Standing at the edge of the cliff, looking down 70 feet to the raging sea below sends a rush through my legs. This is a “not bad” day, according to the Irish. There is a cool wind and slight mist that adds to the experience of the rugged coastline known as the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. It is utterly breathtaking.
I am in Ireland with my eldest son as we explore the country he will call home for the next year. He has followed the great Irish writers, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett and Shaw to their roots and inspiration.
We land in Dublin, a historic city with a population of just over one million, and are taking a quick two-day bus tour across the width of the Republic of Ireland to the counties of Cork, Clare and Galway before returning to settle him in the city. Our tour includes the medieval Bunratty Castle, Cliffs of Moher, Burren National Park and the winding roads to the picturesque Kylemore Abbey, and a sleepover in the seaside port of Galway.
The Republic of Ireland is geographically located in the British Isles, with Northern Ireland above and England across the Irish Sea. Having become a free country in 1922 after much fierce fighting, the remnants of their long fight are everywhere.
The Irish are proud and fierce about their culture. There are about five million people living in the Republic, yet 70 million descendants live around the globe and many in Canada. The Great Famine of 1845-1852 saw entire families starve to death while those who could emigrate left their beloved home.
Ireland is sheepdogs and sheep, it is rugged coastline and mountain ranges. It is medieval castles, thatched roofs, and 18th-century stone fences. It is pubs, redheads, and large crowds cheering for their hurling team. It is the contrast between the rugged landscape and the vibrant European city of Dublin. It is bilingual with two official languages, with all signs firstly in Irish, then English.
Our travels take us to the stunning Cliffs of Moher and the vast Burren region of limestone pavement that stretches for miles. We visit Leenane with the only fjord in Ireland, Killary Fjord. The tiny village with a pub, confectionary store and tourist shops is framed by majestic mountains. All along our route we spot sheep at varying levels of the valleys and mountains.
Just as fascinating as the natural landscape are the Irish people themselves. They are happy to have you visit, but you had better appreciate their bluntness and wit. Their world-famous poets, writers and musicians have been recognized for their artistic expression of that wit. Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, Wilde, Shaw and Bono have it, and it all comes into focus when you are surrounded by the places and culture they were influenced by.
I left my son behind in Ireland to study, while I returned with an Irish woolen sweater and a deeper, more realistic appreciation for the land and its people.