UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

A Letter to Wicklow

Dear Mr. Fitzgerald,

You don’t know me. But I owe you a great debt, for your castle in Wicklow has been
a great source of joy for me. I suppose you never would have imagined that some
900 years later, four American students would be crawling around the ruins of
your black castle, but we did, and we fell in love with Ireland through you and your
fortress.

Three friends and I had set off for a day trip to Wicklow (we are studying in Dublin
for the summer) and encountered an obstacle at the bus station in the form of a
discontented local who adamantly assured us that there was nothing worth seeing
and no fun to be had in Wicklow. After much debate, we stood at the door of the bus
and finally decided to risk it and venture into the supposedly horridly boring
unknown. After an hour and a half bus ride we arrived in a rain soaked and
windswept town without a clue as to where to go, so we merely ran to the nearest
building to avoid being soaked through by the torrential rain.

The building we found ourselves in was the prison Wicklow Gaol. Thankfully, it is
no longer a functioning prison, but rather, a museum detailing the plight of
prisoners past. It was a dreary and depressing place, but it was informative and it
kept the rain off. We wandered through cells with figures and working models,
entered the dungeon where Theresa was brave enough (or ridiculous enough,
depending on your perspective) to enter a solitary confinement cell, engulfed in
darkness, and instructed me to shut the door. I did. We were both terrified. We ran
back up the stairs and squirmed for a moment. Then we recovered ourselves and
continued on to the final part of the museum, which was a recreation of the deck and
captains quarters of a ship, the likes of which would have transported prisoners to
Australia to end their days toiling away on farms- indentured for life for the females,
perhaps having gained their freedom by their life’s end for the men.

Depressed and pensive (and in my case, reconsidering Les Miserables) we
wandered off in search of a pub that the jailer –a very nice chap after his role had
been played at the beginning of the tour- had recommended to us for lunch. Instead,
we stumbled upon your castle. Well, what is left of it anyway. You may be distressed
to know that it has fallen into ruins, but oh what beautiful ruins remain.

It was still raining, but we stumbled over slippery stone steps, and after having
danced through a wide green field, we came to the edge of the cliff, and to the castle.
Though damp, we explored every nook and cranny left of the place, in some cases
dangerously climbing over slick rocks that fell directly into the ocean. The wind, the
rain, and the rock might easily have killed one of us at any moment, but the beauty
was overwhelming, and our sense of self preservation became second in priority
to fully experiencing this moment. A moment that will never, and can never be
replicated. A moment of truth. A moment of love.

We looked out from our perch on the edge of a cliff, clinging to umbrellas though
they did nothing to keep off the rain, watching waves crash violently onto the beach
below, then following their trajectory to a landscape of green rolling hills complete with barely visible dirt paths and a lighthouse that was a mere speck through the storm.

I fell in love with Ireland then. Do not misconstrue my meaning, for I have loved
every second of my time on this island (through the sleep deprivation, homework,
and constant cloud cover), but the city, any city, is very much the same here as it
is in America. There are shops, cars, people-manmade life that is contradictory to
nature. This was a place of divine creation. A place of magic in whatever form you
believe in it, be it religious, or of the fae.

We left then -soaked to the bone- in search of the same pub, which we subsequently
found and ate at. Two hours later, after a wonderful meal and much bonding, we
returned to your castle, sans rain. This time we brought with us cider, artisan bread,
and Irish candy, which we proceeded to eat while telling stories and enjoying each
other’s company. Then we ventured out onto the rocks, further this time (as death
was not so imminent without the rain to threaten us), and meditated. With the castle
wall to our backs, jagged rocks beneath our feet, and nothing but the Irish sea in
front of us, we sat in bliss.

As the sun set upon your castle, so did our time in this magical city. We returned
to Dublin, and went back to our lives of homework and omnipresent Guinness
advertisements. But for an afternoon, we found a place of our own that was
beautiful and magical and entrancing and love-inducing, and the picture-perfect
escape from reality. From everything that is imperfect in this world. And I wanted to
thank you for that.

I shall henceforth be indebted to you for this gift that you have bestowed upon me
and upon my friends. Thank you for giving us Ireland.

Humbly yours,
Emma Pell

(Maurice Fitzgerald built the Black Castle after the Norman invasion in 1176)

Emma Pell is a Senior at UC Berkeley, double majoring in Rhetoric and Interdisciplinary Studies Field with a concentration in Folk Art and Culture, minoring in  Theater and performance studies. She has studied abroad in Florence and Dublin, and fully intends to move to Florence someday. She enjoys traveling, reading obscure Russian plays, and singing with her a cappella group.