The day after we moved into the student dorms, I decided to go back to Howth. With travelling, I always struggle with wanting to see every corner of the spots I explore but also not missing new opportunities if I linger or return to a place I have already visited. The hike in Howth was exhilarating, but I did miss exploring much of the town and Howth Castle. Will and I loved Howth so much that with a handful of other students newly arrived, we went together as a group.
Everyone in Ireland remarks on the weather. We must enjoy every blue sky and the visible sun while it’s here because rain is surely around the corner. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I have experienced very few rainy days and a handful of overcast, which I appreciate since there is no air conditioning in any of the buildings. The lack of AC remains the hardest adjustment. In general, the weather has been beautiful, I’ve seen vibrant sapphire skies with comforting breezes accompanying it and slightly cloudy days that keep the temperatures low and enjoyable. That day in Howth was a bright, sapphire sky kinda day. It was much sunnier than when we took our hike, so it felt perfect to explore the shops and see the castle.
Will and I helped other students get their transit cards and we took the same route we did before. The train into Howth was packed with teens and pre-teens who exited one stop before ours in Sutton for swimming. Just writing that makes me want to go swimming now. I definitely plan on a bracing swim in the ocean while I’m here but that’s for another day.
We exited the train greeted by the same smell of brine and the call of the seagulls. Our first stop was to the castle, so we went in the opposite direction of town. It was a ten-minute walk from the station and up a hill to the castle grounds. The castle is still a family home, but they do offer tours of some of the buildings. Unfortunately, the day we went there were no tours happening, so we wandered around as much of the grounds as we were allowed to.
After the castle we trekked back to the town and explored some of the shops. Our Pitt group broke off here and Will and I explored the other side of the pier up to Howth Lighthouse we hadn’t walked yet. Howth was packed with locals and tourists basking in the sunny rays and breeze off the sea. My heart felt light walking among so many people having a good time. I really love Howth.
We passed families and couples along the path to the lighthouse. It was in this area where one of my favorite moments and encounters of the trip happened. I spied an older man walking his two dogs along the bottom part of the pier. Will and I were walking along the top. The dogs trotted around the man, eagerly waiting for him to toss a tennis ball into the bay and listening to his whistle for commands. I couldn’t help but get excited to see the dogs, not just because dogs are my favorite creation in the universe, but because they were the breed of my childhood dog and best friend. The day after Christmas in 2016, my 14-year-old English Springer Spaniel, Sam, had to be put down. He meant everything to me and I loved our time together dearly. I still struggle with his passing and miss my furry friend.
I followed the man along the upper path as he played fetch with his two Springers. I stayed on the higher path for a while, taking pictures of them jumping down into the bay and running back up the steps, soaking and panting hard. While they continued their walk, I hurried to a set of stairs just ahead of me so that I could come down to the lower level, closer to the man and his dogs.
I crept along, taking pictures as I moved closer. I sat down with my camera around my neck on a docking post watching them. I was fairly close to the trio as they played. After one toss of the ball into the bay, the smaller springer bounded down the stairs and leapt into the open water, swimming out to get the bobbing yellow ball. The pup swam back to the steps and ran up them, straight to me. She dropped the wet and drool covered ball at my feet and took a position down on all fours, giving control of the tennis ball to me. I looked to her owner, not wanting to interrupt their time or any rules between them. We started talking and he was more than happy to let me play with his pups. I grabbed the tennis ball and bounced it a handful of times on the cement, the springer sprung up to grab it and brought it back multiple times, impatient for a longer throw. I grabbed the ball again, absolutely drenched in doggy spit, and lobbed it into the bay. The dog took off in a blur.
I spoke with the man about his dogs and their breed. I told him about my own Sam and how much I love the breed and miss them. He expressed genuine sadness at my loss. His own dog, Gerald, was 10 years old and slowing down. He was getting more confused but still loved being outside so much. The other dog, the one I had been playing with for the most part was the younger female. He told me Gerald was perfectly trained (I can attest to this! He was a very good boy) and would never run after a ball unless he heard the whistle which signaled that it was ok. The girl was a little rascal and didn’t like the rules as much. She didn’t wait for the whistle and had so much energy compared to her older doggy friend. He often would tell her to sit on the bench following the lower pier and she would sit, but as soon as he turned to pay attention to Gerald and the attention was off of her, she would creep paw by paw along the sunbaked cement to get closer to the water and the treasured tennis balls.
I wasn’t the only one so enchanted by the man and his dogs. Countless people stopped to take pictures or show their children to the cute dogs as they ran around and splashed in the water below us. They brought smiles to everyone who came across their path on that pier. I played with them for a while, stroking both of their slimy, slicked back fur from the bay. I thanked the man for allowing me to play with his dogs and he was incredibly gracious and went along his way. It seems he had stopped along this point in the path, so I could play with them for a while. After I was ready to move on so was he.
When I walked past them and continued to the lighthouse, I admit, I was a little teary-eyed. I was so grateful to have time to play with the dogs and get to know them. They reminded me of Sam when he was still a young and energetic pup.
Feeling a lightness in my chest, I continued down the pier, continuing to take pictures and watch the people around me. People watching is one of my favorite things to do. It’s fun to sit back and watch everyone existing within their own bubble out in the world. I watched multi-generational families head out to the farthest point of the pier and watch the sailboats around the piers and the larger ships on the horizon zipping through the water.
After the pier, we went back into town and got gelato. It was hot outside and we’d been in the sun for a handful of hours. We were eating in the park when I looked up past the modern buildings and saw an old stone structure, half obscured by surrounding buildings. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was or how to get to it. After we ate, I decided that I wanted to figure it out. I headed past the shops and turned up the nearest street, hoping I could figure it out. I stopped halfway up a hill, unsure of where the entrance was. It looked like it was in the middle of buildings.
I figured I would take random streets and alleys to find it and if I didn’t I’d still be around interesting buildings and maybe I could just stop for a pint at one of the local pubs around the street. I saw a sign for a pub that led to stone steps, curving up and away from view. I walked up them because they were in the direction of the structure. The steps plopped me out onto a roadway with a pretty white and blue building to our right and directly a head of us was exactly what I had been looking for.
I stood on the road which overlooked an old church and cemetery. It was located up on the hill stuck between the main road, Harbour Road, and the road I was standing on, Church Street. I walked down the stone steps into the secluded privacy of the cemetery. The church no longer in use was open to the elements, missing a roof and other structural elements. Graves surrounded it on the outside and some were locked up inside. At the end of the cemetery, against a stone wall, the main road of Howth can be seen as well as the ships in the bay.
I walked along quietly, contemplating as I followed the path. Despite its location in the middle of a bustling area, the cemetery was surprisingly quiet. The church was very old, the original church was built in the 1000's and was rebuilt in the 14th century!
I left just as more visitors descended the steps to the old church. After the unexpected discovery, I headed back into town.
I met up again with the rest of the Pitt group and ran to catch the train home. I left Howth fulfilled, exhausted, and sunburnt. I have since learned and bought sunscreen (silly me thought I was immune from sunburns here??). I also cherished my time with the two Springers and their kind owner who humored me.
I love Ireland.