An “Irish American Mom” looks at why so many hold Ireland so dear to their hearts
I count among the millions of people worldwide, who simply love Ireland. My deep feelings of connection are understandable, since I was born in Dublin.
However, after living in America for over 20 years, I have come to realize that there are many who have never even set foot on Irish soil yet feel the same affinity for our little island.
Many reasons explain why we love Ireland. I suppose every tourist holds in their heart a very personal and special reason why they make the journey across the miles to visit the Emerald Isle.
And I am quite certain some visitors leave Ireland perplexed, unable to figure out what all this Irish, nostalgic hoopla is all about.
And so, in today’s post I thought I would explore the great big WHY.
Why do so many hold Ireland dear to their hearts?
I have browsed through numerous posts on the internet where reasons to love Ireland are eloquently listed. I found some focused too much on what I consider superficial reasons, such as the pubs and the Guinness.
Now don’t get me wrong, Guinness is a fine Irish product and its invention is plenty reason to admire Ireland and the Irish, but in my book, Ireland’s magic springs from a deeper, more spiritual place.
And so, without further ado, here are my top ten reasons, why I think tourists love Ireland.
1. Our own unique music
I must confess Irish music makes my heart swell with joy. Every time I hear the rhythmic beat of a reel or a jig, I take a deep breath, my insides do a little somersault, and my foot inevitably begins to tap. I don’t know if this is a reflexive expression of my Irish genes or just sheer appreciation for the vitality of this passionate music form. I truly believe Irish music is a deeply resonant and beautiful expression of our unique culture,
For a country as small as Ireland it’s amazing how far and wide our music has reached. Irish dancing classes are taught as far afield as China, which for me is evidence of the uplifting qualities of our tunes.
Most tourists to Ireland take time to enjoy at least one traditional Irish music session at some point on their itinerary. The moment a listener makes the vital decision to join in, magic happens.
By clapping those hands and tapping those toes, visitors experience the rich and intricate combinations of notes and rhythms, at a spiritual level. Irish music can simply stir the soul.
Ireland is a land of festivals, especially during the summer months. With a little planning, tourists are sure to find a festival of interest celebrating everything from the arts, architecture, fashion, film, food, literature, music, theater, and much, much more.
I know you think I’ve lost my marbles by including festivals in this list. At first glance these festivals may appear to be tourist traps but that is far from the case.
Festivals are part of who we are as a people, part of the tapestry of our wonderful, cultural history. Our Celtic forefathers celebrated the seasons with four distinct festivals. Their social lives revolved around fairs and markets held during these carnivals.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, fairs and marts were held at regular intervals throughout the year and were highly anticipated by native Irish people. Dancing, drinking, and revelry accompanied the more mundane tasks of paying the rent and selling farm animals and produce. Coming together to connect and to celebrate is part of who we are as a people.
Irish festivals are all about interaction, where the depth and uniqueness of individual Irish characters are waiting to be discovered. Irish people seldom strive for commonality but revel in the diversity of their individuality. At an Irish festival you meet a cohort of characters unmatched anywhere in the world. Festival goers possess a love of stories, talk and music, a deep-seated wildness, and above all else, an affinity for fun, or what we Irish call "divilment."
3. A hundred thousand welcomes
“Céad míle fáilte” is one of the most loved Irish expressions worldwide and it literally means a hundred thousand welcomes. Irish people are very proud of the welcome they extend to visitors. Now, I hope I’m not painting a picture of smiling leprechauns greeting you with a canned “Top of the Morning” salutation at the airport.
No! Ireland’s welcome is more subtle. It revolves around a chat, a friendly nod, a reserved inquisitiveness. A lady I met on a plane when I was returning to America once told me:
“Ireland feels like a dear old friend.”
I love this description and I truly hope visitors feel welcomed home by their dear friend, Ireland.
4. Peace and tranquility
The moment I set foot on Irish soil, an overwhelming sense of calm and peace, overcomes me. I always think of Yeats’ poem “The Lake Isle of Inishfree.”
“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.”
Ireland offers true quietness for those who seek tranquility. I believe it is one of the best countries in the world to relax and unwind. Remote and romantic, Ireland offers a laid-back charm with a unique sense of place.
The sound of silence in rural Ireland is unparalleled. For me, it is a hymn to the surrounding landscape and magnificent scenery.
Even when the rain falls torrentially as is so apt to happen, it simply takes an evening sitting by an open fire for real warmth and peace to transform the soul. The scent of a turf fire, appreciated from the comfort of a welcoming chair, is simply magic.
5. History all around
In Ireland the old and the new co-mingle with grace. Our ancient past is evident nearly everywhere through our history, music, art, and architecture.
