In between the first two of what feels like dozens of hills during our walking tour of Armagh, the tour guide pauses in front of the tiny Armagh Library. Going inside is like going back in time, she explains. Books line the building floor to ceiling, and a gallery runs around the upper level like a “little version of Trinity Library” she say. I feel the other 8 writers around me, students and faculty, collectively pause — a single moment of a synchronized heart beat. Had it been open, we might have stormed the door. Maria, the guide, lists the nearly half dozen other libraries in the small city. “This place has attracted scholars for centuries,” she says, “so you can consider yourselves pilgrims joining in a long history of writers who traveled from all over the world to find themselves in Armagh.”
Later, back in my room, I find the lingering effects of jet lag replaced by the hearty tiredness of a near three-hour walk on hilly roads. Armagh rests in my body just as it’s damp and earth rests on my shoes. I lay in the narrow bed in the hostel, grateful for the soft comfort and clean sheets, tapping away ideas on my computer and feeling my daily life of last week recede further and further. I realize the church bells have become familiar already and I switched from coffee to tea. My hair is a rake of crazy curls infused by the wet air. I’m already of this place in some way, in the tiniest of ways. The work, the worry, the planning, the frustration that make up the long journey to this moment recede as i realize I have arrived – arrived at the beginning. A pilgrim’s progress.