Adventures in Ireland: The Summer of Music, Sheep, and Left Side Driving
Greetings, Highroaders! It is a joy to connect with you again after our summer hiatus. My husband Jay and I celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary in Ireland and Iceland, and I will be sharing some fun cultural stories and photos with you in coming blog issues.
We flew from Atlanta directly to Dublin, Ireland in early July. We had heard about the welcoming personality of the Irish people from countless other travelers, but our taxi driver, Tony, was a grand first example. He seemed keen to talk with us and point out the best places to eat and drink in Dublin. My eyes lit up as we wound our way through the city with its neat rows of houses, red doors, and hanging baskets of flowers everywhere. The Republic of Ireland only has about 4.8 million people, so it didn’t feel very dense or crowded compared to cities I was used to.
We unpacked our bags and headed out to a pub down the street. The servers smiled and told us with warmth and a singsong voice about the menu. Families and work groups began to pour in to chat and drink as Jay and I savored lamb shank, roasted veggies, crispy fries, pork belly, and mashed potatoes. Every bite was divine and the laughter around us felt connective.
Over the next couple of days, I learned that much of Irish culture is about participation. For example, we headed to Christchurch Cathedral for a look around the lovely stained glass windows, icons, and grassy grounds. While we tiptoed through the church so as not to disturb worshipers, a staff member announced that a service was taking place in the choir stalls. The priest came to welcome us and I told her I was Jewish but would still like to take part. She seemed pleased to have me there. We sat and read prayers along with other visitors in this ancient church. I felt connected to Ireland in that moment because I was participating.
This aspect of the Irish culture was reinforced the next night as we took part in a musical pub adventure. Two Irish musicians guided us through three pubs, playing music at each one. I finally learned the difference between a jig and a reel. As a musician I delighted in counting the time signature of a jig, which is 6/8 and that of a reel, which is 4/4. One of the musicians explained how Irish music and dance always used to go together and be seen on stage at the same time. Somewhere along the way they separated, but the music remains all about participation, not sitting back and observing. Back when pub owners used to close early due to drinking laws, if you had participated in the music throughout the night, the musicians could say “he’s with us.” You could then stay on. If you had joined in, our guide said, then you were one of the gang and you could be trusted. That night we were part of the gang. We sang along and clapped and some visitors even sang songs from their home countries.
One of the musicians, Anthony, told us something that seemed to capture the complexity of culture. He said, “Everyone says the Irish are so friendly, and we are I suppose. But it’s not just friendliness – we’re nosy! We want to know everything about you.”
Over the next ten days we participated as much as we could. We drove on the left side of the road through roundabouts and small villages. We saw sheep everywhere in the countryside and longed to pet them, but did not want to spook or stress them. But one day while driving on the Dingle Peninsula we saw a sheep farm where you could go inside. A small boy led us to the sheep, gave us some food pellets, and left us to enjoy digging our fingers into the thick wool. Participation! The sheep all clambered for the food and attention. We pet them and they ate from our hands. Heavenly.
Working across cultures is about the willingness to participate, to risk getting to know people and connecting with them, even if you make a mistake or accidentally offend. May we all learn from Ireland to just join in!