There is something radical and refreshing about playing hooky to hang out with your dad, even more so if the destination is the local pub on St. Patrick’s Day. It was a yearly tradition. My dad is really cool, I would say we are kindred spirits and through him Irish blood courses through my veins. We would always go to an Irish Pub for fish and chips, malt vinegar only please, a pint of Guinness and to listen to traditional Irish music. Irish drinking songs are a blast especially when you are dancing, singing, and swaying your pint along with the rest of the pub, cares long forgotten. Good clean fun that set the stage for my love affair and desire to see Ireland.
God works in mysterious ways and opens doors when you least expect it. I received a call from Chris last year, one early summer morning while on my way to the dentist. He never minces words. “I have a conference to go to at Trinity College. Do you think you could have us all ready to go to Dublin for the first week of July?” It’s hard for me to suppress joy, I jigged a happy dance in the street while onlookers stared in curiosity and replied “Well then, we’ll all need rain coats.”
Sea gray clouds hung heavy in the sky but the luck o’ the Irish was with us as our first glimpse of Ireland was bright and sunny. So many different shades of green, stretched out before our eyes. The shallower waters of Dublin Bay the shade of peridot in the cloud, sparkled like emeralds when fingers of bright sunlight pushed their way through and painted the scene with light. Craggy, steep limestone cliffs that the broad, heavy hands of the Atlantic ocean have carved and crushed since the dawn of time were clearly visible from my bird’s eye view in the plane as was the lonely light house standing sentinel on Howth Head. I remember thinking as the scope of land and sea unfolded before my eyes, if the people of Ireland are even half as friendly as the beauty of the land then I could easily call this place home.
Truth be told in all my travels I haven’t found an equal to the Irish people’s hospitality, wit and affability. The Irish are story keepers and story tellers. It takes time to tell a story well, so time slows down in Ireland and by default the traveller has to as well because just about everyone from the pub landlord to the taxi driver to the pan handler on the street has a story to tell and in turn is genuinely curious to know your story. We found that Malahide was the very best example of a very beautiful land and people.
Malahide is located 16 km north of Dublin, where we were staying. It took us about 30 minutes to get there by Dart which is a rail line that runs along the Dublin Bay coastline from Greystones in the south to Howth and Malahide in the north. It’s a fabulous way of getting around the coastal towns with children. We visited many of the coastal towns on the Dart and they were all lovely but Malahide was a rare gem that captured our hearts. It all begins with the warm welcome from the first person we met at the train station, Michael, the driver and tour guide of Toots the fun and friendly Malahide Road Train. Toots tours the village making “hop on / hop off” stops every half hour at the Malahide Dart Station, Malahide Village, Malahide Beach, The Grand Hotel and Malahide Castle. What made this award-winning service so great was Michael, obviously a family man who understands the young and the young at heart. His charming wit and commentary in Irish brogue had us laughing and engaged throughout our journey. Children’s music was piped through the trolley and his guests were encouraged to sing along and act out the actions with Michael to classics like “Let it Go” (Frozen), Shaun the Sheep and Real in Rio. Even the coolness factor of my two tween girls thawed into warm smiles and active participation when Michael suddenly stopped the train on the way through the boutique shops and gourmet restaurants. He pointed and shouted with enthusiasm “Look ladies! Real princesses! Let’s find out what they are doing?” I thought the trolley would tip over on one side as all the little lassies on the train craned their necks and strained to see beautiful models dressed in wedding finery from one of the boutiques dolled up for a photo shoot on the village green.
On the way to Malahide Castle just about everyone in the village, out for a walk, waved and smiled cheerfully as the trolley passed by. We hopped off at the castle demesne and walked up a lovely wooded path to get to a massive playground and the castle itself. The path was enchanting, cooler under all the flora and fauna than on the open lawn and smelled pleasantly earthy. Sarah and Emily ran ahead with Matt toddling as fast as his little legs could carry him in a natural trench along side the footpath. There were bowers to explore, ivy covered fallen trees to climb under, nooks and crannies everywhere to fire their imaginations all things leprechaun.
Malahide Castle also covered in lush green ivy is one of the oldest castles in Ireland dating back to 1185. Our castle guide was clearly passionate about his craft and told our group tales steeped in 800 years of Talbot family history. I couldn’t help but think Canada is 147 years old and I think that’s old… but truly it’s a babe in arms compared to the history of Ireland and that of the Talbot family. The tour was interesting, dark in places with priest holes, abbey ruins, ghostly inhabitants and a graveyard with stones too old and faded to read adding to the ambiance of the place. There is something here for everyone.
