This guest blog post is written by Adrian Metcalfe. Adrian is a Celt through and through, with an Irish mother and a Welsh father. He has been a Tour Manager with ACIS for over twenty years and works all over Europe, speaking several languages including Welsh. He is also an actor, and has worked in the UK and Ireland for the RSC and in the West End.
“Would you be after having a few more potatoes?”
For many, this may sound like a strange sentence—especially as you may have already enjoyed some chipped (fat French fries) potatoes or mashed potatoes with your meal. However, this is just one of the things I love about the country of my maternal grandparents (and many more relatives when you consider that my grandmother was one of eight, my grandfather one of nine, and my mother one of seven. If you ever meet somebody in Cork named Smiddy, chances are they are related to me!). In many ways, this phrase sums up everything that is wonderful about the place. It’s the sort of thing that could happen “Only in Ireland.”
When the powers-that-be asked me to write this blog post, I immediately remembered a tweet I had seen about a year ago which posed a seemingly simple question: “What is your favorite thing about Ireland?” Easy, I thought, it’s…
But then, the doubt began to creep in. What is my favorite thing? How will I stick to just five selections? And for that matter, what do they mean by “thing”? Is that a place? A feeling? A song? The truth is, it could be any of the above. All of these things make up life in Ireland, and it is almost impossible to separate them – but I will try.
1. Family, friends, and a sense of acceptance
The Irish world is a Celtic world, an ancient world built around the importance of the tribe, the family, and the community. There is nothing quite like a Celtic wedding (or funeral for that matter). It is why the last year has been particularly hard for Ireland. Those communal events – whether in the sports stadia, the home, or the pub – are fundamental to our existence. An Irishman cannot be social and distant. Our social calendars are built around events of fun and frivolity; events where you eat, drink and dance. I can’t wait to get to a family house party again….an Irish Dance lesson sums up our love of this type of event. There’s a popular term used to describe these type of fun and entertaining events: craic. “Did you enjoy the craic?” is a great question to be asked, but “Only in Ireland.”
2. The Gift of Gab
Four Irish writers have won the Nobel Prize in Literature including William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, and Séamus Heaney. The list of playwrights, authors, musicians, and storytellers from Ireland would fill a novel in itself. Quotes from Oscar Wilde, Maeve Binchy, or Brendan Behan could provide the perfect response to every situation. But this love of language and quick wit is not confined to the literary or the intelligentsia. You can hear this speed of thought on the street, in the shops, or even in the pub.
We love words. We love the musicality of words. We love what words can do. As a man whom I had never previously met told me at a hotel in Killarney during the heat wave of 2017… “Ah, if it’s this hot in hell, I’m going to confession tomorrer.” Once again, “Only in Ireland.”
3. Strong feelings of identity and belonging
We have a deep sense of who we are. Every Celt has a sense of Celtic-ness. The Welsh (my father’s half) call it “hiraeth.” But ask us to define it and you will get a million different answers. In some ways, it is a sense of history and our place in the world. We have a lot of it, and we like to show it off. Dublin has two thousand years of history in a single city tour, from the Viking settlement around the Liffey, to St Patrick’s Cathedral, to Kilmainham Gaol — the site of the execution of the rebels in 1916.
4. It’s a truly global community
There are five million people living in Ireland. Before the Great Famine in the 1840s, there were over eight million. Between 1690 and 1920, an estimated ten million people left the island of Ireland to set up homes in another world. An estimated 80 million people worldwide can claim Irish descent and, for many of these people, they are still Irish! No matter where we are, we have a strong sense of our land, its shape, its color (various shades of green), and its extraordinary pull.
5. Guests are welcomed with open arms
Meet an Irishman anywhere and your first conversation will typically include the same two questions: “Where are you from?” and “When did you last go back?” Nowhere sums up this connection more than the West Coast. A drive around the Ring of Kerry is a journey through time and space. Vatican Pimpernel, Charlie Chaplin, Marconi, Star Wars, and Sheepdogs.
Some years ago, I was with an ACIS group from Floral Park, Long Island. We stopped for lunch in the beautiful Scarriff Inn, overlooking Caherdaniel on the extreme west of the Ring. David, the owner, walked up to us and said to the Group Leader: “Don’t I know you from Floral Park?” As it turns out, David’s cousin owns a restaurant there… “Only in Ireland!”
So, what is my favorite thing about Ireland? None of the above, and all of them. On my last trip before the virus, I landed at Cork Airport and handed over my Irish passport to “your man” (a very Irish phrase!) behind the counter. He took it from my grasp, glanced at it, swiped it over the machine, handed it back to me, raised his eyes, and said – with a twinkle in his eye that would have made a leprechaun blush – “Welcome home!”
It is quite simply this: no matter who you are or where you are from, once you get off the plane in Ireland, you’re made to feel at home: it is the Welcome – Failte! See you there, some day…