With Saint Patrick’s Day just gone there on Friday, I found myself reflecting on my time in Ireland with such intense emotion. I wasn’t born Irish, yet I’ve always felt a strong spiritual connection to Ireland. I know a lot of people who feel the same way. Over the eight years I’ve lived here, this feeling has not diminished.
This country has played such a crucial part in developing who I am as a person. Ireland has embraced me, tested me and I’m truly grateful to walk its soil every day.
How It All Started
As a lot of you will know, I was born and grew up in Slovakia. Even as a kid, I loved to travel and learn languages. I think pretty much the first time I properly looked up Ireland in a book or on Google, I felt connected to it. There were lots of separate tangents that brought be to Ireland – music, films, books and all of them left an impression on me.
One day in high school, I wore a t-shirt with an Irish flag embroidered on it and my professor (shout out to Mrs Durkajova) asked me if I had any connection to it. I ended up writing a lengthy essay on it which I don’t remember, but I’d say it would be hilarious to read now! When the school was asked to pick students to go on this Euroteens trip to Ireland, I was one of the kids picked to go. That was my first time in Ireland, in 2006. We stayed mostly in Dublin for about a week and did lots of touristy things. That was it though, my connection was even stronger and I knew I had to come back and explore the rest of the country. I had a strong sense like I had both been here before and like I was guided to be here again.
Making the Move
So in 2008, while still in high school, I came to Galway for the summer, hell-bent on making it happen. I was 18 years old and went by myself entirely, with a mixture of complete excitement and fear. I have to give credit to my parents, who trusted me implicitly and who gave me the freedom to make this bold move! I think still one of the best moments of my life was when I was sitting on the bus from Dublin to Galway and I didn’t know what was ahead. I shared a house with two Polish lads that summer (shout out to Kamil and Maciek) who were just after finishing a Film & TV course at GCC. They really helped me find my feet then and even handed out CVs with me!
I came back in 2009, once I graduated and I then did that very same TV & Film college course. That’s where a lot of opportunities began for me and where I met a lot of key people in my life. I have to say I never knew if I was going to be able to ‘make it’ in Ireland. There were so many uncertainties, lack of funds and the beginnings were rocky indeed! That’s why when I look back at it now, I never want to take my life here for granted.
I wanted to take a moment to write down some of the things (in no particular order) I love about the beautiful Éire the most…
There is always something to do here. It’s a city with the right balance of being quiet and family-friendly on one hand and a complete bustling tourist town on the other. It’s filled with wonderful cafés and small businesses that I will never get enough of.
Going to the Galway Market on Saturday is one of my favourite things in the world. The merchants are such wonderful characters, the streets are busy and filled with buskers playing tunes and dancing.
I think the moment I am always reminded just how much I love Galway is whenever I travel and come back and get all emotional seeing the Galway sign on the motorway.
2. Local Produce
I live a lifestyle at the moment where I try to eat as simple and natural as possible. Ireland has allowed me to embrace that way of living. It’s so rich in local produce, with its lush green farmlands, organic producers and fresh fish caught each day.
In order to support the land that I love so much I try to shop small and local as much as possible.
I love going to Evergreen for all my healthy products and McCambridges for artisan goodies. Standún is a lovely family-run business with Irish fashion, homewear, gifts and Aran jumpers. For food, I love the non-for-profit Café Temple, for coffee it’s Espresso 44 on Shop Street. I also love the local charity shops and markets like Flea Style.
3. The Mythology
I remember many evenings in my teenage years before I moved here, listening to Loreena McKennitt and Irish folk music, pondering about how wonderful it would be to experience Ireland. Loreena is a French Canadian singer-songwriter who’s transformed a lot of Irish folklore and poetry into spell-binding music. Some of my favourites are The Stolen Child and The Two Trees, both adaptations of poems by W.B.Yeats. It was through her that I first discovered his captivating poems.
My boyfriend Kenny and I visited county Sligo (also called Yeats Country) a few years ago and we went to Glencar Waterfall (referenced in The Stolen Child) and I remember being so profoundly moved. I also often take walks in Coole Park, where himself and Lady Gregory would have walked and mused. There is this bench there and I envisage him sitting there and then when the wind turns the pages of my book I get a little chill. Yeats wrote wonderfully about the fairy folk and the mythical side of Ireland and I know he believed it and lived it. I definitely feel like the veil between the mystical world is thinner here than anywhere else.
