“In seeing the essence of the country, I more clearly saw the essence of myself.”
This was the last thing I wrote in my notes on the bus ride from the AVIS car rental to the airport on the last day of traveling through Ireland. It’s not exactly what I would have expected my final reflection of the trip to be. In all honesty, these past two weeks were pretty spontaneous and more of an effort to spend quality time with a wonderful friend than an intentional effort to visit the country itself and learn more about its history, culture, and people. Focusing on graduate school and trying to find a practicum in Washington, D.C. consumed my planning capacity so I was already going into the trip with a let’s-play-it-by-ear type of attitude, which is hardly my style of travel—but anyway, I digress.
I did not expect my time in Ireland to be such an enriching experience of personal growth, and I contribute that growth to the open mindset I had before heading there. Of course I’d learned about the basic historical events that have shaped the nation’s history and some of the cultural tidbits and safety tips—driving on the left side of the road—but for the most part, I had no set expectations or preconceived notions of what I would experience. This changed the way I looked at things.
We started the trip by meeting in Dublin where the hustling bustling buzz of the city enhanced our excited arrival—as we had not seen each other in over three months, the longest time we’ve ever been apart. Of course we immediately went to a pub and ordered a Guinness—which, I might add, happened to be the thickest, smoothest Guinness I had ever had. Wandering around Dublin and catching up on life, we awed at Trinity College, St. Steven’s Green, the Christ Church Cathedral, the River Liffey, and the fabulous display of Christmas lights illuminating Grafton St. and the Temple Bar area. We celebrated my birthday at a pub in the heart of the city and sang and danced with new friends to live music until the wee hours of the morning.
Two days later, we rented a car and drove south (with tentative hostel plans and routes). We were both ready to get out of the city and see the countryside. This is where, to us, Ireland really came alive. I was very excited about the freedom that came with renting a car because it affords you the opportunity to slow down a bit and travel at your own pace. Mostly so I can stop and take pictures whenever I feel the urge.
I love photography as it forces me to see nature and people in a different light. I am constantly composing images in my mind and thinking of ways that photos can tell a story. Through observing and meeting people along our travels, I started noticing how important nature is to the Irish and the more I learned about Irish culture and about the country itself, the more the countryside spoke to me and the clearer I saw just how unique Ireland’s landscape is. I started changing the way I was composing pictures and subjects, and took pictures of what I think really captures the essence of Ireland.
Through doing this, I felt more connected to the country. In going out of my way to capture Ireland’s spirit, my entire travel experience changed and I started seeing Ireland in its rawest form, and what was most beautiful and unique about it. I started noticing the crook in the tree that gives way to the bend of the path, the sudden burst of light illuminating the field and creating a sharp contrast between the golden leaves and the dark river below, and the vibrant levels and layers that make up the hillsides.
It’s the little things, the quirks, twists, and curves all composed together that make something beautiful. The energy of the cities and towns we visited (Dublin, Killarney, Cork, Clare, Galway) was exhilarating, but it didn’t compare to the energy we felt in the countryside. Through photography I was able to slow down, be in the present and one with nature.
Every trip I go on fosters a new phase of self-discovery. Ireland made me realize just how much I love photography and that I need to stay connected to it. Remaining connected with who you are and what lights you up inside can be difficult. Sometimes in the craziness of life we forget who we are, where we come from, and what makes us most happy.
Space, nature, open air, and time for reflection in Ireland awakened me, set fire to my imagination, and helped continue to define who I am. Travel is most rewarding to those who give in to it. Welcome the interruptions with an open heart, listen to nature, talk with people—and the country you are visiting will convey to you whatever message it thinks you need to hear.
In between dreaming about the unknown and jump-starting her career Lauren Leary tries to stay grounded through reading, music, running, and photography. Currently, she’s living in Washington, D.C. pursuing an MA in International Development. She constantly finds herself seeking truth and tries to capture and portray nature & humanity in its rawest form. Follow her on Instagram @LMleary and check out more of her photography on Flickr.