I'm briefly back in London after spending Christmas with the Irishman and his family in Dun Laoghire, Dublin. When I was greeted at Dublin Airport last Wednesday night by carolers in the arrivals hall, I knew it would be special... even though the Irishman himself didn't actually make it! We flew on separate flights because I decided later on that I would go home with him for the holidays, and I found a better deal on bmi out of Heathrow to his Air France flight out of London City. The snow, ice, and freezing fog of the last few weeks resulted in my flight being delayed by 20 minutes - and his being delayed for hours and finally cancelled at midnight! So I hung out with the Irishman's family and the remnants of my illness while he bellied up to the hotel bar at the ExCel Novotel, courtesy of Air France, with his fellow travelers. It's lucky I met them in Cork earlier this year or else it could have been a disaster. But it ended well as Air France put a whole new flight together for the stranded passengers early the next morning, and the Irishman arrived home with only a hangover.
Christmas Eve his family traditionally goes into town for a meal and drinks at a few choice old Dublin pubs with friends and family. It was bitterly cold Christmas eve, and as the sun went down the Irishman and I decided to head back out to the burbs to the village of Dalkey where he and his sailing mates congregate. The Irishman was a champ sailor in his time, and most of his friends harken back to his days on the Irish Sea. Unfortunately they are all also his age (a few years older than my spring chicken self) and they are all having babies. So not many people were there at Finnegans, his local, and that, coupled with the fact that the Irishman was close to sleeping in his pint, meant we were home by 9pm.
But so were the Irishman's family, and they had news for us. Right after we left, they went from one pub to another and found Bono, Glen Hansard, Damien Rice, and some musician named Mumfy busking out on the main pedestrian/shopping street, Grafton Street. I was so annoyed when I found out I missed them! Nothing typifies Dublin and my preconceptions of it as a tiny place where everyone knows everyone else like famous people singing on the street with the hoi polloi. The Irishman felt so bad that we missed it that he took me to see Bono's house a few days later. It sort of helped, but not really.
Christmas Day we drove down to the water (10 minutes away) to the 40 foot where crazy lads and ladies jump into the freezing sea. Itwas absolutely mental and I really wanted to do it, but I was forbidden due to my illness. Next time for sure. Then we popped into Mass, and I was really impressed with the homily; nothing too preachy or guiltridden like in the American Catholic churches, but just nice sentiment for the holiday. Then it was home to help prepare for the 16 person meal that evening (more on that later).
The day after Christmas Day is not Boxing Day in Ireland - it is St Stephen's Day and it is traditional for the Irish to go on a walk. Now. When Americans say "walk" they mean a stroll around the block. In the UK and Ireland, a walk means a hike, usually up a mountain, and in this case it was an icy arctic Everast training walk. We ended up at the top of a mountain overlooking Dublin, the sea, and the countryside, and it was glorious... Until we had to get back down. There were quite a lot of sore bums afterwards, which wasn't helped by the fact that we spent the evening in hard stadium seats watching rugby. I was escorted to my first rugby match, Leinster v Ulster, and also my first Guinness. Both were exciting and actually quite enjoyable!
We spent the rest of the visit with the Irishman's friends and family, seeing the local villages and Dublin proper, and just generally relaxing. I quite enjoy Ireland and my first visit to Dublin just reinforced my high opinion of the country. I realized halfway through my visit that nobody had, up to that point, asked me what I did for a living or anything remotely related to career or status - and no one did for the rest of the trip. No one expected anything from me besides wit and cheeky banter, and it was very refreshing and welcome. What a very merry way to spend Christmas, indeed.