17 March 2009

Happy St Patrick's Day

I spent 18 months in Northern Ireland during a two year break from university. I grew to love Belfast like it was my own home. Despite the "troubles" I found the people to be gentle and kind-hearted, welcoming and gracious.

I had the opportunity to make many regular trips to Dublin while I was working and I took full advantage of Ireland's relatively small size to explore much of the rest of the country.

With great sincerity, I say: I love Ireland and I love the Irish.

I love the emerald green hills. I love the sing-song lilt of the accent. I love the fiddle music. I love the startlingly blue eyes of a certain gardai who I would occassionally chance to see on Grafton Street, in Dublin. I love the craic. I love all those things that the tourist ads and brochures tell you that you will love. But more than that, I love the spontaneity of the place. One never knows what awaits you when you step into that magical land.

This drawing was given to me to on my very first solo trip to Ireland in, according to the sketch, May of 1999.

I was staying in a hostel at the edge of Donegal town and I was invited to join a group of Australian travelers that evening for a night at one of the local pubs. They chose not one of the touristy pubs with the oak trim and shiny brass, filled to brimming with Americans claiming dubious Irish descent. Instead, they chose a place at the fringe of the town with poster board covering the windows,with only a small sign in the corner giving any hint that at night this was a meeting place. We opened the doors and went into this tiny room, walked up to the small bar and ordered our Guinness. Shortly after, others started to arrive. Some were carrying instruments. There was no band, per se, just people arriving who would get together and play. No rehearsals, no planned sets, just spontaneous music.

The locals who came to drink were quick to welcome our rag-tag group into their fold, even loaning a guitar to one so he could play along for a song. We were invited to dance and taught a few steps. The drawing came to me courtesy of an elderly gentleman, who to be honest, had seen better days. He pulled his pockets inside out to show me the spots where the mice had chewed through. In those snacked on pocket liners though, he withdrew a pencil stub and a piece of an old sign and he drew this picture, so that I would always remember that night in Donegal town.

There is no reason to worry that I will ever forget. It was that night that I truly understand the phrase "the craic".

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