At Home in Ireland
Very few countries are as plagued by cliche’s as Ireland, Eireann in Irish. People still have images of a weathered old man wearing an Aran Island sweater alternatively knocking back pints of frothy, black Guinness and playing the fiddle, as well as energetic leprechauns dancing to Irish music next to a pot of gold perched beneath a sparkling rainbow. They think of Ireland as synonymous with rain-drenched greenery, the friendliest people in the world, and gifted poets who sparked a literary tradition. Ireland is steeped in stereotypical perceptions that range from the insightful to the truly inane.
So how much did these cliche’s color my idea of Ireland? Well, a lot. I entirely expected the friendly people, the colorful pub scenes, the gifted poets, and the unceasing rain resulting in emerald green fields. What I didn’t expect were people with a fiery passion for their country, offset with a laid-back attitude that sometimes made it difficult to get anything accomplished. I didn’t expect the modern rush of Dublin city center to so perfectly accent the staid, peaceful setting of lakes and mountain peaks in Wicklow, or the smell of horses competing for attention with car exhaust on Dublin’s Dame Street.
I didn’t expect the people to be so friendly that they would give you their umbrella in the rain, and honestly believe that you would bring it back if they just gave you their address. My second day in Galway I went with some newly acquired friends into a wine and cheese shop. It was one of those pristine days when the sun was shining in a bright blue sky and the water sparkled like diamonds in the harbor. The shopkeeper lent us wine glasses and plates after simply extracting a promise that we would bring them back. We drank our wine and ate our cheese on a handkerchief-sized patch of grass near the water, just below the Spanish Arch.
This sort of sincere openness–completely trusting that a stranger would honor their word–made me fall in love with Ireland.
In the ten years since first arriving in Ireland, I have experienced more versions of Irish hospitality than I can count–chatting with shopkeepers at the weekly market, looking for an excellent bottle of red in the wine shop, enjoying a cup of tea or a pint at the local pub, or riding a bicycle down the winding, grassy knolls of Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands.