It’s a place which has melodic names for its towns like Killybigs, Galway and Tullamore, and for centuries nearly all the buildings were built with the grey stone, native to their beautiful country. Sharon and Tim Emrick saw most of Ireland in 21 days as they toured around the lush green coast.
One of the best parts about a country with such interesting history is hearing it told by those live there. For instance, most of us have heard of the potato famine of Ireland, but probably not the particulars. The Emricks learned it all began in 1845. The potato was not native to Ireland, but instead had been brought from the New World by Sir Walter Raleigh. In the period from 1780 to 1845, the Irish population increased from four to eight million. However, with this population explosion came an increased demand for land. The only solution was to divide the available parcels into ever-smaller plots for each succeeding generation. Soon, the diminished size of these plots dictated the planting of potatoes, as that was the only crop that could produce a sufficient yield of food on such limited acreage. By 1840, one third of Ireland’s population was totally dependent on the potato for food.
Then came the potato blight in 1845, brought ashore from the cargo holds of ships. It quickly made its way to the potato fields where it spread havoc. The small farmers suffered immediately. Starvation combined with an increased susceptibility to diseases such as typhus, dysentery and cholera devastated the population. The reaction of the British government was inadequate.
By 1848, the worst was over. It is estimated that about one million people died as a result of the famine, while over one million fled the country. By 1911, Ireland’s population had dropped to four million and today is about six million.
In the 1920s, Ireland began its quest for Independence from Great Britain. Eventually the part that stayed with Great Britain is six northern counties named Northern Ireland. The rest of the 26 counties became the Republic of Ireland or officially, Ireland.
The Emricks’ tour began in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, and the location of much of the conflict called The Troubles from 1968 to 1998. This was a clash between Protestants of Northern Ireland and Catholics, who also lived there. It was not a religious war, but one that was political and nationalistic. The mainly Protestant Northern Ireland considered itself British and wanted to stay aligned with that country, but the Catholics wanted to have a United Ireland. All of this led to the Irish Republican Army, or IRA as you may know it, that was blamed for bombings and killings during that time. Nearly 3,500 people died during the troubles and 50 percent of them were civilians. It was a terrible time in Irish history. The Irish people that the Emricks met told them that the fire of this conflict is out, but there will always be the slow burn.
Belfast is actually divided by a large wall that extends through the main portion of the city separating the area with Catholics living on one side and Protestants on the other. Recently, the area became more mixed and there’s even something called a gray area, where both Catholics and Protestants live in relative peace.
There is, however, a large gate that allows residents to cross straight through, which is closed at 6 p.m. every Friday night and doesn’t open again until Monday morning. It’s the shortest transport between the two areas. If you have an emergency on the other side, you must go out around the wall to get there. That emergency could have a bad outcome because of the longer trip. There is a movement to leave the gate open all the time or even remove the wall, but so far that hasn’t happened.
While in the countryside, the Emricks met a sheepherder who described his life. He explained that every sheepherder has a designated color of paint that is sprayed on the side of the animals. Then, if they run out of their territory, the animal can be identified easily. In fact, all animals in Ireland, even cattle, are tagged for identification.
The animals roam on the owner’s property, which is marked off in large squares by hedges or stone walls. A farmer’s property might have one square and then there might be three squares belonging to someone else, until the next section of property is reached. In other words, a lot of land is not contiguous.
The sheep farmer introduced them to his dog, which does much of the work corralling the sheep into their proper place. Of course the sheep are always fighting back trying to show the dog they’re in charge. The farmer begins at about 8 a.m. and doesn’t return until 5 p.m., walking his property and even crossing over small mountains in his backyard to the other side to make sure his herd is OK.
When you tour Ireland, you see castles and cathedrals and beautiful green everywhere. The country is known for its Guinness beer and Waterford Crystal, and in Northern Ireland, Baleek China. Of course you have to kiss the Blarney Stone and I saw a picture of Sharon doing such. For this procedure, you lay down on the ground with a little padding at the back of your shoulders. You then must lean your head all the way backwards, almost until your head is upside down, at which time you can reach forward and kiss the rock. I could see that there were lots of other areas available for kissing that would be much easier, but apparently the more difficult place to reach is the right spot. It did occur to me that many different people kissed there recently. Hmm.
In Ireland, the Emricks saw gas for six dollars a gallon and were told that no billboards are allowed anywhere. You may not live in a trailer in Ireland, but there are RV Parks for vacation purposes only, open only a few months a year. In the year 2000, the government planted a tree for each person living in the country at that time. They all received a notice as to the exact tree planted in their name.
Sharon noticed that in all the small towns, you can park on either side of the street facing either way. If you see a spot, you just pull into it, no matter if it’s on your side of the street or which direction your car is facing. This was not, however, in play in the largest city of Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland.
It’s a socialist country where college is free for everyone. The catch is, you have to pay a $3,000, one-time application fee. There are very stiff entrance requirements for college, so all may not be eligible for the free education.
Ireland has one of the least permissive guns laws in Europe. Personal guns are not allowed, except for hunting, but if you apply for a hunting license, you must open up your entire medical history for approval.
So it was a good trip for Sharon and Tim Emrick.
(Melanie Behrens – firstname.lastname@example.org)
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