“I was 21 when I met my first Irishman – two, to be exact. I was studying abroad in Spain with a group of girls from Auburn, Alabama (our college town), and we had arrived in Tenerife for a quick weekend trip. Later in the evening, a group of us from our hostel headed out to Old Man’s Pub. After discovering that I was an English major, Martin, and Patrick, both from Ireland, immediately asked what Irish works I had read.
“You’ve read TWO? Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde – that’s it?!” Patrick yelled.
“Well, that was just a world literature class, so it can’t ALL be Irish works,” I defended.
“How about an Irish literature class. Have you taken one of those?” Patrick asked.
“My school doesn’t offer an Irish literature class.”
“What are they teaching you over there in the states? They are depriving you of a real education. Such a shame.” He got up to buy us another round of drinks; and when I tried to stop him, he said, “No, Martin got the first round. Now it’s my turn. That’s how we do things; we buy rounds for our friends.”
Our conversation shifted over to Gaelic, and Martin and Patrick described how special the language was to them, even though they rarely speak it. We laughed as they spoke a few phrases, and then we challenged them by showcasing a Southern drawl. The evening ended with us all drunkenly singing our national anthems, which, quite frankly, is how every night should end.
A few years later I went backpacking in Europe with my husband, and we met three Irish women. We introduced ourselves, and Natalie said, “Brad and Meg! That is SO American! I love it!” Their smiles and laughter matched our own. They, like Martin and Patrick, treated us with a sense of familiarity that is typically born from years of knowing a person. But instead, they embraced us in warmth and kindness after a mere 40 seconds of knowing each other. As we drank beer, I told them this; I shared with them my past experiences with people from Ireland, and they all nodded their heads knowingly.
“We are a very friendly group of people.”
Back home, I was talking with a fellow teacher friend of mine, and he described his study abroad experience in Ireland in the 1980’s. “I was dirt poor. My parents couldn’t afford to pay my living expenses, so I worked at a local pub to pay the bills. I would give anything to go back and work in that pub. The people, they were just incredible.”
Being in my late 20’s, I have done my best to travel as much as I can, and experience the world at a time when I lack so much experience. I know the joy in seeing a new land for the first time, to wander aimlessly in a strange building, learn the history, experience a culture, and meet new people. All of this is known, and many travelers can nod their heads in agreement.
And I can tell you that I’m Irish on my mother’s side, and so I desperately want to visit the land of my ancestry. I can tell you the beauty of Ireland entrances me. I want nothing more than to see rolling hills of green against a crashing ocean biting at the cliff. And I can tell you I want to get lost in a castle, stumble in a pub, and drink good beer. All of this is true. But the main reason why Ireland is at the top of my list of places to travel to, it is the people. I want to meet them, laugh with them, drink with them, listen to them, and learn from them. I want to be wrapped up in Ireland – to feel its warmth and know that I am a part of it. Ireland, for me, means connection – connecting to my history, to beauty, to kindness, and to people.”
Whether there’s Irish in your blood or not, a night spent storytelling, joking and laughing with individuals who take great pride in the Emerald Isle, will certainly put a visit Ireland on your wishlist. However, you may have some trouble understanding them, maybe take a peek at our guide to Irish slang for some help!