On Saturday May 26th I wanted to get out of Dublin and find a scenic destination that would provide some natural beauty. I also have been wanting to photograph a castle. Howth offered up the best of both worlds. A little bit about the area. Howth is a village east of Dublin on the peninsula, surrounded by high reaching cliffs, docks and the bracing salty air. The town sits right up against the coast, with fishing boats darting out from the harbor and families walking hand-in-hand along the shops and restaurants. The town is a half hour or so DART ride from Connolly station out to Howth station. DART stands for Dublin Area Rapid Transit. The train services Dublin’s city center and the outlying areas like Howth. It’s an extremely comfortable and reliable system that even includes free WiFi! The seats on the train are comfy and spacious.
My original plan for my day trip to Howth was to head up to the castle and roam the grounds. I had also heard about the trails around the peninsula that offered great views. Once the train pulled into the station and throngs of people poured out into the streets I was a little stunned by how cute the town was. Soft blue, bright yellow, and red houses and businesses line the main street and wind up to the cliffs toward the trails. Along the pier leading to the Howth lighthouse, seafood restaurants taut their fresh fish. Dogs run around on the open grass while their owners sit in the shade reading or eating take-away from fish shops. I lost count of the number of dogs leashed at outside tables with their family or scampering around on the sidewalk. It was at this point that I immediately knew I would like this town.
I was visiting Howth with fellow Pitt student Will, who is also in early for the program. We decided that our big adventure that day would be exploring Howth and a walk along its cliffs as well as the castle that stood outside the main town center. We had been recommended the town and the walk especially. I’ve been stacking my days with several museums visits and lots of city walking and sightseeing. Howth seemed a perfect opportunity for a full day of dedication. One of my favorite things to do (with camera in hand, naturally) is going on hikes along scenic routes. Last summer, I went on a hike with my fiancé and his family along a glacier in Juneau, Alaska. It was an exhilarating and beautiful path; our tour guide led us along the forest to the peak where we overlooked a breathtaking, but sadly receding glacier. I was hoping for a nice walk/hike like that.
As someone with asthma, I am extremely aware of my physical health. I am attuned to how my lungs are working and never leave the house without multiple inhalers in my bags. Hiking alone for my own personal health rules would be a big no! And taking in the views of Howth with a hiking buddy and companion is the best way to do it. But before I get to the hike I want to start at the very beginning of the day!
Will and I met up for breakfast at Third Space in Smithfield Square which is right across from where my hostel is. I had seen a sign the previous day that they had a full Irish breakfast and I was excited to try that. Plus, their coffee is delicious! I’ve enjoyed both their mochas and their cappuccinos, and they taste as good as they look!
The tram station which would take us to the DART station was just outside the square. So, after eating, we grabbed water bottles and headed to the stop. I had purchased my LEAP card the day before which can be used on Dublin’s trams, trains, and buses. We waited about ten minutes before one showed up absolutely packed with people. We almost missed it as we both were uncomfortable in what felt like pushing to get on. We watched how others were managing getting on when no space seemed available. Somehow, they just stepped on and wigged through the small spaces in the wall of people. We did the same, pressed up against many others holding onto rails and handholds.
The tram is frequent, comfortable, and relatively fast. The normally half hour walk only took ten minutes. People exited and entered the tram on the several stops along the way. A main shopping district saw a mass exodus of people and for the remainder of the trip we had a seat. Once we pulled into the last stop, we headed out with the rest of the tram riders and up the steps of Connolly station.
Connolly Station is named after James Connolly, an Irish Revolutionary and one of the leaders of the Easter Rising. The rebellion was launched by Irish Republicans who wanted an Ireland free from British rule and to create an Irish Republic. The armed uprising lasted six days and resulted in Connolly’s, as well as his fellow leaders, execution. The 1916 rebellion is incredibly important in Irish history. Countless streets and buildings bear the name of the leaders of the rebellion such as James Connolly and Patrick Pearse. The day before Howth, when I had gone to Dublin Castle, I had been in the room where an injured Connolly had lain before being taken away to Kilmainham Jail and executed.
