I feel for the Irish. They, like Texans, are oft misunderstood. Texas can seem like a foreign territory to outsiders, and (to them) it means cowboy hats, rabid political conservatism, and riding horses to work. There is some truth to the stereotype—I’ve seen people with cowboy hats. Many of my friends are politically conservative. And just last week I traded in my horse for a 2000 Toyota Corolla. (The horse had better acceleration, but the car gets better gas mileage.)
To me, Ireland is the Texas of Europe. It conjures up images of leprechauns, drunk brawlers, and absurd accents. Terry Eagleton, in his book “The Truth About the Irish,” writes:
“You have just arrived at Dublin airport from Sydney or Sacramento, Salisbury and Siena. Now you need transport downtown. Follow the signs in the airport marked ‘Donkey Carts’ and you will come to a spacious field thronged with hand-made wooden carts, each with a small donkey in harness. For the price of a glass of whiskey, a driver in a green smock will jog you down the leafy lanes which wind their way to the city center, signing a Gaelic love song and swigging from a bottle of poteen, an illegal, mind-numbing alcohol distilled from potatoes. From the mud cabins by the roadside, simple-hearted peasants will strew shamrock at your feet, shouting ‘Long life to your Honor!’ Lithe young damsels in green mini-skirts will beckon you alluringly with one hand while strumming a harp with the other. When you enter the ancient gate of the city, a band of kilted pipers playing ‘Danny Boy’ will be on hand to offer you a hearty Irish welcome. You will be ceremonially lowered under a gallon-sized vat of Guinness, which custom ordains that you should empty in three minutes flat. If you fail to down the stuff in time, you will fall victim to an ancient Irish curse and your credit cards will be turned to toads.
Forget that last paragraph. It was a pack of lies.”
Throughout the book, Eagleton plays with these stereotypes, ultimately giving a true glimpse of the Irish. I’m going there in June. My wife and I will travel through the majority of the Republic of Ireland in a car—from Dublin to Waterford to Cork to Tralee to Galway. We’re actually researching this trip, unlike some of our previous adventures, and researching has killed some of my own preconceived notions of what Ireland is and isn’t. I thought, for instance, that we would be eating baked potatoes for breakfast, followed by a lunch of boiled potatoes resting nicely against corned beef, and finally a well-deserved bangers and mash for dinner. After looking at places to eat in different parts of the country, I’ve found a nice variety of non-potato related restaurants (some Michelin starred). I’ll post some more about the adventures in Ireland once we return, though I’m sure my own views of the country will change (for the better) between now and then.
Experience often obliterates stereotypes, after all.