I grew up in Ireland but didn’t appreciate it until my twenties

The Emerald Isle is a beautiful country with unrivaled landscape, but may not be immediately recognised. Here, one of our writers documents her journey about how she didn’t appreciate Ireland until her twenties.

I grew up in Ireland but didn’t appreciate it until my twenties

I grew up in Ireland, specifically in the South Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham, and spent all my free time fantasising about leaving. I dreamed about the white sands of Bali, the yellow cabs of New York…even the grey skies of London sounded infinitely preferable to what seemed the most boring country in the world.

My experience outside of Dublin was limited. I was that stereotypical jackeen who dismissed all counties outside the Pale as ‘boggerland’ and laughed at any accent on the Six One News that wasn’t a vaguely Irish version of Received Pronunciation.

The summer days – counting down the days to leave again

Every summer I would travel far and wide to get away from Ireland.

I stayed in Dublin for my college years but would use my modest Saturday job wages to bounce off travelling as far away as I could each summer. I happily suffered mosquito bites and altitude sickness for the prize of sleeping in dilapidated beach huts or makeshift tents in what I believed to be the most beautiful spots in the world.

When fellow travellers would hear that I grew up in Ireland, they’d be full of stories about wonderful times they’d had travelling in my home country- but I just couldn’t connect these exciting tales to my own experiences of the Emerald Isle.

Abroad, I felt so removed from the mundanity of Ireland – and that was exactly the feeling I had been chasing. As soon as my plane would touch down on the rainy Dublin runway, I’d be counting down to my next escape.

Working in Waterford – starting to fall in love with Ireland

Hiking in the Comeragh Mountains is one of the main reasons why I fell in love with Waterford.
Hiking in the Comeragh Mountains is one of the main reasons why I fell in love with Waterford.

At 23, I took a job in Co. Waterford as a temporary stop-gap while I worked out what my next move was. I knew no one, and the only way I could overcome the nerves of the move was to mentally approach Waterford like I did my exotic travel destinations.

I spent hours on my laptop researching areas of natural beauty, culinary highlights, and cultural events in the area. Upon arrival, I made a beeline for the local tourist office and picked up piles of leaflets to pore over in-depth at my kitchen table, making itineraries for my free time.

My first reaction was amazement at all the county had to offer. Within my first few weeks, I had enjoyed long hikes in the Comeraghs, laughed to the point of tears at BYOB comedy nights in the city, and eaten the most delicious ice-cream I’d ever tasted while watching the fishing boats come in on Dunmore East Pier.

Tramore Beach in County Waterford is one of the main reasons why I started to appreciated the county more.
Tramore Beach, Co. Waterford.

These activities were just as magical as anything I’d experienced abroad — and the most wonderful part was that there was no end date. This could be my home for as long as I wanted it to be. I fell hopelessly in love with Waterford, and my feelings haven’t changed five years later.

I often pull over on my drive to work, which takes me by the beautiful sea views of Tramore, and just spend a moment appreciating how beautiful my surroundings are.

The chain reaction – what else Ireland has to offer

I experienced the likes of Derry City after I grew up and appreciated Ireland.
I experienced the likes of Derry City after I grew up and appreciated Ireland more.

Opening my eyes to Waterford made me curious about what else Ireland had to offer. Suddenly, the country I’d dismissed as boring became a treasure trove of unexplored road trips, culinary city breaks and activity holidays.

I began spending my weekends going to trad sessions in Dingle, joining history walks in Derry, and sipping fancy coffee at farmers’ markets in West Cork. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to hop in my car and in a matter of hours find myself in a corner of the world I’d never seen before – all of this possible without storing up my annual leave and struggling through long airport waits.

A hometown in Dublin – the final frontier

The Padraig Pearse Museum, Rathfarnham, Dublin.
The Padraig Pearse Museum, Rathfarnham, Dublin.

The final frontier for me was to see the suburban Dublin I grew up in through fresh eyes. To do this, I decided to host some Waterford friends on a trip back to my hometown.

I drew up a scrupulous itinerary of off the beaten track attractions short distances from my parents’ house — the Padraig Pearse Museum, the Bushy Park Saturday markets, the Rathfarnham Castle tour, the Dublin Mountains – and I watched them marvel at how lucky I was to grow up in a place with so much to offer.

I was caught by surprise myself on that particular trip when we enjoyed a drink in the Teelings Factory. A print on the wall displayed the famous James Joyce quote; ‘When I die, Dublin will be written on my heart’. I realized with a strangely emotional jolt that this statement was true of me too.

I grew up in Ireland completely blind to the beauty on my doorstep. The past five years have been a delicious feast of making up for lost time – and I still haven’t even scraped the surface of all the places I want to see. How lucky am I?

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