Emerald Isle

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange is just back from Ireland, and he has fond recollections of his visit to the Emerald Isle.

(Lange) Going on a tour with Vermont Public Radio members is pretty much pure fun. I think of it as thirty intelligent Yankees in sensible shoes. But as the host, I usually sit in the front of the bus by the microphone. If the trip is to the British Isles, I never quite get used to the sight of vehicles hurtling around curves and coming toward us on the wrong side of the road.

What a loovly trip we had! There were castles and ruins, a crystal factory and a distillery, Irish music and stories, and green fields everywhere that, because of the Gulf Stream, grow for eleven months of the year. For me it was the people, their mannerisms, and their language. I was like a kid in a candy store, listening to accents from Dublin to Galway, and Connemara to Tralee. I discovered nobody in Ireland ever reaches the age of thirty-three; instead he gets to torty-tree.

Nobody says anything simply. According to one writer, “The English suppressed our native Irish and forced us to use their language. But we got the ultimate revenge. We made it into music and fired it back at them twice as powerful.” He’s right, too. Ask a farmer if there are any trout in the lough below his farm, he’ll answer, “Well, if I said so, it wouldn’t be far from the truth.” And there’s a wonderfully quirky interrogative at the end of almost every declarative sentence. My wife and I have been using it just for fun. As in this example:

“You’re gettin’ up then, are you?”
“Well, yis, it’s five-thirty, isn’t it?”
“You’ll be makin’ coffee first thing then, will you?”

Walking in Irish cities was perilous, but not because of footpads. We always glance to the left before starting across the street. That’s a good way to die in Dublin; the traffic comes from the right. Imagine Boston backwards…and remember how many Boston drivers are Irish.

Out in the countryside, you could feel the Yankee spirits quickening. We visited ancient monasteries and Iron Age tombs. We walked a treeless valley deserted but for sheep and cattle and stood by the sad graves of whole families who once farmed there, but starved to death in the awful potato famine of 1846.

On a perfect day we drove to the end of the Dingle Peninsula and took a small ferry three miles out to Great Blasket Island. Inhabited from prehistoric times and abandoned in 1953, the barren island was never home to more than 175 people, but they produced an amazing amount of literature and poetry. I’d wanted to get there for decades. Walking among the deserted stone houses and paths was every bit the mystical experience I’d imagined. The others later said they’d felt the same way. It was like a fairy place: Once you’ve felt its magic, you’ve gotta get back to it.

Ah, this is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work first then, don’t I?

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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