Five years ago I was in Ireland, and had this funky little obsession with being at northernmost point of the island, on the tippy top of the Inishowen Peninsula in a place called Malin Head, for the solstice.
The ex, Brian, and I had just come back from four hellacious days in rural Belmullet, County Mayo, and he wasn’t all that eager to get back on the road, but I was having none of it. We were going. So on a Sunday afternoon, I called up the bus depot in Letterkenny (County Donegal’s main town) and asked if there were a bus headed up that way. Being Sunday, there wasn’t. However, said the fella on other end, ‘Our Dave lives up that way and he’s headed home tonight, so let me check and I’ll call yis back.’ Yes. For reals, people. And sure enough, five minutes later the house phone rang and it was yer man, asking us if we could get there by four to get on the bus. We said yes and since it was about three-thirty by then, threw a bunch of stuff in a bag and begged a ride off the ex’s Mam into town.
We got there by the skin of our teeth and boarded the empty coach. The ride up through the Inishowen Peninsula and along the banks of Lough Swilly was breathtaking, and I laughed when we drove through the village of Carndonagh and saw a pink-haired teenager skateboarding down the street….I might as well have been in Venice, or Carlsbad. When we got to Malin Head, the driver (Dave!) dropped us off at the side of the road and pointed vaguely west, telling us we’d find our hostel ‘just down the road’ (note: everything in Ireland is ‘just down the road.’ I don’t care if it’s 20 paces or 2 or 20 or 200 miles, it’s always just down the road). Thus began a pleasant, moseying journey through about a mile of bucolic farmland until we reached the stellar Sandrock Holiday Hostel, where we checked in, dumped our bags, and headed out to do the most important of things: find a pint.
The ex rapidly noticed that he and his wallet had become separated, and thus he was now out of his ID and about sixty euro. He figured he’d left it on the bus, and I was pretty sure it was a write-off. We refused to let it bum us out, though, and we set out from the hostel in search of Farren’s: Ireland’s Northernmost Bar (note: everything in Malin Head is Ireland’s Northernmost Something). Shortly after leaving the hostel, we came to a fork in the road, at which we could have either gone right, and back the way we’d come, or left, along an unknown road. The ex chose left and I enthusiastically agreed. While being bothered by swarms of midges, we made our way though a scintillating a collection of cattle: a black bull sequestered from the rest of the herd who bellowed of his isolation mournfully, and a charming bovine I immediately christened The Flirtiest Cow In Ireland. Happening upon a field full of sheep, I called and cooed to them until the ex christened me The Sheep Worrier of Malin Head, a title I relished.
Around a bend and almost into town we ran smack into a storybook white house. With a giant motor coach out front. I stood there in amazement, with my jaded urban jaw hanging slackly, whilst the ex marched up the door and explained to Dave (who answered) the wallet saga and to which Dave replied, ‘Sure go on, it’s unlocked.’ Unlocked! An enormous bus! Brian clambered aboard and found his wallet on the rear seat and we headed off happily to Farren’s, where he had a Guinness, I had a vodka & Coke, and we played with a little boy of about three who was fascinated with a bouncy ball I had in my bag. It was the only shop in the town, so we bought a pound of Inishowen beef, a bottle of spaghetti sauce and some pasta shells and at about 10pm headed off northward along the twisty road that eventually leads to Banba’s Crown, the real northernmost point of Ireland.
It was a magical walk, lit by the sunset-ish hue that is late night in Ireland (it never really gets truly dark at high summer). Along the way we posed in front of a rainbow dipping into ‘The Saddle,’ a rock formation off the coast, encountered Ireland’s Rowdiest Sheep (who ran up the fence bleating like he was about to whup my ass), peed in ditches, and ended up in this eerie valley with a few traditional cottages planted on it (the northernmost houses in Ireland) just before you ascend the final hill to the top of the Crown.
We reached our destination and just before midnight, with a bit of light still illuminating everything, including the word ‘EIRE’ painted on the rocks below. Just when the majesty of being in this remote, otherwordly place was beginning to sink in……..Brian’s mobile phone rang. It was Mum, just checking in. We laughed hard and bummed a ride off of what we assumed was an older guy and his younger mistress, who had joined us at the peak. They dropped us off on the main road and we ambled back towards the hostel, past the tinker’s spooky house.
In the morning I woke before 6 (it’s hard for me to sleep in a room full of strangers) and the view out the windows was unreal: expansive, unbelieveable cliffs, sea, and sky. But by 9, when I managed to roust the ex, the rainclouds had taken over and all was grey and sodden. We had breakfast at the Seaview (me: toast, him: beer), then killed some more time (and him, more beer; me, collecting rocks) in a pub on the main road and then caught a bus back into Derry, where I was greeted by the cognitive dissonance of seeing Union Jacks flying on Irish soil. He peed in a water bottle on the bus (all that beer) and I lost the phone. He got pissed at me in Strabane because I had the rush-rush attitude of city folk. I was getting tired of the country, and the rain.