Episode 9 - A Hundred Thousand Goodbyes

Episode 9, The One Where Bridget Gets Evicted From Ireland.

Shortly after Ella flew home, the world shut down. Now, again, not dwelling, but this was a strange period of rapidly moving information in which no one knew what was going on. Ella decided on her own to beat the crowd, but her leaving was just the first. I remember following the stories of trips of family in Italy getting cut short and watching as schools communicated flight plans. When John Carroll closed down back in Cleveland before we heard anything, we assumed the worst. We had radio silence instead. It was weird.

Wanting to wait things out as long as possible, I refused to book a ticket home until I was absolutely sure that was the move.

I went to a class on March 11th where I was one of two students in attendance, and almost immediately after received communication that NUIG was closing its doors. But, John Carroll still didn't communicate the fully paid plane tickets they offered to other programs.

Double rainbow the day NUIG canceled classes

I spent that week jumping around to see different people, enjoying the brief period of naive ignorance that cases would continue to escape this area. I went to Lorie's and met up with her friends before they flew back to France. I grabbed Nachos with Zara while a Conference from WHO played on the TV above us. We cleaned our hands with bottles of Tequilla marked "Hand Sanitizer" and walked home through town where my actual hand sanitizer was stolen clean off my backpack keychain.

A family friend from grade school was in Galway on one of the days that week on a spring break trip (because trips were still happening... this was what made everything so confusing). We got ice cream at one of the spots that didn't have "on vacation due to COVID-19" on their doors. Stay-at-home orders weren't in effect, travel warnings weren't placed on Ireland yet, and Hannah was able to get home without any issues.

Thursday, March 13th, Disney World closed its doors. A girl from my University booked a $1,500 flight home. Alex was back with his family and it was just Matilda and me in our apartment, along with a girl who decided to move dorms the week she was fleeing the country (again, strange times). We did not love this new visitor of ours, as Matilda was quoted on the arrival of our new friend as saying, "NOW THAT is what I thought Americans were like from watching TV!" 

I face-timed a friend from John Carroll in a pub in Galway, where I explained that I still didn't know what I was doing. Life was at a stand-still.

“In most towns, a local might tell you where you go. In Ireland, they drive you there.” 

One thing that rang true through this whole endeavor was that sentiment. I headed to my favorite bakery on one of my last days to snag a final loaf of gluten-free focaccia. Never have I felt an offer as sincere as the woman who caught my American accent in her bakery, genuinely asking if I had a plan to return and whether I needed any money, food, or support in the time between my flight. 

My Lovely Loaf from my friend Michelle

Michelle, as she introduced herself, had me write down her number and told me to call her the minute I landed, and not a minute later. (I did, in fact, message her over Instagram when I was back. We already have plans for tea when I return someday...).

I think I had flight plans by March 14th, or I at least knew time was coming to an end. Matilda and I brought our bedding and clothing that wouldn't fit in suitcases to those that we always saw sitting outside stores asking for money (International Labre!!). I got a final drink with Kevin, our original Irish host who had studied abroad at John Carroll the fall before our trip, Zara, and the other John Carroll girls. The bars would close the next day and we would enter a total lockdown/stay-at-home order on March 18th (I think).

We said our goodbyes to Kevin and I saw Zara off to her bus back to Salthill in town, but there was still one last Irish adventure left in me.

Galway sits on the coast of Ireland, staring directly at the North Pacific Sea. In warmer months, when the tide is a little higher, there is an infamous yellow platform you can dive off of west of Galway. The weather had been, well, typical for Jan/Feb weather, so diving off the platform into the ocean was never in the question. But when I got a call on St. Patrick's day asking if I wanted to swim 22 hours before my flight home, you ignore the 43 degrees weather prediction and pair your leggings with the suit you were supposed to bring to the beaches of Italy.

I walked the few miles it took through the rain with two of the remaining John Carroll students for our big "beach day". The water was cold, there was no way around admitting that, so all I could truly commit to diving into the Pacific was a sprint from the beach at full force, and a full, diving embrace into the crashing waves. This sounds majestic when I describe it as such, but it was truly more of a glorified belly flop (there is a video of this happening, in which you can hear one of the girls say to me, "Did you... fall?". False confidence, people). The town was totally empty. We drank canned Gin & Tonics by the beach and shared our favorite stories.

The juxtaposition of the three in winter coats and our suits really screams, "beach day in Ireland".

I stayed up that night talking to Matilda until my bus to Dublin, promising her I would visit should I ever find myself in Sweden again. Our new and slightly insufferable roommate was trying to book a flight to Peru, where things were still open. I wished Matilda the best with her and promptly fled apologetically.

Matilda and I hours before my flight left

I called an uber to my bus, who gave me the number of his wife, in case my flight was delayed and I needed a place to stay. “There are few troubles in life that a warm meal and bed to sleep in cannot help to fix,” he told me as he wrote down his contact information. I ran into Lorie at the dead empty airport, and we filled out sheets that said we had not traveled to any of the following hot spot coronavirus locations. I loaded my plane of 500 seats with 30 other passengers and slept through the whole 7 hours.

I grabbed my bags from the plane, talked to a girl who I knew from NUIG who had to catch a connecting flight to Minnesota, and queued behind other travelers from all over in the re-entry line.

We were greeted by men in full hazmat suits. Seriously. They were wearing N-95 masks, face-shields, gloves and full body protective suits to check our passports. 

I handed my passport to a worker who read over my address listed, lifted his head to look at me and said, "Ah, Illinois... Welcome back home, Bridget."

Tears were a-flowing.


2020 brought about a lot of trying new things & redefining ways to experience life. Not just because I was lucky enough to spend a few months of it studying abroad, but also because I included a tent among my college packing list. I was lucky enough to spent the latter half of my year camping in the Adirondacks, visiting Niagara Falls, and hiking around spots in Cleveland. Finding ways to seek new adventures while staying safe stands upon my list of things I'm most grateful for in 2020. The experiences I gained will stick with me as stories to share for years to come.

I am so grateful to have those tales under my belt, and even more grateful that you were all here to read along with me.

Thank you for listening.

Irish Phrase of the Week: céad míle fáilte = a hundred thousand welcomes (the first phrase I used, more prevalent than ever)

If you missed any of my stories along the way, they're all archived at this link. Thank you again to Siobhainn O'Connor for featuring me!

With Love from (Cleveland),