Dingle

I think most of us want to be Irish today, and not for the green beer. There’s a mystique to the Irish character that draws us.

Although I’m a quarter Irish, I’ve only been to Ireland once, ten years ago with my son Alex. I remember whitewashed cottages and emerald hills dotted with sheep, dark cliffs plunging down to the sea, and evenings spent drinking Guinness to the rolling rhythm of Irish pipes.

But the most memorable part of the trip was the afternoon we spent with Bernie.

Alex and I showed up unannounced on Bernie’s doorstep in the town of Dingle. When Bernie answered our knock – a bright-eyed gentleman in his mid-70s wearing a rumpled tweed jacket – I explained that my sister had hired him as a tour guide a few years earlier and she urged me to look him up when I was in town.

Bernie said he could probably arrange something for that very afternoon. Since he was about to go to the pub for lunch, he suggested we join him. He grabbed his cap and headed briskly down the hill, already beginning to weave a mesmerizing tapestry of stories drawn from the history, myths, plants, animals, faeries and politics of the region – a flow of stories that didn’t stop for six hours.

A friend of his who owned a cab was recruited to be our driver. They took us to ancient cemeteries and crumbling ruins overlooking the sea. It began to rain lightly, but we kept going. They loved to talk about their corner of Ireland, and all we had to do was keep up with them and offer our delighted attention.

Eventually, we were back in town, warming up over cups of tea in a small cafe, and our companions were still bantering and spinning improbable yarns. “This is what they mean about Irish men!”  I thought, remembering the blarney stone and all the characters I’d met in books, brimming with charm and passion and darkness.

Frank Delany wrote, We Irish prefer embroideries to plain cloth…We love the “story” part of the word “history,” and we love it trimmed out with color and drama, ribbons and bows. Listen to our tunes, observe a Celtic scroll: we always decorate our essence.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote, To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart. 

I suppose the heartbreak flows from a history fraught with destitution and oppression. But to be able to turn that into color and exuberance, humor and creativity? Wonderful!

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