Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 18, 2008

The real jewel

Once we made the decision to visit Ireland, I bought Rick Steves' Ireland 2008 guidebook for husband Art. Our primary motivation for going was to research my ancestors who had called the Emerald Isle home. But we were also planning to see the sights. After reading Steves' book and watching his travel shows on the public television network, I could tell his travel style matches ours in many ways.

But when Art began to outline a tentative plan using Steves' book, he commented that perhaps with the exception of just a few things, nothing jumped out as a must-see item.

And now that we've returned, I agree. For someone from sunny Kansas, the rain didn't help. As the host of one of our self-catering cottages said, "Well, people don't come to Ireland for the weather now, do they?"

So why does just thinking about the trip make me feel so good? There is only one answer - the people. I have never met such friendly people - people willing to stop whatever they were doing and focus on you as if you were the only one who mattered.

Our experience at the Public Records Office in Belfast is one example. Every one of the half dozen or so people we met who worked there were as helpful as any government office worker I've ever come in contact with. They manned the welcome desk, retrieved microfilms, made copies and answered questions - all with utmost good cheer.

Our second stop in Dublin is another example. Janice, our bed and breakfast host, wasn't sure if she would be home when we arrived, so she said she'd put the keys under a small box on the porch for us and we could let ourselves in. She had previously told us which tree not to park the car under if we wanted to keep the sap off the windshield.

While in Dublin, we took the 130 bus to the city center and after we hopped off, Art pulled out his map to see which one to catch next.

"Do you know where you are?" a voice behind us asked.

We turned around to see the bus driver looking at us. Art told him he did and explained why he was looking at the book. But the driver - a city bus driver and not some tour coach operator - immediately gave clear and explicit instructions what to do next.

Once on the connecting bus, a woman saw Art looking at his map. He was watching to see when to get off, but the woman let us know that we had just passed Trinity College. When Art told her he was just following along on the map, she quickly apologized for "interfering." Art assured her she was not.

Our destination was the old Guinness brewery and storehouse, but when we arrived, the tour entrance was nowhere to be seen, so we walked into the company's health care facility to get directions. Art grinned and said to the receptionist, "I'm not sick . . . "

But before he got any further, she smiled and said, "You don't need a doctor, but you do need a beer! Go out the door to the corner, down the block and then at the next corner, three lefts."

We received this same sort of friendly treatment everywhere we went. Our hostess who commented about the rain had a large plate of scones waiting for us when we first arrived and twice baked us large loaves of bread.

On another occasion when we couldn't find an archaeological site younger daughter Katie wanted to see, Art stopped next to a man on a small country road. He seemed genuinely pleased we asked for help and immediately told us how to get to it.

Even Katie and older daughter Mariya were impressed with the friendliness of the people and the accuracy of their directions.

But perhaps the best example came from Art's friend Vikki. After he shared our experiences with her in an e-mail, she wrote back, "One of my co-workers went to Ireland last year. She experienced the same thing."

The co-worker and a friend were in an accident with a car driven by a fellow who was well known by the police for overindulging. After getting things straightened out at the police station, a constable drove her back to her car so she could retrieve her bottle of wine in the back. He commented that she'd probably be needing it that night.

But he didn't stop there. He called his wife and told her to set two more places at the table for supper that evening!

So if anyone asks me about visiting Ireland, certainly I'll recommend they take the Guinness tour where something as simple as making beer has been turned into a presentation that even a non-drinker like me thoroughly enjoyed. And everyone should see the Cliffs of Moher on the west coast and the Giant's Causeway on the north. But I'll also suggest they not go on a bus tour where they are cloistered with other Americans and never meet a local. To do that would be to miss the real jewel of the Emerald Isle.

2008 Index