Pilgrims in Pubs: An Irish Thanksgiving

In the wee hours of the morning on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my friends and I flew out of London Stansted to Cork, Ireland. We were meeting up with two friends of Hannah’s who had both studied in Cork, as well as two friends of theirs. I was excited to experience Ireland with people who were already familiar with the country, as well as meeting new people. We barely had time to put our bags down in the dorm before we headed out for Blarney Castle, home of the famous Blarney Stone. I never knew would what the exact benefits of kissing the Blarney Stone (besides the risk of infection). Apparently, who ever kisses the Blarney Stone shall be granted the gift of gab, or blarney. Helpful notes on the castle walls informed us of what constitutes blarney. Baloney is telling an 50-year-old woman she looks 18. Blarney is asking a woman how old she is to discover at what age women reach the height of their beauty. To reach the legendary stone, we had to climb up to the top of the castle’s tower, and then dangle from the tower to reach the stone. Over the years, “Security” measures have been implemented, but I would use that term loosely. Metal bars run down the wall to hold onto as you bend over the wall, with two other narrow metal bars being the only thing preventing a swift drop to the ground below. No gift of gab is going to save you then. But, when in Ireland, kiss a disease-ridden stone at great personal risk! It was an adventure, and we all got some exceptionally flattering photos of us bent over the edge (*sarcasm*).

On the grounds of Blarney Castle, we also found a poisonous garden, containing an assortment of  lethal plants, as well as cannabis. Interestingly, the marijuana was the only one covered by a steel cage. Good to know that Irish plant thieves care more about getting high than poisoning others. We also found the Wishing Steps built into a small hill. Legend says that all your wishes will come true if you ascend and then descend the steps backwards with your eyes closed. Just more life-risking for an uncertain award, so of course we accepted the challenge! Thankfully, no one fell to their death this time either, and since I still have three papers to write and a bank account balance in the triple digits, the wish fulfillment has yet to take effect.

After some shopping in an Irish wool mill, we headed back to Cork to prepare for our pre-Thanksgiving dinner. After four hours of intensive cooking, cursing, and crying, we had pulled together a respectable Thanksgiving dinner of stuffed chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, Irish soda bread, gravy, and cranberry sauce (for which we had to ask a manager at Tesco’s to find for us). It was a great bonding experience, and made for a great first night in Cork. After dinner, we went to a pub that Andrew used to frequent when he was a student in Cork. I soon figured out why he loved it so much: there was a live band playing the whole night. To call them a band isn’t quite the right word. It felt like a bunch of guys just getting together to jam, regardless of whether anyone was listening. There were several guitars, a banjo, a harmonica, and even someone playing the spoons (so much harder than it looks). We had phenomenal time listening and enjoying the music, and even singing along at times. They played several contemporary songs, but I enjoyed the Irish folk songs the most. It felt like a perfectly authentic Irish night: hanging out at a bar with a large group of friends, drinking some pints (I tried a Guinness, but I will be sticking to cider), and enjoying live music. This is what being a tourist is about. Appreciate and immerse yourself in the culture.

We discovered that night that fitting ten people into a four person apartment is no joke. Adele and I ended up on the floor with a pillow to share and whatever clothes we could bundle up in. I wore everything I had brought to Ireland with me as it got remarkably cold on the floor (heat really does rise, . We were only able to sleep because we had woken up the previous morning at 4:00 am to catch our flight. Morning finally came on Thanksgiving, and we boarded a bus to the Dingle Peninsula. Out of all the places he had seen in Ireland during his three months there, Andrew’s favorite spot was the Dingle Peninsula. It was not difficult to figure out why once we arrived. The Dingle Peninsula marks the westernmost point of Europe, and it combines the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean view with the green, rolling hills of Ireland. I was blown away at the natural beauty surrounding me, and the quaint little town of Dingle. We stayed in a small hostel in the center of town, although it felt more a bed and breakfast. It was an adorable house that clearly used to be someone’s home. Adele, Hannah, and I had our own room with three beds, a luxury considering that we were used to staying in rooms holding 16 people with bunks stacked three high.  We wandered into town, searching out a substitute Thanksgiving dinner when we stumbled upon a bar with an intriguing sign in the window advertising a free Thanksgiving dinner. Curious and hungry, we wandered inside to find a spectacular buffet laden with home-cooked food, and a pub filled with other expats like ourselves. We feasted on turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, as well as less traditional but still delicious fare like chicken wings, cheese fondue, and walnuts. They even gave us assorted desserts to choose from (unfortunately no pie, but everything was so delicious that I didn’t even miss it). We had a fantastic night meeting other Americans. I even met another girl named Liz from Connecticut! She was visiting her fiancé in Ireland, where she will be moving once they get married. Adele met a group of people who had attended her tiny college in Iowa. Although I felt the absence of my family, I don’t think I have ever had such an authentic Thanksgiving. I shared a delicious meal with a bunch of great people, and I have never had so much to give thanks for.

We spent the remainder of our time in Dingle hiking, exploring the town, and enjoying our time in such a beautiful area. We returned to Cork Saturday morning, and left the next day. It was definitely one of my favorite trips of my entire study abroad experience. Not only were we in scenic Ireland, but we had two people who had studied in Ireland to show us around. I have never felt less like a tourist in Europe than in Ireland. Also, I could not have been happier with my Thanksgiving abroad. The only reservation I had about studying abroad was that I would have to miss Thanksgiving at home. But I have found over the course of this trip that family is limitless. It is not fractured or strained by distance, only stretched. It also grows to accommodate more members. I am so happy that I had my study abroad family to spend Thanksgiving with, and the experience of a lifetime to be thankful for.

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