Ireland has finally sunk in.
Our day was firstly devoted to travel. The big picture: Killarney to Dublin. 300 km. It was a feat, but even with the trip, we had all the time in the world to experience Ireland to the fullest.
Our first stop was Blarney Castle, and I fell in love. The tour of the castle itself was haunting. Walking the passageways, going through the dungeons, visiting the bedrooms and kitchen and climbing the steep spiral staircase... it was real. Just the understanding that the building we stood in actually housed royalty 600 years ago was incredible. The castle stole my heart. In fact, we were charmed so much by the Blarney stone that we all kissed it!
The castle wasn't the only thing that captured my heart. The entire property was exquisite. I gave myself some time away from the group to stroll slowly and quietly through every garden I could find. All of the fairytales came rushing into my mind as I gave myself a tour of the Fairy Glade, the Druid's Circle, the Woodland Walk, the Fern Garden, the Witches' Stone, the Himalayan Walk, the Poison Garden, and the Wishing Steps. Even after two hours of a brisk jaunt around the area, there would never be enough time to explore it all. The grounds were extensive, as I could see from the map, and after coming to so many forks in the path and having to choose one way over the other, I know that there is so much that I had to leave undiscovered.
I could go on forever about the mysteries of the grounds of Blarney Castle and describe every waterfall and garden and forested path, but we haven't even reached noon. After piling back into the bus, it was another long but scenic drive to Dublin. While we arrived and assumed our day was nearly over- it was hardly begun.
Walking through Dublin was fascinating- and also extremely crowded. We listened to an Irish men's choir sing their patriotic Gaelic songs in the middle of the street, we laughed with the dozens of drunken celebrators in the middle of the day, we visited Dublin's landmark- the Stiletto in the Ghetto, we saw the bullet holes in the General Post Office from the Easter Rising of 1916, and THEN... we were treated to a dinner show in the heart of Ireland. The pub.
The Belvedere Irish Nights gave us the time of our lives. (I guess I'm going out on a limb and speaking for everyone, but that's alright.) The musicians were incredible, and the dancers were jawdroppers. Right off the bat, the lead guitarist had a look at who we had in the audience. "Any Englishmen here tonigh'?" To which the hearty voices of the seven-man stag party (who had had one too many glasses of Guinness) shouted gleefully. "How about Americans?" Again, a smattering of shouts. "Any Welsh?" One shout, and then a round of laughter. I noticed the guitarist's confusion as he looked at our group of 40+ Canadians at the back, as he tried to figure out where we had come from. Finally, "Do we have anybody here from Canada?" And as our thunderous reply rattled the room, the response from the European crew ahead of us was even more hilarious. Apparently, it was kind of a big deal, and made for a spectacular evening.
The clapping was deafening, the shouting was hearty, the laughter was contagious, the music was impeccable, and the dancing was a blur of precision and rhythm. The vibrant life that filled the room was tangible- we were grinning like idiots in the back all the while.
Everything was pleasant and cheery... until the dancers came down from the stage. And while the musicians continued to play U2 and The Beatles with an Irish flare from the accordion and the Bodhran, the dancers were recruiting. As if by divine providence, my best friend and I, sitting side by side at the front of the group, caught the eye of the woman. With a moment of an introduction and small talk, she simply asked us, "Would ye' care to come up an' dance with us?"
You know, it's awkward to be called up in front of a strange crowd with no preparation... but it's infinitely more awkward to refuse. So, in the name of courage, adventure, and the prevention of regret, we did it. With no time to plan or cop out, we were thrown in to the performance. Nothing could have ended the day more incredibly. It was absolutely unreal, and I didn't ever want it to end! We were given a broom, and the lad in the newsboy outfit and flatcap taught us the "Old" Irish style of dancing. I could have danced all night, and it was great to be able to do something that I'm already familiar with. Dancing. The Celtic style is something I can pick up quick, and so the music and the atmosphere and the crowd support was energizing. I'm still buzzing with the adrenaline, and grinning from my conversations with the heavily-accented Irish dancers.
What a night. Thank you, Dublin!