After driving the Antrim Coast from Belfast to Bushmills and seeing everything in between, my husband and I spent late afternoon driving to our hotel in Coleraine so we could check in and drop off our things.
It was an emotional day for me, seeing so many places that brought back memories of my time studying abroad, but those sites were nothing compared to returning to Coleraine.
We dropped off our things and then headed over to the University of Ulster campus. Brian drove around while I looked out the window and tried very hard not to cry– nothing had changed!
I had tried so hard to prepare myself for everything to be different–a lot can change in 10 years–but the campus and buildings were just the same. The only difference was the entry way sign to campus, which is now tall, blue and plastic rather than horizontal, white and stone, as it was during my time as a student.
We drove through campus to the on-campus housing and sure enough, there was Errigal, my home for nearly six months in 2005. We parked and I walked around, peeking in the windows and sneaking around back to recapture the view from my bedroom window of the river.
Everything was exactly as it lives in my memory. I was overwhelmed.
After I’d had my fill of campus memories we drove north to Portrush, the home to one of my very fondest memories from my time abroad– the night Brian asked me to be his girlfriend.
Toward the end of my semester abroad he flew from Ohio to Northern Ireland for a weekend (it was all the time off from work he had at that time) just to prove the sincerity of his ask. Of course I said yes, and the rest is history.
That infamous night we had traveled to Portrush ahead of my friends to eat fish and chips on the marina while we watched the sun set. Afterward we met my friends at our go-to pub, the Atlantic Bar, before enjoying a night full of music and dancing.
Our slightly modified recreation of that night involved another beautiful sunset from the marina, a drink at the Atlantic Bar (which hasn’t changed–including the landing where we always sat and occasionally danced!) and fish and chips to-go from Mr. Chips. It was perfect.
The next morning we spent a little time walking around downtown Coleraine, where my friends and I would go to buy groceries and do some light shopping–and I do mean light. We were poor college students and spent most of our time pooling funds at Tesco, Lidl or the Pound Store.
I had hoped we could grab an Ulster Fry at Eileen’s, which is where we would go back then and where I took Brian and my parents when they came over to see me. Alas, this was the one thing that did change–there is no more Eileen’s.
We asked a woman who was washing her windows where we could grab breakfast and she recommended a great spot with the most convoluted directions. We tried to follow her guidance and ended up lost. We decided we would skip breakfast and head on to Derry when we stumbled upon the place heading back to the car! It was busy and had a good energy, and my Ulster Fry was delicious.
I can’t believe I actually got to return to my old haunts 10 years later and revisit all of the memories I hold in my heart from my time studying abroad.
What an incredible, transformational time in my life. I will never forget the people I met, the experiences we had or the incredible physical setting where everything played out.
I know I left a piece of my heart in Ireland– but now I know I’ll find it every time I go back.