Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reflections and Observations on Ireland

By Claire and Chuck

Ireland's Coat of Arms, the Harp of Ireland, is the obverse of the Guinness harp—the brewery owns the copyright. When Ireland tried to adopt the harp, they were taken to court. The legal decision was that Ireland could only use the mirror image of the harp.

The harp coat of arms is also found on some of the €1 coins--probably those minted in Ireland.

The people, for the most part, are friendly, always acknowledging with a hand up as you pass them on the road.

We saw lots of cyclists. It seemed downright crazy to us with high hedges, blind curves and no shoulder whatsoever. Nor did it look like fun with cars zooming past and rain pouring down. The drivers are fast here.

A funny thing we’ve observed is the resting cows. I have never before seen so many cows lounging in fields. Some even look dead, lying on their sides. It was interesting to see that they unfold themselves into a standing position somewhat like camels.

We’ve gotten used to buying what we call “shelf milk”. This is milk that has been heat treated and lasts for months on the shelf until you open it. The taste is the same. It’s great to have a couple as backup since our fridge is quite small. However, it has disappeared off the shelves in southern Ireland. When I asked about it at one of our campgrounds, the man crinkled his nose and said “milk should expire.”

We have informally observed a higher per cent of people smoking here than in any other country. This seems to hold across age levels.

Ireland and Scotland may tie for the proportion of redheads in the population; they far outdistance all other countries we have visited.

They may also tie for the number of sheep. They are literally everywhere.

It goes without saying that Ireland is WET. I think we had two days in a row without any real rain but it always sprinkled for a at least few minutes. We felt oppressed by the gloomy, gray days and lack of sunshine. In fact, I think we’re experiencing SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s strange how just a burst of sunshine can completely change our mood.

We’ve seen far more tent campers here than anywhere else. Ironic when you consider the weather. We see them huddled inside, all bundled up and have to ask ourselves, why?

The gravestones we’ve examined are almost impossible to read even though many of them are from the 20th century. It just goes to show you what rain can do. Most are just worn away.

Apparently you can’t buy alcohol at a supermarket until after 10:30 in the morning. We stopped by a big supermarket, Tesco, one morning at 8:30, and couldn’t buy a bottle of wine.

However, you CAN buy strawberries and something we've never seen before, fresh cream, already whipped and ready to go. Below is one of Chuck's favorite dinners. I kid you not.

The crowds in several places really got to us. But, that isn’t anything unique to Ireland. I’m sure it’s packed all over Europe at this time of year.

The highlights for us were The Giant’s Causeway, Connemara, Dingle Peninsula and Kinsale.

Quite frankly, Ireland has lost its charm. There is a sense of commercialism that wasn’t here 20 years ago. It is quite expensive, especially in Dublin. At least some Irish are aware of the danger of this as a deterrent to tourism; and the country is definitely suffering severely from economic contraction—the Celtic tiger has become the Celtic kitten; but, there does not seem to be any coherent plan to extricate themselves; this they have in common with the rest of the world. It is our fault for wanting things to stay the same with the old stone houses and thatched roofs and the quaintness of days long ago.

Unfortunately, it all looks like the Americanization of Ireland. This may all be related to an observation by Rick Steves, “Ireland is Europe’s youngest country, with 40 per cent of the population under the age of 25.” Perhaps the younger generation is so focused on improving its material condition they have lost their attachment to their cultural identity and traditions. Yet, at the same time, sections of Ireland are very serious about retaining their Celtic culture.

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand. ~ Irish blessing


Karin said...

It was interesting to read about your impressions of Ireland. I am sure when we go back for a couple of months this winter, we will also see many changes.

SAD...yes, I know that was a lot of my problem when living there. And yet, so much sun (with heat) such as here in Greece is a downer, too. For me, anyway.

I had to laugh when you mentioned so many cows and sheep. Did you know cows sneeze? And fart? I use to listen to them when I walked down a dirt road. You didn't mention the fuschias. Were there many? Or any? I remember hedgerows of them near Ballydehob and in Co. Cork in general.

Thanks so much for "the trip to Ireland". I've enjoyed this part of your trip very much.

Those strawberries looked mighty good!

Take care....leaving soon for Wales? Tomorrow maybe? Or is it today?

Have a good trip over....
Karin on Paros

Paul King said...

Hi Guys,

Been a while since I posted a comment but your impressions of Ireland were very illuminating and a bit sad for me to read.
I travelled for a month in Ireland back in 1993 and consider it one the happiest slices of my life. Hard to hear about the changes and the tough economic effects on the great Irish people.
I hope your time there was as enjoyable and affecting as mine was.

Hard to fathom that, before long, you will be back in Davis
where, incredibly, we have had one of the coolest summers on record.
What an amazing journey!


Chuck and Claire said...

We did enjoy ourselves. Chuck had never been but agreed with me that it is very commercial. Visiting Ireland 21 years ago, it was my favorite country next to Turkey. There have been drastic changes. I will be interested to know what your impressions are when you go this winter, Karin.

Elle in Crete said...

I just had a parallel experience in worn-down touristy Matala - culdn't wait to bus into Ayia Galini, which has a happier (tho' admittedly German touristy) vibe. Here, the people are all in great moods, singing & laughing in the seaside restaurants, whereas in Matala the natives seem nervously aware that the "heyday is over."
HOWever, a 37 yr old SFran native staying at my pension said she was "blissed-out" rdg Rumi in the caves, and raving aout it in her blog - so there you have it - diff strokes for all ur readers. My 5th & her 1st time there.
I'm grateful for this blessed heat (which I count on evry yr) and wuld indeed have "SAD" blues, too if I were you... won't you be returning Homer to Amster in 2 days, and then flight to SFO?

OH! Bfore i forget, I heard from David, & when i wrote that he was sitting in "my grandmother's chair" i didn't literally mean HER chair: just an extraordinarily identical one, distinguished by the amazing carved wood. Lol, i had better be more precise in future postings!
Safe flight home..

Chuck and Claire said...

We still have a month to go. Our flight home is August 30. Have fun in Crete.