U of W grad flees the rat race for laid-back life in Irish town

Lauryn Bodde was working her first night shift as a bartender at Hamilton’s Bar in Leenaun, Ireland. With little bar experience, working in a new country, Bodde was looking forward to a quiet night serving a few locals — a nice, uncomplicated slide into a new role.

Then one tour bus rolled in, then other. Things suddenly got very hectic for the former Amherstburg resident. Then the regulars at Hamilton’s started dropping by, including one group of local women who ordered six baby Guinness.

And Bodde did what any normal Canadian would do, she began pouring six half-pints of Guinness, Ireland’s national drink of choice.

Bodde was on her fourth pour when a woman from the group rushed over.

“I was really, really busy and she comes up to me and she goes, ‘No, Lauryn stop, baby Guinness is a shot’” — a shot of Tia Maria and Irish Cream to be precise.

In a village like Leenaun, with a population of 200, the story of Bodde’s bobble on the baby Guinness became conversational gold, to be mined and polished — and then retold.

“It’s a very small village and word gets around quickly,” said Máire Coyne, bar manager at Hamilton’s. “It’s a funny story. One person heard it, Lauryn told one person in the village, then the next day it was at the Adventure Centre where the lady (who ordered the baby Guinness) worked. All it takes Is one person.”

Orders for baby Guinness subsequently increased dramatically whenever Bodde was working behind the bar.

Coyne said Bodde, fresh from Canada, was a natural fit at Hamilton’s.

“Lauryn is just so chatty and easy to get along with. The stories she has from travelling, even from home in Canada. She just clicked with us.”

The tourist season in Leenaun, on the south shore of Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fiord, lasts from May to the end of October.

I really appreciate the simple life here. There is so much less pressure, so much less emphasis on work, keeping up with the Joneses.

Bodde, 26, knew she eventually needed to leave Leenaun to find work. The move, however, to her new job in nearby Westport was seamless.

The owner of the Westport Woodfire Pizza and Restaurant, Mike Laffey, would often pop into Hamilton’s for a drink and chat with Bodde. He heard about her marketing and design background and asked her to design a new logo and menu for the restaurant. There was also a standing offer of a job.

“It was great because a job opened up at the restaurant with Mike and it was just fantastic. I actually finished my shift on Oct. 31 in Leenaun and then Nov. 1 straightaway I started at Woodfire in Westport,” she said.

Bodde started working as a waitress, but in March she went back to the Amherstburg home of her parents Matt and Michele to recover from an operation.

She returned in July to a changed Ireland. More COVID-19 restrictions had been put in place. When the virus first hit in March, Woodfire stopped in-house dining and switched to takeout. In her new role Bodde handles online takeout and phone orders.

Bodde pulls a pint at the Guinness Storehouse during a visit to Dublin.

Like Canada, takeout pizza places in Ireland have boomed during COVID.

Bodde has a marketing and design degree from the University of Windsor and spent three years working for a marketing company in Madison Heights, Mich., before heading to Ireland.

Near the end of her stay with the Michigan company she felt she needed a break and decided to “go rogue” by venturing out of her comfort zone and travelling.

She chose Ireland because she had visited the country before with friends after graduating from the U of W; Bodde also visited rural Ireland for two yoga seminars. She knew she was going to be living a life far less complicated and stressful than the one she left behind.

“I really appreciate the simple life here. There is so much less pressure, so much less emphasis on work, keeping up with the Joneses…. I just feel more relaxed here … there is a lot less care about things that truly don’t matter…. I just feel it’s so much easier to be myself here.”

Bodde’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get personality is one of the main reasons Laffey hired her.

Laffey said Bodde brings skills to the table an Irish person may not be able to match.

He said the North American practice of tipping breeds good, prompt, friendly service. Laffey, who worked in New York and San Diego for five years as a cabinet maker, said he embraced the dining-out culture while living in the United States and admired how hard waiters and waitresses worked.

“I think the same applies to Canada. People like Lauryn grew up with this, from the earliest memories of going to a restaurant, the servers were nice. So it’s very easy for them to replicate that service; not only replicate it, but be genuine when they do it.”

