Part two, the final portion of my trip to Westport, is detailed below. In case you missed part one, you can catch it here.
I was given a walking stick and a cardboard sign and instructed to hitchhike to Croagh Patrick; it was easy and everyone did it. I found myself a little wary of the idea, not because of the possible safety concerns, but for a weird fear of asking a stranger for a favor. I went up to my dorm to think it over. Not long after, the girl from reception, Katka, came in to change the linens on the beds from the French people who had left earlier that morning. We got to talking and right away it was easy to tell she was one of those rare people you meet in life. Anne of Green Gables called them bosom friends; kindred spirits with whom you feel a strong and instant connection. I don’t encounter many people like this, no matter where I am in the world, so after chatting for over an hour about every possible thing, I asked if she wanted to hang out that night and have a few drinks out. We made plans for 7.
But what was I to do about this hitchhiking dilemma? I decided I’d start walking and if I felt the moment was right, I’d pull out the sign from my backpack and give it a go. But that moment never came. I walked the entire 10 km from Westport to Murrisk, where the base of Croagh Patrick lies. It took about an hour and a half but the views were beautiful along the coast.
The only problem was, once I got to the trailhead, I looked up at what was before me and was instantly uncertain. Not only was time an issue (the last bus back to town left at 5 pm and it was 3:30) but I was already quite tired.
I managed to drag myself a little less than halfway up but despite not reaching the summit, I was able to see out for miles and miles; it was very clear at that moment and all the colors of the sea and far off mountains were visible and vibrant.
I sat there on a rock for 20 minutes or so, taking in the serenity and solitude. The only sounds audible were of the grazing sheep below and the whipping wind. Despite all of this, once again, that anxiety began to creep in. I hadn’t reached the top. And I wasn’t going to reach the top, not this time. But due to my mental pep talk of the day before, it was only a matter of seconds before I was able to beat this nagging voice down and start to descend the mountain. I had put in enough work for that day. I headed straight to Campbell’s pub.
Campbell’s pub is at the base of Croagh Patrick and its signs claim it is “older than Guinness itself.” When I entered, a fire was roaring in the fireplace. Exposed beams on the low ceiling were covered with business cards and patches from US police and fire stations, the latter being a very common tradition in the pubs here.
It was empty and I had to wait for a moment before an older lady with a kind face and white hair stepped out from the back. She poured me a beer and although she was slightly reserved at first, my questions about the bar, her past, and the area drew her out. Before long, she was chatting with me enthusiastically and warmly, listening actively to my travel stories and sharing her own anecdotes. Ten minutes before the bus was due to arrive, I finished off my pint and said goodbye to Geraldine.
At the bus stop, I was immediately engaged in conversation the only two other people there, an elderly Irish couple from Meath. They asked about my travels and told me about theirs. They had recently come back from a trip in Italy and were now taking some time to flit around the west coast. They were lively and personable and once on the bus, the lady, Mary, began asking the bus driver, who had apparently driven them in this morning, how his day had gone since then. She told us all that they had been fortunate to meet so many lovely people that day, myself included she made a point to say. Departing from her and Patsy once we reached town, she said, “God bless you,” and wished me the best for the future.
I grabbed a quick dinner at Sheila’s, where I was recognized as a regular now after only two days. Back at the hostel, I showered and went down to the common room/kitchen area to find Katka, Morena, and several other guests and volunteer workers lounging around and eating. While Katka cooked dinner for herself, I worked on what was left in my bottle of wine, chatting with everyone and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere. We stayed this way until around 10 pm when we finally decided to go out; me, Katka, two volunteers, Jamie and Sarah, one American and the other German, and a Dutch lady named Joanna. We found ourselves at Matt Molloy’s, another live music set on, and the front of the bar packed. Finding a small alcove near the back we stood around laughing, talking, and drinking until the pub closed at 12.
The next morning, I packed up my things and walked out to a café called Mocha Beans near the train station to meet Katka for breakfast. We sat for two hours talking about life; our plans, our missteps, and the great, big future that lay ahead of both of us, full of possibilities. When it was time to catch my train, she helped carry my suitcase to the station and we talked of a road trip through the Balkans come spring. On the platform, I gave her a big hug knowing I would see her again sometime soon.
Sitting on the train, listening to John Butler’s acoustic song Ocean, which I’ve come to associate so strongly with my time in this country, I watched Westport whizz by and felt absolute and profound happiness. I can’t explain it other than to say it was a deep flash of pure joy, the feeling that everything was alright and was going to be alright. I wished it would last but moments like that never do for long, although the memory of them does. I spent the next three and a half hours in thought, music playing through my headphones, eyes unfocused as the green pastures flew past in the window. But as we approached Dublin, the reality of being back set in. As I watched more and more people stream onto the 145 bus that would take me home to Donnybrook, I felt the weight of the city start to bare down on me. The traffic, the unyielding noise, the undercurrent of energy that runs through its core and never ceases became apparent once again.
But this is how it goes for now. I’ve come to accept this city, and while I can’t say that I love it, it is woven into the patchwork of my life. I cannot separate myself from it; it shapes me, and in my own way I shape it, like a single drop of rain that joins with countless others to create a rushing river. For now, it is home, but I will live for those moments, pure and free, when I’m away from its oppressive din, among kindred spirits and the beauty of nature.