The thing about Ireland – and Europe in general, really – is that there are castles all over the damn place. They’re sort of like Red Lobster restaurants in America. Everyone’s hometown has one, and they’re usually in various states of disrepair and completely empty. Unless relatives are visiting from afar, you probably aren’t going to set foot in one.
If you’ve grown up with that sort of thing, it’s not at all interesting. But for most Americans, myself included, castles are absolutely fascinating, and the prospect of seeing one in real life is almost as magical as any other fairy tale fodder – like a gingerbread house or an elvish vomitorium or a dwarvish brothel and – OH GOD I JUST REALIZED THOSE LAST TWO EXAMPLES WERE NOT FROM A CHILDREN’S BOOK.
ANYWAY, while we were in Ireland, driving around the ring of Kerry (Rand at the wheel, I sitting in the front, our friends Wil and Nora, their son, Rio, and nanny, Emily, in the back) we stopped off at a castle.
Had we been in the United States, it would have been completely blocked off and we’d have been delegated to a path that wound around it. It also would have been CRAWLING with tourists, like ants on a discarded lollipop stick.
But this was Ireland. There were castles everywhere. Which meant that we had this one – the delightfully named Ballycarbery Castle – all to ourselves.
Because I’m a travel blogger, I am compelled to tell you that the entrance to the castle is sort of half-heartedly blocked off by a fence.
And because I’m a really awesome travel blogger, I am also compelled to tell you that it’s super easy to squeeze through the fence and get to the castle.
Believe me: we were not the first people to have done this. I don’t even think we’re among the first 100,000 people to have done this. But we still had that wonderful thrill of breaking the rules, of bravely tearing off the “DO NOT REMOVE TAG” from the mattress of life and marching up towards the fort, a feeling of invincibility that stayed with me until I stepped on a cow patty.
That was a nice bit of a reality check, because you can only be so badass when you are 1.) tresspassing on a place where cows are grazing and 2.) have poo all over your tennis shoe.
It was super fresh, too. And my shoes had all these intricate grooves on the bottom and – you know what? I’m going to stop talking about this now.
We climbed through what was left of ancient hallways and stairwells, standing in rooms that no longer were.
We took turns holding Rio below, because even in our most daring moments, no one was going to risk taking him up the crumbling stone steps. At one point, I found Rand holding him in some centuries-old chamber below, protected from the wind.
“Is this safe?” I asked, stepping inside.
“I think so,” Rand said. “It hasn’t fallen in hundreds of years. Seems unlikely that it will now.”
I huddled with them in the little room and Rio smiled at us, and then my nerves got to me and I persuaded Rand to step outside with the wee one.
I spend so much time thinking about the people whom my friends’ children will become, that I lose sight of who they are right at this moment in time. Rio, 7 months old, passionate about eating and music and already a people person, especially when the people in question are Rand.
(Out of curiosity, did anyone else’s uterus explode? No? Just mine? Okay, cool. Just checking.)
Rio, finding joy in our company and not really caring that there was a castle behind him, and that he was, in fact, missing out. I found this sort of revelatory: happiness is not always derived from destinations or tourist attractions; sometimes all that is required is having people around you whose company you enjoy.
When you have that, it doesn’t really matter where you are. Road trips become fun, as empty stretches of highway no longer feel lonely. And a castle – something already incredible on its own – becomes nothing short of miraculous.
You start to wonder if the right company could even make the most banal thing – something as commonplace as a Red Lobster – become memorable. And then you realize: 5,000 miles and several years ago, it did just that.
“Did you have fun?” he would ask me as we drove away, the castle growing smaller in the rearview mirror, the sky turning darker and darker as the ineffective Irish sun began to set. I stared at my hands, raw and red from gripping rocks in the chilly wind; I was not even ready to contemplate the cow poo on my sneakers.
The answer, despite this, undoubtedly: Yes.
Yes, I most definitely did.