Guest Column: Ireland a friendly place to visit

Friendly Irish people dancing in the village square in Sixmilebridge, County Clare, Ireland. (Photo by P.J. Francis)
Friendly Irish people dancing in the village square in Sixmilebridge, County Clare, Ireland. (Photo by P.J. Francis)

By P.J. Francis

My seating partner on a recent flight from Chicago to Dublin, Ireland, was the perfect flying companion. The retired school teacher from Indiana was neither over-loquacious nor of the silent persuasion. Best of all, she did not insist on bragging about her wonderful grandchildren.

A frequent visitor to Ireland, she had fallen in love with West Cork in the southwestern corner of the island country. She loved the beautiful countryside, the mild climate affected by the Gulf Stream, and the lifestyle. However, it was the friendliness of the people that made her return time and time again.

I hear visitors to Ireland talk about how friendly everyone is, and I am beginning to believe it. Being Irish, perhaps it is something I take for granted.

During my three-week Irish visit, I found myself looking out for the phenomenon of Irish friendliness. Yes, it did manifest itself on several occasions … the group of enthusiastic people who gathered around my car at a gas station when I asked one man if he knew where the switch to open the gas-cap was located; the staff at Sherwood’s Restaurant in the Ennis cattle mart facility who went to great trouble to explain exactly what came with my lunch; the gentleman who explained how to operate the parking ticket dispenser in Ennis; and the many people in stores, businesses and offices who engaged in friendly conversation.

My research concluded that Irish people are indeed extremely friendly. The woman on the airplane was correct. Of course, they have absolutely no idea of their friendliness. They are just being themselves. Long may they retain their friendliness.

I must add that I have experienced similar acts of friendliness in the United States.

A necessary word of warning: While the vast majority of Irish people are honest, law-abiding and, yes, friendly people, there are a handful of scumbags who could ruin your vacation.

Last year, a tour bus of Americans stopped at the beautiful Fanore (means Golden Slopes) beach and sand dunes. When his passengers were out of the bus enjoying the scenery and taking photographs, the driver neglected to lock the doors when he went to use the restroom. Some miscreant took the opportunity to enter the bus and grab several bags and purses. As several of the bags contained passports, money and personal items, one can only imagine the inconvenience the incident caused.

Rental cars can also be targeted by criminals. Take the precautions one should take when at home. Lock your rental car and place items out of site. Park in well-lit public areas. (I personally believe one should carry money and documentation hidden on one’s person.) Handbags, bumbags (fanny packs) and knapsacks are extremely inviting to criminals.

The mainstream media have not done Ireland any favors in their coverage of the violent conflict that has taken place in the northern portion of the island. Modern news broadcasts treat world situations in little convenient packages. Northern Ireland was well-liked by journalists because it was a relatively safe foreign assignment. They formed relationships with the perpetrators of violence that became mutually beneficial. The terrorists provided them with advance warning of incidents and they, in turn, always had copy to file. Keeping it simple was to everybody’s benefit.

Thanks to the efforts of people like former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and countless others, Northern Ireland is now relatively safe and has become a destination on the tourist’s itinerary. The Giants Causeway, Titanic museum, Mountains of Mourne and Irish-American Heritage Center are all worth visiting.

Visitors to Ireland are often surprised to find many ethnic minorities in the country. Ireland has become home to many people from mainland Europe, Africa and South America. Even small villages now feature restaurants serving a variety of non-traditional Irish food.

Finally, a word for the visitor who, like me, never has sufficient funds. Camping and tourist hostels are an alternative to expensive hotels. In between, you have bed-and-breakfast in private homes. Dine in the restaurants not specifically catering to the tourist trade. Bars frequently serve good, reasonably-priced meals to attract customers. McDonald’s, Subway and Starbucks are in most of the bigger towns if you need them. The tourist centers are a mine of information. Do consider staying at one location and exploring from that base. You will quickly get to know where the locals eat and socialize. Self-catering accommodation offers wonderful flexibility.

And last, but not least, if you have questions I have not addressed, please call me at (815) 742-5985. I am considering organizing a trip to Ireland if there is sufficient interest.

P.J. Francis is a Rockford resident.

Posted June 18, 2014

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