Places I Love: Ireland

Ireland ranks very high on the list of places I want to take my children someday. In many ways it’s an ideal family location. Compact size, lots to see and no, well very little, language barrier are all great features of this amazing destination. And I’ve always found Ireland to be one of the friendliest destinations in Europe. I can remember one trip from my backpacking days. For whatever reason, I decided to meet my brother, who was on a four month trip to Europe, in St Petersburg Russia, travel with him through Eastern Europe to Prague, then fly to Dublin and meet a friend who lived in Galway and travel through Ireland together. Eastern Europe was amazing, but there was a very grim and serious vibe there in the late 1990’s. People walked around stone faced and service was delivered with indifference. I didn’t realize how much I missed friendly faces until I got onto the airport bus in Dublin and the older man in the seat next to me said hello and started up a friendly conversation like it was the most natural thing in the world. I think I fell in love with Ireland at that moment.

Another reason I love Ireland is the fact that I identify as “sort of, kind of, partly Irish” myself. To be honest, I’m fourth generation Canadian and have so many nationalities in my ancestry that I’m really not anything, but one of my great great grandfathers was from Malin Head in County Donegal and his wife,my great great grandmother, was from County Claire. I also seem to have inherited more than my share of Irish genes in my looks and  blended in quite well with the crowds in Ireland. When I arrived by ferry on my first visit in 1996 I was directed to a customs line by a guard as I got off the ferry. (Yes, you still had to show a passport between countries in Europe in 1996!) When I got to the front of the line I discovered that the guard had taken one look at me and directed me to the line for Irish citizens.

irish sun bathing

Yep, that would be me!

One of my favourite things about Ireland is the music. On my first visit to Galway I was like a kid in a candy store. There was live music everywhere and it was so hard to decide between staying put for the night or wandering down the street to see what was coming from that pub just around the corner. I spent one night visiting packed clubs with a group of university students from Dublin who knew all the newest bands. (This is a complete non sequitur, but I remember how I made the conversation stop at one point when I casually mentioned my car. The Dublin students were completely gobsmacked, or so they said, that a university student would have her own car. They were equally amazed that although I lived in an urban area the nearest university was 20 km away with no public transport.) I spent another night seeking out more traditional Irish music in various pubs. There’s nothing like enjoying traditional music in an Irish pub, thinking you couldn’t get any closer to the music only to have the guy sitting across from you suddenly pull a penny whistle out of his coat pocket and join in.

Irish-Traditional-Session

It was on my second trip to Ireland that I was really spoiled with music. I was visiting a friend who was in Ireland to study music and she had been there a year already and was quite involved in the music scene in Galway. She played the violin in a local orchestra and I was able to go with them to a concert they played in Inishmore, the largest of the Arran Islands. They played a classical concert in the main town hall followed by a ceilidh with local and guest musicians and dancing long into the night. I now regret that I was a bit too shy to join in and mostly stayed on the sidelines, but it was a memorable evening. And after a long night of music, the musicians still got out their instruments and played for fun the next morning as we returned on the ferry crossing the Galway bay.

Now I have to admit that the weather in Ireland isn’t always ideal. Many of my photos from my Ireland trips are of me with the hood of a raincoat cinched up around my chin, smiling as the water drips off my face. But I’ve never really been a sun worshipper and in some ways it feels like the weather in Ireland is just not letting you take it for granted. You don’t expect the sun to shine while you’re there, but every once in a while it does, and when it does it’s even more beautiful because you really appreciate it. Okay, that’s maybe stretching it a bit. I can remember going to visit the Malin Head peninsula once in late June and it was so cold I was able to see my breath as I climbed up the rocks. It crossed my mind for a minute that perhaps this was part of the reason why my great great grandfather left.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I get the chance to take the kids to Ireland, it will be hard to narrow down where to take them. Dublin and Galway for sure. I’d love to take them to the Arran Islands, although I know I’ll never have another night like the one I had with the orchestra on my last visit there. It would be great to take them to Donegal, where I can trace the last generation of my family to live in Ireland, but I’ve never been to the southeast part of the country and I’d love a chance to see Cashel and the Wicklow area. I’d like to see Newgrange as well since we drove past last time but never went to the site itself. And then there are many amazing things to see in Northern Ireland as well such as Giant’s Causeway and the cities of Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. The idea of narrowing it down to two or three weeks worth of sights is pretty daunting.

I guess Ireland’s on my mind today since I asked my daughter if there are any places she’d like to learn about next week and she said she wanted the place we did for letter D, which was Dublin. So I’ll probably be putting on some Irish music this week and remembering all the fun time I had in Ireland, while dreaming about the day I’ll get to share one of my favourite destinations with my kids.

 

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