|Here's to you, Erin Gra Mo Chroi|
When I first made plans to meet you last year, I perused a variety of travel brochures, each promising a spectacular vacation discovering the "hidden" Ireland, your "secret" self. That seems to be what people are searching for.....a connection that is thicker than the walls of castles and cathedrals and stronger than a tall pint of Guinness. Even as they board the commercial tour buses, they're hoping for more than a spectator's comfortable seat. They want to be called into the game.
I've spoken to a few people who have taken whirlwind bus tours and, while they have only positive things to say about Ireland, they came back to America tired and disappointed. Like a quick and cagey leprechaun, the hidden magic they were hoping to find remained just beyond their grasp, inviting but elusive. Maybe that's why it's called "hidden" after all.
You don't have to be a wizard to figure this out. The real heart of any culture is in the people themselves, not their artifacts and relics, no matter how attractive and amazing those artifacts and relics might be. Your stone speaks to me but it's always a one-way conversation. It never listens when I tell it my troubles. And your music comforts and inspires me, but it doesn't need me like I need it. It gives, but has no capacity to take what I might offer.
You can't buy a ticket into someone's heart, no matter how extravagant your travel budget. The price of a relationship is time.... time to develop empathy and understanding that goes both ways...... not me trying to dissect you, but you deciding to be vulnerable..... not you just smiling and trying to sell me souvenirs, but you genuinely reaching out to me with warmth and kindness and accepting the same in return. That connection is what I found in Ireland this year..... and it was definitely magic to me.
Like so many other Irish descendants born and raised in the USA, I have felt an affinity with Ireland from a young age and yearned to discover what it was all about. For some reason, dear Ireland, you chose me to glimpse inside your treasure chest. And when the sparkling jewels took my breath away, you wrapped them round my neck, pressed them on my fingers and toes and led me to a mirror. I saw myself as Irish and it made me feel very proud and humble at the same time. Even though I'm home now, I will always know I'm Irish