A Garret of My Own

Sitting up in my garret room above a pub in the town of Clonakilty, Ireland, I am wishing that the sun would just go down so I could sleep, thank you very much, even though it’s only 8:30 pm and I should make the most of my time here and listen to some music in a pub in Recorder’s Alley. I should, but I am not going back down the crooked steps of this crooked house tonight.

Trad music in a Dingle pub

Trad music in a Dingle pub


I’m not going out, because I miss my husband, Brian. I miss our dogs, who seem to be having the time of their lives at our friends’ home in Portland, according to the photographs posted regularly. I miss our bed and my memory-foam pillow. And as good as the coffee is here in Ireland (seriously, who knew?), I miss the ritual of my early morning cappuccino and watching the news with Brian, pausing the television every few minutes to complain about the government.

I have been traveling for more than a month, first in Norway, then in Scotland, then back in Norway, and now in Ireland. I have been hiking hills, riding the rails, ferrying to islands and conversing with the myriad animals I meet along the way. Cramming in as much as daylight will allow, which is saying something in a northern European summer when the sun fills every cranny with radiance and warmth and stays up way past its normal bedtime, barely giving the moon space to flirt with the night. Then when the evening rolls around, I’ve been seeking out those quarters where I hear a fiddle being tuned, a pint being pulled and voices raised in song, or at least talking about the World Cup.

My hosts through airbnb have ranged from single mothers to couples, both gay and straight. I stayed with a Slovenian woman who immigrated to the west of Ireland with her young daughter and started a language school. I learned about whisky in Edinburgh, courtesy of our hosts who generously left two bottles at our bedside. I rarely saw my host in Oslo because it turned out she was now part of a couple with a three month old infant and was pretty busy with her own life. I rarely saw my host in Kenmare because I spent hours driving the roads of Kerry and the Beara peninsula. Eilish gave me a great recommendation for horse-riding though, and slipped tea and KitKat bars into my room while I was out, so she gets props for that.

I am currently staying with Maura, above her pub, which is cool because I get to fix myself breakfast in the pub’s kitchen and eat alone in the empty, shuttered bar early in the mornings. Not exactly sure why I find that pleasurable, but I do. Probably because the only time I am alone seems to be when I am sleeping. I expected I would feel lonely at times during this trip and I have, but that loneliness is fleeting and aimed specifically at Brian. And Gracie and Scout, the dogs.Scout packs herself

Solo travel has forced me out of my comfort zone and that has meant getting to know the people I meet on the road, on boats, and in bars. I have been asked about the weather where I live in Portland, Oregon (it’s pretty much like weather in Ireland, I tell them, which cements our relationship quickly), about how I am finding the driving on the left (doing well, though shifting with the left hand still requires focus) and about which team I am rooting for (the underdog, which seems to be the consensus, at least in Ireland). Admitting to being a writer brings its own questions: Are you famous? (From an American couple in county Kerry.) Do you know Stephen King? (Really?) And support: I will sell your memoir in my shop someday! (From a Clonakilty bookseller.) I have spoken and listened to kids and octagenarians, to yoga teachers and Cambridge academics, to guides and ghosts, to locals and immigrants and to other travelers.

Which is why, after a month of nonstop travel-related activity, and making friends of strangers, I have a hit a stone wall and I’m going to indulge myself by staying in my little garret room to read. My foam earplugs are coming out of their package and getting shoved into my ear canals to drown out the voices of the pub’s patrons, who have spilled out onto the sidewalk below my window. I will recharge my iphone and my brain and my traveling muscles, then get back out on the streets of Clonakilty in the morning.

Barbara Gabriel

Writer. Day Stealer. Chronic Traveler. Raised along Highway 61 in Minnesota, I ran away to sea & messed about in boats. I curse like a sailor and love travel, food, most people, and a well-fitting pair of boots. I try to combine those any chance I can.


  1. Fantastic writing. I can so relate to the need to give your brain a rest from taking it all in. Sensory overload. And it’s written through the voice of a poet.

    • Giving your brain a rest is the perfect way to put it. A traveling mind is a mind constantly whirling, diving, and soaring. All while checking to see that you still have your wallet.

  2. Kristin Kissell

    Your time has been full! Now it’s good to settle back and recharge. It is hard traveling alone, especially when you normally have such a wonderful traveling partner to share it all.

    • Traveling with my faithful companion has been the best part of my life, that’s for sure. But traveling alone does have its perks. I am usually afraid of heights, for example, but today I climbed the steep, tight spiral staircase inside a 100+ foot cathedral tower without giving it a second thought. I nearly got blown off the top with the fierce winds but it was worth it. The view was fabulous. And when I got back down I thought, “I wonder if I would have been so quick to do that if I weren’t alone?”

  3. Brilliant! Whisked me right back to life on the road, living at an accelerated pace and soaking up new experiences at every turn until you suddenly need to switch off and let it soak in. I could picture every moment.

  4. Kris Paterson Bechtell

    I find your blogs so interesting. It’s way out if my comfort zone to do what you’re doing, although I tend to be a loner. How rich you are making your life, even though you miss Brian, and the dogs. Cheers!

  5. Wonderful travel blog that makes me appreciate travel and home at the same time.

  6. Great job of immersing us in the atmosphere–and some of the moods–of travel. I’m savoring the unlikely prospect of a language school in the west of Ireland which offers Slovenian, and imagining how disappointed the locals were when it opened, as all along they’d been hoping it would be Slovakian.

    • You nailed it. I had a conversation with someone about the language school and my host and sure enough, the person assumed I meant she was Slovakian. By the way, the language school owner’s daughter, who is 13, speaks English, Slovenian, Irish and French and is working on Spanish. I spent two years in Turkish and remember maybe a dozen words, none of them polite.

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