It's Our Turn: Journey to the Emerald Isle
In one short week, we're going to start seeing those gimmicky shamrocks, leprechaun hats and "Kiss me, I'm Irish" T-shirts. All the bands, dancers and vocalists are gearing up for their Celtic concerts. Local bars are ready to advertise their beer specials. Happy St. Paddy's Day!
This year, it's a bit nostalgic for me this time around, considering exactly one year ago today I was enjoying a medieval banquet in the great hall of Ireland's Bunratty Castle.
Traveling to Ireland was one of the best things I've ever done. It was my senior year in college, the honors class was planning the trip, and I thought, probably a little dramatically, that my life was passing me by.
It took my convincing the parents and getting a job to pay for it, but I succeeded. One moment I was shivering in Minnesota's white wasteland and the next I was sniffing the pungent fragrance of green...lots of green.
The hardest part was getting used to the time difference. Getting up at 7 a.m., boarding a plane in New Jersey at 7 p.m. and then arriving at 7 a.m., having to skip to the next day without any sleep. Brutal. Well, I suppose I shouldn't complain. They told us to sleep on the plane, but we all decided to test how many in-flight movies could fit in a seven-hour period.
I tell ya, you definitely can't go to Ireland without experiencing a few things: roundabouts, the color green, sheep, legends and myths (seriously, everything there has a myth attached to it), the Gaelic language, Guinness, Irish blarney, complaints about Vikings (they sort of had a habit of invading Ireland), and did I mention sheep?
I got to sit atop the Lia Fáil coronation stone at the Hill of Tara. I took Irish dancing lessons and watched an uilleann pipes player in the basement of a local pub. I explored ancient monastic sites that contained the most famous of high crosses. I got knocked about by wind that literally stole my breath away on the Cliffs of Moher (or the Cliffs of Insanity for The Princess Bride fans).
The best part, though, was just experiencing the culture. You've heard of Minnesota nice? Well, say hello to Irish hospitality.
I've never felt so safe walking through creepy streets late at night. We were allowed to explore Dublin each of the three nights we spent there. The first night was drizzling, cold and dark, and my small group had all but epically failed at finding a decent pub in which to eat a meal. Onward we marched, albeit with grumbling, until we found a little pub tucked away on the far side of Temple Bar, Dublin's cultural quarter. Just in time, too.
We got out of the rain and were treated to an energetic pub show of music and dancing. My meal of hearty potatoes, roast chicken and steaming vegetables topped off the evening.
The next night, we were sans chaperones, found another pub full of young people and tried a round of Irish cider. As for our small-world moment of the night, all but a few pub-goers in the room were from Minnesota. And the Vikings invade again! Oh, sorry...too soon?
By the time we hopped on the bus (or coach, as the Irish call it) and toured the rest of the country, I'd become quite adept at navigating Dublin. Suddenly, working the coach system, escaping the maze of Temple Bar, finding a bridge to cross the River Liffey, or locating the famous Molly Malone statue wasn't so hard.
We missed St. Patrick's Day in Ireland by exactly a week but were given a glimpse of real Ireland. Yup, no leprechauns.
I'll never forget the calm that comes over you when you look out the coach windows as it winds around mountain roads. You see the turquoise water, white waves chasing each other to shore. Sheep, spotted with blue and red coloring, graze throughout the perfectly hedged landscape.
I'll remember it when people start wearing their St. Patrick's Day shirts and the streets are marked with green. Until then, keep an eye out for blarney, and may the luck of the Irish find you.
"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.