On a post-grad trip to Europe, I couldn’t not stop in Dublin. It was my third time to the city, the second time as a visitor, the first thinking, welcome home. Even before I boarded my flight, I had the feeling of someone returning home after being away for a while.
And though almost two years had passed, it felt more like hours when I arrived at the Dublin Airport. As the late-setting sun sunk into the sky, and the Airlink bus traveled the route I still had memorized, I was overcome with happiness. My semester abroad had touched me deeply, its effects still cradling my heart; and the memories that rushed back as I was driven up Dame Street, around Christ Church Cathedral, finally hopping off at Merchant’s Quay, my old stomping ground, were overwhelming and welcomed.
On my second night I sat at O’Shea’s pub, eating my weight in fish and chips, and furiously writing in my journal words that I still vividly remember scrawling out.
Did you know there’s such a thing as falling in love with a place? I didn’t fully grasp it until I found Dublin. My pretty city, whose streets are etched into my mind, whose every twist and turn I can see behind closed eyelids, whose maps sit like ink on my bones. There is the deep inhale of the air that smells the same, wafting from the River Liffey, and the pirouetting around and feeling so much more than happy. The sky, the tips of roofs and stretches of buildings, the quiet kindness of locals melt together like a poem.
It is the pubs where culture explodes, instruments taken up and nursing narratives of the nation. It is the tears that bubble in my eyes when I walk along and feel the contentment rise so high up into my throat I think I might sob. It is sitting on the ledge next to Christ Church Cathedral, surrounded by colored doors and red brick buildings and squashed beer cans and feeling the weightless give of time. Like it hasn’t passed and taken me from here at all. But because it’s home, and because it’s love, I never left. The breeze on my back, touching my face, swirling in circles will be remembered for summer, the way I still remember the air of autumn.
Colum McCann once wrote, “There’s a part of me that thinks perhaps we go on existing in a place even after we’ve left it.” And it isn’t until reflecting on this return that I recognized the ghost of my twenty year old self there, seeing with new eyes the place I discovered bits of the me that was here now. I saw that girl walking along the River Liffey at dusk, tasting the explosion of bubbly ciders on her tongue, strolling among locals and feeling at once like she was one of them. She became the balance of then and now, and still lives in starry-eyed wonder on the south side.
I was able to get together with staff members from my program, and had the lovely chance to connect as adults. My former student manager and I were talking about the city, and he asked if I’d noticed the number of donut and ice cream shops that had recently been spreading. I said I had, but that for the most part, everything was the same. He laughed and said that Dublin doesn’t change much, and that is what I have clung onto.
Change is good, but stability is, too.
One of my favorite cafes, The Food Gallery, was, to my disappointment, now closed; and a new salad shop had opened up on Grafton Street. Still, I was under Dublin’s spell. The city’s transformed with the times, but still carries centuries of history on its cobblestoned back. Georgian doors are still famously a carousel of colors. Locals are still the kindest people I’ve ever met. It stands exactly where I left it, leaving room to amble in directions that were both familiar and foreign, side by side, all rolled together. It is the charm of it all, the inability for rush or worry, the pints of cider sparkling inside tall glasses, the contentment in all that the city is and all that it needs to be.
I returned to the swell of memories I’d created there, found solace in a place I had left roots in, and whiled hours away with scones in old haunts and a pure happiness that had been stirred up vigorously.