You might have an idea in your head of what St. Patrick’s Day is like in Ireland. And often that vision, filled with packed streets and pubs, drunken brawls and slurred singing until the kegs of Guinness run dry, is accurate. Except the Guinness running dry. It never will.
Once outside the main metropolitan areas, the mood shifts. Things were more quiet for my St. Patrick’s Day in Dingel, the last town before the one way tour around Dingle Peninsula juts out into the vast Atlantic Ocean.
Arriving on St. Patrick’s Day with just enough time to check in to our B&B before a drive around the famous peninsula, my ex-wife and I haven’t given much thought to the evening’s plans. Sure, we had flown across the Atlantic because we wanted to see Ireland and thought St. Patrick’s Day would be as good a time as any to visit, maybe even better than most. You see, we like to drink beer, especially Irish beer.
The week before the actual event, parties have started and the Dublin’s streets are adorned with streamers, flags and beer related signs. Guinness let’s its dominance of the capital city be known loud and clear. Jameson throws in for good measure as this holiday is not confined to beer in the city. Once outside the city the housing becomes spaced further apart and so do the commercial reminders, until there are none on the major thoroughfare reaching West to the Atlantic.
Crossing the width of Ireland from Dublin to Dingel, the reminders have become silent and only a fleeting rainbow graces the gray, rolling sky. Here and three I spot a flag near a home, sometimes checkered or in a variety of patterns. Solid colors. Historic colors. Without words to tell what to buy or where to celebrate. They measure about one meter by one and a half meters, are rectangular and sway on a pole no more than two meters high. They don’t fly in every yard, where they were typically posted and I don’t spot more than a couple of the same pattern.
After checking into our B&B, we head out to drive the Dingel Peninsula, a loop drive along breathtaking shoreline confronted with the full weight of the Atlantic. The town of Dingel, and it is a town, seems quiet for such a seemingly important holiday. There are tourist to be seen, looking out of place as we gawk at the horse drawn buggy sharing the road with lorries. Yet there is a definite lack of rowdiness I am accustom to feeling and seeing on all-day holidays, such as the Fourth Of July. Edging toward the loop road a few more flags crop up and I stop to shoot a photo of one, for the first time wondering about their significance, while noting a distinct lack of Irish country flags.
The loop road can be treacherous once the sun has set and we hurry to soak in all of the cliff-side vistas before returning to town after dark. Tired, and thirsty, we freshen up before heading out for a night on the town, American St. Patty’s-style.
What we are greeted with upon entering a pub is a much less raucous and much older crowd than we had expected. I fell young at age 31. The space is crowded and the din is warm like the blaze in the fireplace. Crowded, in this case, meant everyone has a table and is not magnetized to the bar. Calm crowded would be a better term. A band is setting up in one corner; no microphones, no amps, no drum kit. Just four normal looking gentleman with three string instruments and a woodwind between them.
We find a table and order dinner as the band begins to play. Some tunes are sung in Gaelic and some in English with a mix of the upbeat and mellow. No one gets up to dance and we join in synchronized clapping on a song or two, fitting in nicely.
Calm, relaxed. Enjoyable.
The evening is not a beer swilling frat party often rehearsed in the USA (and in Dublin where a number of large fights broke out that year). The two rooms of the pub are filled, comfortable and alive, yet, dare I say, more mature than I am expecting. After a filling meal of sheppard’s pie, we retire for the evening, exhausted from the day’s driving and happily filled with a pint or two of Murphy’s stout. We end St. Patrick’s Day with a chilly walk through the town, passing only a couple of pubs, each with crowds smaller than ours.
At the time I remember feeling a bit deflated. I traveled all the way across the ocean (while sitting relaxed in an airline seat for less time than I sleep at night) looking for a bit of excitement. Heading to the Mother Land for what I expected to mother of all beer filled parties. What I found, outside the bustle of city life, was something calmer. The gatherings I spied the week before and on that March 17th were more communal in nature. A town getting together to celebrate without going overboard.
I am not the man I was seven years go. The ‘young’ one who was looking for a drunken party (which we did find later on the last night before our departure in Dublin, as well as the hangover while traveling the next day). I rarely drink more than a beer in a month now and I don’t head out on the town to go drinking. It’s lost of a lot of its appeal, being drunk has. And it has left me wanting to return to Ireland for another Saint Patrick’s Day to learn what it means for those living in the country’s less populated areas. I will stop at houses and inquire about flags and their meanings. I will soak up more of what is going on around me, rather than sitting on pins and needles waiting for what I expect might happen.
I was ignorant then and I’d be a fool to say I am not now. We all are, when we take a moment to step back and realize all we do not know.
I have found the best way to lessen that ignorance is to travel with an open mind.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Ireland. Until we meet again.