Monday, March 2, 2020

What I didn't know about Ireland



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 15 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. 







Friday, February 7, 2020

Finding the Path with a Heart

As we age, it becomes apparent that we must create new lives.  Will we change careers, begin retirement, travel, downsize or stay where we are?  What often comes with that are the fears associated with making those choices.  We begin to worry about money, our family, our health, where we should live, should we settle down or roam the world.   

When we were raising our families, those decisions seemed to be made for us - we must keep a job, take care of the children with all of the responsibility that entails.  There was very little free time and what there was usually consisted of weekends or once a year family vacation and then back to the routine.

Now, in our 60s we have to make a conscious choice about what we want in our lives.

Our work is not to make something happen but to learn how to let it reveal itself.  It is that time in our lives when we have the opportunity to allow the soft flowing of events to become clear to us and then follow the path that has the most meaning in our lives.

It can be very easy to remain in our old patterns, letting familiar circumstances drive our daily lives.  If we look more closely, we realize that we are entering a brand-new chapter and are being given a tremendous gift.  The possibility, maybe for the first time, to do something just for ourselves. 

For many of us, as this realization sinks in, we employ the same principles of how to get things done – we take action.  What is really ironic about this concept, is that the harder we try to make anything happen the less likely it is to turn out in a way that is pleasing to us.

If we can learn to let go we will discover things that we never thought possible.

Letting go is much easier said than done.  We are taught our entire lives that we must work and struggle in order to get things accomplished.  That hard work is the only way to achieve the results we desire.  Always trying to control external circumstances is exhausting and in the end never really possible.  We cannot control anything outside of our own self so that is where the work must be done.

That is why so many spiritual teachers advocate practices like Meditation, Mindfulness, Yoga, Prayer and Journaling.  Anything that allows our conscious mind to relax and release resistance will provide benefits in all areas of our lives.  Just like any other skill, we must learn to develop techniques that work for us.  This is not a one-size fits all solution so we must do what feels right for us personally.

It doesn’t matter where you start, you just have to begin.

Like everything else, it is very easy to approach this as something else to manage or control.  Trying to unlearn that is the most difficult thing I will ever do in my life.  Even now, after many years of practicing many aspects of letting go or allowing, I find myself slipping back into my old habits.  It is important for me to do something each day, even for just a few minutes, to reclaim my balance and continue forward. 

What works best for me is to keep it simple and find those things that bring me joy.  Sometimes it is writing in my journal or going for a walk.  Other days it is playing with my grandchildren or planning a trip to some faraway place.  It really doesn’t matter what it is, all that matters is that you find ways to release the anxiety and tension so that you can learn to experience the peace that comes from just being in the world.

With that peace comes an unfolding of events that we never could have planned.  Bringing to us those very things we thought we had to chase after.  It is ultimately more satisfying to have everything we desire come to us in the perfect way and at the perfect time than to try to manipulate or coerce it.

For me, appreciation is a key factor in everything I do.  I am grateful for what I already have in my life and look forward to whatever new surprise is on the horizon.  I always trust that something wonderful is about to happen and my only job is to relax and enjoy it.