How can a place so remote be so alive? Doolin in County Clare, Ireland, is barely a town, but the locals who gather at Gus O'Connor's pub couldn't be more of a community, as tightly knit as a woolen Irish sweater. Located on the wind-swept west coast of Ireland, the village is situated between the sea and the Burren, an area covered by flat, barren rock -- a desolate place secretly filled with history and song.
I spent a drizzly afternoon walking from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher, down a path used by horses and carts, past ruined stone cottages that I imagine had been abandoned for the fair shores of America during the famine. By the time I got to the cliffs, I was soaked to the bone, but the lack of tourists venturing out on such an especially rainy day made the place all the more mystical.
Walking right up to the cliff's edge -- a 700-foot drop -- I strolled along it with the cows from a neighboring farm. At a flat section of rock, I dropped to my knees and crawled to the very edge. I lay flat on my stomach and looked straight down. On a clear day, a row of brave souls lines up this way, looking out at the gulls nesting in the cliff's face and the waves crashing violently against the rocks.
For me, the rain permitted only a view into the clouds below, a magical sight in itself. After a cup of tea in the visitor center to warm me up, I trekked back to Doolin, but cheated this time. The rain was too much, so I caught a little bus back to the hostel. A warm fire greeted me.
Heading to the pub in the evening, I was overwhelmed and entranced by the silence of the lonely road. No cars, no noise, just the soft murmur of the rain. So calm is the land, so peaceful, that it belies its turbulent history of hardship, hunger and war. The people themselves, with their bright smiles and greetings, don't reveal it either, but somewhere in the mournful refrains of their ballads, in the ghostly howling of the wind, there is a sadness, a longing. And because of this, a greater appreciation of life, joy -- and Guinness.
From the pitch black outside, the warm glow and raucous music of the pub was quite a shock. The pounding of the bodhrán, the light melodies of the tin whistle and fiddle, the stomping of feet and clapping of hands at once made me cherish the moment and feel as if I'd gone back in time. A hundred years ago, had people gathered at this very same pub, listening to this very same music? A few young lads spontaneously broke into traditional dance in front of me. The commitment of these people to their culture while at the same time welcoming outsiders like me is their greatest gift.
I walked home, the crowd dispersing down blackened streets, disappearing into fields and cottages. The night sky was bright, but there were no other lights. It could have been any century. But it could only be Ireland.
Aille River Hostel
Doolin, Co. Clare
+353 65 707 4260
Eat and drink:
Gus O'Connor's Pub
Doolin, Co. Clare
+353 65 707 4168
Tina Donvito's travel writing will soon be featured in Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It: Life Journeys Inspired by the Bestselling Memoir. Follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/foggymommyblog