I highly suggest learning more about the Easter Rising and the events that followed in Irish history. That’s one of my many history plugs! Ireland has fascinating history and you can interact with it everywhere. Simply walking down the street, there are monuments or street names that harken back to the Easter Rising or another moment in Irish history. Before I began taking classes at Pitt, I had loved Ireland but lacked much knowledge on its history. I feel like that’s true for most Americans. Many come from Irish descent or love images of the rolling green hills and Saint Patrick’s Day without knowing much more about the country. I imagine as I continue to post, I’ll sprinkle more history as I encounter it. After all, there are echoes of the history everywhere.
Anyway, back to the station. We headed up from the lower platform and entered into the train station. A digital screen displayed locations and the platform from which they would depart. We found the train to Howth and headed back. After thirty minutes the train pulled up and, minding the gap, we entered. Unlike the tram, our train was pretty empty, just a handful of people spreading out in the open space. The train ride was exciting as we pulled out from the station and zoomed down the tracks, train car swaying as we went. We watched the city buildings flash by, replaced by beach and water.
We exited the train at the last stop, a thirty-minute ride from Connolly station. Howth greeted us first with its smells. Once the doors opened and we stepped out, the briny sea air whooshed in. Once we exited the station we saw the unfolding town center speckled with colorful shops and restaurants tempting hungry bellies with freshly caught fish and a nice pint.
Initially, I wanted to visit the castle just outside the town, but the charm of the town drew us in and we began to walk along the pier. Families sat outside restaurant fronts with their dogs and children. It was busy but not crowded in the town. It made sense considering that it was a Saturday and the sun and air felt therapeutic here. In addition to the harbor, there were large swatches of green space for picnickers, sunbathers, and again, dogs to play in (I really enjoyed the dogs).
After we walked along the pier, we headed back to the main town stretch walking past several bars and gelato stands. Once we reached the end of the businesses, the rest of the sea greeted us and, in the distance, we saw striking cliffs. Thoughts of the castle faded away and we decided to head up the road to the cliffs, a long but enjoyable walk up a steep road.
Right before the trails started there was a map, explaining the area and the four different paths you could take. Exhilarated from our walk up to this point, we decided on the longest and hardest trail, but at the beginning all the trails went the same way. We’d walk as far as we wanted. If something interested us we would keep going. If we were bored or started tiring, we would head back. We had enough water and were dressed appropriately. It was cool, the perfect weather for a hike.
After the day had ended and we retraced our hike it was incredible to us how far we had gone. At this point standing right before the dirt trail, we were buzzing with excitement. The cliffs are huge and filled with rocks at the bottom where land meets sea. Several signs dart along the path reminding walkers how dangerous the area can be if you aren’t careful. Will and I watched hikers move to places that terrified us because of how close they were to the edge. Even with taking pictures, it was a challenge to depict just how large the cliffs were and how far the drop was.
We spent a lot of time at the biggest cliff head. Tons of other tourists and hikers were around taking pictures and resting against boulders as benches, taking it all in. Periodically, and this was true for further along the hike as well, locals walked with dogs of all sizes and breeds without leashes on the path. This amazed and terrified both Will and me considering dogs could not read the signs warning against the cliffs.
After a certain point, the trail diverged in two places. The purple path was the hardest and continued down the dirt path toward a light house. The other three which would eventually split elsewhere, ended up past another cliff and circled back closer to the center of the peninsula and back to town. Each of those paths were rated with much less difficulty and time commitment. Will and I were enjoying the views of the coast and cliffs and decided at the divergence point to continue down the hardest path. We were still so full of energy.
Before we took the hardest path, we had been traveling around a ton of people, large groups traveling in a pack. Slowly as we made our way further out the numbers dwindled and about an hour into the purple path, we were almost entirely alone. This was fine by us! We enjoyed the solitude and the concentration on the footpath. It was not an even surface but often rocky and sometimes featured large stairs carved from the earth that took considerable time walking up and down. The path we were on would be around seven some miles.
The hike gave me ample opportunity to shoot the nature surrounding us. Toward the end it began to sprinkle, and I decided to put the camera away, not wanting to deal with rain on my gear. Plus, I’d been shooting for hours at this point. The path had gone from following the coast to cutting up sharply into a grassy field and up more man-made steps. Our thighs were burning, and our shoes were soiled with dirt. The path was not a straight one, it often took sharp turns and had us walking back and forth up hills. We had to pay close attention as well because the markers were small and sometimes hard to find. Sometimes they were built into the surrounding space and you had to be vigilant to keep up with them. It could be challenging to juggle keeping up on the right path and watching your footing on the uneven and rocky ground.
