1. DONEGAL: the more I think about it, the more I realize how much of a deus ex machina weekend this trip really was. RAG week was great craic--other than the fact that I felt like a contestant on the imaginary show "I want to live to see 21, get me out of here" and that our apartment resembled a country recently devastated by guerilla warfare--but I was ready for it to be over. We all piled into Owen's car on Friday afternoon; and about 5 hours worth of Eminem and Donegal countryside later (not a match made in , were sitting in his cozy living room on real chairs, drinking milky tea that didn't have anything chunky floating in it, and feeling like we'd just won the lottery. From there, the weekend only got better--the boys' families are AMAZING. They brought us into their homes, fed us until we thought we would burst at the seams, showed us embarrassing photos of their kids, and tucked us under Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comforters at night. We explored the hills of Sliabh Liag, which made the Cliffs of Moher look shrimpy--my heart was so full, I could barely speak--visited the horses at Higgins' farm, which made Maggie feel the same way--and laughed at virtually every word that came out of Shaun's mouth. It was wholesome, warm, and exactly what the doctor ordered. Plus, getting to see the mothership that our roommates come from gave Maggie and I a healthy dose of their humor, and familiarized us with the key to understanding it. Here is the secret: Irish boys lie. It's just what they do. It's not malicious, or in any way hostile--but they'll do it until they can't get away with it any longer, and even then, they'll try to take it a little bit further. On the way home, Maggie finally realized that Mickey is not, in fact, a Protestant, and he has been lying to her for the past two months just for the hell of it. Maggie's take on it? NOT FUNNY. But in the lads' opinion, it's all fair play: and each time a tall tale comes out of their mouth, we are to swallow down a gigantic grain of salt, politely tell them to "f**k off," and not take them--or ourselves--so gosh darn seriously.
2. KILLARY-ING ME SOFTLY. The week following Donegal blurred by, as they tend to do...and on Friday, a group of us embarked upon the second IFSA-Butler weekend; this time, to the Killary Adventure Centre in Connemara. Even after looking the place up online, none of us had any real idea of what was meant by "adventure"--was this going to be a bunch of granola-eating hippies leaving us in the woods with only a compass and our senses of humor, or two days of supervised freeze tag in a gymnasium? As it turns out, it was a little of both--and it was by far, by FAR, the most fun I've had in years. We arrived at night and ate dinner, surrounded by the aforementioned granola freaks--but really good looking granola freaks--and spent an embarrassingly long amount of time playing board games. That's right. We were all campers, wearing matching sweatshirts, and we were at adventure camp. The only difference was we were practically the same age as our supervisors: so instead of lights-out-at-ten, we were drinking pints and playing trivia with the staff 'til the wee hours of the morning.
After breakfast the next day, we all set out for different activities: I chose the giant swing to start off... which is exactly how it sounds, and in the best way possible. After that, I conquered the rock wall, did cartwheels all over the lawn, shimmied my way into the second freezing wetsuit I've voluntarily worn since being here (there is a good chance I have actually lost my mind), and kayaked all over Ireland's only fjord. The rolling green hills and snowcapped mountains were something directly out of a dream; my dream, and one that I can't quite place my finger on... but I know that I've had over and over again. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of victory: confidence that I had chosen to come to Ireland, and joy at the fact that--even though I can't quite describe why to anyone else--I knew all along that I needed to come here. This was the place that I needed to come, and I did. Then my soul got a little bit ahead of my common sense--and minus the gloves and boots and headpiece that kept me from catching hypothermia on the surf trip, I ditched my kayak and hiked up a cliff and jumped off it, into the deep freezing water below. I DID IT, and even though I'm paying for it dearly (if I asked the phlegm in my lungs, it would tell me to go screw myself), it was completely worth it. I ran back to the centre, passing many sheep along my way (because in Connemara, sheep have the right of way. Not pedestrians, screw pedestrians. SHEEP.) and indulged in one of the hottest showers and richest dinners I've ever had. The night concluded in a disco, deejayed by a man who could not have been younger than 65, and many a hilarious encounter with our adventure instructors--who by now, we were best friends with. We danced until at least 3 that morning, and woke up early the next morning to climb the tower and Zipline through the sleety rain.
