Today my prayers go with my sweet friends Lauren and Jason as they begin their odyssey to the land of the Shamrock. To the Isle of Erin. To what may be one of the most beautiful countries I have ever had the pleasure to visit, not once, but twice. The first time I went was back in the 90’s with two school teacher friends on a 16-day journey that was filled with mystical stone circles, Irish castles, and the homes and haunts of our favorite Irish authors. The second time was a sweet visit whose purpose was to return my son-in-law’s father’s ashes to his native country, to the family churchyard where his people are buried. Both trips were magical. I pray not only for the safety of my friends, but that they, too, may have as wonderful experiences as I enjoyed. The following is a reprise of one of the columns which captured that last visit:
There is no greener green than that of the hills and dales of Ireland. No blue as deep, no aqua so glorious as the western sea, and nothing so breathtaking as the acres of sun-yellow flowers that are the fields in spring and summer. It is no wonder that the Irish immigrant is the quintessential picture of the face of longing, longing for the Old Sod, for the Isle of Erin.
Our too-short visit to Ireland allowed a look at a land and people so full of national pride that as we crisscrossed the island, driving hundreds of miles on tiny roads barely wide enough for one car and on “super” highways with speed limits of over 120 kilometers an hour, we did not see one scrap of paper. Villages so clean there was hardly a dropped flower petal to mar the ancient brick garden paths. Bright emerald vistas marked only by farmer’s hedges or stacked stone fences. Pastoral scenes of grazing sheep and cattle, where not a single styrofoam cup or paper hamburger wrapper was to be seen.
Strangely, I never saw armies of litter crews, nor did I see overflowing trash cans lining the streets in front of homes built efficiently side by side, often with common walls. Most had a private garden in back and a public (and beautifully kept) front lawn the size of a large handkerchief. I began to believe in fairies! Sun glinted off brightly painted doors and storefronts. (Think Senoia’s former Southern Ground establishment!). Red, black, and green are favorites, but the orange, white, and green of the Irish flag adorn more than football jerseys. Speaking of football, actually what we rightfully know as “soccer,” I think Irish television has only three channels. Soccer. Soccer. And soccer. My goodness! These folks are obsessed. More evidence of that fierce national pride.
While we saw no ugly litter, what we did often see on the sidewalks were…cars. Space is critical and the Irish driver is creative for sure, both behind the wheel, zipping along winding country lanes at the posted 80 Kms, and clever in finding places to perch their tiny and not so tiny autos. What we also did NOT see in the entire six day odyssey was an accident! Not even a fender-bender. No twisted bicycles, no smashed headlamps, crumpled bumpers, and no hour-long traffic jams caused by three or four car pile ups.
Now, I am certain that this was an anomaly due in part to the fervent daily prayers I sent begging God to keep our little band of five safe; and I am also sure that, owing to the fact that I did hear a siren or two and saw an occasional orange van (Irish ambulance) skirting through traffic, accidents do happen. Probably bad ones considering the astonishingly high speed limits posted. But, Praise God, we were able to return our minivan at the end of our journey with only the one small dent it came with! The extra $300 for one week’s insurance that we paid also attests to the fact that we were indeed among those few foreign drivers so blessed as not to have met a stone wall …or two. Our small “villa” on the 800 acre estate of Adare Manor was lovely, the people beyond friendly, the food excellent, the churches, castles, monasteries awe inspiring, and the thatched cottages and cozy pubs were charming. But the beautiful landscape; the loughs, lochs, valleys and lakes, the azure sea and the craggy shoreline (where Vikings once pillaged and plundered), was the most memorable aspect of this tiny island.
Set like an emerald jewel in the North Atlantic sea only 13 miles from the coast of Scotland, Ireland has a history as turbulent and violent as those countries in the Middle East we read and hear about today. It is not a simple history of the native clans having been conquered and pushed aside by greater powers, or of its Kings losing their feudal lands to brutal outsiders, or only of religious upheaval. Like modern warring countries; civil war, blood feuds, lawlessness and land hunger were then and still are the result, simply and innocently put, of human greed. The class “war” and racism of the past are still as much a part of their society today as it is ours. And if you will study the history of Ireland, of Britain, of Iraq, of America…you will see a pattern so clear one wonders why we never seem to learn.
What then can we take from these passionate people, whose past is as much a melting pot as ours? A fervent love of country. A National Pride. We, too, live in a land of magnificent beauty. We, too, have brave ancestors who have accomplished great and glorious deeds. We, too, memorialize those who died serving and protecting our country. We are a great and benevolent people. We, too, can be proud. We should be proud. We are Americans. Americans who believe in one mighty God. May God bless our nation. God bless America!