Before I left two weeks ago, I posted this question at my commentary page: “What did Hoppy do on his summer vacation?” I received some interesting responses, ranging from “visiting ‘Mystery Hole,’ making it bigger and deeper” to “a stop at the Bunny Ranch in Las Vegas” to “making the rounds at all the historic 7-Eleven sites in Charles Town/Ranson” to “trekking the Hindu Kush.”
Steve Dale nailed it with his post: “10 day tour of Ireland.” Actually, my wife and I were there 13 days, but close enough. So before I get back into the routine of West Virginia politics, here are a few of my observations about Ireland.
–Yes, it is green… really green, and the shades range from light lime to a deep seaweed green that’s almost black. The hillsides and valleys look like vast patchwork quilts of green, the fields separated by ancient stone fences of contrasting gray.
–These green landscapes are fed by rain… a lot of rain. Rain clouds are ever present and even sunny periods are often interrupted by a shower. It’s not unusual to see bright sunshine on one side of the sky and dark rain clouds on the other. But the Irish roll with it. You put on your raingear and push ahead.
–The people of Ireland are as warm and friendly as you will find anywhere. They are open to conversation even with complete strangers. In fact, they even have a word for it: Craic (pronounced “crack”). It can mean news, entertainment, casual conversation or gossip, but mostly it translates into a fun atmosphere and the Irish take it to heart.
–What would a trip to Ireland be without frequent stops at pubs. The term is short for “public house” and as the Fodor’s Travel Guide to Ireland says, “stepping into a pub (and there seems to be one on every corner) is the easiest way to transport yourself into the thick of Irish life.” Pubs are about more than drinking; they are warm, comfortable gathering places for conversation, food and music.
–Every pub we visited (and we stopped in quite a few) had Guinness on tap. A pint of the black stout—served properly by a trained bartender in two separate pours to leave just the right amount of head—is the national drink. However, others may opt for a Murphy’s Irish Red or an Irish whiskey. Arthur Guinness started making his beer in Dublin in 1759 and a brewery still stands at the original site at St. James’s Gate. The Guinness Storehouse Tour ends with a building-top 360 degree view of Dublin and a complimentary pint.
–Driving in Ireland is, well, a challenge. First, they drive on the left and the steering wheel is on the right. That takes some getting used to. As for the roads, any West Virginian who has driven up the hollow and has had to find a pull off to let a vehicle coming the other way to pass has had some training in how drive the Irish country roads. Driving the secondary (and some primary) roads there requires focus, nerves and patience. But pulling aside to make way for an oncoming motorist is usually rewarded with a simple upward flip of the index finger to say “thank you.”
–We ran out of adjectives to describe the scenery, especially along the west coast. The dramatic Cliffs of Moher, that rise up to 700 feet out of the Atlantic, and the Dingle Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry and the Gap of Dunloe provide awe inspiring views around nearly every turn. Additionally, the landscape is dotted with ancient structures. We stayed at one bed and breakfast near Doolin that had on its property a small castle built in the 11th century!
–And that brings me to the history. The multi-layered story of Ireland stretches from the Tetrapod Trackways on Valentia Island where scientists say the fossil records show the first transition of life from sea to land occurred over 350 million years ago, through countless settlements, invasions and defenses, to nationalist movements and the tensions between Catholics and Protestants. Along the way the Irish have produced literary greats, including Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce.
We came home tired, but feeling blessed for the opportunity to travel and enriched by the experience. It’s very good to be home, but it’s also rewarding to have gone.