Occasionally, my non-traveling friends are less than enthused (okay, bored) to hear that I am
planning yet another trip to the Emerald Isle. Their response is often something like "What can you
possibly need to see there that you haven't already seen?" As I have made more than a dozen trips
there over the past several years, I suppose I can see their point.
I return to Ireland time and time again, not just for the sights, which truly are spectacular,
but for the sounds- the beat of the bodhran (Irish drum) in an impromptu pub session, the good morning moo from
a neighboring field to my cow-view room in a B&B, the colorful lilt of the Irish brogue, along with the many other
sensations such as a softness in the air that I have felt nowhere else.
Perhaps if I list just a few of those experiences, the skeptics will begin to understand.
If not, I'll entertain myself recalling some very happy times.
1. Irish kindness and courtesy
En route from Shannon to Galway, in the pouring rain, a young man tapped on my
car window. Hesitantly (I would never do this at home) I cracked the window, to be
advised by the gentleman "Your rear tire is going flat. If you pull over, I'll change it
for you." We did just that, and , whistling all the while, the kind soul quickly changed
tire, becoming more and more drenched in the process. I tried to offer him some money
for his trouble, but he just laughed, told us to enjoy our travels, and jogged off in the rain.
On another occasion, we witnessed a man running across the street towards us with
great purpose. His mission? To comment to us on "what a fine, fresh day" it was.
2. Irish traffic jams
Living near a big city, I am no stranger to driving delays due to congestion,
bad weather, or construction. However, in Ireland I have often been delayed
by a passing herd of cows or sheep. It is far too entertaining to find annoying,
especially if the roadblock is really mooing up a storm.
Another note on driving in the Irish countryside- it took me a while to realize
that passing drivers or pedestrians were not mistaking me for someone else
when they gave a friendly wave as I passed by. They do it to one and all, and
I have come to really enjoy this greeting.
3. Irish breakfast
Oh, the oatmeal! Hearty and rib-sticking, it will warm your innards on the coldest of
mornings. We were once served a bowl by a former housekeeper of Peter O'Toole.
How's that for a brush with fame? And there are some interesting variations. A friend
once ordered the house special oatmeal. It was served ceremoniously on a silver tray
accompanied by a shot of Drambuie to pour over it.
I am also particularly fond of the Irish brown bread, grainy, always fresh and with
a nice chew to it. It's even better when slathered with their sweet, creamy butter.
This must be accompanied by many cups of Irish tea, unique and delicious. My suitcase
is always stuffed with as many boxes as I can carry home.
The best place to enjoy such a feast, in my opinion, is the dining room at the
Lake Hotel in Killarney. There is an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling windows which overlook
a picturesque lake with a craggy mountain backdrop. As I usually travel in the
off-season, the weather can be a bit damp, which adds a misty air of mystery to the scene.
The real spectacle, however, is the Kerry red deer who come in from the neighboring
Killarney National Park to graze on the lawn directly in front of the windows. In season,
the males can be seen butting heads in competition for a female's affection.
Breakfast can sometimes stretch into a couple of hours with such a sport to enjoy watching.
4. Irish pubs
This subject really merits its own blog. The pub is an integral part of the Irish
culture. Even if one is a teetotaler, no trip is complete without spending time
in at least a few. This should in no way be looked upon as seedy or sad.
I have on various occasions met several generations of a family, from grandparents to children.
It is certainly not a waste of time; I have learned the finer points of rugby from
two very handsome young men who, had they been American would have been highly
unlikely to spend hours chatting with two middle-aged women. I have learned the procedure for
farmers getting their wares from farm to market, heard many an impassioned political point of view,
and chatted with marine biologists studying the behavior of the local trout.
Not to be forgotten is the Irish bartender. They will provide wonderful company if you
happen to arrive in the pub during a lull in activity. Usually locals, and very knowledgeable
about the location, they can suggest interesting things to see which might not appear
in guidebooks. They can introduce you to other patrons or introduce you to a new
drink. They hear all the good jokes and will coach you on the best way to tell it.
They are your friend; we still keep in touch.
5. Irish music
Traditional Irish music can raise the roof with its joyful spirit or bring you
to tears with its tales of loss and longing. I've seen as many as eight or nine
musicians crammed into a pub corner, arriving and leaving at various times to
join the session. They all know an impossible number of tunes and are impressive
with their skill at executing some very intricate melodies. This includes a very
elderly and well-dressed gentleman I witnessed approach a group of musicians and solemnly
remove a set of spoons from his suit pocket to tap along with every song.
I have seen a big, burly farmer, boots covered in mud, break into a ballad
and sound like an angel.
Musicians, though wonderful, are not entirely necessary to enjoy a night
of music in a pub. I refer to my peak pub experience, the sing-song.
Here's how it works: a group of patrons are gathered as always, telling
stories and having a laugh. At some point there is a lull in the conversation.
One person simply starts singing. Far from rolling their eyes and gesturing
that the person has had a bit too much to drink, the others all join in.
As they have done this all of their lives, they are completely uninhibited about
it, and they all sing beautifully. I don't know how this is possible; at least
half the people I know can't carry a tune in a bucket. Not only do the Irish
sing well, they know all the words to several verses of dozens of songs.
I've learned many a song this way.
At the risk of this turning from a blog into a book, I'll end with these
five key points. They are just the tip of the iceberg. If I have my way,
there will be many more visits to write about in my future.
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