A note before starting: this post has been extraordinarily difficult to write. While traveling in Ireland the last couple weeks, I’ve been semi-distracted by the work involved in leading a tour group. With Heather as the lead guide, I’ve managed to keep one ear tuned in to the group, the other constantly reaching out to capture comments, conversations and sounds around me. It’s bits and pieces that I’ve been processing. Perhaps that’s why it’s taken me so long to be able to sift through them and come up with a presentable version of my experiences here in Ireland. Usually I meet a place for the first time on my own. Not so with Ireland. I’ve been working, with multiple people, and the with Heather doing some scouting. It’s only now, after a couple days by myself, that I can start to turn my attention to what I’ve been taking in. Last night, I was responding to an email from a friend who has traveled with Rowan Tree on a couple trips. As I wrote, I felt the pieces of one of my biggest questions about Ireland fall right into place. Finally the thing made sense! Days of poking and peering at the issue from all sides were finally rewarded with clear understanding. It must be that in writing I’m able to sort things. And the answers just appear. So here goes.
The above picture, taken in Doolin, on the west coast of Ireland, is the shot that comes closest to bringing together my preconceived notions about Ireland and what I actually find to be present. The two are entirely different. I’m not even sure how they are related. And perhaps that is the crux of my journey toward understanding Ireland. Ireland is not what I thought it would be. But Ireland is also just exactly as it is and it makes sense that it is so. A real surprise.
Ireland leads me to questions I hadn’t thought to encounter.
Ireland forces me to think long and hard about my livelihood and its impact on the places we visit.
Ireland forces me to face the fact that some places, like some people, are going to feel so fantastic — as if you’ve known them forever and can’t imagine never coming back. Other places don’t feel that way at all. It’s unpredictable and entirely individual. I’m not sure it has anything to do with ancestry. I really don’t know what it’s about. Just like with people, you can’t help who you fall in love with. There’s chemistry or there isn’t. But friends, oh yes, you can still be friends.
Why do we have such romantic visions of Ireland? Even those of us with no ancestral claim to the place think of it in terms of green hills covered with sheep, friendly folks in cabled sweaters that speak with a familiar, musical accent, long walls of cliffs above the crashing surf of the Atlantic, rowdy pubs filled with music sessions. We have a yearning for the place. We are looking for the home of Celtic knots and penny whistles, green beer and shamrocks, the family left behind when so many left to escape poverty and starvation. And if it’s not our family, in particular, that left these green shores, then we’re in search of the vicarious experience.
I’ve found some of these things. But not at all in the way I thought to find them. And I’m not sure how best to convey to you what I’ve found. So I’ll try, bit by bit, by telling you of a few particular days. Let’s see if that works.
I must dress and get down to breakfast. My room is located over the kitchen, from which noise and scents have been wafting up for two hours already. I’ll go down, get some coffee and food in me, then continue writing. Cheers!
This is a robin. Not an American robin. It lives across the pond and is smaller and not at all as sure of itself as our robins seem to be. I like both kinds.