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A Long Awaited Mystery: The Writers Retreat


If you look up anything about the Dublin Writers Program, you’ll start hearing about the Writers Retreat. You’ll learn that the location is kept secret until you arrive, that it changes from year to year to keep the mystery alive. If you’re curious, keep reading and you’ll find out where I ended up.

Before leaving Dublin at 8 am on Friday morning all I knew was the objective for the weekend: Eat well, sleep well, read well, write well. I seriously couldn’t imagine anything better.

Weirdly enough, I didn’t care that I had no idea where I was going. I’m a pretty Type A person. I like to be prepared and have a plan. This weekend, though, I was simply along for the ride. It was nice to let go of expectations and plans, to simply look out the window and wonder where I would end up.

As the bus started, I realized we were going north. We went through the street I drove with my parents (the one that reminds me of the Dark Hedges or a Victorian parkway). We got on the highway and it was strange to be driving the same route I traveled three weeks earlier. The road was so much greener, truly coming to life in these few short weeks.

Eventually, we stopped at the same rest station my family stopped at. At this point, I was intrigued because I knew where I was the entire time rather than being completely lost in a mystery.

Back on the bus, we crossed into Northern Ireland. Funnily enough, I hadn’t even realized that the North was a possibility even though the border is basically nonexistent. At this point, I decided to hedge my bets and lock in a guess of where we were going: Portrush, Northern Ireland. I desperately wanted to be right–not just to win but to return to the only town I wanted to go back to from my family’s road trip around the island.

We passed through Belfast, through Ballymena, and I was feeling weird. I still knew exactly where I was. As the miles passed, I became more and more convinced that we had to be going to Portrush but I didn’t want to disappoint myself. I tried to convince myself of Antrim but we passed that sign. I tried to convince myself of Coleraine but we didn’t take that exit either.

There was only one exit left: the exit for Giant’s Causeway and Portrush. It was then that I knew for certain that I was right. I was going back to Portrush. A grin spread over my face. I could not imagine a more beautiful place to spend the weekend.

After getting some lunch, I set out to explore the beach. When I was here a few weeks ago, I was only able to walk around the tip of the peninsula with my mom before we continued on our way. The beach was sandy, dunes rising in the background. As I explored, the wind was actually insane, whipping the waves into a frenzy, tossing spray into the air, and picking up sand and driving it along the strand.

Of course, this was fine until I turned around to make my way back into town. The wind hit me full in the face, catching me in its icy grip. Grains of sand were flung into my face. I wrapped my scarf around my nose, squinting to see while my eyes watered. And then it started raining. The shower was a brief one but I still managed to get drenched from the combination of wind and rain.

Later in the afternoon, I sat on the rocks by the shore watching the waves crash down, foaming bubbling up. As they rose, I could see tangles of seaweed swirling green before the water curled again. Wind whipped my hair and salt spray dusted my skin. It was wild and free and magical. Peaceful too. Slipping and sliding on the rocks, I searched for sea glass, filling my pockets. Naturally, a wave snuck up on me. I thought I could outrun it, but no. My feet were soaked for hours. I only brought one pair of shoes for the weekend.

Spoiler alert: this became the theme of the weekend. If anyone asks why I keep getting sick… just don’t.

The next morning, I woke up for the magical sunrise. Droplets of rain still fell and the wind was howling past my window. I went downstairs all the same and I am so glad I did. The waves were actually insane–foamy and crashing over the rocks, tossing spray into the air, over the railings, onto us. I could have watched for hours and I did return to the ocean many times that day. As we walked, my feet got soaked again. Similar to my sea glass hunt, a wave snuck up on me that I thought I could outrun. Naturally, I couldn’t.

Later, after warming up, reading, and working on a few projects, I set out to explore again. The sun came out and I needed to feel it on my skin. Plus, we were on the edge of the Atlantic, and staring out across all the empty space is such a fascinating perspective. It makes me feel small in this world. I did some more sea glass hunting and found so many beautiful fragments. From there, I set out on my walk, repeating the steps I took with my mom.

I went around the peninsula, the very tip of this stretch of land. Although the cliff isn’t particularly high, it’s somehow more striking than part of the Cliffs of Moher because there is no barricade. I was literally on the edge of the world, fighting the wind for my footing. The waves were wild and spray was just crashing over me. I swear, I have never been happier or felt more free than standing on the edge of that cliff.

Next morning, I woke up for the sunrise again. This time, I wore a swimsuit under my clothes because why not jump in? Plus, salt air, sunrises, wind on my skin, and rainbows make for the most beautiful morning.

We got down to the beach and this morning I was the only one wearing a swimsuit. Feeling self-conscious, I almost didn’t get in the water. That said, I wanted to go into the sea, wanted the rush of cold and adrenaline.

So I did. Alone, I ran into the sea and again it was the freest I have ever felt. It wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be–I’m convinced jumping into Lake Michigan on Easter last year was colder. To be honest, I felt like I could have stayed in the waves longer, but I knew I shouldn’t.

I came out of the water and was so happy and refreshed. Walking out of the ocean, the biggest smile spread across my face.

And, of course, it got better, confirming my decision to do that polar plunge. A rainbow spread across the sky, transforming from a wee pillar to a full arch. A second arch spread over the top, dim at first but quickly growing in strength.

Soggy and chilled, I ran across the peninsula because I knew the rainbow was going to come down into the sea. It’s the strangest thing here in Ireland–I can almost always see the end of the rainbow. Sometimes I wish the Pot of Gold myth was true. But, of course, it’s not and it doesn’t need to be. Personally, I think the real gold is the memories made and the beauty that lingers, waiting to be found.

I see God most clearly in rainbows and for this one to come as I rose out of the water… I’ll let you find your own symbolism in that.

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