In America, 100 years is considered “old" but in Ireland, 100-year-old buildings are considered modern additions. In every small town and village visitors encounter sites much older than historical landmarks found in America.
Ireland is steeped in history and that history is evident everywhere you go. Ireland’s first known settlement began way back in 8,000 BC. Newgrange is older than the pyramids. The land boasts ancient castles, dolmens, burial tombs, arched bridges, round towers, and monastic ruins, dotted here and there throughout the countryside.
Preservation of our history is no accident. Reverence for ancient sites is inherent in some Irish souls. Farmers plough in circles around ancient monuments, afraid to disturb the memory of long lost ancestors. Museums are frequented by both young and old, eager and willing to learn and preserve our country’s fascinating past.
6. Folklore and stories
Rest assured a story awaits you in Ireland. From tour guides to barmen, shop keepers to farmers, everyone treasures stories of our recent history and distant past. Ireland’s charm is wrapped in myths and legends.
Our stories are filled with heroic warriors, deadly goddesses and trouble-making supernatural creatures. Folk tales from mainland Europe focus more on fairy godmothers, talking animals and, of course, wicked stepmothers. A few colleens with a severe lack of maternal instinct also feature in Irish myths, but in contrast to the Hans Christian Anderson variety of fairy tale, the Irish ones are filled with romance and tragedy, ghosts and other worldly beings.
To tell you the truth, some of these tales would frighten the life out of a child today. But these stories are part of who we are and feature regularly on tourist trails.
Once when we visited Donegal, we took a boat cruise on Dunlewey Lake. The tour guide told stories of all the mythical creatures and ghosts surrounding the lake. My American children were enthralled.
No banal, politically-correct tales to be heard in Ireland but in their stead thrilling sagas of ancient warriors, saints, sinners, and lingering spirits.
Who cannot love this superstitious land?
7. The coast and the islands
Ireland may be a small country but as an island she boasts a great expanse of rugged beauty along her winding and sometimes treacherous coastline. I grew up on the coast with views of Dublin Bay at the end of our road. The sound of waves and howling winds were part of my childhood. Living in Kentucky, I miss the sea, windswept gales, Atlantic sunsets, and the sheer beauty of Ireland’s coastline.
From Howth to the Giant’s Causeway, Malin Head to Mizen Head, the Cliffs of Moher and all the wonderful spots along the Wild Atlantic Way I truly believe this island’s magnificent coastline is one of its finest attributes.
8. The scenery
During the many years I have lived in America, I have often been asked “Is Ireland as beautiful as it seems in photos?”
And the answer to this question is a simple and resounding “yes”.
To be honest, Ireland’s scenery must be seen to be believed. It is even more beautiful than it appears in any photo or postcard. No image does Ireland justice. Even cloudy skies coordinate magnificently with mythical stones and ancient ruins.
When the sun doesn’t cooperate Ireland’s beauty still shines. Around every twist and turn of Ireland’s winding roads awaits yet another new reason to smile.
9. Irish food
I make no apologies for Irish food. Traditional Irish food is hearty and wholesome, comforting and filling.
Irish dishes provide healthy helpings of meat, oodles of veggies and, of course, the pride of every Irish mother’s table, potatoes. After a spoonful of Irish stew, or a warming bowl of potato and leek soup, it will be easy to understand why I rate Irish food so highly.
My advice for tourists is to dig into a plate of bacon and cabbage, savor our brown bread, and treat yourself to a full Irish breakfast. You’ll leave Ireland understanding how simple, wholesome food feeds the soul.
10. Irish pride
And last, but not least, comes Irish pride. We Irish live and breathe our heritage. From a very young age, we learn our history through myth and legend. For centuries we clung to our culture, even when our conquerors tried to strip us of our heritage. This Irish pride has been carried by generations to the four corners of the world.
But when you visit Ireland you will learn the subtle differences in our heritage and how our cultural inheritance changes from county to county. A tourist’s experience in the Burren in County Clare is vastly different from the memories created in County Donegal, but everywhere you go on this little island, you will be enthralled by the pride people feel in their local village, town, and county.
History and heritage survive, because Irish people choose not only to remember the past but to practice old traditions with pride.
And so I hope this little list, will help you understand why you may already love Ireland or if you plan to visit the Emerald Isle in the near future it will help you understand you too may be at risk of falling in love with Ireland.
If you think of another reason to love Ireland, why not join in our discussion in the comment section, below.
Slán agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
* Mairead Geary came to America for one year 20 years ago. She now lives with her husband and children in Kentucky and is proud to be an American citizen. Read more on her blog here.
* Originally published in October 2014.