I just spent 10 days vacationing in Ireland, and I have three words of advice for you.
Go. Visit. Ireland.
I am a somewhat reluctant international traveler, preferring the Upper Peninsula and Lake Michigan to nearly anywhere else.
However, having been talked into visiting Ireland by my wife (Wendy) and two old friends, I’ve changed my mind about this island about the size of New York State, located just west of Great Britain.
As an aside, I have a “wee” bit of travel anxiety when it comes to air travel. It isn’t the flying that bothers me, but it seems that 50 percent of the time that Wendy and I travel, something horrible happens.
We have lost tickets, lost passports, been sent to a really scary room where they took away my passport for 20 scary minutes, and a few other nerve-wracking experiences.
So, of the four of us, I was the least excited about the Ireland adventure.
Given that, we flew to Dublin and Wendy and I both instantly noticed something dramatic.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, was friendly. It is a remarkable change from Chicago, where policemen wander through the airport in a show of force and it seems like everyone watches their back.
Instead, I can’t recall seeing a single Irish policeman, although I am sure they were there.
Instead, I saw people seemingly trying to out-friendly each other. Even in Dublin, where we spent our first night, people were smiling. People were happy. They really welcomed us.
We had a driving tour scheduled, so after sampling our first pint at the Guinness Brewery, we left the next morning to see the “Real Ireland.”
After we figured out how to drive on the left-hand side of the road, the four of us took off for the south and western parts of the island.
With the big city in our rearview mirror, we found ourselves on consistently narrowing roads to find the definition of the words “quaint little towns” at every stop. There were small, historic towns full of nice, friendly people.
In fact, we ended up sharing pints with total strangers from all over, including many Americans.
The scenery, once you reach the southern and western coastal areas, is mind-boggling, reminding me of places like Iceland (where language was an issue) and Alaska (where people can get really weird, really quickly).
We saw mountains, the ocean, cliffs, and soon were driving down roads where sheep and cattle had the right-of-way, roaming freely in places with grass growing in the middle of the single lane road.
We found incredible hotels, drove around two peninsulas (called rings) and ate some of the best fish-and-chips ever.
I saw my first real “links” golf course from the window of a car and felt the desire to go out and lose a dozen or so balls in the “gorse.” I saw an ancient trail of about 30 feet where it is believed that a sea creature crawled onto land (when Ireland was an island near the equator) and began the evolutionary walk toward the creation of the human race.
And I haven’t even mentioned the history of people of Ireland yet. To talk to an Irishman is to understand that it is a country whose freedom is won and lost and won and lost, over and over.
It is intertwined with Great Britain, sort of, and just following that story is fascinating. Castles stand upon castles and abbeys and jails and old bars that still are in business serving Guinness, the country’s national beer.
But Ireland is NOT Great Britain, and we heard a lot about that.
A make-or-break event for Ireland was the Great Potato Famine from 1845 and 1851. The cause wasn’t a crop failure as much as it was a decision by British kings to take all the good potatoes for themselves, leaving roughly 1 million people to die from starvation and disease.
Many of those that didn’t starve were wise to leave. Another 1 million people abandoned their Irish homes and moved to the United States and Australia. These travelers often crowded into less than sea-worthy vessels owned by callous individuals bent on making money off the backs of the poor and desperate.
After the famine and resulting population loss, the remaining Irish rose up against the British in 1916. This uprising was sparked by yet another oafish decision by a British commander to execute seven political prisoners, including James Connolly, who was the modern-day equivalent of Michael Jordan in popularity among the Irish people.
This is amazing stuff.
I have little if any Irish blood in me. And the term “Fighting Irish” has always colored my view of the Irish people. But I honestly felt at home on this island.
I am happy to have discovered that after years of bad economy and loss of population, people are returning to Ireland. The busy streets of Dublin reminded me of Chicago, a happy Chicago. History is everywhere in Dublin … my kind of town.
So, If you can gather a few euro together, go spend time on this wonderful island called Ireland. Bring a smile and expect to drink a few pints with new friends. Just be sure to watch out for sheep and cows.