Francis Browne was a young Jesuit seminarian with an uncle who had a flair for gift giving. His uncle Robert (bishop of the spiky cathedral you see in the center of town) sent him a ticket for a two-day birthday cruise aboard the Titanic. The plan was to start in Southampton and end in Cobh, where he’d disembark, enjoy a slice of chocolate cake, and spend some quality time with good old Uncle Rob.
It was a great plan. And a thrilling ride. Along with snapping more than a thousand photographs, Francis did a good deal of schmoozing. One wealthy American family was so taken with him that they offered to pay his full voyage to America in exchange for his company at dinner. Hurray! Ever the dutiful nephew, Francis sent a message to his uncle asking for permission to stay aboard and received this rather terse reply: GET OFF THAT SHIP.
Francis and his iconic photographs got off that ship. Arguably, it was the most important decision he ever made.
All this in preparation for the rather terse and important message I have for you, my jaunty little sailor: GET OFF THAT SHIP.
What ship? You know what ship, love. It’s the one you built back before the water got cold and the sailing treacherous. The one you stocked full of optimism and excitement and look what’s up ahead—this is so thrilling! When hearts get involved, heads like to join in too, creating hypothetical futures full of sparkling water and favorable tides. And when those futures don’t work out? Well, those ships don’t just drift away on their own. We have to make a conscious effort to pull up anchor and let them go.
So get off the ship, dove, and send it out sea. Otherwise, you run the risk of allowing the thing that once carried you to become the thing that weighs you down. Solid land isn’t so bad. Promise.
HEARTACHE HOMEWORK: Find some reasonably sturdy paper and draw your ship, pet. The plans, the dreams, all of it. I don’t care how bad you are at drawing. Just get it all down. Now we’re going to have ourselves a little send-off party. Use the PAPER BOAT FOLDING 101 instructions at the end of the book to create a tiny vessel. Fold that future of yours into a boat, and then put it in the water. Let the water do the rest.
—Excerpt from Ireland for the Heartbroken: An Unconventional Guide to the Emerald Isle, third edition
WE PULLED INTO COBH A hot, sweaty mess. To draw heat from the engine, we’d had to keep the car’s heater on full blast, and by the time we made it to the auto shop, we were all dripping in sweat. And I only got hotter when the mechanic—a vaguely tuna-fish-smelling man named Connor—took one look at me and predecided that I couldn’t have any idea what I was talking about. “I’ll just have a look myself,” he said.
“There’s a hole in the radiator,” I insisted. “I already found it.”
His mouth twisted into a patronizing smile. “We’ll see.”
Before I could blow up, Ian yanked me toward the door. “We’ll be in touch.”
We hustled down the waterfront streets, carrying our bags past candy-colored row houses with lines of laundry out back. Ships bobbed against the wooden docks like massive rubber ducks, and a spiky stone cathedral stood tall and commanding, its steeple piercing the clouds.
The church was surrounded by visitors, and as we approached, bells suddenly split the air, their song surprisingly cheerful for such a grim-looking structure. “Wow.” I skidded to a stop, my neck craning up toward the bell tower.
“Man down,” Ian called over the clanging, circling back to grab my elbow. “Those bells mean we’re supposed to be there by now. You can stare at churches later.”
“We have to come back for our homework anyway,” Rowan said, pointing to the harbor.
“Fine.” I sighed, slinging my backpack up higher on my shoulder and breaking into a run.
Au Bohair Pub was hard to miss. The two-story structure had been painted a startling robin’s-egg blue and was sandwiched between a lime-colored hat shop and a cranberry-colored bakery. Even this early in the day, it had a festive, game-day feel, music and people spilling out onto the sidewalk in front of it, a collective cloud of cigarette smoke hovering in the air. When we got to the edge of the crowd, Ian ran up to a man standing near the doorway wearing worn denim overalls. “Do you know where I can find Miriam?”
“Miriam Kelly?” He smiled wide, revealing corncob-yellow teeth. “Stage left. She’s always stage left. Just make sure you don’t bother her during a set. I made that mistake once.”
Ian nodded nervously, shoving the handle of his suitcase into my hand. “Addie, could you just . . . ?” He shot through the doorway, disappearing in a crush of people.
“Nope, don’t mind at all,” I called after him. It wasn’t like I already had my suitcase to deal with. The man gave me an amused smile.
“Here, let me help you,” Rowan said, absentmindedly shuffling the guidebook from under my arm and disappearing just as quickly as Ian had.
“Really?” I muttered, grabbing hold of the bags. I bumped clumsily through the entryway, running over toes and sloshing people’s drinks as I went. It was only when I’d squeezed into the middle of the room that I took a moment to look around. Wooden tables littered the floor, and the walls were almost completely eclipsed by music posters. A well-stocked bar stood in one corner of the room, customers filling every inch of remaining space.
“Ian!” I called. He and Rowan stood on tiptoe, staring hungrily at the stage. “Stage” was a bit too grand of a word for it. It was actually a small wooden platform, just a foot or two off the ground, that was somehow managing to accommodate a large tangle of musicians, their various instruments belting out a decidedly Irish tune.
I mashed my way over to them. “Could have used a little help.”
Neither of them acknowledged me. They were too busy fanboying. Hard.
“That’s Titletrack’s first stage,” Rowan was saying, his glasses practically fogging up with excitement. “This place is lethal. So, so lethal.”
“I can’t believe we’re here,” Ian said. “We are standing in the first place Titletrack ever performed.”
I wriggled between them to get their attention. “Remember when you left me with all the bags?”
“Is that my baby music journalist?” a raspy voice boomed from behind us.
We all spun around, coming face-to-face with a short, round woman wearing thick spectacles and a shapeless brown dress, her hair pulled back into a tight knot.
“Um . . . are you . . . ?” Ian managed.
“Miriam Kelly.” She yanked him in for a hug, patting him enthusiastically on the back. “You made it! I was worried you’d stood me up.”
Ian cleared his throat, trying and failing to get over the shock of the most important woman in Irish music looking like the kind of person who baked banana bread and crocheted afghans in her spare time. “Um . . . ,” he said again.
Suddenly, she dropped her smile, pointing a finger at him seriously. “So, tell me, Ian, is the garage band really dead?”
“You read his article!” I crowed, recognizing the title from when I’d read it back at the Rainbow’s End.
She turned her bright eyes on me. “Of course I have. This young man left me five voice mails and sent an ungodly number of e-mails. I either had to turn him over to the guards or arrange a meeting. You must be the little sister.”
“I’m Addie,” I said, accepting her firm handshake. “And this is our friend Rowan. He’s a huge fan of Titletrack too.”