The first sight of the Irish coastline as the Aer Lingus plane swoops in to land still sends a frisson of excitement and anticipation through my veins.
Unconsciously I think “I’m home now,” even though I have lived away since 1979 and have enjoyed a blessed home and work life in the US.
There is something visceral in the soul, hard to pin down, about returning to Ireland. Perhaps it is as simple as saying “this is where I belong,” and I do. I'm luckier than most and have two countries to call home.
Beside me on the plane are members of the Hofstra University lacrosse team, and a better-behaved, finer bunch of athletes you would not find. The coach gave a small speech after they were seated – no heavy drinking, no loud behavior – and I have to say he got total compliance. I could hardly imagine a group of Irish athletes being as respectful and calm.
Over the years I have flown in in thunderstorms, experienced one aborted landing, and held on for dear life as major turbulence rocked the plane. Once we were on our last effort to land in Dublin and were about to be chased off to Manchester because of gale-force winds.
It was a smooth landing for my most recent trip earlier this month. My brother was there waiting at Dublin Airport, and of course, started talking about the weather. As an island people, the Irish are obsessed with weather forecasts.
This trip I really won the jackpot with the finest weather imaginable. Weather in Ireland is a lottery, but last week sunshine and blue skies were in abundance.
The country is so different in the sunshine, people out and about and in high spirits.
The one thing that will shock is the price of items. The days have long gone where you would pack up with cheaper Irish food and clothes to bring home.
Next to the weather in Ireland, the major topic is GAA which encompasses hurling and Gaelic football. All the players are amateurs, but that does not impact the intensity and skill shown during the game.
Hurling is a magnificent game, most recently seen between Limerick and Clare for the title of Munster champions, with Limerick taking the win. If you want a superb Irish experience for your bucket list, pencil in the Munster hurling final.
Gaelic football, meanwhile, is undergoing a crisis due to a massive change in tactics first displayed by former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness. He discovered that by blanketing the defensive part his tactic could work based on blanket defense and quick breakaway.
The style of play was denounced as “puke football” by Kerry legend Pat Spillane, but it nonetheless became the norm and every team in Ireland has followed suit, leading to long periods of possession waiting for an opening to appear.
Let me highly recommend Carlingford at the northern tip of Co Louth, a beautiful area that was not allowed to develop during The Troubles because it was so close to the border.
Speaking of the North, there has been an incredible transformation in Belfast in particular, and I went there to see for myself. Gerry Adams was my guide for some of the walk, and if there was ever a smarter man who came through crisis after crisis I’d like to meet him.
All too soon it was back on the plane to New York, but with a lighter heart and an even greater appreciation of the new Ireland. Don’t wait too long to visit.
*This column first appeared in the June 14 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.