Yes, Ireland is as green as the travelers say. And, yes, something very special about that small island nation keeps luring people from all over the world to the wondrous enchantment of this land of saints and scholars.
Pot-of-gold brilliant sunshine gleamed from the emerald landscape on the banks of the Shannon that day almost 40 years ago when I undertook my first adventure in the birthplace of my ancestors.
I was 21 that summer when I first set foot in that magic land.
I’ll be 61 in July when we venture back to bask in the ancient culture, taste the food and drink, learn from the wisdom of the people and savor the sights and sounds of Eire, which in the traditional Gaelic tongue of the people means Ireland.
I’ve returned to the “auld sod “ many times over the years and look forward to each trip with the youthful excitement of that young man who stepped off the plane that day on a beautiful August morning in search of family history and his own coming of age.
A similar personal journey exists for every Irish visitor whether or not you possess a drop of Irish blood pulsing through your veins. The journey awaits you because Ireland is unique and a little piece of Ireland exists in us all.
Two years ago, a group of more than 40 pilgrims representing AAA North Penn travelled together to Ireland. A thousand welcomes greeted us as we stepped off the plane in Dublin, where I had lived for a few months in 1972.
To say that a grand time was had by all would be an understatement.
All my previous visits had been on my own. We’d rent a car, look for lodging each day and settle in to explore. Twice we rented a house near the west coast village of Cornamona in County Galway from which my grandfather emigrated in 1904, landing in Scranton.
But this time we put all our faith in AAA and CIE International, the Irish transportation firm that took care of our every need from beginning to end. They picked us up and dropped us off, taking us from one stunning stop to the next. When we switched hotels, the CIE driver even delivered our luggage to the door outside our room and picked it up in the morning when we checked out and boarded a luxury coach complete with a trained and certified Irish tour guide.
From one place to the next we still had ample time on our own to shop, have a look around and add our own personal touch to the adventure at hand. With no worries, all we had to do was relax and enjoy every aspect of our vacation.
Everyone enthusiastically agreed that the tour constituted a trip of a lifetime in a spellbinding nation. And we vowed to return. I surely hope they do.
This trip will likely include some of my compatriots from the last sojourn across the water. No matter how many times you’ve been to Ireland, you’ve never seen enough Ireland.
Ireland never fails.
Ireland always awaits.
This trip beckons for so many reasons, particularly that it touches on Ireland north and south. The 24 counties of the Republic of Ireland in the south is usually the sole destination for tourists. The six counties of Northern Ireland, officially part of the United Kingdom, usually also constitutes a sole destination for visitors.
Most tourists never visit both places on the same trip. As a result, most miss the big picture context of a country long ago divided by war and politics, yet united in the quest for progress and peace.
We’ll begin in Dublin, the Irish capital in the south, cross the border to Belfast in the north, on to Derry in the north and then back to Westport in the south – with many varying stops here and there in between.
It will be 30 years since I last visited Belfast and look forward with all my heart to connecting with old friends there. Peace now swathes the city in a newfound identity, a softer place where hope and development cradles the history of yesterday and the dreams of tomorrow.
Craftsmen built the fated ship Titanic in Belfast. Until recently too many people considered that famous shipyard just another rusted hulk from a bad time in a bad place. In April, a priceless new Titanic exhibit will be unveiled at that refurbished shipyard that is expected to draw countless visitors to the site.
We’ll be there, as well.
I hope you join me and my fellow travelers on this Irish trip of a lifetime.
May the road rise to meet us. May the wind be always at our backs. May the sun shine warm upon our faces, the rains fall soft upon our fields and, when we meet, may Ireland hold us in the palm of its hand.