Monday, February 11, 2013

Walking Distance

There are three things that Americans should know about Ireland.  First, they drive on the left side of very narrow roads.  This may seem fairly straight forward, but you would be amazed at how many close calls we can have when attempting to reverse our habits.  And believe me, coming around a hairpin turn in the Burren and finding yourself nose-to-nose with a speeding coach is the less tasteful of memorable experiences. 

Secondly, while hitchhiking is not frowned upon in this part of the world, be careful with what you ask for when flagging someone over.  Requesting a ‘lift’ will result in you climbing into the car and being escorted to your destination.  Asking for a ‘ride’ will either end with the Irishman driving indignantly off while you stare perplexedly down the roadway or, more interestingly yet, the abashed American receives exactly what he or she requested.  It will suffice to say that this bit of knowledge could save you a world of trouble in the long run. 

Finally, everything within a square radius of fifteen miles is considered ‘walking distance’.  So when you start off from your bed and breakfast on foot and in search of the promised sightseeing that is ‘just down the road’, don’t be surprised if it is a good day’s hike away.  While this can be an excellent time to see some of the magnificent countryside, most people prefer to be slightly more prepared for such an outing (like having means of a ‘lift’ back home). 

These are three things that I learned very quickly upon arriving in Ireland.
Once every spring, Duluth, Minnesota’s College of St. Scholastica offers their students the opportunity to spend a semester studying abroad in County Mayo, the Republic of Ireland.  This year’s twenty-one accepted students will live for thirteen weeks in Louisburgh, a town of roughly three-hundred citizens, while calling the village’s ‘holiday cottages’ home.  During their stay, the students will not only learn the fine art of heating their home with a peat fireplace, but will also spend their three day weekends traveling either independently or with their group, seeing much of the Republic of Ireland before returning to the States.  As number twenty-one of the people studying here, I can easily tell you that Ireland will touch your soul. 
There is a rugged, well-worn feel to Ireland that I have never experienced anywhere else in my life.  As I stand on the ruins of an ancient burial site or marvel at the complexity of a Celtic cross, a deeply moving sense of history tugs within my heart.  For a moment, I can almost see the ancients striving to survive on this weather torn land.  I can feel their pain in war and their firm will to survive, a strange desire to protect this magnificent land stirring within my unsuspecting heart.  Seeing Ireland’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, for the first time paralyzed me with its majestic serenity.  For while I expected the country to be lovely, I did not fully appreciate the effect it would have on me until that first glimpse of Ireland’s beauty. 
And, of course, the landscape is only part of the appeal Ireland holds for many of its visitors.  The Irish people themselves hold a deep appreciation for their land and thereby can usually understand why Ireland’s beauty moves those who have never witnessed it before.  They are welcoming and sincere, accepting a group of twenty-one students and three faculty into their homes with open arms, going well out of their way to ensure the ‘Yankees’ are comfortable.  It is a strange and wonderful sensation to be three thousand miles from where you were raised and yet still feel at home.

From Ireland’s food to its ancient cultures to its abundant green fields, I’m inviting you to take the journey of a lifetime with me.  The College of St. Scholastica will be in Ireland for thirteen weeks, Ireland will be in our hearts forever—of this there is no doubt.  Take some small piece of that away with you as well.  Whether your interest is in the rough shores carved by the Atlantic or the green fields flecked with white sheep, so long as it is within ‘walking distance’, you will find something here.  Welcome to Ireland. 


No comments:

Post a Comment