I knew my first trip to Europe would be an adventure, but I underestimated how transformative the experience would be in my life. The sights alone are breathtaking. Between England and Ireland, we saw the majestic Cliffs of Moher, lovely shores of Brighton, stunning architecture in London, and the colorful seaside town of Cobh. However, there was one night in particular I will never forget. This night stands out not because of an immaculate setting or delicious food, but simply the people. That night, strangers felt like family and a tiny, new Irish town felt like home.
Haley and I had been traveling all day. A delayed flight out of England and two airport McDonalds meals later, our plane finally landed in Dublin as the sun set into the horizon. We settled into our bus seats weary but excited for the next week in the land of rolling green hills and mighty sea cliffs. We planned to stay the next two nights in Greystones, a tiny town just south of Dublin nestled on the coast. We connected with a family there we shared a mutual friend with. Jen, the one we shared a friend with, was meeting us at the bus stop. We had zero expectations, which is probably why the rest of the evening resonated so deeply with us.
We stepped off the bus to a small girl buried in a puffy, white jacket. Jen squeezed us tight with her fur-lined hood rubbing in our faces. To this day, I am still sure she is only made of the good things in life like sunshine and warm chocolate chip cookies. We felt like old friends as she showed us around town, sharing all the best local spots. The sun was long gone, but beyond the buildings we could hear crashing waves in the darkness. We walked to the family’s property, just a few blocks from the bus station. Quaint homes lined the left side of the street and to our right, the Irish Sea roared in the wind. Jen asked us all about our adventures thus far. I was struck by her genuine comments and questions; nothing was out of politeness, but only true interest.
We arrived at our home for the next couple of days. The family owned property with houses scattered around, all inhabited by family members and/or rented out to students from America. As soon as we dropped our backpacks, Jen walked us over to one of the other homes. Even though they were in the process of moving, nothing about this home felt empty. There was a sense of belonging from the moment we stepped through the door. We followed the faint sound of chatter and walked up the creaky, narrow steps. At the top of the staircase sat a fair sized room with only a well-loved sofa and a few chairs surrounding it. Two kind faces on the sofa welcomed us over. Stepping in, we saw the furniture faced two young men standing by a large hole smashed into a wall.
That’s right, a large hole in the wall.
Above the gaping hole appeared to be a beautiful wooden shelf. They were deep in thought, measuring the size of the hole. We all chuckled at the absurdity of the situation we just walked into. The guys explained they were building a fireplace. They had taken a sledgehammer to the wall to create the space and added the wooden “shelf” as a mantel. Their next step was adding a furnace they made out of scrap pieces. We eagerly filled in the empty seats to watch the rest of the process in awe.
My toes curled into the couch cushions as I tucked my legs in close and made myself into the seat. As if on cue, another friend joined us carrying a tray of tea. I cupped the warm mug in my hands. There was a slight chill in the air as raindrops pattered above us on the rooftop. The next few hours were nothing short of life giving and intentional. The room was full of conversation and sporadic sips of tea. I noticed the difference between the sound of conversation and the sound of simply talking to fill silence. No one was fighting to get the next word in or raising his/her voice to be heard above others. It was an easy, flowing conversation. We chose our words wisely in our responses to thought-provoking questions. We gave everyone a chance to share. I remember thinking to myself: this is exactly how things should be.
The conversation throughout the night varied over a wide span of topics. We spoke about cultural differences, told love stories, shared our dreams, and laughed over stories one would never think to tell a stranger. When a story finished, we asked each other questions rather than rushing into the next. No one even thought about his/her phone in our time together. It was a breath of fresh of air to be surrounded by people who enjoyed simply being with one another.
As we talked, the brothers finished the fireplace. It was beautiful even without the final touch ups. It was a perfect addition to the room in its rustic simplicity. What started as a hole in the wall was now a tool to bring warmth and hospitality. Hours later, our mugs were empty and the rain ceased. The night came to an end effortlessly. It was as if we all had been filled to the brim and wanted to end the night with its goodness still hanging in the air. Haley and I crawled into our beds eager to find what other gifts Ireland would bring in the next week. In a short amount of time, this new country already felt like home and we slept soundly. We originally planned to squeeze as much as we could out of Dublin, but instead we spent the next couple of days choosing what would give us life. We chose slow mornings and late nights with new friends. We walked to the local grocer for homemade, hot oatmeal and fresh fruit. We strolled along the rocky shore and let the Irish Sea rise around our ankles. We laughed with new friends on trivia night and joined in when pub-goers broke out into song just for the heck of it.
Our new friends portrayed the art of hygge in its purest form. I don’t know if that night was as profound for them as it was for me, but nonetheless I am forever thankful for it. Their warm, inviting spirits welcomed us into their family with their words, actions, and even the atmosphere they created. They leaned in, hanging on to every word we spoke. They reacted and asked questions that pulled us deeper than surface level conversations. I shared hopes and dreams I never dared to verbalize before. I knew I was safe curled up in that room surrounded by that special group of people.
The intentionality and gift of conversation of our new friends convicted me. For the rest of our trip, and still today, I consider how my words might change the atmosphere of a room. How can I welcome someone in and invite a surface-level relationship into something deeper? The warmth of that night was unexpected. Its depth, intentionality and simplicity were unmatched.
Our favorite Irish family holds the standard of hospitality and comfort for me still today. They did not worry over details and effort, but rather they chose simplicity and being present. In this, we were welcomed in the way our souls crave. Our hearts long for connection, and we found it across the sea among strangers in front of a beautiful hole in the wall.
About The Author
Lauren Grindstaff is a writer, reader, pizza-consumer, traveler, wife, creative, and aspiring baker. Hailing from the queen city of North Carolina, she studied in the mountains, fell in love in the Outer Banks, worked in Haiti, rode horses in the Rockies, and now resides in a small town of South Carolina. With a Public Relations degree and English minor, she loves any chance to create, work with people, and make something memorable. She thrives on Jesus' grace, exploring the outdoors, meaningful relationships, beautiful views, and real, life-giving conversations- preferably all with a warm mug in hand. Follow Lauren's Instagram @lalagrinds