My wife and I took our first trip to Ireland on the day after St. Patrick’s day of 1972, An Air Lingus flight from New York to Shannon, the path trod by so many folks looking for some piece of back home from back home. That was interesting, because I was primarily German and Linda was about totally German. Still, the name sounded Irish and we liked to drink then so, off we went. We were in the Aer Lingus lounge at JFK waiting to board with roughly a million other Irish people in various stages of hangover when a graceful elderly woman came walking by. I insisted she take my seat. She introduced herself as Lady Nancy Dunraven, widow of the Fourth Earl of Dunraven. We had no idea who she was, or who he was. But she told good stories and was quite friendly. When we got off the plane in Shannon, she insisted we come to her “cottage” in Adare for a visit and we said we would then skittered off into the Irish countryside to look at some beauty, talk a bit and drink lots of Jamieson and big pints of Guiness. We were about to forget about it when, suddenly, we remembered and decided to look her up. We had a phone number and vague directions. We had no idea what we we’re getting into, but that has pretty much been the description of our lives together, so off we went. The Driveway to Lady Nancy’s “cottage” was miles long and lined with blooming daffodils. It was one of those things that carried you up a little rise until you could see the top of it when you were just about there. It was not a cottage. It was a castle, a big, lovely castle. The man who met us at the door was in full dress and as proper as he could be. We were put in a library to await Lady Nancy, who would lead us into dinner. We had no idea how to behave, so we accepted whiskey (we always accepted whiskey in those days) and waited for a bit. Loads and loads of interesting books in there, including a whole collection of books in Chinese. When Lady Nancy arrived, she noted that she collected only first editions and each was signed by the author. Even the Chinese ones. It was getting very interesting. Her dinner guest was the Horse manager for the Maclean family of Canada. They published Maclean’s magazine. I was a reporter for UPI at that point, so I thought we might have something to talk about. We did not. What he talked about was Catholics and their unacceptable behaviors. Fortunately, that was interrupted by one of the most fantastic meals I have ever had followed by a big chocolate soufflé’ and more drinks and cigars. Lady Nancy and my wife went wherever women go in castles while the men are drinking and having their cigars. Because the man was such a danged toad, I could not wait for the dinner to end, although the rack of lamb and French fries made it worth the discomfort. I concluded that what irritated him about people in Ireland were people like me. I bade him farewell. I recall hugging Lady Nancy and giving her a genuine thank you. She said I should write the true book about the relationship between the aristocracy and the commoners in Irish history. “Certainly,” I lied. She invited us to go stay at her hotel in Adare if we wanted. That was also fantastic. Then we went back out into Ireland and resolved to return, again and again and again, but for the adventure, not for the dinner guests. We went back four more times, one of which included a stay with a family who had a band I played and sang with. Now that was an adventure. This leads to the only piece of travel advice I have. If you go to a place like Ireland, skip the touristy things and try to make at least one friend who knows something, about anything. We met a man on a road in Connemara who talked for 45 minutes about this thyroid problems and how his children thought he hated them until he got it fixed. By the time we had ended, he felt like a friend.
There are no bad conversations in Ireland.