Discovering Santiago in the heart of Dublin (eventually)
Total km on foot: 11.38mi / 18.31km
Towns traveled through: Santry, Coolock, Edenmore, Raheny, Fairview, Temple Bar
Dublin was always the plan. It’s not only a more affordable way to get to Spain than many European cities, it’s also where I flew through on my first Camino. I was excited to be there again.
Due to a scheduling snafu, I had an overnight stay in Dublin plus eight hours to kill before checking in to my AirBnB room (which was fantastic!) for the night. At the insane hour of 6am, my host Rebecca picked me up at the airport and brought me to her and Rob’s place. After a short shower, I even had time to take a quick nap. Just laying down on the bed felt soooo goooood after the trans-Atlantic red-eye.
When my hosts left for work, I set out. My goal was to walk downtown about five miles to St James’ Church, home to the Camino Society Ireland. It’s not far from the Guinness Brewery, and rumor had it that I could receive my very first credential stamp there. I’d printed out a map on Google and planned to return by the same route to be home in time for dinner. I thought walking there would be a breeze. Fortunately, I packed a good attitude.
There was a cool breeze and overcast skies as I set out at 8:30am from Rebecca and Rob’s cozy suburban neighborhood on foot. Within a few minutes, I ran straight into a busy highway and a frightening roundabout with no sidewalks. Cars everywhere. My Google map made it look easy: just walk along the M50 into the heart of Dublin. In reality, it became clear these instructions meant walking along the break-down lane of a major four-lane highway. No way.
At a break in traffic, I fled across the roundabout onto the grass. There, I took stock. A more peaceful-looking street went in the opposite direction to the M50. I wasn’t sure where it led, but it was a better alternative to death! On this less-busy route, I passed a church, a sports field, and several corporation complexes. I was one of many people out walking—some with their little dogs, others headed to school in identical well-pressed uniforms, others in professional outfits talking on cell phones. How novel to be among other walkers.
Periodically, I’d look at my map for insight, but I had no idea where I was. Maybe I was headed south toward town. Eventually, I asked an older woman with a little dog on a leash how to get to Dublin city. She looked at me quizzically—first for my odd accent, then for the oddity of the question—and said, “Well, dear, you take the bus!”
“No, no,” I explained. “I want to walk there. I’m trying to walk to Saint James’ church.”
The expression on her face gave me no hope. She didn’t know how to direct me. “Good luck, then,” she said. Undaunted, I continued.
After an hour, I had a funny feeling I was near the sea. I couldn’t see it or smell it, but I sensed saltwater nearby, with boats afloat and gulls screaming. This brought to mind fond memories of my grandmother Peg, the most adventurous person in my family by a long shot. If she were here, I thought, we’d be off to the nearest pier and skip the church visit entirely. Smiling at the memory of her adventurous spirit, I carried on.
In a grassy park, I ran across a mother and teenage daughter walking together, chatting animatedly.
“Sorry to bother you,” I interrupted. “I’m trying to walk into Dublin city. Can you tell me the way?”
They looked dumbfounded, first at me, and then at each other. The mother piped up, “You take the bus there. The nearest stop is just…” she pointed off toward the road.
“Actually, I’m trying to walk there,” I said.
“Goodness. I don’t know. I think if you keep going on this path past the old folks’ home, you’ll get there. Good luck to ye.” With a small wave, they continued on with their conversation.
Well, this response settled into a trend. In Raheny, a retiree out with his dog listened as I recounted why I was walking from Santry to Dublin town. When he mentioned the bus, I started wondering just how far off course I’d gotten. We found Raheny on the map. The road I’d taken at the roundabout went east, miles away from Dublin center and toward the sea, just as I’d sensed.
“Well, if you’ve got the time, you stay on this road a very long way, and you’ll get there,” he said. “Or there’s also the bus—which should be along any minute.”
“I’ve got lots of time, so I’ll go on foot. Thank you so much for your help.” As I walked away, I had the distinct sense he watched me go. Even in a city of walkers, the distance I’d chosen was remarkable and odd.
By now, I was getting hungry and passed a pub and a bank beside it. I couldn’t make up my mind. Should I go in and eat? Should I just have the snacks I brought? This indecision signals hunger, but I went into the bank to change some of my larger bills, ate a protein bar, and continued on.
The sun had come out as I walked through yet another suburban neighborhood. As I passed a tiny, young Indian woman, she gave me a bright-eyed and friendly look. “Hi,” I said.
“Hello,” she replied.
I decided to go for it. Again. “I’m walking from here to Dublin center. Does this road take me there?”
She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yes, it does. I’m certain.”
“Thank you! I’ve been walking all morning in the wrong direction, but I want to get to Saint James’ church. So it’s just straight on this road all the way in?”
“Oh, yes. I’m going that way now. I’ll walk with you and show you.” And she did. Camino angels are everywhere. It was lovely to have a friendly, chatty walking partner–especially because I knew I’d be alone on my upcoming Camino.
