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Warming Up to an Irish Welcome

July 10, 1988|BOB O'SULLIVAN | O'Sullivan is a travel writer based in Canoga Park

My wife Joyce and I rode the bus from the ferry into Dublin with a very excited young man. "Lord, it's so good to be home again."

"You're from Dublin?"

"I'm English, but then I'm really not, you see. My parents brought me here when I was just a boy. Now, I never feel at home anywhere else. Look. . . . There, do you see that? That's the home of the Irish Sweepstakes, the Hospital Fund. Didn't they used to sell sweepstakes tickets in the States?"

Joyce started to respond but he didn't give her time.

"It was said that when the Sweeps were going, if an Irishman got sick they'd just build a hospital around him. I'd not be after believing it, of course."

The young Englishman jumped to his feet and pointed at a nondescript shop front. "It's me pub. Me favorite place in all the world. Saints be praised, it's open. I'm after getting off. Well, Godspeed and God bless."

Suitcase and raincoat trailing, he jumped off as soon as the bus slowed. "Did you notice?" Joyce asked. "The farther into Dublin we got the more Irish he sounded. Another mile and we wouldn't have been able to understand him at all."

It happened to us, too. The farther into Ireland we went, the harder it was not to "put on the brogue." English, especially American English, just seems to lean into it.

Irish Hospitality

Seventeen minutes by taxi from Shannonside and a mile from the village of Ennis was the Clare Inn, where we were scheduled to meet our tour the following day. When we inquired at the desk about public transportation into Ennis, the hotel manager came out of her office.

"It's company you are. What kind of a person would I be, having a fine car and not taking you to Ennis and it about to rain?" She drove us to Ennis and wouldn't listen when we tried to thank her.

"There'll be none of that. When your Mr. Reagan told everyone to stay home and not travel a year or so ago, it almost destroyed us. It's our thanks to you for coming home to Ireland. The Good Lord knows we need you." She let us out of the car in Ennis. I closed the door and leaned on it.

"Ma'am," I said. "I don't want to give you the wrong idea. It's not really a homecoming for us. We're just a little Irish. Mostly just a kind of mix. Most of us Americans are like that."

"Is that a fact?" She leaned across the seat to look up at us. "You're after telling me that every year the whole of America isn't wearing the green on St. Paddy's Day and then painting a green line down the middle of the road and parading for hours? That the people I see coming back here year after year are just strangers or that I don't know an Irishman when I see one?

"Nobody's just a little Irish." She gave us a smile and a quick nod of the head that seemed to say, "There, chew on that," and pulled away from the curb. We watched her drive away.

"When that lady says, 'Welcome home,' " Joyce said, "you'd better listen."

Guided Tour

The next morning we met our tour group in the hotel lobby. There were some people from Boston accompanied by their parish priest, a Swedish-looking family from Wisconsin, the Hanleys from California, people from New Jersey, New York, Chicago and Toronto. But the most interesting person we met that morning was an Irishman from Kerry, Peter Bourke, the tour director.

"I only hope you like me," he said. "But if you don't, please don't tell anyone because of me poor sweet wife and me 14 little ones at home."

In his opening remarks he also apologized for his appearance, which he said wasn't so good because of some recent reconstructive surgery, namely having his ears sewed back on. A few of the ladies gasped.

"Unfortunately," Peter said, "I was involved in a dispute in a pub. Lost both me ears and as a consequence I went blind."

There were a few groans.

Peter held up his hands. "Stone blind, I swear it. When me ears went, me hat fell down over me eyes and I couldn't see a thing. Not a thing."

There was some laughter and someone in the back said: "So it's going to be that kind of a tour, is it?"

It was that kind of a tour.

Ireland is full of beauty, and Peter made sure we saw it. And he told us about the history and the legends.

He showed us some houses, now little more than stone ruins, the wood and thatch long since rotted away, that our ancestors left at the time of the potato famine.

He introduced us to the faerie-rings and the theories and warnings attached to them. But when the scenery thinned a little, he did the entertaining.

"Did you hear about the two Kerrymen walking along the beach?" he asked. "One says to the other, 'Oh, look at the dead sea gull.' The other looks up into the sky and says, 'Where? Where?' "

Peter admitted that little boys in Ireland are never told about things such as sex. On his wedding night, he said, he had not wanted to go to bed because his father had told him it would probably be the most exciting night of his life. He was afraid if he went to bed he'd miss it.

Nonstop Humor

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