The Wild Atlantic Way, Part I

Early in the morning on day five I left my AirBnB to drive north through the Gap of Dunloe. “You’ll see the view if you go that way,” my host had advised. She was right. Winding roads led up and down through the hills in what seemed a haphazard fashion. The way the road rose to a peak in the center had me guessing that a ‘gap’ in Ireland is equivalent to a ‘pass’ in America. The beauty found in every direction was well worth the hairpin turns I endured, and the occasional hiker or horse-drawn carriage made the drive even more interesting.

I arrived at Killarney National Park sometime around ten o’clock then spent the next five or so hours walking down long wooded pathways. On either side of me, a forest of trees surrounded by rolling knolls covered in alternating carpets of springy moss and bright green ferns spread out as far as my eye could see.

As I crossed a sturdy stone bridge, I came upon a small café. The usual hot tea and coffee were served along with baked goods, ice cream, and a few sandwich choices. It had not begun to rain in earnest yet, and the outdoor seating was full, so I opted to eat my granola bar while strolling along the banks of a nearby stream. Early on, the paths through the park were pretty well deserted, but as I neared Torc Falls, I found myself hard-pressed to get a shot of the landscape without a tourist blocking the way. The Falls themselves were less than spectacular, but I was glad I had gone the extra mile to see them.

(Clicking on individual photos will enlarge them.)

Late in the day, I wandered into an adjacent nature preserve. There I came upon a large buck, grazing. I was not game to get too close and had to settle for this blurry shot. Later I learned that these animals are practically tame.

I passed by Muckross house on my way out but was too weary to spend much time in the spectacular gardens surrounding it. I was sorry I had missed my chance to walk amongst the colorful roses, in particular, but the garden was very crowded, and I no longer had the energy to photograph anything of consequence.

Moll’s Gap took me back to Kenmare where I shared a high-top table with a pair of newlyweds from Philadelphia. Funnily enough, the young American groom’s name was Hamish. Over drinks and potato & leek soup, we listened to a lone Irish singer in the crowded Wander Inn. Turns out that one family owns all of the eating establishments in Kenmare (or so I was told). I never found tastier food anywhere.

Day six dawned sunny and cool, perfect weather for my trip around the Ring of Kerry. Richie, my AirBnB host, urged me not to backtrack into town, but I was determined to see the Kenmare Stone Circle. Unable to fully explain my desire to visit the ancient site (even to myself), I simply nodded, leaving him none-the-wiser to my silent rebellion against the sound advice.

As I had hoped, the circle and its surrounds were deserted and a palpable hush hung over the sacred grounds. I avoided crossing into the middle of the ring and instead stepped slowly, even softly, around the perimeter. I felt an odd affinity for the place, as if I had been there before. Could it be possible that an earlier version of me lay buried beneath one of the stones? A chill went up my spine as I stood there in the stillness. My first week in Ireland had taught me that anything was possible.

Two wishing trees stood at one end of the circle, their limbs filled with pieces of paper tied on with colorful string. Many of the prayers, wishes, and even confessions were illegible due to wet weather and time. I took a moment to breathe in the stillness before finally heading back to my car. The stop made for a peaceful beginning to what would become the most harrowing day of my journey.

Next up, Part II, coming soon:

The Ring of Kerry, Dingle, and Ballaghbeama Gap

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The Richness of Ireland’s Southern Coast

County Cork: Cobh, and Kinsale

Day 3 dawned bright and clear. I ate an early breakfast of homemade brown bread and hot tea with Shirley, my AirBnB host, before heading west into County Cork. It wasn’t long before I understood where the money is in Southern Ireland. Wide lined roads, large homes, and modern cathedrals stand out in my memory. When I glimpsed the seaside towns of County Cork, I first began to think that I could happily call Ireland home.

An hour or so in, I followed a left-hand turn sign promising “scenic views” then spent the morning on backroads wending through Ringville and Ardmore. I could not resist making frequent stops to gaze at the lush fields and coastal bays. 

Yes, the fields are really that green and the water that blue.

This leg of the drive offered some of the prettiest scenery, for me even rivaling the Cliffs of Moher. 