We made a quick stop at Avoca which is in the courtyard of the castle. Avoca Hand Weavers is Ireland’s oldest weaving mill dating back to 1723. The garments and mohair throws that the mill produces are simply the most gorgeous I have ever laid eyes on. The hues are akin to spring or summer gardens in full bloom. They were bright, luscious and so soft to touch. Being a knitter, I wished they had made available skeins of their lace weight mohair for sale. Avoca is also a food emporium with meals that would rival some of the excellent traiteurs we have experienced in France. Their food was delectable, fresh, and beautifully presented. We purchased a picnic basket and filled it with Smoked Gubbeen, Fish Pie, Baked Stuffed Potatoes (to die for) for the children, a couple of salads and Irish Soda Bread with fresh creamery butter. We hopped on Toot’s and it was off to Malahide Beach.
After a delicious repast on the beach overlooking Lambay Island it was time to explore a two kilometer stretch of golden sand at low tide. We had the beach to ourselves except for a couple of roving dogs with their owners, and the mournful wailing gulls looking for crabs. Our children ran wild, the way children should run, squabbles, school, and electronics long forgotten. At heart I am a beach bum so it filled my soul to see my children exploring tidal pools, combing the waterline for shells, crabs, bits of driftwood and seaweed for their rendition of Malahide Castle in the sand. Rosy cheeked, ear to ear grins and full of life we spent the afternoon in relaxed harmony. I think everyone has a different idea of what the perfect beach is; for me Malahide Beach is perfection, but it’s not just the beach it’s the town and the people extending a hand, a smile and a story to strangers in friendship. It’s a place that winnows your soul separating the things that are really important like kinship, community, tradition, and hospitality from all the other stuff that at the end of the day really mean nothing.
We returned to the town of Malahide three additional times during our stay in Dublin. It had won not only my heart but also the hearts of my three children. Each time we visited only added to the affection we felt for the town. On our last visit we discovered a candy shop through Michael named The Really Old Sweet Shop. My girls still wax eloquent about their adventure in candy and they long for a shop like it here in Ottawa. The shop keeper Paddy, let me know early on with a laugh in his voice and a twinkle in his eyes that the difficult choice in candy purchasing is the child’s duty and therefore the affair should be conducted by the child not the parent. Oh, how I loved this, my girls can be shy so I reveled in the fact that they would have to transact their own purchases from start to finish. I gave them 5 Euros each, then attended to Matthew and patiently waited for firm decisions to be made. In the end 10 Euros of sweets were purchased. Emily was given her beloved nickname “Spanky” and Sarah with the nickname “Trouble”…they left with much more though, a new-found sense of confidence, a story of their own to tell and a love for the sweet shop and Paddy whom they still talk about today.
Our last day on the Emerald Isle was spent in Dublin. The girls and I were still looking for a souvenir for my dad. Emily found an authentic glossy, knobbly, Blackthorn Walking Stick (shillelagh) tucked away in a corner of a gift shop. It too came with a story that shillelagh’s were not just walking sticks but also a means of protection and a means to resolve gentlemanly disputes from time to time when needed. My dad’s not a fighter but I thought it was the perfect gift for him. We rendezvoused with Chris at Trinity College then headed to Temple Bar. It was important for me to carry on the tradition started by my dad to take Matt and the girls to a pub with live music for fish and chips. Chris and I decided that Oliver St. John GoGarty’s in Temple Bar was the obvious choice. It didn’t disappoint. There was a delightful band playing traditional music who knew all the songs, and bantered back and forth lightly with the pubs patrons. The girls were giggling the craic was grand. Plates of fresh, steaming hot, golden, crispy battered, Irish fish and chips arrived and were devoured along with an explanation from the barman who sat a spell to educate my family that the proper, the only vinegar to go on chips is the malt variety. Whether it was the memory of my father teaching me the very same lesson or the rousing chorus of “Alive, alive, oh, Alive, alive oh, Crying Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh.” from Molly Malone or the pint of foamy, dark, delicious Guinness spreading the craic throughout me, I do not know. We lifted our pints and said a prayer of thanksgiving to Michael to Paddy and to all the people who made our trip so memorable. Lost in the music I quietly toasted my dad across the ocean and wished he had been with us to celebrate in true Irish style.
Cheers and may the blessings of St. Patrick be upon you and yours.