How to make friends the fast way in Howth

Occurred on 5/25/10; written on 5/26/10

When I found out our student coordinator Chelsea was leading an expedition to Howth, I hopped on the opportunity.  My roommate Dylan had told me a lot about it after he and a group went the night we flew in to Ireland.  I’d gone nearly 37 hours with less than three hours of sleep, so I didn’t want any of it that night.

I was with nine other girls on the trip, and the only one I really knew was Gabby.  I’d known few from my class but I hadn’t gotten to know them as well.

Howth coastal scenery

We got off the train and the smell of fish hit me hard.  We walked down a way and headed to the end of a pier, where we climbed up on rocks and saw some amazing Irish coastline.  Somebody in our group called one of the beach bums there “sir,” and the other yelled, “He’s not a sir!”  As we walked away, they took turns ribbing each other about that comment.

Seals in Howth

While walking back from the pier, we saw the seals swimming around in the bay.  Two girls paid €2 for a bucket of fish to feed them for a few minutes.

Gabby decided she didn’t want to continue up a hill after we walked by a handful of piers, so I continued on with classmates Melanie and Carolyn.  We saw what looked from a distance like caves.  Nobody had any specific agenda in mind so the three of us agreed to head down and find out.


To get to the “caves,” we had to climb down several dozen concrete stairs.  Once there, we climbed over lots and lots of rocks.  What we thought were caves turned out to be holes in the side of a cliff.  I was ready to turn back and say forget about it, but Carolyn kept venturing forward on her ankle brace she’d put on after tripping earlier in the week.

After deftly maneuvering over the rocks for awhile, we saw a staircase from a distance and decided we were going to climb up it to wind up on the other side.  The staircase was very difficult to get to, having to cross lots of bigger rocks and do what felt like a tight rope walk across a 10-foot section next to what could have been the most fun hot tub in the world, if it hadn’t been natural.


I stopped at the edge of the staircase where I saw a faintly painted, “NO EXIT.”  I looked up the staircase and, without any guardrails or ropes for security, felt pretty uneasy. As if climbing rocks by ourselves on a beach we’ve never been to 4,000 miles from home wasn’t a bad idea, certainly this seemed like a bad idea.  Ever the go-getter, as far as I know, Carolyn again pushed on.  For once I decided to throw caution to the wind and see what was going to happen, offering to lead our trio.  I didn’t look down the flight of stairs because I’m afraid of heights, but the stairs soon became a series of bumps in the grass and dirt to traverse.

I had kept my eyes down the whole time, carefully targeting where each foot was going to go.  When I had reached the top, I finally looked up.  Staring me right in the face was a German Shepard in front of another spray-painted “NO EXIT” sign on some kind of shanty.  In seven years of martial arts training, I’ve heard a lot about the fight-or-flight condition, and that was my first real test.  Unfortunately, neither of my instructors has ever trained me how to get out of a confrontation with a dog.

The way I saw it, that dog and I had two options.

The first was that the dog was going to maul my face off and my body was going to bump all the way down this giant hill we’d spent forever trying to get to, where I would ultimately meet my demise in the “natural hot tub” I mentioned earlier, only for two girls I barely knew to carry my disheveled body back to shore and try to find Chelsea, who would have to explain the situation to Professor Newton.

The second was that the dog was going to follow us down the steps, which would have made me even more nervous than I already was.  When the four of us reached the bottom, the dog would then maul all three of us and the media would cover the fact that three idiot American tourists were killed in Ireland when they were hiking where they weren’t supposed to.  Just another brilliant piece of news for Bradley University.

After thinking about these two scenarios for less a second, I made the first move.

“Hi, doggie!”

I’m going to make the guess that whoever owned that dog has trained it to react several different ways when ignoramuses defy the “NO EXIT” sign like we did.  I figured no animal wants to be threatened, especially when invading his or her territory.  I didn’t want to make the dog feel like it owned me, either.

What I did count on, and what I’m going to assume is the truth, in this scenario, is that nobody had ever trained the dog to react to kindness.  Without so much as threatening any of us, the dog turned back around and went behind some grass.  I didn’t know where that dog was going, but I really didn’t want to see it again.  “Let’s get the hell outta here,” I said.


As we climbed back down, I felt like I’d accomplished something.  I don’t know what, since the dog was not going to let us pass.  Maybe it was the fact that I stared what I thought for a brief second was death right in the face.  Or maybe it was the fact that I made two new friends while doing so.

By Adam Bockler

Adam Bockler is a B2B marketing professional, a black belt martial arts instructor, DDP Yoga instructor, and a personal trainer.