*Click on a photo to enlarge it and eliminate the caption.

I skipped Cork in favor of quaint but tourist-ridden Cobh (pronounced “cove”), but just missed the day’s final tour of Spike Island. I did manage to snap a quick shot of an impressive church.

I have never been a fan of touristy places so I made another unplanned detour (thanks to Trip Advisor) and enjoyed late afternoon solitude amidst the vibrant colors of Fota Arboretum & Gardens.

Bright green moss grows everywhere in Ireland. No wonder fairies and gnomes love it here!

A must for tree and plant lovers, this garden situated on Fota Island on the coast close to Cork city, is home to one of the most important collections of trees and shrubs in the British Isles. Many would not grow elsewhere in Ireland, but thrive here thanks to the micro climate created by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. In fact that is how Fota got its name – it is derived from fód te, meaning warm soil. The arboretum was established in the 1840s, and many of the trees were collected on expeditions to South America, Japan and China. It’s not just trees though. In the Victorian Fernery you can see Tasmanian tree ferns planted over120 years ago … and the beautifully restored Orangery is a perfect home for citrus plants and a magnificent Canary Islands Date Palm.

DoChara Insider Guide to Ireland

Very near sunset I arrived in Kinsale, just in time to catch these gems:

Day 4 began with a sun gazing session – the first I’ve had in some months. My plan was to follow the Wild Atlantic Way (N71) until I reached Glengarriff, where I wanted to do some sightseeing and perhaps even hike in the local Nature Reserve. I planned then to turn left onto the Beara Peninsula with a hope to cross the Healy Pass at sunset. But after seeing Kinsale the evening before, I could not resist returning there that morning. I met Don Herlihy and about eight other travelers at 9:15 A.M. in front of the Tourist Information office. The weather was partly cloudy with sprinkles, but the rain did not diminish our enjoyment of Don & Barry’s renowned 90-minute stroll of Kinsale. Although completely spontaneous, the €8 tour turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip. 

Kinsale, from the Irish, Ceann tSaile, meaning Head of the Sea is a medieval fishing port renowned in Ireland for its fine food to this day. Because of its geographic location, Kinsale played an important role in both world exploration and Ireland’s military defense. The bulk of the town now sits on land reclaimed from the sea. It rises up in distinct tiers from the harbor to the radio tower in the background of the photo below. The tower marks the original water line.

A narrow, winding street about 2 blocks above the harbor. The left side of the road still bears the natural curve of the shoreline it once was.

After the tour, I stopped in at the Lemon Leaf Cafe for brunch. An excellent choice (thanks, Trip Advisor)! There I met a couple from Minneapolis. Being Americans meant that I had to explain the title of my book – the people of Ireland knew what Tir Na Nog referenced. Yes, I shamelessly promoted my novel everywhere I went, and grinned with delight when I saw understanding dawn in a pair of Irish eyes. I may be half Lebanese, but the Irish get me.

I followed the coast for the remainder of the afternoon but saw little to cause me to stop. After a disappointing side-trip to Baltimore, I was delighted to find the little town of Bantry. The graveyard below sits on a hill overlooking the harbor.

In Glengarriff I had just enough time to step into Quill’s Woolen Market. My allergy to wool and the lateness of the hour pushed me back out the door quicker than I would have liked. I was now fully committed to my quest to see the Healy Pass before darkness overtook me.

More amazing coastline along the Beara Peninsula.

Though overcast, the rain held off. Still, the clouds offered a forbidding view of the pass up ahead.

Colorful sheep dotted the steep hills to either side of the road that carried me upwards. Its switchback turns would have been more harrowing to drive, were it not for my solitude. 

I arrived in Kenmare sometime around 6 P.M. My AirBnB hosts had advised me to choose someplace there to eat and Foley’s Pub served up the best mussels I have ever had. That night would mark my first time driving in the dark to find my AirBnB. The long country road to Richie and Kathleen’s house was daunting, but I found my way (thanks to *Google maps) without mishap. Richie welcomed me into his home with open arms and after a good night’s sleep, I was ready for the next day’s excursions.

