Perhaps you have been told at one time or another that the Irish people are friendly and warm.
You might have also heard that Ireland is sometimes called the Land of A Thousand Welcomes (Cead Mile Failte).
But before I actually went to Ireland, I didn’t understand that this phrase is not just a slogan. It’s a way of life.
Friends, believe me when I tell you that from my wanderings in Ireland, I will remember the Irish people more fondly than any castle or cliff.
My experience with how warm and welcoming the Irish can be began before I ever set foot on Irish soil.
When we moved this summer to Aberdeen, Scotland, we decided that Taido should come early to find a place to live. A couple from Ireland, who had only just themselves moved to Aberdeen, welcomed my husband in, gave him a place to sleep and food to eat. They didn’t even know him. They had heard he was coming and needed a place and they were ready and willing.
You are very welcome.
Just a few days later Kevin and Claire would have us again for dinner and entertain us with histories of Ireland. We were all enraptured with Kevin’s storytelling. Claire would occasionally add in a detail or correct some part of the story. Their rhythm was consistent and mesmerizing.
When they heard that I was to come to Ireland, they called friends in Dublin and told me to cancel my hotel.
At this point, I just assumed that Kevin and Claire were the two kindest people on the planet. I had no idea that when I went to Ireland, I would encounter an entire country of people like Kevin and Claire.
Let me try to tell you briefly about just a few.
Friendly Folks I Met Along The Way
New friends who let me stay at their flat and invited me to their party on my first night in Dublin, after which, I fell asleep warm with the afterglow of conversations, sincere welcomes and 20 new dear folks in my heart.
A taxi driver who said Good Morning! cheerfully as I paraded down O’Connell street with my luggage and a thrift shop keeper who helped me find a vintage Irish wool sweater and gave me a history lesson all at once.
Josephine and Letty, who ran my tour through the Northwest of Ireland and anticipated my every need. Letty noticed when I was fretting over things happening back at home and Josephine made me fall down laughing with her wry wit and knowing looks.
Deirdre McGlone, who gave us the welcome of a lifetime at our hotel in Donegal, said to us that you arrive at Harvey’s Point as guests, but you leave as family. It sounds like a cliche a hotel might use, but when you meet her, you cannot doubt her sincerity. Especially after you have heard her tell the story of how she came to the hotel as a young girl, just looking to get a little money together to dance on the weekends, but fell in love. Now she and her husband, who is also the chef, run Harvey’s Point and consider all the staff to be members of their family. She is the picture of formality in her black suit and heels, but she only has to speak a word or two before you feel as though you could be fast friends.
Jane and Myles were all smiles and welcomes, even though we arrived late to a meal they prepared for us at Shells Cafe. Their story of coming to the seaside village of Strandhill to run a cafe and bakery together is one of many similar tales I heard of folks cobbling their dreams together in Ireland to make a life for themselves out of their passions. I love it when people are so clearly doing what they love. Their eyes shine and they welcome you into their little corner of perfect with the hope that you will see and appreciate it with the same passion. You want to go with them down a country lane to pick blackberries, just so they will keep telling you their stories.
The sincere welcomes of the Irish people are infectious. When someone smiles at you, you naturally meet their eyes with a smile of your own. This might explain why I met so many people along the way who had come to Ireland to visit, and then decided to stay and make it their home, such as surfers who came to County Sligo for the waves, and then stayed and set up shop in town, giving lessons.
I could have listened for hours to Margaret of Glencolumcille, who runs a historical folk village that takes you back in time to see what life was like for those who lived in this small fishing village years ago, perched at what seems to be the very end of the world. She made me feel as if she could not wait for us to arrive, pouring us tea and giving us bits of homemade cake. She is holding dearly to the arts of spinning wool, knitting patterns and weaving stories into living things, memories preserved for generations to come. There is not a single object in the entire historical village that she could not touch with a smile and tell you a story about. People from the area are bringing their own memories and keepsakes for the village, so that Margaret can hold onto their stories for them. When you meet her, you know you would be happy to trust her with yours.
And lest you think people were only kind to me because I was on a press trip of sorts, an opportunity for everyone along the way to gain some bit of publicity for their local business, let me just mention that on an afternoon in Dublin when I was particularly exhausted from a daunting conference schedule, I wandered into a little bakeshop. It was late in the day and they were about to close, but I asked for a cup of tea and sat down to soak up a minute of quiet. I needed to plug in my dying phone and write in my journal.
Even after my tea was long gone, the owner came over to me and touched my shoulder, Take your time. She said. No need to hurry. She was cleaning up and putting things away and she didn’t want me to feel as if I might should leave. She anticipated that I might feel that way. There is an amazing sort of grace about having someone meet a need that you have not yet acknowledged to them. To do that for a stranger requires an open heart, a willingness to love without the promise of its being returned.
I was overwhelmed by her kindness. I marked it in my journal as one of the tender mercies I am always trying to record.
And then it happened to me again that night.
After I finished at the post-conference happy hour, I caught a taxi home. I asked the driver a little about his life in Dublin and he asked me about my travels in Ireland. As we went back and forth, I kept forgetting the names of places I had visited. Why, you’re like a goldfish! he said, Forgetting everything just after you’ve gone away!
I laughed. It was true. Without my notes, I was useless, but anyway, I’d had a wonderful time and I loved Ireland. And I want to bring my family back here when the kids have a school holiday. He told me to forget about the holidays, just take them out of school and bring them. You only get one shot at this life, he said. You can’t worry about things like school. Again, I laughed and said that maybe he was right.
When he pulled up to the flat where I was staying, we had been talking so much that I hadn’t dug out my keys or my money. I was a little bit flustered, digging through all my junk and he told me not to worry. To take my time. Then he said he would wait until I was inside the building before he left just to make sure I was alright. It was dark and there were some people hanging around the outside of the building. He anticipated that I might need a little extra looking after, again, a need I had not spoken aloud. I thanked him and said goodbye.
I know that I experienced my share of the 1000 welcomes of Ireland, but I can’t wait to go back. To see the people again that are now in my heart. And I know I will encounter new smiling faces and sincere welcomes.
For now, I feel in my own heart some of the welcome that has been extended to me. I am inspired to be the kind of person who anticipates the need of a stranger or is willing to invite others into my passions, whatever the response.
I have more to tell about Ireland. I had some unbelievable experiences (I swam in the ocean with dolphins!), but I can tell you for certain that what will draw me back to Ireland is the Irish. Go for yourself and see if you do not feel the same way! I promise you will come home and find yourself wondering when you can go back to spend more time in a land where every time you walk through a door you are more than welcome.
Have you ever been to Ireland? Tell me, did you receive your share of a thousand welcomes?
For part of my time in Ireland, I was a guest of Failte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. They took me around and showed me their favorite things in the Northwest, but all opinions are my own.
More about Ireland? I also wrote about Adventures In Ireland and about A Happy Misfortune in Dublin.
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