thanks to him.
“We’ll Get You Home.”
The journey before the final journey home was a series of train rides from Killarney to Dublin. But I didn’t know this at first. I chose to take the last train out, even knowing that if I missed the train, I’d miss my morning flight to the U.S. I risked it. Waiting in the station, I suddenly realized that the route to Dublin wasn’t direct – I’d have to transfer trains. Now this petrified me. I felt clueless and ignorant sitting in that station. I found an off-duty conductor and asked for more guidance. He instructed me about which stop to get off, which train to transfer, make sure to go over a bridge… what?! My look of confusion and panic was apparent. Before boarding the first train, he took me to the conductor and urged, “Make sure this young lady transfers trains! She needs to get to Dublin!”
I paid attention to the name of every stop. When my time to transfer came, I gathered my backpack as the train conductor actually boarded my car and pointed at the bridge I need to cross to get to the right platform. He gave me further instruction, then returned to the driver’s seat. I exuded appreciation, in disbelief that he remembered my worry and took the time to ensure that my journey home went smoothly. Although nervous and weary, I arrived safely in Dublin without a glitch. Their kindness helped me home.
For a while, I thought it was the “Luck of the Irish” – that all these moments of good fortune were a matter of timing and coincidence. I have a different theory now. It wasn’t luck; it was a series of kind hearts. The hospitality of the Irish is tremendous.
Perhaps that’s how the Irish create their luck: through small acts of kindness to others.