*Did you know that you can download large areas of the map to use when you have no cell service? That feature came in quite helpful throughout my trip.

Thanks so much for reading and I hope you’ll stay tuned as my Great Irish Adventure continues.

Focusing for a Change

It’s moving week. Today I am supposed to be painting my bedroom, but am distracted by the beauty I captured on my phone yesterday. Before I pick up any brushes, I feel the need to paint with some words.

As most of you know, I left behind a long-standing marriage in the summer of 2015. For the next couple of years I worked in a contract position as I went through the process of a divorce. When my 2-year contract ended, I had to make a decision. I could either find another office job (the prospect literally sent me to bed ill for a day or so) or take some real time off to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I found out about the contract end date in August – right in the midst of purchasing a home in which to run an AirBnB. Several circumstances besides the job loss turned me away from that plan, and on September 16 I moved in with my daughter and son-in-law, homeless, jobless, and wondering where all of this was going.

Some of you probably remember the backyard neighbor I had when I lived in TN. The funny blog I wrote several years back can catch you up to speed if you are unfamiliar with the saga, but in case you don’t have the time, let’s just say that he and I didn’t have the same standards in the areas of neighborhood beautification or peace & quiet. Two years after leaving TN behind, I looked out of my bedroom window and saw this:

Talk about contrast launching a million rockets of desire!

In fact, this yard is so much worse than anything I ever saw at Tony’s that I almost feel bad comparing the two. Almost… By the way, my bedroom is the only room in my daughter’s rental home with this view. Go figure.

A couple of months after moving in, I was on the phone gazing out at the madness next door, when I received an inspiration. I wrote about it here, so I won’t rehash it, I’ll just show you the photo of my solution.

One of my friends calls it my stained glass window.

When my son-in-law saw it, he walked up to my daughter and said, “I can see Ireland from your mom’s bedroom!” 🙂 With the view blocked, I forgot about the neighbor’s yard … mostly. Occasionally, I would raise the window up just to see if anything had changed. Nope. But my life has changed drastically in the past year.

In January of 2018, this was my view for about 10 days:

Sunset over Labelle, FL

Sometime in early spring, I revamped my website, and with my son’s help, developed this logo.

In May I self-published my first novel.

In September my dream of visiting Ireland came true.

And yesterday I took these from the kitchen doorway (also the view from my bedroom) in the new home that my son-in-law purchased this week:

Some would say that I have successfully manifested my dreams into reality, but it feels more like I relaxed, found a way to focus on the things that bring me joy, and beautiful stuff just started happening. There’s a little quote on my vision board/window that I grabbed off of the Internet when I was going through my divorce. I believe it truly encapsulates what our first goal should be anytime we are looking to improve something within ourselves or our lives. It certainly has sustained me through many a tough day year:

quote, forget, and shit image

Image Source: https://weheartit.com/entry/48256589

When you are ready to see a completely new life unfold before your eyes, this is step one – forget the past. Step two – accept what is, without judgement or complaint. Yes, you may be unhappy with something or someone, like I was with my neighbor(s), but when things are out of your control, finding a way to focus on something else is the real key to freedom.

Finally, move on. We have to be willing to step into that new future even through uncertainty or fear. I had a moment when I purchased my ticket to Ireland. A moment of pure terror! For about an hour afterwards, I kept asking myself, “What have I done?” After all, I had been out of work for nine months with no job in sight (I wasn’t even applying for jobs!). Yet I had just purchased a ticket to another country where I would rent a car that had to be driven on the opposite side of the road, to spend eleven days exploring an unfamiliar place – completely alone. The fear subsided as I turned my focus on the amazing adventure about to come. Now that my trip is over, I am looking for the next incredible journey coming around the bend!

Today I feel sad that I have to remove my vision board from the window. Those photos have sustained me in so many ways. They reminded me of the life I want to live, the adventures I want to have, and the power that I can exercise over any obstacle. But once again I am moving on. Seasons come and go; flowing with them is crucial to growth, and growth is a vital part of life.

