One of the most common observations Americans make upon seeing the United Kingdom for the first time is how small the roads are and the cars that use them. In fact, it was this very observation that gave me my inspiration to take up blogging in the first place. In the spring of 2016, my friend Marielle, a Wisconsinite, traveled to the U.K to study at The University of Winchester- which just so happens to be my alma mater. She started blogging immediately about everything she noticed regarding life in England. Nothing touristy, but the subtle everyday stuff- the kind of stuff I’m interested in. I eagerly kept up with her blog and decided it was something I’d like to try as well. Write what you like to read, as they say. Anyway, I distinctly remember her characterizing the cars she saw in the U.K as being like “little clown cars” or “bumper cars”. It’s true- everything in the U.K is smaller, everything crammed in. Well, that’s kind of how I felt when I set foot in Ireland. I felt like an American tourist seeing England for the first time.
As quaint and old and slow-paced as the U.K is to an American, Ireland to me seemed even quainter, even older, and even slower. I really did get the sense that I was traveling back in time. By comparison the U.K seemed like a slick capitalist metropolis. The roads in Ireland seemed smaller and less busy. The cars looked old. The infrastructure in general seemed smaller, and less developed, less modern. The stores didn’t have as much variety of products. But don’t get me wrong- I’m not castigating the country for these deficiencies, I’m celebrating it. It’s also worth mentioning that I was never far from the country’s western coast, so my visit was exceedingly rural. As always when I write about a place, I am describing it as it existed according to my impressions of it. The Ireland of my visit was one of cattle guards and moss-covered stone walls. My impression of the place was that it was less flashy and less commercialized than both the U.K and the USA. I found its “deficiencies” to be very charming, and given that Ireland has consistently ranked highly in terms of “quality of life” perhaps these folks are on to something. It felt good not to be faced with a sea of billboards and neon signs and strip malls and car dealerships. Ireland offered me a return to place we don’t often get the chance to revisit in today’s bustling world. It felt more connected to the ways of the past- there were no harsh juxtapositions, but rather a smooth and steady blending of cultures and lifestyles.
The second thing I noticed was the prevalence of the Irish language in signposts. I guess I was ignorant as to how widespread Gaelic was. I knew that there was a native, presumably Celtic, language that was the language of the island. But I hadn’t expected to see it in a functional capacity. This pleased me. I’m one of those people that can’t sleep at night for fear of losing things forever, whether it’s the Cornish Language or a Leatherback Sea Turtle. So I was glad to see there was a defiant blip on the Gaelic heart monitor yet.
The third thing I noticed, once we had left the Shannon airport, was how inundated I now was with greenery. It’s often said how green the grass is in Ireland and now that I’ve been, I can confirm it ain’t fancy talk. Driving through the countryside of western Ireland your eyes are assaulted by the richest greens you can imagine in the way of grass, hedges, moss, deciduous tree leaves and so on. It was really beautiful.
I’ve never seen so many farms (and cows) in my life. All the farms were bordered by stone walls rather than fences, which I couldn’t help but notice. And the farmyard animals in Ireland are all outrageously extroverted. I’m not even joking here- every time we walked past a farm, the cows and horses would come over to us and stare at us as though expecting our craniums to pop open and project the bingiest of Netflix originals from a hidden antenna. I couldn’t help but think they were bored. But it was a really special experience. I patted several cows and horses during my trip and they were all keen to get as close to us as the stone walls would permit. They were really friendly.
If I could point to one defining image as being a snapshot of western Ireland however, it would probably be the rows of gorse across the peat bogs. We drove past a lot of bogs and they seemed quite big. They were flat expanses of land that went on for miles, that seemed completely untouched by human interference. They really struck me as wild. And the bright yellow flowers of the gorse shrub have such an arresting beauty- your eyes are drawn straight to them. It’s an image I hope I never forget.