Ireland is a virtual cornucopia for sight, smell, taste, touch and sound.
The sights are gorgeous—from the bracing Cliffs of Moher to the numerous ancient sites, and the stone walls that wend their way throughout the countryside. For me, though, it’s impossible to think of the Old Sod without thinking of its 40 shades of green. Different pastures have their own hue of green. As they abut one another, often seemingly stitched together by those stone walls, they provide the sensation of a massive quilt, created by some heavenly artist. I still remember the first time flying into Shannon and seeing the blending shades from above and thinking It must be a mirage. It can’t be that beautiful. I was wrong. It wasn’t a mirage and it is that beautiful.
Numerous smells in the country leave a wonderful effect—freshly cut grass rolled into large circular hay “tubes” that dot the countryside, the fresh air after a cleansing “soft” rain, the scent of the ocean in the numerous places that provide access to the water around the Emerald Isle. But, for me, the singular scent of Ireland is that of burning peat. Walking down a road and smelling peat burning in fireplaces is a unique and pleasant odor—so pleasing that I keep a large stash of peat incense at our house in San Francisco. When I have a compelling need to feel close to Ireland (which is often), I light one, close my eyes, let the scent waft over me, and I feel transported back to walking down a country lane near the cottage that we’ve stayed at numerous times in the Irish countryside.
Though traditionally Ireland was not known for fine food, that changed in a big way starting in the late 90s and now my wife Karen and I can’t return to Ireland without going to some favorite restaurants throughout the country, many of them in idyllic settings. Equally as enjoyable is pub food where you get not only lamb stews, fresh seafood and other local delicacies, (and of course a good burger), but a pint (or two or three) of Guinness which somehow tastes fuller, fresher and more satisfying in Ireland than in the States.
The touches of Ireland range from rubbing your hand over a stone chair knowing that it was the seat of an ard ri Éireann (a high king of Ireland), to patting the neck of an Irish Thoroughbred and feeling his power, to feeling the morning dew on the grass, to hugging your Irish friend who hugs you back as hugs are meant to be given.
As for sounds, while there are many delightful ones, two are standouts for me. One is craic, the art of Irish witty talk blended with a lovely brogue. The craic alone is worth a trip to Ireland. The second for me is the Irish music, most enjoyably heard in pubs all over the country and played by locals who come together for the pure joy of playing it—fiddle, guitar, pipes and bodhrán (an Irish frame drum). Have a few pints while listening, then watch some folks step up to do traditional Irish step dancing and you’re pretty much in heaven.
And for Karen and me indeed the bottom line is that returning to Ireland is returning to a piece of heaven. May you know the joy of it.