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A Postcard from Ireland
By Heinrich Hall
Recently, I have had the opportunity to revisit Ireland at length to prepare a new tour, “Exploring Ireland: the Heart of the Emerald Isle” for Peter Sommer Travels. In spite of my deep familiarity with the country and its people, I was amazed once again at the immense natural beauty, the incredible historical depth, the extraordinary hospitality, the wonderful experience that Ireland has to offer.
Just two moments: in the north of County Mayo, I halted by the road to have a glance at a 5,000-year old megalithic tomb. Surrounded by luxurious hedgerows, the result of millennia of cattle farming, the view took in the Neolithic monument, a ruined 18th century Anglo-Irish mansion, a 14th century monastery, the tidal beaches of Killala Bay, and a lot of cows, with the mountains of Donegal in the distance. All in one glance, encompassing millennia of history. Second moment: a little later, I had lunch in a nearby pub, enjoying simple but excellent local fare (great homemade brown bread, divine Irish butter and succulent smoked salmon) and discussing the sights I’d just admired with the locals. Not just the locals: the greatly articulate and vocal locals, offering their views, traditional tales and hands-on knowledge of the area’s antiquities, freely, openly and in many fine words, words that went beyond description and explanation, words that colored the landscape with so many stories.
That’s what awaits you in Ireland. Embedded in the utter greenery (a true cliché) there is a range of things to see, from Neolithic tombs via Celtic forts and Early Christian monasteries to medieval towns, castles and cities, and on to the Renaissance and Georgian edifices of Anglo-Ireland. Kept alive by the Irish, who effortlessly mix the long history of their region with the current day-to-day, making the country a continuum of historical past, mythical past and living present. This mix has made for a uniquely fertile cultural environment: four Nobel Prizes for Literature have gone to Irish writers (so far), considering the size of population a staggering number. A tour of Ireland is a story of Ireland, or many stories of Ireland.
Forget all the clichés: forget the notion of Ireland as a British off-shoot, forget leprechauns, the Blarney Stone, the shamrock and red-haired freckled girls (or boys). Some of these things actually exist, and some of them might be worth exploring eventually. But what is truly worth exploring is Ireland itself.
Heinrich Hall from Frankfurt, Germany, studied archaeology in Ireland, spending over a decade in the country and exploring its length and breadth. Now based in Athens, Greece, he works as a tour expert for Peter Sommer Travels, designing and running tours in Greece. Recently, he has been involved in the development of new tours in Croatia and Ireland.