There’s hardly any other place where I feel as myself, free and stripped of my problems as I do in Connemara. I love driving through the long winding roads by myself with music blaring and the Twelve Bens around me. Around each bend is a more stunning view and when you step out of the car, all you can hear is the sound of the elements.
I cherish so much that Ireland remains largely unspoiled and the countryside is mostly untouched by pollution and big builds.
5. The Sea
I would find it very hard to imagine not living by the sea now. Galway’s Salthill beach on a sunny day is truly the best place in the world to be.
Even on a bad day, or if you don’t go to the seaside for ages; just knowing that the ocean is right on your doorstep, feeling its presence and fresh air is such a blessing.
I am also completely in love with a nearby town Clifden, its beautiful sandy beach Dog’s Bay and Sky Road, which is a mind-blowing drive along rugged cliffs. Who could also forget the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher, both surrounded by stunning seascapes, really there are too many places to name!
6. Irish Ruins
I still can’t get over the fact that when I drive down to my local shops, there is an ancient castle right beside it.
There are so many places here with such fascinating history and architecture that look straight out of a fairytale. I almost love the ruins a little more than a preserved castle – when it becomes overgrown with ivy and fills me with such intrigue about what might have been.
7. Irish Dance
I did Irish dancing back in Slovakia for about 2 years. I was never any good haha, but it filled me with such happiness, I might have to take it up again. Say what you will about Michael Flatley, but he really reinvigorated the Irish dance scene and made the world fall in love with it. I went to see the original Riverdance group for their 20th anniversary in Dublin and it was one of the best experiences ever.
8. Irish Language
The Irish Language (or Gaeilge) is very unique language that has words and phrases that are almost impossible to translate to English. Just check out Buzzfeed’s article on 21 beautiful Irish words to get an idea. There are so many Irish place names that have descriptive and poetic meanings and when everything got anglicized we lost a lot of that wonderful cultural history.
Even with everybody speaking English now, lots of people (myself included) are trying to learn Irish and maintain it. I am in the heart of Gaeltacht here myself, meaning that if I drive out only half an hour outside of town, I can hear Irish being spoken in the shops and pubs.
I also took part as an extra in the Irish soap opera Ros na Rún, which was great craic and it was so cool to be surrounded by the language in a professional setting. I love watching the Irish channel TG4 that makes the show too. My favourite programs to date are Cé a Chónaigh i mo Theachsa? where they visit old Irish houses and and talk about who lived in them and Logainm which talks about those unique Irish place names.
For one Patrick’s Day we even took to the streets of Galway and did a vox pop with the Irish speakers (Gaeilgeoirs) about why the Irish language is important. You can watch it here.
9. The Arts
Ireland has allowed me to be more creative than I could have ever imagined. The imagination just flows here and even though we’re not graced with the weather, we are so blessed with the amount of natural locations we have for photoshoots and films. With organizations like The Little Cinema, The Theatre Room, Theatre Festival, Galway Circus, Macnas, Galway Film Fleadh and many more, Galway packs so much into its pulsating heart! People go out and do stuff, even on zero budgets and that really pushes you to be your best self and do more. It deservedly now bears the title of UNESCO’s City of Film and Galway 2020 Capital of Culture. There are multiple festivals during the year you can get involved in. Ireland is home to some of my favourite musicians, film directors, writers, you name it.
10. The People
Ah, I don’t even know where to start here, I only began to write this and I’m already tearing up.
It really is true, Irish people are the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. There as an inherit trait in them to be polite, fun and want to meet you half way. I really see it after I’ve been travelling and I meet an Irish person on the bus or plane and I immediately feel like I can start chatting to them and divulge my deepest life secrets.
Some of my best friends are from here. My partner in life and business is a Galway man. His family is like my own family. There have been people that had only walked into my life briefly, but enriched it so much, I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
There are so many individuals here who have really broadened my view on life, helped me become more tolerant and kind. Artists, business-owners, social workers and educators, who challenge me by being infinitely smarter and more focused than me – thanks to their presence, I become a better human being.
I also want to mention all the people who aren’t Irish, like myself, but who’ve made this place their home and in their small or big way added value and character to the place. Whenever I see green, white and orange colours now, I truly feel like they’re my own too.