We followed our path and finally found ourselves at a road. We listened to and watched cars flash by as we sipped water and caught our breath. I checked my phone and my signal was wavering a little. On certain parts for brief periods of time, the service would cut off as we were far from civilization. After the break we continued across. The path crossed the road and went up another steep hill. We crossed the street and began the climb stopping forty seconds or so up. We could finish the route, but the sky was clouding, and rain sprinkled for brief moments here and there. It wouldn’t get dark still for quite a few hours. It had been over three and a half hours since we had been at the biggest part of the cliff surrounded by all the people. We talked back and forth for a little and then decided we should take the road. Tiredness had crept up on us. Over the last hour, most of the walk had been steep inclines.
Back on the road I checked my phone, only to discover the signal had disappeared, even though it had been there a moment before. I was able to pull up google maps finally and if we followed the road it would be about forty minutes to walk to Sutton, which had its own railway, and a little longer to get back to Howth. We started walking along the sidewalk. Cars and bikers occasionally passed us as did runners and walkers. We moved slowly, our muscles cramping up a little and feet sore. The hardest part of the last leg of the hike was the rocky surfaces on our feet and the abrupt incline. We had only walked about five minutes when just ahead of us, a woman stood with her personal shopping cart at a bus stop. Will and I exchanged looks and headed up to her.
We knew we could make it back on our own. Walking back to town would probably take more time than finishing the hike but would be a little easier on us. But at this point we were dog tired. I struck up a conversation with the woman and asked her about the bus. She was cheerful and explained this bus would take us into Howth, right back to the harbor. It was due, which was good as another one would not be for a while. We chatted about the hike for a little, a beautiful hike yes, but the weather soured slightly.
The bus showed up and we boarded, practically collapsing into seats. We got off back at the harbor. We stopped at a gelato shop and shared a cup, eating it in the shade before heading to the rail station. Luckily the train was due, and we were able to board immediately. Just like we came, we took the local transit back to Smithfield square. Will and I both showered and took naps, meeting up for dinner at the Generator. We didn’t realize that a huge football match was going on that day. The common area of generator was packed with football fans watching Real Madrid play against Liverpool. The hostel was full of Liverpool fans.
We grabbed dinner and drinks and settled into the basement where there were open tables and a smaller television and watched the game. Not long after we sat down and began eating, a guy asked me if the tables next to us were free. I said they were and after a bit he and his friends sat down. Issh/Ish/Eish (not sure how his name is spelled!) and I started talking. He is a die-hard Real Madrid fan and had a bet that they would beat Liverpool 3 to 1. He introduced me to his friend Dom, a German who had been living in Dublin for a year, and who I found out later that night was leaving to go back soon. During the match we continued talking and joking. A girl at my hostel left her bag and phone with Ish and disappeared up to her room for a few hours. They were leaving once the match was finished, so naturally he wanted to give it back.
We watched the game and Madrid did in fact win 3 to 1. Ish was ecstatic. While we watched he explained certain players and team histories and the significance of this or that. He was so excited to talk about his team who he loved since childhood. Once the game ended and the hostel started clearing up, the group of guys were heading to a local dive bar. They offered an invitation to both of us. Even though we tired from the day, it was a quick decision to say yes to head out to a non-touristy spot just a five-minute walk from the hostel.
The outside was overflowing with people and it was crowded inside too. Apparently, that was unusual, but we managed to squeeze our way to the back. Ish who, I had only known for two hours before this, ordered Will and me a pint of Guinness. In the back he explained that this was a farewell to Dom, who would be leaving soon. We chatted in the back, talking about where I worked back in the US and about business in Europe. I worked at a job involving tech which Dom was interested in. We spent a while talking about Germany as I studied the language and culture while at Pitt.
One of their mutual friends joined us. He happened to be a bartender at Generator and we talked about his job and various stories he had about guests that stayed there. They introduced us to their friends who came into the bar and hugged us as if we had known each other for years. I felt so incredibly welcomed. Will and I stayed chatting for a while, but it was almost midnight and the day was wearing us down considerably. We thanked them and exchanged business cards. I had my photography business card on me and Ish had the card for the restaurant he was in the process of opening in Dublin (I wish it had his name on it though!). We parted ways with strong hugs all around like good friends and I made my way back to the hostel, ready for the sweet embrace of a bed after a long but thoroughly enjoyable day.