I have gotten into a routine of sorts on flights back to Boston now. I will download a few episodes of TV to my phone and will mix these with a couple of episodes of Game of Thrones. There is a line that Beric Dondarrion utters in one episode after he is brought back from the dead for the sixth time – “Every time I come back, I’m a bit less”. I have never come back from the dead but I have left my homeland enough times for it to begin to wear on me. Every time I return to Boston, I am a little less Irish. It is telling that on the flight as I typed this, instead of “back to Boston”, I had typed “home” without noticing.
In between TV shows I spend time napping and semi-consciously contemplating. As we are preparing for descent, I put Damien Dempsey’s version of A Rainy Night in Soho on repeat. It’s hard to tell if it is a song about aging or Shane McGowan’s fondness for drink, but it tends to suit my mood perfectly as we approach Logan Airport. Somewhat ironically, the tagline for the album on which this song is contained states “Be warned, this record has been known to cause euphoria.” It tends to have the opposite effect on me.
I was in Dingle for two nights for some work and relaxation – that’s how that saying goes, right? – and I went out for a few drinks. I was alone and planned to have a pint in two pubs before getting an early night. That is not at all what happened. I talked with people from all across America and many locals. Each group had a different story – a group work trip from Michigan; two separate young couples from Michigan; a mother, father, and their two daughters getting married 6 weeks apart and their fiancés; a woman from Chicago who is contemplating retiring in Dingle and was waiting for a cousin she had never met who was due to be playing music in one of the pubs. One “local” old man who came to Dingle to work on Ryan’s Daughter (1970) as an electrician and never left.
Ireland is a special place. I know well from living there most of my life that it can be a difficult place to live at times. I did almost run out of diesel twice on the trip as I forgot just how far apart petrol stations can be, and I had absolutely no fucking idea where to start the search for a toilet seat when that particular need arose.
I also drove 3,800 kilometers in the two weeks I was home. I saw so much of the country you’d think I’d be sick of it. Our trips home are usually part of a wider celebration – someone is getting married, someone has had a baby, a group of friends are coming together for the first time in a long time. You get the sense that this is the way it always is and you are missing out on so much more by being away. This contributes to the loss of identity. This and working in the travel industry have opened me up to a whole new world of possibilities and this new world happens to be my old one – Ireland.
Go to the Hill of Uisneach and learn the fascinating ancient history and mythology of Ireland. Learn everything you wish you knew about Galway city at the free museum near Spanish Arch that you never knew existed. Drive as far west as west goes – whether that be Donegal, Connemara, Dingle or elsewhere – and look out across the vastness of the ocean to where so many of your predecessors went in search of a better life. Realize the reason why the Wild Atlantic Way is so named is the 3,000 miles of ocean that batter it incessantly for thousands of years. Throw a few euro to the buskers on Shop Street who contribute so much to the festival atmosphere Galway is famous for.
I co-host a podcast called 50 Reasons to Visit Ireland and it is a lie – there are millions of reasons to visit Ireland and everyone who goes there has a different reason. It took leaving and the fear of losing my identity for me to realize that. It doesn’t have to be the same for you. Visit that castle down the road that you see every day but know nothing about. Take the odd weekend away in a new part of the country. Invent some stories to tell Americans in pubs from Dingle to Donegal. Find some part of Irish history that excites you and cherish it. Maybe the measure of your dreams is already your reality.