When people ask me why I love Ireland, having grown up in the United States with nary a drop of Irish blood, I say it’s because of the Irish people. I love the Irish people. They are so kind. In native Irish, it takes them six words to say a simple phrase because they have the souls of poets.
When I went to Ireland in 2012 with my husband Alan and our 17-year-old son Nathaniel, the Irish kindness kept flowing. We were attending the Handball World Championships, where men and women came from all over the world to compete in this sport that originated in Ireland. I spent a lot of time watching handball and listening to the Irish players speak like someone took the American language and made it friendlier and more solicitous. It’s like the difference, tonally, between a physics lecture in college and a Peter, Paul & Mary concert.
In advance of the tournament, we had driven to Northern Ireland to see Giants Causeway, the very top of the island with a view of Scotland on a clear day, that looks like giants made a party game out of the shore, the strategy of which was to push perfect hexagonal cylinders up and down with some cosmic point tabulation. We stayed nearby at a guest house, and had told the proprietor that the boys were interested in practicing handball. When we returned to our abode that evening, the proprietor eagerly told us that he had called a nearby friary with an ancient handball court and the groundskeeper had agreed to clean it up so they could play. He was thrilled because the court had not been used in years!
Returning to later in the trip, we spent our time at the tournament with not many wins. As any “handball widow” knows, an unsuccessful tournament means more time to be a tourist! Back in Dublin, the basement of our hotel was an adorable pub complete with a band and four types of O’Hara’s beer on tap. The bandleader warmly bantered with us and asked if Nathaniel met the legal drinking age of 18. Was it wrong for me, his mother, to lie about his age? After a couple pints, we started making our move to depart. The bandleader said “Please don’t leave” and we explained that we had an early flight home the next morning. He said “Let us sing you one more song!,” and we agreed, Then, when we thanked them and bade them farewell, standing up and collecting our things, he said with a sly grin, “We’ll see you next year when the lad really is 18!” He cannily ascertained that Nathaniel was 17. This reminded us of a pub band we had seen in Northern Ireland that begged us not to leave yet. They said they would sing us a song about the Statue of Liberty, so we stayed.