New year’s day walk with Celine Dion

I’m not one for new year’s resolutions. They seem like a recipe for failure. If you want to get fit, or lose weight or quit smoking then an arbitrary date – January 1st – isn’t going to inspire you to be successful. Especially not in the cold heart of winter. If you’re going to pick a random date on which to change your life, then summertime may be a wiser option. Wouldn’t a July 17th resolution be more tolerable.

Having said that, it is the new year and I felt that I ought to do something worthy. Like going for a walk. I was back in Dublin after my stay at home. I was going to get on the DART – Dublin Area Rapid Transit which is the coastal commuter train service that goes from Greystones in County Wicklow to Howth in north county Dublin – and attempt the Howth Head walk.

I’ve been to Howth before – once during the summer when I had a visitor from the Netherlands, where we took a walk on the beach; another time for a fish and chip lunch with visitors from Limerick before they went to the Bruce Springsteen concert. Never had I done the coastal loop before though.

I wrapped up well, as a step out onto the balcony indicated that the air was bracing today. Heavy winter jacket, gloves, hat and scarf to combat the cold. An umbrella was shoved into my stylish man bag – simply because this is Ireland where you’re never more than half an hour from a downpour.

The train journey was interesting thanks to some local Dublin flavour. Two gentlemen boarded and despite the plenitude of empty seats they decided to sit on the floor, by the door with their cans of extra strength lager. They looked a bit weather-beaten. At least they weren’t thirsty though – from the look of the them and their aroma they had already consumed a few festive beverages – perhaps accompanied by some chemical pick me ups. They were thrashed. Their conversation was deep. One of the men was rather good looking, but I decided against complimenting him on his handsome face – he may not have appreciated my compliment. Or perhaps he would have appreciated it – I didn’t feel that this was the time or the place for a new friendship though. He regaled his pal with his wisdom. He revealed that because people of the Jewish faith have rabbis as their holy men, that all they needed was an extra ‘t’, and then they would have rabbits. I quenched the urge make a comment.  He then received a phone call from a friend. Their exchange was heated. He roared that he ‘fucking hated prison food’ before hanging up in a strop. What was all that about I wondered?

They kept the carriage amused and nervous for the duration of the journey – bellowing ‘Happy new year’ to everyone who had to climb over them to get out of the train.

Arriving at Howth I looked for the green arrows which indicated the cliff walk. To begin with it was just a regular road with houses. The road narrowed until it became just a walkway – not paved – just a stone trail. Howth Head is not a huge cliff like the Cliffs of Moher. It is a cliff nonetheless.And of course there is no railing to hold on to, to prevent a plunge to certain death in the water way below, should you lose your footing. The views are breath-taking – you get stunning views of Lambay island, and of the rock peninsula. The wind was gusty, the incline was steep. I walked with great care. One false step, and I was a goner. Eventually it plateaued.

Walking at a brisk pace, I was making good progress. As my feet were a bit delicate after a few days breaking in my new Doctor Martin boots, today I was wearing my most comfortable tackies (which is a word for runners/sneakers that is used only in Limerick and South Africa). I wasn’t making much noise.

I approached couple ahead of me. He was Irish, she was Chinese. They did not notice me. As I got closer, I heard song. They were singing a love duet to each other – ‘I don’t know much’ by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville.


‘I don’t know much’ she sang.

‘But I know I love you’ he replied.

I slowed down, curious as to where this was leading. When the song ended, she decided a new number was needed. She invoked her inner Celine Dion and started the opening lines of ‘My heart will go on.’

I sneezed. They glanced back and noticed me. There wasn’t a bother on her, but the man looked mortified, his face turning a bright red puce colour.

I kept my face sphinx like as if I hadn’t heard a thing – not wanting to add to his obvious embarrassment. Who am I to impose my presence on the first flushes of love after all? Although I can’t really commend either of them on their choice of power ballad. I would have gone with ‘Total eclipse of the heart’ by Bonnie Tyler myself.

In a gruff voice, he asked her for the bottle of water, which I took as a signal that the show was over.

I passed them and continued on my way. At the highest point, I paused and took in the vista before me. It was beautiful.

There was something rather unsettling about the miniature crucifixes surrounded by flowers, dotted along the route. Especially when coupled with the posters for the Samaritans, Pieta House and other helplines which appeared along the way. I shivered, and decided not to dwell on what this meant – although it’s obvious.

After a final series of steps, I reached the summit – and followed the signs giving directions back to Howth village.

I am home again, feeling all stretched and energised. My legs will thank me one day. Not right now mind. I think I will give myself a foot bath. Fashion is pain, especially when you’ve been on a five mile walk with blistered feet.

Happy new year.

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