Where did all this energy come from? Is there a chance that--despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, after all these years of avoiding team sports--that I AM AN ADVENTURER? If you asked the girl in the wetsuit doing relay races in her kayak, despite the arctic water, I think she would have told you that yes, I am. I am that.
3. MUMFORD AND SONS. If you know who they are, then I hardly need to explain just what that means. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Mumford and Sons concert on Tuesday, in the basement of the Radisson hotel, right here in Galway...no stadium seating, no seating period: just us, Mumford, and a room full of sweat. After waiting for what seemed like hours (probably because it was hours, accentuated by the fact that the boys next to us were doing that elbowy-edge-in-front-of-you thing that everyone knows is the #1 concert etiquette crime), the band came out--and it was surreal. If these guys are bonafide celebrities, then they're the last ones to know it. They treated us like family. They sang to us like they've known us forever, and--while they think their songs are pretty cool--they have no inkling as to why we know every word, every inflection, every moment the bass drum is going to kick in. The power went out on the last song, and rather than ditch the encore, they came right to the edge of the stage--so close we could see their cowlicks, the details of their faces, every spot missed by their razors--and did the last song acoustically. We were lucky ducks to be there that evening, this I know. We heard songs that haven't been released yet... and saints preserve us, we're gonna get to be those buttheads who, the first time the new single hits the radio, get to say: "I heard it FIIIIRRRRRRRRST!"
4. M'ATHAIR AGUS D'ATHAIR I nGAILLIMH. That's right, Mama and Patrick came to Galway this week! It was a strange, out-of-body experience to walk into the King's Head, and in the sea of unfamiliar faces that at this point has become a familiar phenomenon, to see my mommy's blue eyes. She and Patrick have taken to Irish life like fish in water, which is a particularly appropriate metaphor... seeing as they've made a point to stay, erm, hydrated since being here. I absolutely love it. There has only been one night this entire week--including Paddy's day--that I have not been in my bed before those crazy kids have even come home from the pubs. They're regulars; the bartenders serve them after last call, and everyone around them becomes their best friends. I am proud of them, and freaked out by the fact that--now that they're here--it feels like they've always been here. Maybe not in body... but in spirit, they certainly have.
5. ST. PATRICK'S DAY. Have you heard? Apparently, it's kind of a big deal. People drink, just like they do every day--but they do it all day, with face paint, wearing green! There's little I can say to describe what it was like to be here, other than the fact that it was messy, lighthearted, and grand. I loved the fact that, surrounded by at least a dozen foreign languages walking down Shop Street, I got to feel like a local. I loved the parade, which was peppered with countless Irish kids running up and down the street wearing fake leprechaun beards that looked brown in comparison with the ginger of their natural hair color. And I LOVED, more than anything, the fact that as I sat in the Hole in the Wall surrounded by all the friends I've made here so far, a little light went on in the back of my brain: this is bucket list material, right here. I've always wanted to experience St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, and now I've done it.
And so it goes: I'm continuing to ramble down the strange path that I am on, growing more and more aware every single day--without being too prematurely nostalgic--of how intense, strange, and heartbreakingly short this experience is. I know they say 'you can't take it with you,' but I don't know any other way to be anymore. I can't remember the person that I was before this started.
I leave with a quote--to a) prove that I actually am reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles, in case my genre studies professor is listening and b) capture the way I am, thankfully, feeling... now that I've taken a little jaunt out of the labyrinth of my own emotional brain, jumped off a cliff or two, and run through the wild Irish hills.
"All the while she wondered if any strange good thing might come of her being in her ancestral land; and some spirit within her rose automatically as the sap in the twigs. It was unexpended youth, surging up anew after its temporary check, and bringing with it hope, and the invincible instinct towards self-delight."