A Bostonian goes home.

We’re back home in Ireland after two glorious weeks in Boston and on Cape Cod.  The weather was nice most of the time – interrupted by a day of torrential rain on the Cape and three days of uncomfortable heat and humidity at the end of the trip.  It went by way too fast. 

As always, it was great to spend time with my father.  He’s 78 now, yet remains mentally acute and physically active.  Indeed, we walked the magnificently well-kept Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester almost every day, sometimes twice a day.  We chatted at length about politics, especially the “good old days” in Boston and in Massachusetts when the Irish still ruled the roost, as well as the current state of play locally and nationally.  On the day we set out for Logan Airport and the journey home, there was the heart-wrenching, tear-filled (for me, anyway) goodbye that emigrant children know all too well.  But I’m one of very few for whom it happens on the western side of the Atlantic.

It was equally great to catch up with my brother and my sister-in-law, and with the large group of friends I have had for decades now.  Although most of us have somehow managed to marry wives we don’t deserve, to produce offspring we never thought we’d be ready for, and to succeed in our chosen fields, it was great to turn the clock back to the days of our youth for two weeks.  Alcohol-fuelled childish arguments and lurid banter among grown men were the daily norm to the visible disgust of all the females present.  My friends wonder how I have managed to simultaneously pick up an Irish twang and maintain a harder Boston accent than theirs.  So do I.

Maybe above all else, however, I enjoyed again showing off my hometown to my wife and 13-year-old son.  Seán, loyal to a fault, has declared Boston his favourite city in the world.  Eileen, who revels in irritating me, still prefers New York.  Legitimate justifications for spousal abuse aside, I loved taking them around “my Boston” one more time.  The only difficulty is that the city continues to change at such a rapid pace that I can’t keep up with it.  The new Seaport District is a wonderful addition to the city that I can scarcely recognise.  I remember it as nothing other than old, abandoned factories and warehouses.  It now has a great buzz, however, and I highly recommend it to those travelling to Boston.

In addition to taking whimsical strolls down memory lane, I made two observations while at home that have stuck with me.  The first is a dissonant point about the cost of vacationing in the United States as compared to the cost of vacationing in Ireland.  The second is just how Irish a place Boston, and Massachusetts, still is.

For the past decade, Irish people have flocked to the United States – Boston and New York in particular – in search of bargains on clothing.  There is no doubt that designer clothes are far cheaper in the US than in Ireland.  When the currency differential (€1 is about $1.25 currently) is taken into account, there is excellent value for Irish people shopping for clothes in the US.  Excellent value exists on iPads and other technological gadgets as well.

Yet for accommodation, food and drink, probably the three main expenditures for vacationers, I found prices in Boston and on Cape Cod to be consistently, and often considerably, higher than in Ireland.  As for accommodation, my wife and I gave up on a romantic night at a hotel in town when the cheapest central hotel we could find was priced at over $200 a night.  On the very same night in Dublin, four star hotels could be found at or around €100 a night.

As for drink and food, there is no doubt that better value exists in Dublin than in Boston.  Pubs in Boston typically charge $5 or more for a long-neck (330 ml) bottle of Magners (Bulmers) cider.  A tip of at least $1 is customary.  In Dublin, pubs charge, on average, €5.50 for a pint (568 ml) bottle of Bulmers (Magners) cider with no expectation of a tip.  Even taking the currency differential into account, it is clear that there is better value in Dublin.  Similarly, Boston pubs charge around $4 for a long-neck (382 ml) bottle of Budweiser.  When a tip is added, the $5 cost isn’t far off what a pint (568 ml) of lager costs in most Dublin pubs, again accounting for the currency differential.  And across a range of low-, mid- and high-priced restaurants, I was able to discern little difference between prices in Dublin and in Boston.  The tip system is the great equaliser.  

I monitored these costs carefully and look forward to confronting American friends and relations who invariably complain about the price of food and drink in Dublin as compared to home.  They are not wrong; Dublin is expensive.  But so is Boston.

In the pubs and restaurants we ate and drank in, and in almost everything we did on our trip, my wife and son were astonished by the amount of Irish people we encountered.  They gained a new understanding of how I was able to make a relatively seamless transition to living in a country 3,000 miles from home.

We watched Ireland lose 4-0 to Spain in Tommy Doyle’s Pub on Hyannis’s Main Street with 200 Irish college students.  I watched Galway’s hurlers beat Offaly and Waterford’s hurlers squeak by Clare in a pub in Quincy with substantial constituencies from each of the four counties.  I spent a considerable amount of time in Dorchester’s Adams Corner section, where tricolours fly alongside the star spangled banner and newspapers from every region of Ireland can be purchased.  We talked at length with neighbours from just outside Boyle, Co. Roscommon and from Inis Mór, Aran Islands, who are moving home to raise their son in mid-July, despite the bad reports they receive nearly every day from family and friends about Ireland in 2012.  And an Irish accent could be heard in virtually every house we set foot in for two weeks.

All in all, it was fantastic to be home.  But back here in Ireland, it’s nice to be home.  Since I moved to Ireland in 2001, I’ve been lucky enough to have two homes.  Now, my wife and son know that they do too.