As an Irish American, I grew up thinking that I knew certain things to be true about Ireland. Of course, I had always heard how beautiful it was and how friendly the people were but I was surprised to discover that there are so many things that as Americans we don't really know about Ireland.
Here are just some of the things that surprised and delighted me during my travels to the lovely green isle.
Top o' the Mornin - I've never heard an Irish person say this in over 12 years of traveling there.
Corned Beef and Cabbage is not the national dish.
The most common or traditional meal I found all through the country is boiled back bacon (pork), potatoes, cabbage and a lovely parsley cream sauce, it's just like the country boiled dinner my grandmother made when I was growing up. I found out that the corned beef and cabbage tradition was developed in America due to the cost of food and immigrants living in the same communities with some who did not eat pork.
Irish Bacon is not the same as Canadian Bacon - it a gorgeous slice of pork loin that I adore!
St. Patrick's Day began as a religious holiday to honor their patron Saint.
Until 1970 pubs were required by law to close for the day. Irish immigrants in America began celebrating in remembrance of their homeland and it has evolved into the green madness we know today.
The Republic of Ireland (South) and Northern Ireland (UK) are different countries.
Pubs in Ireland are truly Public Houses - a place to meet, gather and conduct business. You are as likely to find a hardware store or linen shop in the same establishment. Yes, there are many that have become more of a bar but you'll still find many true pubs throughout the country.
To say that the Irish are heavy drinkers, is not a fair reflection of the culture. Drinking is much more of a social activity and many prefer soft drinks over alcohol when they are out. My favorite was black currant juice mixed with water, very refreshing.
Having said that, there is a very healthy respect for the black stuff. Many times I saw Guinness mini vans driving through the country to inspect and service the tiny pubs in the towns and villages. As a woman you are more likely to be offered a glass instead of a pint when you order a beer, just tell them you want a pint and you'll get a smile and a wink.
We've all heard of Irish Wakes but I was very moved to hear the story about families having American Wakes for their loved ones who were emigrating to the US - they knew they would probably never see them again.
Christianity/Paganism/Spirituality - As I trekked up the Hill of Tara I was excited to see the shrine to St. Patrick. I was very surprised that all of their history and traditions were honored there. That is something I found so fascinating that wherever you go there is great respect and reverence for what was. Just because they accepted Christianity doesn't mean that they disregard their pagan past. You'll see monuments and sacred symbols all over the country.
That is something very unique in Ireland - they don't remove something just because it is old or seems out of date. A lovely caretaker I met at the Kylemore Abbey gardens explained to me that anything that thrives there stays there.
Taxi drivers are more like professional tour operators - they will give you great information about the local area. It will also be the most interesting conversation you will ever have. The Irish are very well informed about news and world events and love to chat with travelers about all of it.
How lovely and social they are is not a myth - if they ask you about yourself, this isn't simply being polite - they really want to know. I was told early on, when you go out to allow extra time to chat with the people you meet and it was a true pleasure.
The Irish have an incredible, irrepressible, independent spirit that is perfectly displayed on the Painted Doors of Dublin and at the same time have deep love and loyalty to their country, like singing the national anthem at the end of a night of drinking and dancing. Try that at an American bar on a Saturday night.
They are the warmest and kindest people I have ever met and the countryside is absolutely stunning. If you've been there then you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, then you must see it for yourself to understand the true beauty of this very special place.
To say I was charmed by Ireland would be a tremendous understatement. It's not only the home of my ancestors but has become the homeplace of my heart.