Tuesday morning I started crying in the middle of the city. I was with three friends, following along with the teacher who had taken us to see the Garden of Remembrance dedicated to all the men and women who died for Irish liberty. It was beautiful there, despite the cold, despite the construction happening at one end to prepare a monument for next year’s centenary. There was a fountain shaped like a cross, a statue of four swans turning into children. Once, perhaps, the latter might have perplexed me, but I know enough about Ireland now to know that they had to be the Children of Lir, the three sons and one daughter who, according to old Celtic myth, were turned to swans by their evil stepmother and only returned to human form when Christianity came to Ireland.
I knew about the myth. And I knew about Irish independence, too, how it was finally granted to 26 of the island’s 32 counties in 1922, how the new republic quickly became very, very Catholic – hence the cross. I knew a little bit about Irish history before I came here on the first of September, a date which now seems both very far away and very near. I’ve been here forever, I think sometimes, as I walk the streets that now feel familiar or sit and write in the kitchen that sort of feels like home. Other times, I feel as if I’ve hardly been here at all, that it was only yesterday that I went to Grafton Street for the first time, just last week that I read “Albert Knobbs,” the first piece I read for my Irish short story class.
I know a little bit about Ireland, now. When my roommate and I walk past the statue of Daniel O’Connell on O’Connell Street, we no longer think it’s funny if he has a bird perched on his head. He always sort of does. I know exactly where to go now when people want to meet at the Spire, the great big metal pole that sticks up near city center, and I can identify the figure of the old poet who sits, contemplative, on a bench along the Grand Canal as Patrick Kavanagh. I know that the National Library is on Kildare Street and that that gates of St. Stephen’s Green are closed on early Sunday morning.
But there’s still so much I don’t know about Dublin. Like, who actually is Daniel O’Connell? Why is he important enough to have his own street? And yes, I know where to go when somebody tells me to be at the Spire, but why is there a Spire in the first place? What purpose does a big shiny pole serve? I know that Patrick Kavanagh wrote pastoral poems and I’ve even read one or two of them, but ask me to tell you much more than that, and I’d be at a loss. I’ve been to Cork and the Burren and Galway (well, briefly, anyway), Drogheda and Portrush and Glendalough. But I haven’t been to Dingle or the Aran Islands or even to Newgrange. There so much I haven’t learned, so much I haven’t seen, so much I haven’t done. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot that I’ve learned and seen and done, too.
But it’s easy to forget about all that now, as my time in Dublin dwindles down to nothing. I visited the Yeats Exhibit at the National Gallery for the first time today. I did a running tour of the National Gallery I somehow never got to in this city, though I visited the Albertina in Vienna and the Riijksmuseum in Holland and the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. I hardly had time to blink at each of the paintings hung in one of the halls, just glided right along. When I was cleaning up my apartment, I found the flyer for the literary walk two friends and I had planned to go on during on very first week. We never ended up doing it. At moments like those, it hard not to feel like a failure, like I haven’t crossed off enough of the Irish to-do list I never really made.
So I cry in a park, because I’m leaving. I’m leaving. I’m not sure it’s sunk in yet. Standing there in the cold December sun, I imagine what it must be like in the summer, when the yellow rays are warm and the seating places around the cross are probably very nice to read, reflect, or write in. I never got that chance. I never knew about the place until this past Tuesday when my teacher took us there.
But then, if there are things I’m sad that I missed, I don’t really have regrets. I did what I could. I did what I did. I loved pretty much every minute of it.
Two nights ago, I ran down to the bookstore on Rathmines I only discovered a few weeks ago, to pick up a Christmas present for one of my cousins. The man who rung up my books asked me where I was from, how long I’d been here, and I told him that I was a New Yorker – although, not the city kind – and that I’d been studying literature and political science just up the street.
At the end of the conversation, he told me that they’d be seeing me soon. “You’ll be back,” he said, and it took me a minute to realize he meant Ireland, not the bookstore. “I’m sure of it.”
I hope so. After all, I still have things to see.
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<p>I'm a rising junior at Williams College majoring in English and political science. I love reading and running, Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling, pumpkin bread and pretzels, The Grapes of Wrath and green tea. I'm spending a semester in Ireland to study Irish literature and to work on my own writing.</p>