I walked in to a bar last night and it was completely hushed, save for a single voice singing bright and clear. She had a voice like Allison Krauss, singing a traditional Irish tune a cappella while everyone in the bar listened and the bartenders stopped working. When she was finished, the other musicians picked up their instruments and continued their session and the bar went back in to full swing. The walls were covered with photographs, bills from other countries and police force patches. The atmosphere was homey and everyone was happy.
And that was my introduction to Galway.
This city is vibrant and beautiful, the storefronts colourful and the town a mix of tourists and locals. The bars constantly have music happening and you’re never far from fresh seafood. The air is crisp and windy, the water clear and blue. Even the same old tourist souvenir shops look different here. It is one of the few places I could see almost anyone I know being comfortable in.
I took a tour to the Burren and Cliffs of Moher today from Galway to continue on my discovery of the west coast of Ireland. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I saw Celtic crosses dating back from hundreds and hundreds of years ago. I saw neolithic tombs that were older than the pyramids, sacred places for long gone ancestors. The land was rough and wild, covered with brush and limestone. The tomb was only a few rocks piled almost like an inukshuk but knowing that it had existed for so long was incredible.
We saw the famine walls along the mountains, long lines of stony walls built to divide one side of the mountain from the other, vertically and horizontally. These walls were built by the Irish suffering during the famine as ordered by the British. In exchange for these menial tasks they would receive food, money, or water. Saddening but true – often these rewards for these completed tasks never came and the workers died anyways. And now the people of Ireland have a constant reminder of what their ancestors went through. It’s humbling to see and to know how important it is to them that they leave up such a mark of harrowing times in order to respect where they came from.
I can’t pay full respect to the Cliffs of Moher and what it felt like to stand there. 214 metres above the sea at their highest, waves crashing against them and the wind blowing harder than I think I’ve ever felt. Feeling insignificant doesn’t even begin to cover it. Even for someone like me, who is afraid to cross a bridge for fear it might break and everyone might die, it was worth the fear. Somehow your fear is numbed by some sort of human curiosity to see what will happen when you get closer. So there I was, with admittedly much coaxing by two Belgium boys I met on the bus, on my stomach with my head over the edge, staring down at the ocean with them. And for some reason, I didn’t even feel afraid.
I think that’s what it means to be in the presence of something much more spectacular than any sort of fear.
I remember last week an Irish boy telling me that him and his friends would never understand the vastness of Canada. As I looked out at the ocean, at the cliffs, and turned around and looked at the green rolling hills that seemingly went on forever, I knew he was wrong. Somehow this country, despite its small size, is more vast and intricate than many places. It may not take long to travel from one place to another, but from one place to another you may find yourself in a completely different world.