So much good has come from my willingness to refocus – not just my eyes but my heart and mind. Focus is about more than seeing clearly. It’s really about what we choose to look at in the first place. What are you focused upon today? Hopefully your gaze is fixed on your dreams, your goals, your vision for your best life. The Avett Brothers said it well – “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.” We have been given one life. I think we would all be amazed at what can happen when we really choose to live it.

Namaste,

~C

 

Irish Food Finds and Other Adventures

Besides the scenery, history, and its hospitality to tourists, Ireland is known for high quality food. I was not surprised to find a diversity of eating establishments in the larger cities of Cork, Galway, and Dublin. Everything from McDonalds to Thai to swanky English restaurants abound. What did surprise me was the lack of options in the smaller towns. One Sunday, for example, I had hoped to procure a picnic lunch for my tour of Scattery Island but was unable to find an open café. In fact, not much of anything opens on Sundays in the more rural areas. The only pub in Kilrush offered breakfast meat with eggs when I would have happily settled for porridge. A premade deli salad from a nearby grocery store had to do, but that was one of only two disappointments in 11 days of culinary delights.

My first full day in Ireland almost ended with nothing to eat, since the majority of the restaurants in New Ross were closed by late afternoon. Thankfully, The Captain’s Table managed to rustle me up one last bowl of vegetable soup and a couple of slices of dark brown bread. Mmm! I enjoyed hot tea and homemade raspberry cheesecake at a corner table overlooking the Dunbrody Famine Ship until my waitress asked me to leave. She had to unlock the front door to let me out. It was barely six o’clock!

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On day 2 I tried my luck at a pub. In the cramped parking lot of The Strand Tavern in Duncannon, I met with a trio visiting from England. Once they found out that I was traveling alone, the man, his wife, and their friend insisted that I join them inside for dinner. The three did their best to convince me to order a Guinness, but instead I chose a flight of local IPA’s (the first beer I’d had in almost four years). I was not disappointed. The Strand’s fish tacos were delicious! One of the perks of living on an island – you can bet that the seafood is always fresh.

Day 3 found me at The Old Thatch Pub & Restaurant in Killeagh, County Cork. I had my one and only Guinness over a lunch of carrot soup, a lamb sandwich, and homestyle chips. After that, it was ginger beer and Jameson for me. Following my historic tour of Kinsale, I stopped in at the Lemon Leaf Café where I enjoyed a late breakfast of oatmeal with fruit and hot tea.

Foley’s Guesthouse & Gastropub served up an enormous and unforgettable pot of mussels – straight from Kenmare bay – in a superb white wine sauce.

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I could not help wondering if I’ll ever be able to eat mussels again after this!

My second night in Kenmare, I opted for an Irish favorite, potato and leek soup. The Wander Inn was crowded, but somehow I managed to meet four people from the U.S. Two of them were from Philly, visiting Ireland on their honeymoon. The other pair had just finished a two or three week hike along the west coast and were enjoying a final night of live music over drinks.

In Oranmore I had my first seafood chowder before splurging on a dessert of homemade pie and ice cream. I enjoyed a take-out meal of shepherd’s pie and muffins from a little café called Food for Thought in Galway the next day. The spot is well-known for its coffee, and the food was great too.

Malachy Quinn treated me to my only steak dinner in Ireland. He had come up to Trim to trade rental cars. We spent the evening talking about how our diverse spiritual paths had somehow led us both to appreciate the work of Anthony De Mello. Life really can be strange at times.

Somewhere between County Meath and Dublin, I enjoyed a breakfast of sauteed greens, tomatoes, and feta cheese, while watching Hurricane Ali blow away my plans for the day.

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Later on after my tour of the Teeling Whiskey Distillery, I took the only open seat inside The Hairy Lemon – at the bar – and ordered a bowl of Irish Lamb stew. I spent the rest of the evening talking with a brand copyright lawyer on holiday from San Francisco.

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This traditional Irish meal was truly outstanding!

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The seafood chowder from Arthur’s Pub looked delicious, but it really was not.

I was sadly disappointed by the food my last night in Ireland. Arthur’s chowder tasted old, and even the brown bread was stale! 😦 Not the best way to end my journey. Surprisingly, breakfast in the Dublin airport was phenomenal, right down to the specialty coffee, so I certainly did not leave Ireland with a bad taste in my mouth!

