The first time I saw Ireland was through the tiny window of a giant airplane as we descended upon Dublin on a May day in 2003. It was our honeymoon, and we were aglow in the newness of the condition, then bombarded with the shock of the culture change that was about to hit us upon landing. I gripped my new bride’s hand in equal parts fear and anticipation, fear of the unknown and anticipation of the journey regardless. After all, it was Ireland.
I’ve always identified with all things Irish, since I was a wee lad. Honestly, my mother got awfully tired of me speaking in a poor excuse for an Irish accent (I’ve since gotten better at it) and wanting everything to be painted green. In fact, I had picked out the brightest green I could find and gotten my dad to paint my room that color. I was that committed to it, and I couldn’t have told you why it was Ireland and not somewhere else.
So, it was no wonder when I heard U2 for the first time on the radio and fell in love. Like with anything else I get interested in, I went overboard from the start. I quickly began doing research on the band, which was harder to do back then because the internet wasn’t as prevalent, so I went to the library. It was complicated work, but I was assured at the end of the inquiry that I knew all there was to know about the band, and by extension, about Ireland itself.
And I knew I had to get there someday. Somehow.
When I met my future wife, it was one of the first things we talked about, my obsession with all things Irish. I even joked about having been Irish in a previous life, and about the significance of my Irish last name. I knew she was humoring me, and I was grateful for it. At least she didn’t tell me to shut up. I also knew she was just as obsessed with all things British, so we would go back and forth on which culture was better. I still say it’s Irish, and perhaps our trip helped her to see things my way.
We touched down on Dublin soil after a seemingly endless plane ride, but I was finally there. In Ireland. I breathed in the air as we stepped off the plane, even though it was just recirculated airport air. It somehow felt different as I inhaled it, as if I were taking in the very essence of the Irish way of life. I would have knelt and kissed the floor had my wife not been with me. I didn’t want to embarrass her. That would come later.
It was everything I thought it would be and more. Of course I found out on our journeys that I had been mispronouncing some words, like Quay (pronounced KEY), and Cavan (pronounced CAV-en), but I got to visit the famous U2 Wall where fans from all over had pilgrimmaged in order to graffiti. While I added no graffiti I did take my picture in front of that great Wall, adding to the tradition of fan appreciation in my own way.
The Guinness wasn’t too bad either, by the way. We went on an abbreviated pub crawl on the Friday night we were there, ending up at a lovely place where an Irish band was holding court singing Coldplay songs. But we got our Guinness and enjoyed the accents floating through that place. The pub was on the fringes of the Temple Bar District where we also found some Irish music CDs that functioned as souvenirs after I purchased them. It was a magical time.
It went by way too quickly, too. As the trip came to an end I realized just how deeply it had affected me, as if I had gone back home after being away my entire life. There’s something about that Irish pride, how deep inside it resides, how it grabs you and makes you its own. Even for those of us who are merely “honorary” Irish. Still proud. Always.