Laffey said it was clear to him he was going to hire Bodde when her stay at Hamilton’s ended a year ago last month. “Now I knew Lauryn was a graphic designer, so I’m thinking, hey, if you have a graphic designer who knows your product and is good at serving, naturally you have, you know, the perfect … little dynamo.”

Woodfire Pizza is looking to expand to places like nearby Galway and Castlebar and Bodde is currently looking at company spreadsheets to determine where cost savings can be achieved before the pizza company sets up its new locations.

Laffey said Woodfire is also preparing for the day when customers are allowed back inside. He said Bodde is at the forefront of developing an app which will allow customers to order off an iPad and minimize contact with staff.

Bodde with Mike Laffey, owner of Woodfire Pizza. In Ireland, as in Canada, coping with COVID-19 restrictions has been a challenge for bars and restaurants.

“I have a good friendship with Mike and when I go back to Canada I’ll still carry on doing work on the Woodfire menu as long as Mike needs help.

“I owe a lot to him; he has been so, so good to me.”

Westport is on the west coast of Ireland and one of the country’s top tourist attractions. The town itself is picture postcard beautiful, there are cycling and walking opportunities everywhere and the ocean waves attract surfers from all over the world.

And there’s Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s fourth highest mountain, which looms over Westport like a huge, brooding monolith. St. Patrick reportedly fasted on the summit for 40 days and 40 nights; the mountain is now a destination point for religious pilgrims and hikers who climb to the summit for a spectacular view of Clew Bay and the surrounding islands.

“That is the tallest mountain I’ve ever experienced. It was a hike and a half. When we climbed it, we saw four or five people doing it barefoot. It’s a practice if you climb that mountain in your bare feet you’re given forgiveness for your sins,” Bodde said.

Whatever the reason for climbing Croagh Patrick, “it’s well worth it,” she said. “I’m told you can see 250 islands from the peak. It’s incredible.”

Bodde knows her stay in Ireland will likely come to a close next year when her visa expires. Her future plans include visits to France, Italy and Germany, where she has relatives.

So, what will she miss about Ireland aside from the joys of simple living and the friends she has made? She said she will miss the moist, salt-infused air.

“It is just so clean and fresh.”

And she will also leave with some highly specialized knowledge: How to make a baby Guinness. 

Solo travel helps build friendships, self-reliance

Lauryn Bodde has travelled solo since leaving her home in Amherstburg in 2019.

She said travelling with a friend or a group can create a bubble of security and comfort, but it can also cut off opportunities for conversations with total strangers.

“You have everything to learn and everybody to meet. That’s the biggest plus. I’ve had people come up to me here and say, do you have relatives, do you have connections in Ireland?“ And I always answer, No, I didn’t when I came, but I do now.

“I’ve met so may incredible people along way, seen so many things that I think I probably wouldn’t have seen if I was travelling with someone else.”

She said travelling alone also encourages self-reflection — and self-reliance.

“It’s been two years now I’ve been here and there are times when I feel lonely and homesick.

“When friends are having a special occasion back home and I’m missing out on that, it’s definitely a little bit sad. But I often feel you can’t really compare those sorts of things. You have to live separate from whatever everyone else is doing.”

Bodde said striking up a conversation in Ireland is easy. She said the Irish are friendly, engaging, like a good laugh and love to talk.

Unlike North America, it’s rare for an Irish person to begin a conversation with a stranger by asking what they do for a living.

“Even working behind the bar, somebody would come in and realize that I obviously wasn’t local. I would introduce myself, and they would say, ‘Great to meet you, what’s your story?’ They would always say that to me.” And then the chat would begin.

Bodde said her parents, Matt and Michele, and younger sister Alyssa, have been supportive of her solo jaunt through Ireland, even more so after they visited her in 2019.

“They understood a lot more of why I’m here and why I love Ireland so much once they saw it for themselves.” 

Read more about Lauryn’s adventures in Ireland at https://www.boddeontheroady.com/thestart

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