No two pubs in Ireland are alike, except that the food is almost always handcrafted (read: scrumptious) and accompanied by live music and a friendly atmosphere. I fear I may miss the pubs of Ireland nearly as much as the breathtaking scenery and painted sheep.

 

Ireland’s Ancient East

Newgrange, County Wicklow, New Ross, & County Wexford

My journey began in the Dublin Airport where I rediscovered my dependence on my cell phone. In this case, I needed it to locate Malachy Quinn of My Irish Cousin who was meeting me with my vehicle. He also had my SIM card sorted, but without it I was unable to call or text him. Thankfully … the Internet. We used email to connect up, and after a rather funny series of missed interactions, we were at last sitting across from one another in an airport cafe. Over coffee we discussed my itinerary. Malachy sent me on my way at approximately half past six in the morning, with little to no driving instruction. Let the adventure begin!

I drove north first to Newgrange, but arrived too early to take the tour. Eerily enough, Hurricane Ali prevented my attempt to revisit the prehistoric monument nine days later. I took this failure as a sign: “Not this time.” I suppose that could be interpreted as a promise to one day return. #Ireland2020

Wicklow Forest National Park

From Newgrange, I took a southwesterly route to Blessington, where I stopped in for breakfast. My Irish oatmeal came with fresh berries at Crafternoon Tea. The shop also sold handmade items – everything from knitted coasters to woolen hats, all as delightful as the food and drink. A narrow less-traveled road led me through County Wicklow. When I reached the National Park, however, the landscape bore little resemblance to a forest. I can only describe it as my idea of an English moor or heath.

Beautiful ground covers in lavender, bright green, and pale yellow swept across the rolling hills. When trees finally did appear, they struck me as an afterthought rather than a theme. I wondered at the culture that would call this stark land a forest. Random sheep grazed along the hillsides, but contrary to the many warnings I received, I never experienced a crossing.

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The color on the sheep means nothing … the location of the paint identifies its owner.

The Ruins of Glendalough

I could not have imagined, much less predicted, the mesmerizing effect that Glendalough would have on me. Its charms left no wonder as to why St. Kevin chose this particular area as his place of solitude. The peaceful, majestic woods gave reason enough for the existence of the ruins of the monastic settlement, but I found the remains of the ancient stone structures as compelling as the natural beauty of the Valley of Two Lakes.

Glendalough’s monastic city grew out of the settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. Surviving structures today date back to the 10th and 12th centuries.

“Despite attacks by Vikings over the years, Glendalough thrived as one of Ireland’s great ecclesiastical foundations and schools of learning until the Normans destroyed the monastery in 1214 A.D. and the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin were united.”

~ www.VisitWicklow.ie

I strolled the Green Road Walk all that drizzly afternoon, taking time to wander into the shops surrounding the visitor’s center. My favorite photo would have to be the house I spied sitting up on a hill across a little stream.

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One of my more insightful friends asked if this is where the Faeries live. Indeed.

From Glendalough, I made my way to New Ross where I enjoyed a meal of vegetable soup and Irish brown bread overlooking a replica of the Dunbrody Famine Ship.

According to Wikipedia, “The Great Famine of Ireland during the 1840s saw a significant number of people flee from the island to all over the world. Between 1841 and 1851, as a result of death and mass emigration (mainly to Great Britain and North America), Ireland’s population fell by over 2 million. Robert E. Kennedy explains, however, that the common argument of the mass emigration from Ireland being a ‘flight from famine’ is not entirely correct: firstly, the Irish had been coming to build canals in Great Britain since the 18th century, and once conditions were better, emigration did not slow down. After the famine was over, the four following years produced more emigrants than during the four years of the blight. Kennedy argues that the famine was considered the final straw to convince people to move and that there were several other factors in the decision making.”

Winding country lanes led me to my first AirBnB – a dairy farm in Ramsgrange, near the border between County Kilkenny and County Wexford. Somehow I never spotted Phil and Shirley’s cows, but that did not stop me enjoying their (raw) milk in my morning tea. Phil and I shared breakfast the next morning, and he sent me off with a couple of apples picked fresh from the trees you see in the photo above (left). Irish hospitality at its best!

