The Authentic Irish Experience – What You’d Expect?
I’ve been thinking about authenticity in travel lately, since there has been much discussion of it online. What is authentic travel? And why are expectations about authentic travel skewed? One of the places that I have most been jarred by the dissonance in what I expected – and what I experienced – was in Ireland.
I’d expected a vibrant, thriving culture with lots of tourists. What I saw was a vibrant, thriving culture with lots of tourists. But thinking about it and experiencing it are two different things. What makes for an “authentic” Irish experience? It isn’t all thatched roofs and Guinness, fiddlers and genial Irishmen. It is about that oft-present friendliness and scenery and looking beyond the traditional Ireland to the Ireland of today. For me, Authentic Ireland was found everywhere I went, and the one constant was that it defied traditional boundaries.
Challenged by Expectations
I was challenged by our expectations of Ireland from our first breakfast at a B&B in Doolin, where we talked about Ireland and past visits with a family whose grandsons play college basketball, to the walk and shopping at the Cliffs of Moher, where the only Irish people present were probably those working there. Authenticity was in the Blind Piper Pub in Caherdaniel, where the crowd was 90% tourists (mostly wet walkers, drying out for an hour before heading out into the rain again, continuing their Ring of Kerry trek), and the other 10% were a few families and the waitresses. It was in Cork, where the crowds were multicultural and cosmopolitan – working, shopping, eating Chinese, pushing baby strollers.
Authentic Ireland was in fellow travelers, in our horse cart ride through the Gap of Dunloe. It was in the locals swimming at Derrynane Beach, despite the frigid temps. Authentic Ireland was in the cemeteries, and the visitors who found peace (or photos, or both) there.
Authentic Ireland was in the artists I found, sharing their talents and craft in person and on the web. It was in the fish market, raw and gritty (and delicious). It was in the organic farmers at the Kenmare Market, with their beautiful and tasty offerings. It was also in Quill’s store, with Irish playing cards and Irish Sweaters and Irish linen, snatched up by tourists.
Authenticity was in B&Bs and home rentals, so picturesque – and the reality of guests in their home/business, bookings, and being an entrepreneur in an uncertain global economy.
Authenticity was in the extremely helpful man – the very first person I saw in Ireland, right out of the plane – who helped with my wheelchair at Shannon Airport. Full of jokes, and patience, he told us about the Shannon area, as well as his family’s trips to Turkey and elsewhere abroad.
Authenticity was in the busloads of tourists who rule the Ring of Kerry – and the painted sheep who took over the roads at night. It was in the farms, eking an existence among the rocks, and the hardships of the current economy. It was in the music – traditional Celtic music, as well as music from all over the world. It was a tv show in Gaelic, right after a rerun of Storm Chasers.
As I learned, authentic Ireland is in the people – both locals to visitors – all of whom help to create YOUR Irish experience. It won’t be like any others’, except for one fact – that the true authentic Irish experience lies in diversity, people, and that beautiful, beautiful place.
What surprised you about Ireland? What constitutes your authentic Irish experience?
Dr. Jessie Voigts is the Publisher of www.WanderingEducators.com.