After we parted, I continued walking toward my destination, stopped at a tiny library to send an email home, then at an adorable cafe with amazing coffee. Within an hour, I was growing very tired, but the scenery started to look familiar. I’ve been here! I walked along the River Liffey and through Temple Bar, which I’d seen twelve years earlier on a solo trip to Ireland.
With a few more inquiries, I found myself standing before Saint James’ church at last. Hanging between its dramatic arched doors was a banner declaring The Camino starts here. At my feet I saw a spray-painted yellow arrow and promptly burst into tears. After hours of walking and hours more traveling from my home, here was a confirmation. I am a pilgrim. I am on the Way.
Although the welcome center and church were officially closed, a friendly woman from the office stamped my credencial. She didn’t think it was at all strange that I’d walked from Santry. “Well done!” she said and wished me a buen camino.
It was finally time to go home to Santry, but I had no qualms about the bus. Now that I was tired, the Camino angels came out in full force. At the bus stop, I struck up a conversation with a retired couple. They helpfully confirmed the route number I needed. As we chatted, I shared that I was leaving tomorrow to walk the Camino de Santiago.
“Oh, how lovely!” said the woman.
“We’ve always wanted to do that,” said the husband.
“This is my second time,” I shared. “I walked it three years ago, but now I’m returning to walk it in reverse, from the Atlantic Ocean back to the beginning in France.”
“How ambitious! You liked it the first time then!”
“I really did. It was a life-changing experience for me.”
“Have you got change for the bus?” the man asked.
Surprised, I said I had a five.
“Oh no,” he said. “That won’t do. You need exact change. Here…” He rummaged around in his pocket and then, with a palm full of jingling coins, he counted out my fare.
“I couldn’t. I’m okay, really.”
The man extended his hand and said, “There you go. This is our way of going with you to Santiago. Say a prayer for us when you get there, won’t you?”
* * *
On the ride back to Santry, nothing looked familiar from the bus windows. I couldn’t remember what the neighborhood or nearby intersections looked like. What if I miss it? Wasn’t there a church nearby somewhere? Seeing me stand up in the bus and look like a crazy person inspired several of my fellow passengers to help me. One man looked at my map and other passengers gave opinions on which stop I needed.
When I stepped off the bus, nothing looked familiar. No four-lane highway. No roundabout. Walking a few minutes clarified nothing. A woman out for an evening walk looked surprised when I asked for help. While we frowned together at my map, a cyclist stopped and said, “Lost, are ye?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m staying with some friends nearby, but I left for a walk early this morning and have kind of forgotten my way back. The turn is near a church, but I can’t seem to find it on this street.”
“There’s a lot of churches around here,” he laughed.
“It’s Blessed somebody’s chapel,” I added unhelpfully. I showed him the address.
“I know where you’re going. Follow me.” We said goodbye to the lady, crossed the wide but not-busy street, and approached an elderly man painting his fence in front of his home.
“Hello. Nice work you’re doing there,” the cyclist said. “We’ve got a lady here trying to find her way to Oak Avenue. It’s nearby, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yeah. Just on the other side of that church there.” I hadn’t recognized it from the back. I was only one street off.
“That’s just what I thought,” the cyclist replied. “Thank ye.”
Around the corner we went. Suddenly everything looked familiar. In front of us was the path I’d come from that morning, which led into the development.
“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you so much. You have no idea how much trouble you’ve saved me.”
“So, you’re good now. I’ll be on my way then.” He clipped in his shoes and rode off.
I was good now thanks to these angels. I walked along eagerly through the subdivision, and with growing dread realized I didn’t recognize Rob and Rebecca’s house. I didn’t see Rebecca’s car. And with no phone to call them, I didn’t know what to do. I walked up and down their road, muttering to myself, “Which one is Oak Avenue?” Every road in the development was called Oak something—Lane, Drive, Court, Circle… but no Avenue.
After the third pass, I was starting to get really anxious when a sketchy-looking car pulled into a driveway ahead of me. As the man got out, he looked less than thrilled to be stopped by a lost Yank, much less one needing directions. But I was desperate.
“This is Oak Avenue,” he said.
“Yeah,” he sighed.
“I keep looking for the house that has the white Mini. That’s my friends’ house.”
“Well there’s usually a white Mini parked two doors down. That them?”
“I don’t know. I thought they were on a side street. I have their number, do you think you could call them for me?”
He was not in the mood to be a good Samaritan, but handed me his phone.
“We’re not on a side street,” Rebecca clarified. She was at work, but said she’d had a feeling it was me calling. “We’re on the main street. Green door.” Sure enough, it was two houses down.
Embarrassed but grateful, I thanked the sketchy guy. “You were right,” I said.
He nodded and without another word walked into his house.
As I approached the correct door, it opened and a smiling teddy bear of a guy asked, “Are you Jennifer?”
“Yes! Are you Rob?”
“Yes! Welcome! Rebecca told me to expect you. Do you want some tea?”
Even though I was tired, I felt happy to have survived my crash course in being lost and thankful it was in English. I felt more confident I could do the Camino in reverse too. That night, despite every effort to stay awake, I fell into blissful and uninterrupted sleep at 7:30pm. While I would leave for Spain the next day, I was just glad to be prone, accounted for, and found at last.