Like many folks living in the northeastern United States (think Boston, Philadelphia, New York) some of my ancestors came over from Ireland in the late 1800s. I recently had the privilege of traveling to the Emerald Isle and visiting the “auld sod” where my family came from, specifically County Lietrim in the north central part of Ireland. Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ireland was a poor country (Lietrim was the poorest county) with many forced to leave to find a better future. Most left on ships from a town called Cobh (Queenstown) along the south coast. They traveled on old ships in steerage class on the lower decks. Often one family member would come to America, find a job and send money back so that others could come (think of today’s so-called “chain migration”). Men typically worked as laborers and women as servants. My family was no different. They first settled in West Philadelphia and then moved to the Philadelphia suburbs; my grandfather was a janitor for the Haverford School District and my grandmother was a maid for the rich folks on the Main Line. Like many Irish immigrants (as with the Italians, the Germans and others), they were tough, resilient, and decent people who worked hard, educated their children and built a future.
Returning to Ireland is always special – the Irish people are the best part. Rarely do you encounter an unhappy Irishman. They seem to be resigned to their fate and happy with it. We could all learn from that. For me the trip was even more special since I recently became an Irish citizen.
I always say that if you need a lift, go visit Ireland, meet the people, and tour the beautiful country. For city lovers, Dublin is a fine combination of urban life in a small city, traditional music, classic Irish pubs (think Guiness), shopping and sightseeing. Touring the countryside by car (sit on the right, drive on the left) allows you to visit beautiful spots like the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula, Kinsale and towns like Cork, Galway, and Waterford. Golfers will find some of the best seaside links courses in the world on the west coast of Ireland. Wherever you go in Ireland you will be appreciated and treated in a friendly and polite manner.
On this particular trip, we visited Belfast Northern Ireland (actually part of the U.K.), Donegal and Sligo in the northwest, and finally back to Dublin through Lietrim in the central countryside. Belfast has a wonderful museum on the site where the Titanic was built and is well worth a visit. The Bushmills’ distillery and Giant’s Causeway are along the north coast.
If you enjoy happy people, music, beautiful scenery, and some great history, visit Ireland. The good news is that the flight is reasonably short (6 hours nonstop from Philadelphia to Dublin) and the costs are manageable; both American and Aer Lingus offer nonstops. And don’t be afraid to rent a car (a small one) and drive around the countryside. Just remember to keep left and look right, especially when entering a roundabout!
– Kevin Palmer