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(Old) St. Patrick’s Day and Aran Islands

(Originally posted on March 24, 2012)

I have got to get better about finishing these multi-post trip things… This is probably way shorter than it deserves but I need to get it done!

Day 4: St. Patrick’s Day

We set out at a comfortable time in the morning, walked to town and secured a decent spot for the parade. There were many people dressed in green, unsurprisingly, with huge green hats and some with green hair and many Irish flags. We found a spot right at the beginning of the route and claimed our territory. Then we waited. For a long time.

Literally two minutes before the parade began, a woman and her man appeared right in front of Erika and I. Both of us are rather height challenged, so these cutters totally blocked our view at first. Stephen asked them to move aside at one point, and then it got easier to see. They randomly disappeared again about midway through the parade. [insert insult of your choice]

Anyway, the parade itself was both much more… small towny and much more political than I expected. One of the first groups out was zombie banks being chased by St. Patrick, which was pretty hilarious. This was followed by about 50 martial arts companies with cute kids and about 30 little kid school bands. Then that was followed by a variety of earth/environment friendly floats. Then that was followed by various ethnic groups, including but not limited to the Irish-Chinese and Irish-Polish. There was also a blacksmith on a huge truck, doing blacksmith stuff! That was epic.

I suppose I expected the parade to be more national pride and history of the Irish or something. But it was interesting seeing a different side of the culture, and it was a lot of fun.

We grabbed a traditional Irish meal of Papa Johns on our way back to Stephen’s flat. Then we chilled for a while before heading back to town for some (actual) traditional Irish music. The main streets were (unsurprisingly) pretty crowded with young adults trying their best to get wasted. But Stephen lead us through a maze until we came upon a small local pub. We pushed our way upstairs, where a young man was playing the bagpipe. Epic.

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As we hung out for the next hour or two, we were treated to some pretty freaking amazing traditional Irish music. This is sort of my thing, and I was geeking out big time. There was the band, which included a guitar, bagpipe, other wind instrument and drums. Every now and then people would shush and one of the old men would sing. Sometimes the songs were sobering, about war or loss, but some of the songs were a riot, about a hasty marriage, or just traditional drinking songs. When people knew the chorus, they’d join in. The creaky floorboards vibrated with the music and the stomped beat of the fast songs.

The only girl who sang was a wee lass from Australia. Her grandmother was Irish, and had taught her an Irish lullaby. As she sang it, the locals joined in at a murmur. It was beautiful.

There were, however, some stupid tourists behind us who kept giggling and/or talking during a solo section. I would not have minded if some Irish guy had punched them in the jaw. I thought about doing it myself, except that I had a prized seat and also I have a feeling my punch would not hold much pain (other than pain to my joints, perhaps).

Later another band joined in, with flutes and fiddles and such, but we eventually had to leave. On the long walk back, we got offered heroin by a clearly high young adult. Wonderful night all around.

Day 4: Aran Islands

We arose early and headed down to town. It was a beautiful morning, with only a few clouds in the sky. We boarded the bus and took a gorgeous ride to the coast. From the bus we took a ferry, which was in many ways very fun. Stephen had planned on us renting bikes, but I was nervous. My record with biking has been less than perfect (read: bikes make me black out). But we went to check it out anyway.

Turns out there’s this thing called an electric bike. Also turns out, electric bikes are AWESOME.

To be completely cliche: This day is honestly one of the best days of my life. The weather was perfect–warm but just a tad chilly, blue skies, little breeze. The views were breathtaking (see below). We explored an old lighthouse, various fort ruins, and took the country route where our only company was the stray horse or cow. I remember at one point Stephen stopped and motioned us to be quiet. “Listen!” he said. “You can’t hear anything.” He was right–it was completely silent.

As an aside, those country roads definitely taught me what it means to feel like your bones have been shaken. But with the electric bike, I could easily stop wherever I wanted to snap pictures, then catch up with the group without too much trouble. Aside from a few hill hikes where I was pretty sure my ankles were going to break, it was a super relaxing, breathtaking day.

We stopped for lunch and some souvenir shopping. I grabbed a wool hat. The wool was so soft. At home, I normally avoid it because it tends to dry out my eyes. But I wore that hat all day yesterday without and side effects!

We then went up to this prehistoric fort on the cliffs. Nothing was roped off, so we could peer right over into a watery death below. It was epic.

As we set out again, our little band passed an old Irish guy. I was following behind, as I normally did, on my awesome electric bike (now named iShadowfax), while the real heroes on their real bikes rushed on ahead. The Irish guy shouted at me, “You’re cheating!” I shouted back, “I know!” Which was super witty.

We took the route along the coast and arrived back in time for more shopping before the ferry. On the bus back, Clark and I finally actually had a conversation (insert jokes about socially awkward homeschoolers here). It had somehow escaped my notice until then that he was studying at Oxford for the fall, spring and summer terms. So perhaps we will meet again. Later that night, Stephen and Clark went out for more pub music, but Erika and I were exhausted and stayed in watching How I Met Your Mother and editing pictures.

Speaking of pictures, just to prove how beautiful the day was:

View from atop the lighthouse, which just happened to be unlocked.

Day 5: Back to Reading

I woke up really early the next morning and took off for the bus station. I think Stephen had meant to leave out a taxi number for me to call, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I figured walking would work out the stiffness from the day before, plus it would thoroughly wake me up. So I set out on my own.

Overall it was a peaceful, empty walk. I did get slightly lost once I got into town, but I still found the bus in good time. Arrived at the Shannon Airport, which was totally empty, and grabbed some stuff at the souvenir shop. Grabbed a brunch of fish and chips, which I only picked at because there were so many bones. (I hate bones.) I think Manchester United was playing, so I sort of watched a little of the game in homage to a friend at home.

Eventually got back to Heathrow, where I didn’t have to go through customs (say what?! There really is a God in heaven) and found my way to the bus easily. And thus I arrived back at Reading, with many awesome memories and also an awesome hat.

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