“There was once was a demographic survey done to determine if money was connected to happiness and Ireland was the only place where this did not turn out to be true”–Fiona Shaw
I’ll admit I had to eat some crow with this trip.
I used to tease my friends of Irish ancestry back home that their yearning to go to Ireland was pointless because “if it was so great, why would all of the Irish be trying to get off of the island?” Despite my own vague Irish ancestry (I don’t know which ancestors came from Ireland or on what side, but I know that some of them did) I had pretty low expectations for Ireland. The image I had in my head of a damp, cold, sad island didn’t exactly stir up much excitement and when I was offered the opportunity to travel here I saw it more as a chance to prove to everyone back home that Ireland was a country worth skipping. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As was the case with my trip to Scotland, the Republic of Ireland was essentially the polar opposite of what I had expected and left me with a newfound love of this land and its people. All of the romantic/nostalgic ideas Americans have of Ireland (at least Americans on the East Coast) are more or less true.
Walking throughout Dublin at virtually any time of day you are bound to hear the sound of traditional Irish folk music ringing throughout the stone alleys and seeping from the ages old pubs. There is never a bad time to stop into a pub and enjoy a beautifully poured Guinness. Black Velvet was far from my beer of choice back home, but after having it here I have radically changed course and I now consider it one of the best beverages one can have. For those back home, it really is all in the pour; otherwise the beer won’t taste nearly as good.
What can be said about Dublin that hasn’t already been said? It’s fun, it’s loud, it’s messy in the best of ways, and the people are the friendliest that you have ever met. Dublin really sells itself and I know there isn’t a need for further convincing.
On Sunday I took a day trip out of the city to see some of the countryside as well as to visit the city of Cork, Blarney Castle and the port of Cobh which is where the Titanic made its final port of call before it sank. When “the Paddy Wagon” picked me up at 7:30 am at the tourist center I was pleased to find that I was the only one scheduled for that leg of the trip and would therefore have the opportunity to spend the three hour drive being chauffeured by my drive Sean Murphy (could you make up a more Irish-sounding name?). Over the course of 3 hours Sean and I talked a lot about the day’s trip but also about Ireland in general as well as people’s attitudes there. He spoke a little about everything, ranging from why Ireland produces the best musicians, to explaining how when the Irish say, “where’s the craic?” they’re not in fact asking for cocaine and to his feelings on the Catholic-Protestant conflict that has been continuing on for centuries. I really valued his opinion on the animosity between the Irish and British because he was very level headed and measured in his thoughts. He said that if he lived in Northern Ireland that he would probably be a nationalist but he did however recognize that there exists a sort of debt to the British. Saying that Ireland may have been a lot worse off had the British never set foot there, he credited them with bringing ‘civilization’ to the island, but he also sort of implied that after they had done that they should have left. He concluded by saying that the fact is that even if Northern Ireland is some day reincorporated with the Republic of Ireland it wouldn’t ever be the same. “It’s a different country up there now” he stated matter-of-factly.
After making my way through County Kilkenny and into County Cork, we arrived at the county’s namesake, Cork. I think the Irish word for it is corchrain or something like that. Which reminds me, I was really surprised by how prevalent Irish Gaelic is on Ireland’s street signs. Obviously I know that only ~14% of Irish people can speak it fluently, but if you knew nothing of that and walked around any city in Ireland you would think that every person is perfectly bilingual. I attributed this to the government’s attempts to rehabilitate the dying language. Cork was nice. Certainly less touristy than Dublin, but still held a certain charm about it that surely entices visitors. I can’t speak too much about the city since my time there was extremely limited.
Blarney Castle on the other hand was one destination that I can speak an awfully lot about. I really enjoyed visiting Blarney. The village and its famous castle are only about a 20 minute drive from Cork and its nestled in rolling green hills and meadows that makes it look like you stumbled into a children’s story. After climbing up the steepest and most harrowing staircase I’ve ever encountered, I made it to the top of the castle and as thousands before me have done, I kissed the Blarney Stone. It’s been about 24 hours since the encounter and I have yet the ability to gab uncontrollably. I was told that if the gift of gab doesn’t present itself within this time frame than I must be boring. Oh well.
My stop in Cobh (pronounced cove) was again very brief but it is a charming seaside village most notable for its freaky history with transportation. According to our tour guide Cobh is where the Titanic set sail from on its way to America, it is also not far from where the Lusitania was bombed and the remnants of that ship were hauled ashore by the Irish navy, and finally it was also the scene of the last communication between the Pan Am flight that crashed over Lockerbie Scotland in the 80’s. Quite the curse.
Cobh has more significance though in that it was also the last city that millions of Irish saw before arriving in the U.S. after fleeing the plague. Along the ocean there is in fact a statue of the first woman to have been received at Ellis Island along with her two sons. She would of course be the first official Irish immigrant of a population wave that forever changed the United States. It was strangely moving to experience this point of departure for so many people.
Well this has been a remarkably long post (by my standards at least) and so I will thus end it now. I’m currently typing this up in Connolly Station waiting to catch my train to Belfast and therefore I will have another post shortly chronicling my stint in Northern Ireland. Until then…