What do you know about Ireland? Dublin is there. They’ve got beer and cliffs and a lucky stone. Chances are, you know somebody who has been there; maybe that somebody is you?
This week, I got a first-timer’s look at the Emerald Isle, and I took a different route than most would expect—there were no cliffs, no late nights in Dublin, and no make out sessions with the Blarney Stone.
Pass on that.
It’s not the Souled Out way.
No. I took a different route. And what I found was—according to locals— the “real” Ireland. It’s a place where most people still speak Irish (not English), in a land as green as you’ve ever seen.
The car skidded to a thud.
At a stop sign in a rural village, I’d finally done it. After eight hours in the air, one pizza-less layover in Chicago, and four hours behind the wheel of a car on the wrong side of the road, I’d wrecked the poor beast by crashing into a stone wall on the side of the road, thankfully at a low rate of speed. And mercifully, in the exact spot that another driver had already mangled the rental car.
A government sign leaned over the road as a cue, “Tiredness kills,” it said.
In this case, tiredness dings.
200 kilometers from Dublin, I’d managed to ring an alarm bell that a group of Americans had arrived in Ireland’s parts unknown. Loud, clumsy, and unaccustomed to driving on the lefthand side of the road, there could be no mistaking us. Leni and I had come here on a whim. A few months ago, we booked roundtrip flights to Dublin for about $800. That’s a steal from Memphis, and we were ready to take advantage of it. Rather than the usual tourist spots, our destination was pretty vague—a 1,500-mile stretch of Irish highway called the Wild Atlantic Way. For three days, we could go anywhere in Ireland, so long as it was on the Way.
In truth, our arrival in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh was not unprecedented. Europeans know the Wild Atlantic Way well. Judging from the local pubs, this particularly remote outpost is not a mass tourist destination, but it is an occasional stopover for road trippers, Russians, and at least one Disney film crew looking for the most isolated spot in the galaxy for Luke Skywalker to hide.
I’m a fan of secret places, and Baile an Fheirtéaraigh seemed like the sort of place that could use an investigation.
An empty stormtrooper helmet, some scattered murals, and two statues of Yoda and Darth Vader greeted us upon arrival. We returned the favor with a Guinness-laden salute, and got to work.
Day Two dawned with the whip of wind, smell of surf, and the squeak of wet cow pasture echoing from our feet. A few minutes from our AirBnB, we’d triangulated the Star Wars filming location on Google Maps. The set was torn down after filming of The Last Jedi wrapped in 2016, but its image is still burned onto the internet. A nod towards a “no entry” sign, posted for insurance purposes, we’re told, and we were free to scale the thousand foot edifice of a mountain known as Ceann Sibeal.
I’d describe Ceann Sibeal as a half-mountain, really. Most of it falls straight off into the sea, but its narrow edge really did play host to Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and company in the very recent past. Traces of the set, built around a ruined 19th-century British lookout post are almost entirely removed, but you can clearly see the remnants of a road built to transport heavy machinery towards the summit.
A trickle of tourists journey here annually to visit the site. Add two to the count.
A long time ago, before blogs and cameras and airfare and driving, a fuzzy t.v. screen in Brownsville, Tennessee blared their opening salvos out of its wooden frame. As the youngest of four, I was surrounded by Star Wars obsessed brothers from birth.
It didn’t take long for me to catch the bug.
But maybe I caught Star Wars fever in a different way than some kids. Yes, space ships were cool, and lightsabers were cooler; but for me, Star Wars was always about the story. It was always about hope.
From the beginning. Very possibly from my first memories in the twilight of the 1980’s, I knew about Luke Skywalker. I knew about good versus evil, far away lands, and the importance of leaving the
moisture cotton farms.
I won’t pretend that Souled Outside is anything like that tale. There are no wookies or Jedi in this blog. But there are stories that I’d like— in their own way— to give you hope. Traveling is not just for the wealthy. It’s for the creative. It’s for the determined. It’s for the people who dare to step away from the world they know and into a universe full of adventure.
This week, I sat atop a rocky cliff in Ireland like Luke Skywalker did before me. But forever, I’ll be chasing new worlds that were only dreams as a child.
Dreams, it turns out, can sometimes become real.