When I think of Ireland, three things come immediately to mind. Warmth, wool and whiskey. Our trip to Ireland was filled with all three. Wool, in its varied forms came, home by the suitcase full. Whiskey was sniffed, sampled and consumed in copious amounts. What stood out the most was the friendly and generous nature of the people. They will warm my heart forever.
First, the Warmth.
My husband and I had been in Ireland only a few hours, and we were already lost. We pulled over and were engrossed in the map, when we both jumped at the sound of a voice. A young woman had suddenly thrust her head through my open car window and asked, “Where are you off to then?”
The alarm we felt at first shifted to being grateful for help. We told her where we were headed and received a “Twould be much easier for me ta show ya then.” Quickly, and without invitation, she opened the rear door of our car, climbed in and sat down!
As we drove,she pointed out the turns, and chatted the whole way. Her name was Kathy, and she loved meeting new people. We arrived at our destination a few minutes later. Kathy jumped out as quickly as she had jumped in, then turned to us and waved goodbye. Her smile was as engaging as her personality.
We met another friendly and generous person at the launderette. A woman was already loading her clothes into the only open washer, as we approached with our bags. She immediately removed her laundry, and invited us to use the machine. She said she could come back later, and that we should go ahead and do ours.
We thanked her and exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes. Hubby and I stood there reading directions, puzzled, trying to figure out how to use the unfamiliar equipment. The woman not only explained how to use it, she even gave us the proper coins to make it work. We saw her later in a store, she waved to us across the mall, as if we were long lost friends. She still had her dirty laundry with her.
Now, the Wool.
There are over 3 million sheep in Ireland, a country the size of the state of Indiana. For me, that translated into lots and lots of yarn! I have dreamed for years of owning a hand knit fisherman sweater from Ireland, and I now own three!
In the County Galway there is a Sheep and Wool Centre in the town of Leenane. This center was established to preserve the history, traditions and skills of the wool industry. I was given a one on one lesson on carding and spinning, as well as a demonstration on looming. The small museum covers everything from sheep breeding, through to the final wool product. My husband and I were both enthralled.
In County Burren we came upon a village craft fair. A master crafter was there spinning and selling yarn (my lucky day!). She allowed me to give my hand at spinning her antique wheel, and that pretty much just scared me. She had me feel and smell the differences between types of yarn and their uses. We started chatting about grandchildren and she brought out the blanket she was working on for her new grand baby. I can honestly say it was the most beautiful knit blanket I have ever seen, waves of soft beige and pinks, intricately woven. She wasn’t following a pattern, she was “letting the yarn tell her what to do next,”
Last, but not least, the Whiskey.
Whiskey is an art in Ireland, and we became art connoisseurs immediately. Distilleries have facility tours, gift shops and tastings. We visited Jameson, Dingle, Bushmills and a Whiskey Museum.
I have never been good at being able to detect the subtle differences in wine, but in whiskey I can pick them up right away. Whiskey is casked in barrels that have previously been used for other types of alcohol. The previous liquid plays a huge difference in the flavor of the whiskey.
We visited pubs each evening. Many of them have nightly music; some offer what they call “sessions.” All musicians are welcome to drop in and play together. As a result, the entertainment is always a surprise. We were treated to an amazing evening in the town of Dingle. We popped into a pub for our nightly whiskey and David Geaney, five time world champion Irish dancer, was there wowing the crowd with his phenomenal moves. It was such a privilege to see him in person.
One night we sat in a pub, sipping Jameson, I was wearing my gorgeous new sweater and chatting with a gentleman who had simply walked up to our table, sat down and began a conversation . It was the trifecta of warmth, wool and whiskey.