"Ireland has occupied a place in my imagination ever since I can remember. When I was growing up, my grandfather told me that I was an Irish princess, and that I descended from a line of brilliant Irish kings. I believed in this fairy tale until I was old enough to know better, much to my grandfather’s amusement and delight."
I’ll never forget the moment I caught my first glimpse of the Cliffs of Moher. It was a bright sunny day, not a cloud in the sky – a rarity for Ireland – and the water was sparkling like diamonds. As Tom and I meandered through dusty paddocks towards the land’s edge, I gripped his hand and fought back happy tears. I had been dreaming about Ireland’s magical scenery since I was a little girl, and here I was: about to experience one of its most famous natural wonders for myself.
As the cliffs came into view, I felt a rush of awe, happiness – and most of all – intense gratitude. I felt so thankful to be alive. It was one of those times in life when you feel 100 per cent grounded in the present moment. All of my anxieties about the past and the future washed away, and there I was: just billions of atoms, all bursting with joy.
You can never tell when you’re going to experience a moment like this. That’s one of the things I love most about travel; you don’t know how you will react to what’s around the corner. Will that destination you’ve been dreaming about forever live up to your expectations? Or will it fall flat? In this case, Ireland was everything I hoped for and more.
Ireland has occupied a place in my imagination ever since I can remember. When I was growing up, my grandfather told me that I was an Irish princess, and that I descended from a line of brilliant Irish kings. I believed in this fairy tale until I was old enough to know better, much to my grandfather’s amusement and delight. As a young girl, the thought of coming from a faraway place on the other side of the world set my soul ablaze. Before I knew anything about Ireland’s size, history, population – or even what it looked like – I knew I was destined to visit.
Even so, it took me awhile to get there; I ticked many destinations off my list before I finally boarded a plane bound for Cork – a plane that I very nearly missed, but that’s a story for another time (let’s just say Heathrow Airport is a lot bigger than Auckland Airport).
We only spent four days exploring a small section of Ireland’s beauty, but every moment gave me memories to last a lifetime. It wasn’t just the Cliffs of Moher where my heart caught in my throat. We spent a near-perfect day driving over the picturesque green hills of Connemara in our shiny red rental car. We happened to run into a Kiwi friend in Galway (as you do, when you’re halfway across the world) and he tagged along for the road trip. We drove for the sake of driving, and absorbed stunning scenery while making mindless chatter, stopping to snap pictures on the side of a lake, or at the foot of a mountain. It’s only when I look back that I realise how the best days are often the days when you don’t have an agenda. When you can just wake up and see where the mood takes you.
Another highlight was spending an evening at a local pub drinking Guinness and listening to traditional live Irish music (and watching Irish dancing). Maybe it was the Guinness, or the sunshine on my skin after a long summer’s day, but I distinctly remember how happy I felt that night. Like there was no place in the world I’d rather be, than sitting in that pub, drinking strange beer, and letting the thrill of the music take over.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt that sense of utter peace and contentment when travelling. Yes, travelling can be hard and expensive, challenging, and at times lonely, but no matter how many flights I nearly miss, or how much money I spend, all that effort is worth the intoxicating feeling of being somewhere new, and yet feeling like you belong.
Jess O'Connor co-created Travelher.org and is a freelancer writer in Auckland, New Zealand. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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