Culture / Travel

My Real-Life Engagement Fairytale: Young Houston Couple Finds Love Amid the Cliffs and Castles of Ireland

BY // 06.10.17
photography Catarina Williams

Kyle Clarkson and I met in Austin. The year was 2009 and I was a senior in high school and visiting my sister, who was then a University of Texas student. We kept in contact following this first encounter, and became good friends. One of the things that impressed me about Kyle was his penchant love for history, in particular Irish history.

I had no idea how important Ireland would become in my own life until after dating for three years I decided to invite him to the Emerald Isle. We purchased plane tickets for the one-week trip with anticipation for what the journey would bring.

While my knowledge of Ireland is not as expansive, I was looking forward to discovering a new place. Any guest of Kyle’s apartment could observe the several ceiling-tall overflowing bookshelves and discover his love of literature. An avid poet, he schooled me on Irish history before as well as during the trip. Once I was immersed in the picturesque countryside, majestic cathedrals and Irish pastures, I had a desire to never leave.

Ireland is a country of rolling green hills and amicable friendliness. Our first encounter with the Irish was as impactful as it was memorable. “Kyle is a teacher and I work at a legal newspaper,” I explained to our customs agent once we landed. With a smile he replied, “So you have to schedule your holiday whenever he has holiday, and he only has holiday when the students are out.”

We instantly started laughing. As a Texan, I am familiar with Southern hospitality. In Ireland, the hospitality extends without boundaries. There is a desire for the people to possess a likability factor. This charm and appeal was noticeable throughout our trip from almost every person we met.

When we first arrived to the Fitzwilliam Hotel, I flung open the window in our room and became perceptive of the sounds around me. Church bells sung in the distance and numerous seagulls were calling. The smell of sea salt hung with a damp stillness in the air. I couldn’t wait to walk around the town.

We visited the Little Museum of Dublin on our first day and were greeted by our guide for the civic-sponsored  “City of a Thousand Welcomes” tour. This was a free private tour led by a local who directed us to landmarks and shared Dublin lore. Our guide was also a history teacher like Kyle, and gave us tips of things to do that we would have never found in our travel guides.

The existence of this tour displays the amount of generosity the Irish people have, and their yearning to make others feel welcome in their city.  

A chance encounter one morning with a bar manager led us to visit Sweny’s Pharmacy, which was featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses, and we got to sit in on a reading from Finnegan’s Wake. We entered the small, cramped pharmacy and had barely any room to sit. We were given a copy of the book to read along out loud. Stacked from floor to ceiling were volumes which permeated the room, making it smell like an old book itself.

We sat in a circle and each person read a small paragraph from Joyce’s classic aloud. The Dublin locals spoke fluidly and with cohesion. When I read the work, being unfamiliar with it, I stumbled and definitely lacked poetry. After reading a page or so, the guests took turns discussing the work. The amount of literary knowledge the local readers possessed was astounding. As the readers dissected the paragraphs, explaining words I was unfamiliar with and references I did not know, I was enthralled. The people of Sweny’s were intellects, with a knowledge of history and literature.

After Sweny’s, we walked a few blocks to The Merrion, a five-star Georgian-style hotel surrounded by other buildings of similar architecture for afternoon high tea. We were pleasantly greeted and escorted to one of the drawing rooms. The spacious rooms were filled with antique sofas and grand oil paintings adorned the walls. Ornate filigree moldings decorated the ceiling, while a fire made the room nice and cozy. The star of the afternoon was the serving tray groaning with delectable scones, clotted cream, and finger sandwiches, which we paired with whiskey-flavored tea. The desserts featured artfully crafted cakes and pastries, the chef’s interpretation of different paintings displayed within the drawing rooms. 

Ireland has a rich history. A normal conversation for a Dubliner is that of their country’s history. This was unfathomable to me, that so many locals knew so much knowledge of their country. While walking past a club one night, we overheard two younger men outside arguing. I assumed it was a conversation of no importance until Kyle mentioned to me that the pair were arguing over how St. Patrick’s day originated. This completely surprised me.

A highly awarded hotel for its food, business and design, the Clointarf Castle Hotel offered a much needed rest from hectic Dublin.

Near the end of our week we ventured off into the to the suburb Clontarf, a small seaside town nestled 30 minutes shy of Dublin.

The taxi ride allowed our driver to give us a historical lesson about the battle that occurred in Clontarf. He told us about Brain Boru, who was the last high king of Ireland who drove away the Vikings from the area. We arrived to the Clontarf Castle Hotel, a 12th-century castle situated blocks away from the seaside. The interior of the lobby is the original castle and is decorated with clever artwork from the ceiling to the walls. I energetically explored the castle.

Decadent food from the the Knights Bar made this hotel my favorite. The unique castle pub had dark wooden-floors and overstuffed comfy chairs. Delighted, I ate my hamburger and fries— the best I’ve ever tasted — while listening to a crackling fireplace.

Our trip included a scenic daytime diversion to the Cliffs of Moher. This was the first time we saw the sun. Homes were nestled within the green pasture, and sheep grazed making for a picturesque vignette. If you have seen the Princess Bride movie, the cliffs were featured as the “Hills of Insanity.”  

As we came closer to the cliffs, ominous clouds loomed overhead. A older man provided a nice melody to listen to blowing his tin whistle during our walk to the overlook. The gargantuan cliffs hug the water’s waves as they broke against the rocks. With the dark sky brought dense grey fog that obscured our vision on the bluff. Only the winding pathway on the cliff’s edge provided us a direction to follow.

As we continued our walk, Kyle began to talk about how he is looking forward to future travels together. We stopped along the path and faced each other. Kyle pulled out a dark blue jewelry box from his jacket and got down on one knee. “Will you be my wife?,” he asked. Surprised with delight I blurted, “Yes!”

Electrified from the proposal, upon returning from the bus I immediately told our tour guide. Once we were situated in the bus he said, “Two good things happened while we were on the cliffs: one, the fog cleared and two, Kyle and Catarina are engaged!”  We were greeted with applause and well wishes.

Dublin is a quaint town yet more energetic and vibrant than I could have imagined. It is a country whose people take great pride in their past, their present, and future. Ireland is usually described as a country of underdogs always fighting battles bravely, but losing them. Kyle mentioned to me a quote that accurately summarized the Irish people we met. In the book by R. F. Foster titled The Irish Story, he quoted author Elizabeth Bowen: “In Dublin, as in the rest of Ireland, if you do not know the past you only know the half of anyone’s mind.”

If you cannot learn from your history, you will not know your future. As I reflect on this life-changing Irish journey, I had no idea how much of my personal history would be re-written, but I know a very exciting future lays ahead of me.

Discover Weber Pellet Grill at Bering's

Curated Collection