Exploring Ireland while listening to the blues by Isabella Prins

Features, On the Road, Writing January 8, 2016

Our day in Liverpool ends quickly though and the next day we find ourselves on yet another ferry to Dublin, where we get our first taste of Gaelic. All the road signs are both in English as in Gaelic and I rejoice in trying to say all the words out loud. I quickly memorize the word for exit as we pass the sign at least every five minutes on the highway and I don’t think I ever stopped saying it during those three weeks.

Ireland, I haven’t seen you for a while. A couple of years it has been since my feet touched your soil, but if I think of you I hear the music playing in my head and images of roads winding under flowery skies and over green hills littered with stone hedges come to me clear as if it happened just yesterday.

It was 2011 and I had a crush on a boy. A boy that I had known for a while but only just started to like in that way only a young girl can. He played in a band at the time and only a few days before he had given me a promotional album with three songs on it. I only remember one, ‘All along the watchtower’, a cover song and it was about to become the song that would spark memories of you every time I heard it. Within that song are you and all that I was back then, listening to it is like stepping into a time machine.

I am listening to it while I write this and I can feel the ferry slowly rocking on the waves of the English canal underneath my feet. My mum and I are sitting around a table in the lobby, we have already done a couple of laps around the deck and we are ready to hit land. Neither of us have very good sea legs and our tummies are complaining constantly.

I remember arriving in the dock and I remember trying to find our way away from it towards the city of London. We’re driving on the wrong side of the road and aren’t navigating very well, we drive past a half torn down building more than once before we find the highway. Once on it the going is pretty good, we have lunch at a gas station and are surprised by the size of it. Several shops and roadside restaurants all crammed in one building and we shop for niceties before we head on to our hotel.

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When we arrive in Liverpool we find ourselves a hotel as quickly as possible, it isn’t luxurious, but it is nice enough not to worry about clean sheets and so we drop off our stuff and head off instantly. We aren’t worried about very many things, but the one thing we are worried about is the Cavern Club, the birthplace of the Beatles and we head straight to it. Or so we think, of course we get lost and as we’re standing on the corner of a street, discussing frantically where we think we should go a man walks up to us and asks us if he could be of any help. Well yes, we say and when we tell him where we want to go his eyes light up and he tells us he’ll take us there. Naive as you may call it we decide to follow him. On the way there we talk about the Beatles and what we know and he tells us what he knows, which is a lot more than what we know and we talk about the Rolling Stones and all the other music from that era before we hit the street we were looking for.

We walk past numerous Beatles’ cafes before we hit the real one. The only one that has anything to do with them and the only one without their name in it’s name. The Cavern club. Unfortunately the original cafe had burned down a few years before but a door down the street they carefully rebuild the entire thing and so we decide to walk through the heavy black doors down the narrow stairway into the basement. A young man is on the stage, we don’t know him, I don’t think very many of us do but he is good and he is passionate and as we thank our make shift guide with a round of beers we listen to him in silence. It has really started now, our adventure.

Our day in Liverpool ends quickly though and the next day we find ourselves on yet another ferry to Dublin, where we get our first taste of Gaelic. All the road signs are both in English as in Gaelic and I rejoice in trying to say all the words out loud. I quickly memorize the word for exit as we pass the sign at least every five minutes on the high way and I don’t think I ever stopped saying it during those three weeks.

Wide and lonely roads take us to quiet seaside villages where we drink Guinness in some of the many pubs. We take long beach walks and sleep on lonely camping spots. Rain pours down on us everywhere but sometimes the sun comes about and the wet ground glitters when we walk. We visit old Goals and buy books about the history of them that we’ll never read. We drive for hours to find the Buddhist center only to find it full and we walk over the grounds wondering what this visit would’ve meant if they would have had space for us. The mist is thick and we look out over the lake that is supposed to be far beneath us just past the cliffs but we don’t see any of it. Praying flags dance in the wind and when I walk away on my own the pebbles underneath my feet crack and jump away when I stand on the edges of them and together with my breathing it is the only sound I hear. I stop and hold my breath and the silence is deafening. For a few seconds I wonder what it would sound like if I would scream out as loud as I could, but it felt disrespectful and so I shut my mouth.

Ireland by Isabella Prins06Ireland by Isabella Prins07

The night of the Buddhist center we find a bed and breakfast close by and we knock on the door hoping someone is home. Thankfully they are and they make our room as comfortable as possible while they scuffle about telling us how wonderful it is we are here and they hope we don’t mind the rain too much. They promise to make us a hearty breakfast but they’ll leave us alone now, if anything is up we can knock on the door, they’re just a room away from us. It feels strange to us, staying in someone’s home like that but a little part of us secretly likes it and we move around quietly, scared we’ll keep our hosts awake. We make ourselves warm cups of tea and hang our clothes to dry near the heater, we nestle ourselves under our warm duvets and read books and eat stale cookies from the windowsill. Outside the rain taps on our window and I am entranced by the beautiful view that keeps changing shape in the water pouring down in front of it. We’re in the middle of a field, small trees scatter the hills and we see the lake far in the distance. It is past dusk now and the dark clouds hang dramatically low over the dark blue and purple grounds. I wonder what it will look like tomorrow morning, with the sun rising behind it all.

In the middle of our three week adventure we change our way of moving and mount a set of horses, there is a big group of us, ranging from competing riders to ‘I may have been on a horse once a couple of years ago’-riders. But luckily there is only one in the last category and he is a young boy, 9, maybe 10 and he is brave and flexible and young and at the end of the week he could manage his steady mount like any of us can. I get assigned a big black young mare, it is to be her first time riding the full week trip with a rider on her back, and she is sensitive but sensible and kind and somehow manages to navigate through the rocks like any of the Connemara ponies that are with us. She is the perfect fit for me. My mum gets assigned a trusty older all white Connemara pony that is on her wavelength and I think all of the others got horses to their taste as well. It is great, we are on our horses nearly eight hours a day and we race on beaches, ride to Islands that are only Islands when the tide is high and nearly have to swim back to shore when we stay out a little longer than planned. We climb up and down hills with sheep scattered over them, we have lunch on top of them and sometimes in deep valleys in between, we stay with kind families in B&B’s and get to know an amazing group of people that somehow mixes very well even though we are all so different. One of the people we get to know is a young Australian girl traveling the world, a girl that a couple of years later I’d get to see again while I was in Australia and it felt as if we’d never spent years without seeing each other.

But we aren’t just with a group of people, as of day two an older black dog starts following us and he didn’t leave our side until we passed his house again on the way back. Worried he might not find his way home we told our guide that he was following us and he said it was ok, he knew him well, he did this every time they rode this trip. On one of the last days however, the longest day in the saddle and the day we were without a guide for a few hours we noticed he was limping and tired. Every now and then he’d lay down and let us pass until we were nearly out of sight before he’d get back up again and catch up. Without our guide to ask if this was normal and if he would find his way back home while we were so far away we got worried and waited with him for a little while hoping he’d catch his breath and be able to keep going, but he didn’t catch his breath and as it started taking longer and longer three of us decided to help him out.
We jump off the horses and I pick him up. One of the men has come towards us and stretches out his hands, I lift him up as high as I can and he grabs him and puts him in front of his saddle. Holding on to him with one hand and holding the reins with the other I leave him to mount my own horse again. We can’t leave the poor guy behind, not if we can help it and he is quiet the whole way home, panting for at least 10 more minutes before he catches his breath.

Story and photographs by Isabella Prins
w. isabellaprins.com b. onbarefeet.org

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