From Scotland to Ireland via the generosity of strangers
On the 19th of June 2015 I flew into Edinburgh. I had no real plans or things I desperately wanted to see or do in Scotland, I just had a good feeling about the country. Whether it was because of the accent, the kilts, the monsters in the lakes, all I knew is that I wanted to explore the place.
A friend I’d connected with last year, through music in Slovenia, sent me a message asking about my European travel plans. I mentioned Scotland, and he instantly sent me a Facebook link to a friend in Edinburgh. I messaged the friend, mentioning my flight into Edinburgh in a few days. He wrote back, and suddenly I’d lined up a two-night stay.
At 6pm on the 19th I was on this stranger’s doorstep, a yet-to-be-made connection through a mutual friend and music. He welcomed me with open arms, very busy open arms— that night the five housemates were hosting an Electronic/Robot-themed party. Talk about feeling outside my comfort zone!
Travelling solo can be quite confronting and challenging—it’s hard to go out by yourself and work your way into an already established social circle. Sometimes things flow naturally but at other times you feel like an awkwardly positioned painting on an already cluttered wall; people sense your presence but don’t acknowledge you for longer than a glance.
Thrust into an excited, busily preparing household of strangers, it was challenging to hold a conversation about more than the next random object needing to be wrapped in foil, or about batteries and remote controls needing to be placed in visually confusing spots.
When everyone began relaxing and I felt less socially challenged, I talked to a housemate who’s a musician too. Five minutes into sharing details about my roughly planned European trip, and about the car I’d hired to drive around Scotland for the next four days, he asked me where I’d be going. I wasn’t sure so I said “Up around the North, maybe to Loch Ness, maybe over to the West. I want to experience the scenery and see the mountains.” He processed my words for a moment and said ” I’ve got a flat on the Isle of Skye, a Scottish island on the West Coast. I’ll give you my key and you can stay there for a few nights if you like.” Just like that, a stranger as of five minutes ago, offered me a place to stay, trusted me with his flat.
A day later I was driving across the North of Scotland to Skye. If there’s one thing I love nearly as much as playing guitar, it’s the freedom to drive wherever I want, for as long as I want, listening to whatever music I like, and stopping whenever I want. It’s liberating. I’ll remember this drive in particular, for years to come.
Along the road, the sights amazed me, from mountains still capped with snow in warming weather, to random red phone booths that appeared in bizarre locations.
A hillside covered in man-made rock towers was the highlight. Each tower remained intact, restoring my faith in humanity and our ability to respect each other’s creations. After closer inspection, I realised that many towers—like miniature memorials in a small graveyard—were dedicated to someone who has passed on. They’re called cairns in Scotland. When it snows in winter they’ll fall, but in spring they’ll be rebuilt.
Four days later I returned to Edinburgh for a night to stay with my new friends. After discovering that the festival I was to play in Ireland on the weekend was cancelled, they invited me to perform in the house concert they were hosting the next night. Just like that I had a replacement show.
I flew to Ireland next, and spent the week staying with various friends in Killarney, Killorglin, and Tralee, all friends of friends with whom I’d only connected briefly in the past. I made my way to Callan to play at Abhainn Rí Festival. On arrival, the organisers greeted me, fed me, showed me the sights of the town, and introduced me to more people than the Pope on Good Friday.
This beautiful community festival was run purely by volunteers, all of whom dedicate months of time to bringing extra life into the town for the festival week. From painting older greying buildings in bright colours, to a night of international dinner and dance, they created an infectious, uplifting atmosphere in the town.
When things already seemed far too good to be true, along came ‘Bridge Street Will Be.’ The main street was blocked to traffic for two hours so that the freely moving audience could be transported back in time through a one-of-a-kind performance by fifty volunteer actors. They reenacted scenes from the 1800s and 1900s in various houses and pubs along Bridge Street. The scenes were based on true stories from the town, from even that very street. I’ve never seen anything like it; it was world class. It was so gratifying to feel part of that community for a weekend.
In three weeks of travel in two countries I was overwhelmed by the compassion and generosity of strangers, strangers who had given me a place to stay, food to eat, wine to drink, and a home away from home. Strangers who are now dear friends. Friends for whom I hope to do the same in future.
Feature by Tullara Connors