One of the first things I noticed in my visits to Ireland is the hospitality and warmness of the people. That is not to say that other countries and people aren’t warm and hospitable, of course, they are, but there is just something about the Irish. Kevin would say it has to do with the 800 years of British occupation and the famine that caused the people to be even more accepting and helping of everyone they come across, especially those that live in the South and West of Ireland. According to Kevin, and his history lessons in school, these were the places where they (the British) sent all the undesirables: the natives, and those who refused to bow to their subjugation by the British. Their choices were “To hell, or to Connacht”. These lands are full of hills and mountains, rocks, and woods: places that would be extremely hard to cultivate and make an agricultural living, probably in the hopes of them dying out. Because of this and the Potato Famine, the Irish people, especially those in the West and South, are extremely friendly and helpful. Here are some of the most recent and vivid examples I experienced the great Irish hospitality.
- In the airport or on the plane, if you see an Irish person do not be afraid of saying hello. They love to meet people or even just discuss the weather. Typically, when I fly alone I try to get a seat in the section with just two seats. I fly AirLengus and their seats are a 2, 4, 2 formation. As a lot of people fly in groups of friends or family they try to take the section of 4 seats. So I take a seat in the 2 seat section. This last trip I sat next to a woman who was just assigned the empty spot that morning. Serena was a wonderful lady who chatted with me the entire 6-hour flight. We shared how and why we were on this flight. I was on the flight to see my fiancé and go to a wedding and she was going back home to see her parents. Serena was originally from Ireland and flew back and forth between the two a few times a year. We talked about our families and shared pictures. Her daughter’s boyfriend had asked her to lunch the day before the trip to inform her he was going to propose on their vacation to North Carolina that weekend. I shared that I was getting married to an Irishman. We sat wondering the whole flight if he had proposed yet (she paid for the wifi connection hoping her daughter would email or call over WhatsApp, which she never did). We had such a great time talking that Serena bought me a small bottle of wine to have with the in-flight meal to celebrate my upcoming nuptials. At the end of the trip, as we walked towards immigration check, she headed towards the European Union visa check, and me to the other, we wished each other luck and hugged. I wonder if he proposed and if her daughter said yes. Just being open to saying hello made my fight so much more enjoyable than staring at the tv screen in the seatback in front of me. I do wish I got an hour or so of sleep (we took off from Chicago at 4 pm and landed in Dublin at 5 am), but I met a wonderful person and shared stories.
- Walking down the street in quiet towns everyone nods or says hello. It is a common courtesy to speak or even acknowledge those near you. I found myself saying hello to people who, at home, I might have made eye contact with and smiled, but continued on. If you know the person you have to stop and talk for a few minutes to discuss the weather or see what’s the craic for the weekend. Craic is an Irish phrase that combines a lot of things. It can mean “what’s the story”, “what’s the information”, “what’s going on”, “where’s the fun”, etc. It can even simply mean hello, with no response needed besides “nothing” or “not much”. “Hiya” and “how’s things” are also similar phrases that can be heard over and over no matter where you are. Irish people have never met a stranger and go out of their way to make people feel as comfortable as possible.
- Stopping in for a cup of tea is a daily expectancy. Everyone drinks tea, little kids drink lukewarm tea that is more milk than tea with a teaspoon of sugar while some of the staunch drinkers use a splash of milk in their dark (strong) tea. In Ireland, you are either a Barry’s or a Lyon’s tea drinker. There is a clear divide. Personally, we drink Barry’s, whatever that says about us. Biscuits and cake are expected to be served. Biscuits are a dry cookie with an array of flavors: fruits, chocolates, spices, etc. Cakes are similar to cakes here except they are heavier and rectangle like pound cake. A cup of tea is the first thing offered when you stop at your friend’s house for even just a few minutes. Friends and family “call over” for a cup of tea throughout the day, especially after dinner. Evening visits can last from 30 minutes to a few hours. Tea is very important; it is almost an affront to refuse a cup. It is a way to take time out of the daily grind and busy schedules to connect and talk for just a few minutes and without that the charm and hospitality would lessen (just slightly).
- Pub culture is a part of life. People go do to the pub to get the daily news, to connect with people in town, to just spend time and have great craic. The corner pub is an important feature. When Irish people say they are going down to the pub for just a pint expect them to be gone for a while. Just like when having tea, a drink in the pub is an important social hour. In the US, we go to the bar and expect food, some athletic match on TV, and a drink or two. In Ireland, most pubs don’t serve food at all. They may have small cans of Pringles or bag of Taytos for sale, or even a few biscuits for sale to go with an order of tea, but they very rarely serve food. I learned this lesson during my first trip to Ireland. Always find food first, you may be lucky and find it in a pub or you may have to go to the chipper. Know that if you go down to the pub with a group of people expect that you will be there for at least a round per person as a nonofficial Irish drinking law states that everyone buys a round for the group. Also, if you are lucky you might find some trad music going on. Tap your foot along to the beat. In the pub expect to be gone for an hour or two and to have great craic .
I won’t say Ireland is the most hospitable place in the world, I am sure there are many other countries and cultures that treat their visitors the same way. Here, in the US, we offer a drink to visitors when they come for a visit. In the Midwest, it is stereotyped that we say hello and smile at everyone we pass. We try to make our guests as comfortable as possible and help whenever we can. But, there is something special about the Irish. You can just feel it walking down the street.