Wexford Town

I spent the morning of Day 2 walking the streets of Wexford Town. There I found an embroidery shop where I had my grand daughter’s name etched into the belly of a lamb. I spent a good hour or more in a Birkenstock store conversing with the shop owner about everything from divorce to the rewards and difficulties of running a small business in Ireland. It might have been uncanny how easily she and I got on, except I’ve gotten used to meeting kindred spirits along my path. Happens to me all the time.

Street performers were pretty common in the shopping districts.

Kilmore Quay

A visit to the Ballyteigue Burrow Nature Reserve made for an excellent afternoon. The green tract in the photo on the left follows the coastline, then makes a loop back to the harbor for about a 4 kilometer hike.

The views along the way were stunning.

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Hook Head

Shirley had recommended I visit Hook Lighthouse and Loftus Hall, so those were my final destinations for day 2. The lighthouse was amazing, but I missed the tour of the most haunted house in all of Ireland by about 30 minutes.

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A Templar monastic ruin in Templetown on the Hook Peninsula:

During the first few days of my journey, I delighted in traveling the back roads for scenery such as this. But as I neared the end of week one, the stress of driving on the left, along roads almost too narrow for two vehicles to pass, finally lured me back onto Ireland’s main thoroughfares, but already the breathtaking beauty and variety that is Ireland’s southeast had stolen my heart.

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Exploring the Emerald Isle – Introduction

In 2015 I made my first bucket list. I was 51 years old. There were exactly three items on my list:

  1. Publish a novel
  2. Vacation in Ireland
  3. Open an AirBnB

Three years later two things astound. One, that it took me so long to set any goals for my life; and two, that in only three years I have accomplished two out of three. I buried goal #3 sometime last year, but did I mention that I’m a strong believer in resurrection? 2018 must be my banner year, ‘cause on May 29th I self-published my first novel. You can find it on Amazon – assuming you are into fantasy fiction with a Celtic feel. Here’s my blog post announcing the release. One month ago I stepped back onto American soil after 11 magical days in Ireland. Yesterday I ordered the photo book of my trip. I’m thinking that tomorrow will be a good day to set some more goals.

Well, maybe not so fast. First let’s process Ireland, shall we? This post is the beginning of a series of travel blogs about my amazing Irish adventure. On the Emerald Isle I learned some things about myself. I remembered my love for photography … looking at the world through a zoom lens … focusing on various elements … seeking the perfect shot … and capturing moments that made me feel really good. Because of this newly rediscovered love, there are going to be lots of photos. I also found out that I am braver than anyone ever imagined – including me.

And, I became just a wee bit better at listening to my heart. You know, that still small voice inside that most people ignore? Yeah, that. Paying attention to my heart is why I went to Ireland, and why I went alone. Most everyone is familiar with the voice inside, the one that knows things that the rational mind could not possibly know. But our fear of being wrong (or more often, looking foolish) prevents us from paying close attention to it. According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, “we live in a time when it is not enough to know, we have to know how.” It is not enough to quote platitudes like “follow our heart,” it’s time to learn how to do it.

I used to think that I needed to live in a quiet environment to be able to listen to my heart. I have learned instead that stillness is the key. Stillness is a characteristic of the mind, therefore it is something that I can find even in the most chaotic of settings. Only when the ever-present chatter inside my mind fades into the background can I begin to hear the subtle language of the heart. The heart speaks in feelings, emotions, and gut reactions, not words. But I did not need to go to Ireland to learn this. In fact, it is something I have known for perhaps twenty years or more. No, I went to Ireland in response to the call of my heart, not to learn to hear it in the first place.

Of course, learning to follow the heart is a life-long quest for all of us. It is not something we necessarily ever fully achieve, but I believe we can get better at it. Going to Ireland reminded me how much fun this journey can be.

May you find joy unspeakable as you discover the path to your heart.

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My view from the plane on my way home from Ireland. Gotta love the shamrock on the wingtip.