Thoughts on Ireland

One of the first things you notice after stepping off the plane in Dublin is that Gaelic is everywhere. Gaelic is the constitutionally-recognized “national language,” the original language of Ireland before British rule began, a source of patriotic pride. English, though, is the language everyone speaks in day-to-day life. Less than half the population is conversationally fluent in Gaelic, in spite of major government efforts to promote it.

Thus the officially recognized language, the language people love, is also the language nobody speaks. The practical result is that lots of official signs are in both languages, delegating pure, untranslated Gaelic to the realm of decorations and memorials. One sign I saw in a lot of restaurants was “Bia, caint, ceol agus craic,” which means, roughly, “Food, talk, music, and fun.”

Betsy and I spent most of our week-long Irish sojourn in Dublin. The guidebooks describe it as a walking city, and this is very true. It’s easy to get around on foot, and there’s a lot to see. It’s also an international city. We were constantly overhearing conversations in French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and other languages we couldn’t place. And, to be honest, it’s a pretty dirty place as well. A lot of trash on the streets. It reminded us of Paris that way.

Some of the best things I saw in Dublin were indoors. The ancient and marvelously intricate Book of Kells; an original handwritten copy of Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” which I love; and some stunning engravings by medieval artist Albrecht Dürer. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see as much of the Irish countryside as we would’ve liked, just because of our limited time. We did take a day trip to Howth, where we got to hike some high, rocky terrain next to the ocean, and that was gorgeous. If and when we go back to Ireland, I’d like to spend more time hiking and less time in the cities.

Like so many tourists, I came to in search of the real Ireland. I wanted to break through the veneer of tourist attractions and leprechaun costumes, and see what daily life was really like there. I don’t think I ever succeeded. Walking around Dublin, Howth, and Kilkenny, we found lots of gift shops and restaurants, lots of signs promising “authentic” Irish experiences, but very little that didn’t seem custom-built to cater to foreign money-spenders. That’s to be expected, I guess. When you pick your destinations by reading a travel book, you’re going to end up in the same places that everyone else goes. Still, it was a little disappointing.

Nevertheless, we had a great time overall, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’s remotely interested. As usual this morning I’m running out of time, so I have to skip a lot of details: the friendly people, the wide assortment of bookstores, the eye-catching street art. The pictures tell half the story anyway.

Any questions? Ask ’em in the comments! Impressions of Scotland coming tomorrow.

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3 responses to “Thoughts on Ireland

  1. Went to Ireland with family after high school in 1999. We flew into Dublin, drove directly west and followed the coast around most of the country and then returned to Dublin. We stopped at a lot of tourists sites/shops, and stayed at B&Bs, but driving through the country side and seeing a solar eclipse on the beach in a little town called Inch were the highlights for me. We also got lost on a hike and I remember walking 17km through hills with cows and goats leaping across our path. The Irish countryside is spectacular, but I never made it to Scotland. Looking forward to reading your impressions.

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