Thursday, June 12, 2014

Let me tell you some things about the Irish...

To tie off my Ireland Itinerary series of posts I wanted to close with some thoughts on the Irish people and country.

I have a curiosity about people that I do not often have the chance to indulge generally because I am too busy and many people find my inquisitive intensity to be unnerving but when I have the chance, the time and the opportunity I really try to learn as much about others as possible and am often rewarded with some valuable perspectives.

What I found in Ireland is that the people and the country are so much more multi-dimensional than I had expected.  I suppose that's true whenever you go to a different place but the depth found in the land, people and history of Ireland was transformative for me.

Irish Wit

I used to think that Tolkien and Orwell were great writers with boundless imaginations but during this trip I realized just how much "place" impacts authors.  I don't believe any country could have produced a Tolkien or an Orwell other than Great Britain.

So it also is, I believe, about Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde.  These are two masters of satire and wit and the fact is that they owe their success in part to the fact that they were Irish who lived in Ireland.  Living in the cauldron of wit that is Dublin could only have sharpened their skills.

The Irish are witty.  Devilishly so.  It is part of their culture.  Don't know why but that's just how it is.  Almost everyone I spoke with had some turn of a phrase that was so cunning it was artful.  I commented on that to an Irish lady during dinner on our last night and she confirmed for me just how true that is and told me that if I walked down any street in Dublin virtually every Irish person would sport a significant level of wit and humor.  That's just them.  It was confirmed for us at almost every turn during our trip.

Irish Hospitality

I have traveled to many places in the world and found none of the people to be inhospitable.

That being said, the Irish appear to just have a level of hospitality ingrained in them that is beyond compare in my experience so far.  It is delightful, relaxing and soul-fulfilling all at the same time.  Real people actually concerned about your well being in a way that is sincere but not subservient.  Karen and I aspire to be ever hospitable and sometimes we do not think others recognize our efforts but it is really nice to see that other people also value sincere hospitality.

For the first time ever during my travels, not a single person felt obliged to tell me what America should be doing or is doing wrong.  As a matter of fact, only one person asked me anything at all about politics in America ("It looks like Hillary is going to be your next that right?")

So what?  Well the Irish love to talk Politics!  Love it!  Add to that the fact that everywhere else I go, people are VERY quick to jump right in and tell me what's wrong with America.  Totally don't mind it at all.  In fact, I'm experienced, studied and travelled enough to actually relish those kinds of conversations but the fact that nobody said anything of the sort says a lot about Irish sensibilities on how to be hospitable.

The Great Famine and Emigration

The Irish Potato Famine and Irish immigration are things we're taught about in school but seeing the Irish landscape, the kinds of cottages people were living in at the time, reading about the political factors that contributed to the starvation and really thinking about the fact that after the famine about 25% of their population either died or left the country all gave me a much deeper empathy to the hole these events left in Ireland's psyche.

It is clear that, for Ireland, the Famine and Emigration are very real things that happened to them and their families not really that long ago and in many cases had a direct impact on them even today.  I had not expected that.

Those events really took a toll on the lives of the people who left the country in search of better lives and also for those they left behind.

"Can't really complain about immigrants because..."

My wife is Polish, German and Czech.  I'm much further removed from my heritage but come from Irish, Italian, Norwegian and American Indian stock.

We asked a cab driver about all of the Polish in Dublin and he said "We can't really complain about all of the Polish coming into Ireland because of the fact that so many Irish went to America but..."

He went on to say that it saddened him that the people coming to Dublin were not interested in Ireland as a home.  They just want work so they can send money back home and then one day leave themselves which is our general complaint about immigration as well (the legal kind anyway).

Being so self-aware of the impact on another country caused by your country's people going there is something that I found quite thoughtful.  In all my travels I've never heard anyone else express such a sentiment.  It goes directly to what I said above about Emigration.

"Irish Soldiers Killed those Indians"

The most deeply impactful conversation I had during the whole trip was with a fellow in a pub in Trim long after midnight.  I do not remember how it came up but the conversation turned somehow to American Indians and this fellow says to me right out, quite saddened, "Irish soldiers killed those Indians."

My great-grandfather was half Cherokee but beyond that I have always felt a real connection to Native Americans.  Did not know about my blood line until I was almost 20 but I try to pay attention to what is going on/what has happened to Native Americans and I agree with Chris Rock.

That being said I am also a father and a husband and an American male who understands having responsibilities and also how different things were back then.  I told this fellow that, frankly, the Irish were not treated well at all when they came over then and many of those men I'm sure needed work and joined the military.  It was not their fault that the U.S. sent the military Out West and then ordered them to kill Indians without remorse.

This guy did not miss a beat.  Still quite sad about it he said "Nah.  Those were Irish soldiers and they should have known better.  There is no reason to kill another human being like that."

Cue drinking our Guinness.

Like I said.  There is a depth to the Irish that is profoundly humbling.

Celtic Art and Engineering

Newgrange is an engineering marvel that predates Stonehenge and the Egyptian Pyramids.  It has essentially remained dry inside for about five millennia.  I could not stay dry in Ireland for two days straight my entire trip!

The artwork at Newgrange and Knowth is incredible especially once you figure out how old it is.  You quickly figure out what these were not just a bunch of lads sitting around beating on stones in the tundra!

Last thought...

Clearly the Irish, the Hibernians, were and are a unique people.  Given the tremendous influence they have had on the world, one has to ponder what they may have been or achieved had they not been ruled from afar for so long.  It is a great country with great people!

If you are considering visiting Ireland, I say Go!  Be prepared though.  The people, the history and the country will warm your soul and stimulate your mind so much that you'll actually consider never leaving.

Which makes it even more incredible that so many actually did.