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St. Patrick's Day in Dublin and drinking poitín on Scarr Mountain

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Celebrating St. Patrick's Day in Dublin
Celebrating St. Patrick's Day in Dublin

How do you know it's Paddy's weekend in Dublin? Because a sign in the tattoo shop window offers a discount on all shamrock or Irish-themed tattoos, because vendors have popped up selling huge furry green hats and long Ireland scarves, because the Luas into town at quarter past 5 is as jammed as the one leaving, because Carroll's is selling a truly huge amount of merchandise, because the Liffey is flanked by orange and white and green banners, because an old man in a glittery jacket with bells on his shoes is dancing sean nós at the bottom on Grafton Street, because there are teams of Americans with matching jackets roving in packs, and because your calves are sore from the ceili at Stephen's Green.

I spent the actual day, however, climbing Scarr Mountain in Co. Wicklow with a group of Danny’s college friends. When we parked the cars and began walking up the road, it was drizzling lightly and overcast. We missed the entrance to the trail, and instead improvised our way back to it by climbing delicately over several barbed wire fences and scampering through the woods bent double under the low branches. Eventually we were climbing uphill through scrubby heather and gorse – the mountain must be beautiful when they’re blooming.

Never having climbed Scarr before, visibility not being perfect, and being told “we’ll be done by lunchtime, it’s nothing taxing,” I kept falling victim to the “oh, there’s the top!” syndrome, wherein I would reach said top to see a new peak rising before me, over and over! But the company was good and slope wasn’t too steep, so we happily pushed on. As we ascended the rain turned to snow, and the higher we got, the more was sticking to the ground. The snow hid the pockets of wet mud and made it all look like solid frozen ground, so by the end of the day everyone’s shoes were black with muck up to the ankle (and there was more than one muddy bottom).

At the summit there was about an inch and a half of snow on the ground, and very strong winds. We couldn’t see anything beyond our immediate surroundings, so I can’t tell you anything about the sweeping vistas – all I saw was cloud. Looking around, someone said “We could be anywhere.”

So we huddled as out of the wind as we could, sat on jackets, ate the rolls of biscuits we’d carried from Roundwood, and gulped some poitín distilled by one of Danny’s friend’s dads. “Drink poitín” was on my list of things I wanted to do this year, and what more satisfying way to do so than on top of a mountain on St. Patrick’s Day? It was much easier to drink than I’d been warned, tasting like a hybrid of whiskey and vodka and leaving me with a tingling tongue and a very warm tummy for the journey back down. We didn’t stay at the top for too long because we started to absolutely freeze, and the slippery (or “slippy,” as they say here) journey down was much quicker than the way up.

We lost the trail again when we got back to the forest and the fields, but the sun was shining now and the views were back.  And would you believe it but there was a rainbow over one of the loughs? I thought surely, if there were ever to be a pot of gold at the end of one, it would just have to be this one on Paddy’s Day in the country with the poitín and all... 

When we finally popped out of the trees, we were less than fifty yards away from the cars. Stopping at Danny’s house on the way back to Dublin for a quick cuppa, we were able to steal the tail end of their Sunday lunch, with stew and mash for all! I hope you all had just as lovely a St. Patrick’s Day!

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