Ireland. It's where it all began they say, well at least for the Harrington clan way back in the mists of time. This is also the beginning of my journey that will see me in the French alps some time in October.
Over the past few years I have become more connected with my ancestral home than I ever thought possible, making me feel as welcome here as I have almost anyplace I have been.
My first trip to Ireland was in 2008. It was a solo jaunt through the southwest counties of Cork and Kerry and eventually winding up in Dublin. It was an eye opening trip in the sense that it sent me down a road of familial research and discovery that has subsequently led me to chase my grandfather's history through France.
Fast forward a few years and my sister is living on the "Emerald Isle" and by some stroke of luck I effectively have a home base in Galway, on Ireland's west coast. After years of enduring years of comments from my dad, saying that Ireland would perfect place for her, my sister Kate finally put the theory to the test and visited Ireland the same way I had in 2008. With her however, she was to taken with the charm and the energy of the place that she finagled herself a couple of jobs, a solid group of friends and a place to live on the shores of Galway bay.
After I came up with this hair-brained scheme to bike across France, I knew that having a preparation period in Galway would be an ideal way to kick off my journey. I have been lucky that this was my third trip to Galway in the calendar year and thusly I have fallen in love with it the way my sister has.
After a trans-Atlantic journey that always leaves me weary to the core, the minute that I arrived in the rain-soaked city center, I felt at ease. Being able to feel so comfortable on a country that is not your own is a strange feeling. Conventional wisdom would say that you should feel a bit lost, bewildered and curious. You should be asking "what the fuck goes on around here?"
Once you get past all that on your first visit and you make the conscious effort to come back for at least a second time, people take notice. They know that you care about the place and more importantly that you aren't full of shit (that goes a long way with the Irish). At that point you will be invited into the inner circle.
If you treat it like you have come back home, then folks like the ones in Galway don't let that go unnoticed. People start calling out your name as you walk the high street. The bartender asks you "what's the craic?" Instead of eating dinner out, you are invited to people's homes and from time to time an after party will keep you dancing until the morning light.
As an American searching for something in a fiercely proud Irish town, it isn't always easy to fall into the fold. But with some persistence, curiosity, honesty and passion, you can chip away at a tough Galwegian exterior and find the warmth of that Galwefian soul. That's what kate did, and luckily it passed onto me as well.
Thanks Ireland and thanks a million Galway and thanks one hundred million to you Kate. I will be seeing you and Galway soon. I promise.