For an American who’s strived to explore the far corners and unbeaten paths of Europe for the past year, going to Ireland feels about as adventurous as crossing the border from Kansas into Nebraska. Filled with overzealous compatriots who have a ridiculously romanticized perception of the country — and particularly outrageous delusions of grandeur regarding Dublin — I feel here more than anywhere else like I need a disclaimer sign on my forehead reading, “I’m not one of them.”
This magic and lore of Dublin, which seems to entrance so many visitors, is invisible to me. I first set foot in the city last May, as the very first stop on a year-long spree of post-graduation travels in Europe. I was feeling quite jet-lagged and disoriented at the time, and overwhelmed by the uncertainty of what I’d be doing and where I’d be living for the next year, but my initial unimpressed evaluation of the city has hardly changed. It is heinously overpriced, grey, flat, and in many ways boring and even depressing. It lacks the magic and excitement of other British Isles cities like London or Edinburgh, yet is too big to be considered charming, and has minimal natural beauty to its name. Its Georgian architecture is elegant and grand in certain city centre locales, but again pales in comparison to the aforementioned settlements.
My friend, Scott, put it well when describing his American friends’ excitement over Dublin; when asked what excites them, they stuttered and replied, “Umm…Guinness! Leprechauns!” Of course Scott corrected them by explaining that leprechauns are nowhere to be found in Dublin, but in the (****ing) COUNTRYSIDE! Overall, the city has always just left me underwhelmed.
Perhaps the most fascinating case study in Dublin is the infamous Temple Bar district, a living stereotype of uncultured tourism. American and Aussie backpacker-revellers mob the pubs every night, getting incredible enjoyment from €6 pints of Guinness that apparently have some sort of added X-factor in them that I’ve never been able to distinguish from a civilly-priced pint anywhere else. For these folk, spending €70 drinking Guinness all night in Dublin is what Ireland is about, but for me it’s anything but. Though I pity those who come to Dublin and Dublin only and chug pint upon pint, I’m confident in their conviction that this drunken city experience is an unprecedented voyage of immersion into Irish culture, history, and spirit. What befuddles me even more is it’s not just the tourists; my Irish friends have recommended and raved of Temple Bar as well – “When you coome to Dooblin, you aaaabsolutely moost go to Temple Baaaar!”
While I do get mild enjoyment from observing the herds engage in such behaviour, and even sometimes wish I were able to experience such misguided joy myself, I prefer to delve into Ireland’s storied countryside. This landscape can be overhyped as well (read: leprechauns); much of the country’s inland centre is incredibly uniform and boring after a short while, as rolling green hills with farmhouses and the occasional stream or decrepit castle can only entertain for so long. However, a simple drive south into County Wicklow, with the gorgeous lakes of Glendalough (Gaelic translation: Valley of Lakes) and surrounding mountains, or southwest to County Kerry with Ireland’s tallest mountains looming above the majestic Lakes of Killarney, will quickly reveal to a dummy that Dublin is not what Ireland is about.
Of course, there are American tourists in the beautiful countryside as well. Doolin, the small town on the West Coast (County Clare) where I recently settled for a job at a hotel, is no exception. They arrive in droves to see the famed and photogenic Cliffs of Moher, but it’s hard to blame them. The town is known as the home of traditional Irish music, and provides such a stark contrast to my lifelong city dwelling to-date — no ATM and no grocery store in town. Doolin’s lone commercial street, the charming Fisher Street, lies across a bridge supposedly guarded by a fairy at night. Roaming the adjacent field is a mysterious white horse, which I’m determined is some sort of spirit. Seeing that my stated “goal” during my time in Ireland is to see a banshee, I reckon I landed in a good place to chase that aspiration. And to be fair, I must admit that after a few rowdy nights with the maladjusted, inappropriately friendly foul-smelling alcoholic locals, the naively excited fresh-faced tourists can actually be quite the breath of fresh air!
By: Keith Mattingly