i turned 23 last week.... 23!  and got to celebrate this milestone in ireland.  a pinch me moment if i do say so myself, and boy was it a surreal, unforgettable day.

my birthday is on may 29, which was just 5 days after i arrived in limerick.  i had planned to keep this little detail to myself... i didn't want to put any pressure on anyone in the area to feel like they had to do something special for this random, american stranger who just barely appeared and is now requesting birthday recognition!? i was okay with knowing that it would be a bit of a quiet, internal celebration and a kind of secret that only myself and friends and family from afar were aware of.  i was at peace with feeling a little lonely on this day.

but i stand corrected.  lonely i did not feel.  i was anything but lonely on may 29, 2016 and i am so humbled and touched at what a special day my irish family made it out to be for me.

it all happened as a result of a big, fat godwink.  imagine that!  isn't that how all the best stories start? it was my first day in the office and my internship supervisor holly and her right-hand woman ger were helping me get familiarized with the department, including talking me through the six day long itinerary for the visiting international group we had coming in that next day.  they'd mentioned that ger wasn't going to be attending sunday's festivities, as it was her birthday.  i stopped, totally taken aback, and repeated for clarification, "your birthday is sunday? the 29th? this sunday?"  she nodded and i responded in excitement, "that's my birthday, too!"  we were beyond thrilled at this little realization (nothing makes one feel more connected than a long-lost birthday twin) and they were quick to reassure me i was in no way obligated to hang along the tour on sunday if i'd rather spend my birthday elsewhere, but they promised it would be worthwhile.

OF COURSE i wanted to go!  i was tickled at the idea of doing anything besides sitting in my room by myself, waiting for my family to wake up so i could force them to video chat me all day, which were among my initial plans for the day.
the plan for the day was to head to killaloe, a breathtaking large village that lies on river shannon in county clare, ireland.  the bus wasn't to depart until 3 PM, so i had the morning to myself.  it was another (unusually) warm and sunny irish summer day, so i awoke with the sun, got ready, and stepped out to spend the morning exploring downtown limerick city by foot.
i'm picking up on a pattern within my travels: sunday mornings abroad are quiet.  very quiet.  it was a couple hours before noon, and nothing was open yet, nor was anyone out and about.  i really appreciate the simplicity of sundays abroad.  it's refreshing; i feel in the states there is a pressure about sundays paired with the overwhelming loom of monday's approaching that can be exhausting.  (it's likely that this is my tunnel-visioned, procrastinating student/graduate assistant perspective :))  but anyways.

it was a sunday!  and it was quiet.  i found my way to starbucks where i grabbed a coffee and caught up on my journaling.  my biggest regrets, always, are my negligence in documenting my experiences and adventures abroad, so i have vowed this summer that there will be no such irish regrets!  by the time i finished, the sun was out and so were the people, and it was time for me to grab some grub.

i have had my eye on a handful of different places around the city i want to try.  an irish sandwich place... an italian joint... a thai restaurant... indian cuisine... pubs, all of the pubs.  my list is growing and i need to implement some intentionality into my restaurant choices and eating schedule before i completely run out of meals to spend at all of these places!  however, here's the thing about a rachel: the rachels are indecisive creatures, especially when it comes to food.  not because a rachel is stubborn or picky, but because she truly wants it all.  in an exploratory, non-greedy sense.  how can a decision be reached when it all sounds and smells and looks so delectable?  why isn't it possible to get pad thai with a small cheeseburger and fish and chips and a side of curry and a crepe and spaghetti with an ice cream muffin for dessert? the answer to this question is, decisions are rarely reached.  in these moments, i panic.  i spend far too long wandering back and forth and back between restaurants, and instead of coming to a thoughtful decision i impulsively throw myself in to some RANDOM restaurant that wasn't even on the original list of 13 options.  on sunday may 29th, the 23rd anniversary of my birth, this lunchtime turmoil led me to the one and only: the chicken hut.

the chicken hut of all places, people.

in my defense, holly told me it was an experience that had to be had at some point during my stay here, but she probably meant like after a night on the town (lol) or some random afternoon snack with friends (also lol).  she probably did not mean for my gourmet birthday lunch.

nuggets, chips, gravy to dip, a coke, and a side of regret is what i had.  totally grossly good.  totally worth it.  totally going back.
i made my way back to my accommodation and it was off to killaloe we went!  the sun was out, the skies were clear, and it was warm, the perfect combination for an enjoyable boat ride.  we took an hour-long river cruise up river shannon/into lough derg, which separates ballina in county mayo and killaloe.  we then went across the water to killaloe (the boat actually departed from the ballina side) and toured the church there.  we were able to climb up to the bell tower, play the bells, and witness the most spectacular view - my favorite part about touring old churches.
by this point it was time for dinner and we went back across the river to ballina where we had a buffet picnic dinner set up for us at the restaurant flanagan's by the lake, right on the shore of lough derg.  dinner was delicious - four or five different grilled meat options, coleslaw salad, irish potatoes, bread, all followed by tea, of course.  ger showed up and joined us for tea and then, to my surprise, the waiter was bringing out a candle-donned snicker cheesecake straight to our table that holly had managed to sneak to him at some point... and the night ended with 100 new friends singing happy birthday to ger and myself.  she and i made wishes, blew out the candles, and chatted and laughed as the sun set behind us.  my heart swelled about 10 sizes that night.

on our way home, holly swung me by a lookout point in the countryside.  we'd managed to make it as the sun was setting over the water and we both just stood in silence for a few minutes, admiring god's work and the beautiful serenity that is ireland and my irish summer.
i am so grateful for ger and holly for making me feel so loved and cared for.  and not just on my birthday, but every single day since my arrival here.

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