I will admit to some degree of cultural bias, but I think that the Irish may be the most hospitable people on earth.
Throughout 40 years in the Canadian travel industry, including dozens of both business and pleasure trips to Ireland, I have seen the evidence at first hand.
My very first trip to Ireland 42 years ago is a perfect illustration.
My wife, Laurie, and I had spent the day touring the country by car after spending a few delightful days in Dublin. Close to dusk one night, we crossed the Shannon River in County Clare and pulled into the little town of Kilrush. Dating from the 16th century with a population of just over 3,000, Kilrush was once part of the Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking, part of Ireland.
As it began to get dark, Laurie and I searched the main street for a hotel or Bed & Breakfast. Not spotting one, I parked in front of a small confectioner’s shop that was still open.
The proprietor was a middle-aged Irish lady with her hair in curlers and wearing a housecoat. When I asked her about accommodations in town, she didn’t hesitate.
“Come with me,” she said. “Tommy Mangan will know.”
Laurie and I followed her down the street 50 yards to Tommy Mangan;s Pub. She thenreturned to her unlocked and unattended shop.
The pub was not much bigger than our living room. The bar seated six. Behind the row of bar seats was a small bench, currently occupied by a woman in her late 80s. The publican, Tommy Mangan, was a local sports hero; captain of the county champion football team, the Kilrush Shamrocks.
As Tommy’s wife hit the telephone to find us a place to say, Tommy asked us what we’d like to drink. Once ordered, I asked what we owed.
“Nothing at all, at all,” Tommy smiled. “Mary is buying this round.”
Mary, it turned out, was the elderly lady on the bench behind us. She simply wanted to show some hospitality to strangers in town.
“Here’s an address for you,” Mrs. Mangan told us. “Peggy is waiting for you.”
We followed the directions to a house not far from the pub. Peggy welcomed us with a hug and a smile.
“Is this a Bed & Breakfast?” I asked her.
“Not at all,” she told me, “but you’ll have both, and you’re very welcome. I’m giving you my son’s room. He’s off to the university.”
Peggy handed us a set of house keys, told us that she was “going to the dance,” and left. She suggested that we might want to spend some more time at Tommy Mangan’s Pub, which we did.
What followed was a night of absolute merriment, song, poetry and that traditional and priceless Irish hospitality for which Ireland is so well known.
Every visitor to the pub had to “welcome the Canadians:” by treating Laurie and I to a round.
Learning that we hailed from the Great White North, one regular treated the entire pub to a dramatic recital, from memory and complete with dramatic gestures, of the Robert Service poem, The Shooting of Dan McGrew.
Another, taking my arm and telling Laurie, “Don’t worry, missy, I’ll bring him back,” walked me out of the bar in the dark and several blocks down the street before stopping, spreading his arms, and proudly boasting, “There – now you’ve seen the second-widest street in Europe!”
Every visitor to Tommy’s insisted on telling us the life story of every neighbour or acquaintance named Egan that they’d ever encountered.
We went back to Peggy’s later that night, tired but feeling truly at home. The next morning, we woke to discover that Peggy had prepared us a big Irish breakfast – fried eggs with bacon and sausage, fried bread, mushrooms and tomatoes– what the Irish lovingly call “a heart attack on a plate.”
Peggy also had a gift for us – a coffee mug decorated with the crests of the four provinces of Ireland.
When I offered to pay Peggy for her gracious hospitality, she reacted as if she’d been slapped.
Over the next few decades, as I travelled all over this beautiful country by road and by rail, from the border of Northern Ireland to the city of Cork in the south, and from Waterford and Wexford in the east to Killarney and the Dingle Peninsula in the west, the same generous spirit of Kilrush was always present.
Visit Ireland when you can.
In the meantime, have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!