Sorry for taking so long to get back to this--I've been busy getting things on Ebay in an attempt to clean this house out! And yesterday I realized I hadn't been out of our house in 3 days, so I decided to do some thrift store shopping. I found a really cute polo shirt and two pair of pants, not bad, but the one pair of pants was a major score for me as they are Lands End corduroys--my favorite style of them as well--for $3! And in a color I don't already have and brand new to boot. Whoo hoo!!
Before we head on our journey to the Emerald Isle, I thought it would be good to give you some background. Ireland is a beautiful place with an interesting history. Everyone is incredibly friendly. What amazed me is how everyone in Ireland wants to know all about you. The hospitality is not like any other I've experienced anywhere. It's also a very relaxed culture. I've had a lot of people ask me which we prefer as a vacation, England or Ireland--it really depends on the kind of vacation you want. If you want a jam-packed, see a million sights vacation, I would say England. If you want a more relaxed, see a few sights and lots and lots of pretty scenery, Ireland is your place. Tourism has been the number one industry in Ireland for a long time and for a good reason!
For many years Ireland was considered the poorest country in Europe, but that all changed in the late 80's/1990's when a number of American owned technology companies decided it would make a perfect place to put a European headquarters. Cheap land, an educated workforce in search of jobs and they speak English--wonderful! So Microsoft, HP and Intel (just to name a few) all established their companies in Ireland as a second base of operation. Pay attention the next time you buy an HP ink cartridge, many times they say "Made in Ireland" on them!
With this influx of money it started a bit of a revolution of the Irish economy, referred to as the "Celtic Tiger Economy" and Ireland went from being a sleepy little island to the "in" place to be. Housing starts increased, new roads were built (thanks to an added boost from the European Union) and for the first time in 100 years, the population actually increased. People who had left Ireland in the years before actually returned because at long last, there were jobs! And the Irish experienced something that they hadn't before--racism. Because of the plentiful jobs, many people from other parts of Europe (primarily ones affected by the fall of communist Russia) came seeking a new life, much like many of the Irish who came to America did. I was stunned at how much things changed before our first trip and our second trip with only 3 years between. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be.
Ireland had used the United States as a role model for too many things, one of which was the housing/mortgage industry and about the same time our economy here was starting down the dark road, so was Ireland. They aren't in as bad of shape as Greece or Portugal, but they definitely are struggling in some areas. When we were there in 2009, there was talk about reducing the national minimum wage. I often wonder what happened to all of the new houses I remember seeing as we rode the train in to Galway on our first trip there.
The Irish people are deeply religious and very proud of their traditions. However, do not go to Ireland for St. Patrick's day and expect it to be anything like it is here in the United States. St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and March 17th celebrations are held in his memory on that day because it is the day of his death. And while he has been credited with banishing snakes from Ireland, science disputes that, basically claiming that there weren't any snakes to begin with. (remember the no snakes in Ireland part, it will come in handy later in our tour)
Contrary to popular belief, Ireland is very, very safe to travel in. Most of the trouble that Ireland is notorious for has been in Northern Ireland, not the Republic of Ireland, and truthfully has been horribly overexaggerated by our media. I've never forgotten a wedding I was at, a young man from Ireland was seated beside me and I just came out and asked him if it was as bad as our news media was making it out to be. He laughed and said "Absolutely not! For example, I currently live in Rochester, NY. Year to date, there have been more people murdered in the city of Rochester, NY than there have been in the ENTIRE country (both Northern and Republic) of Ireland".
So, with that bit of history and information, I think we are ready to hop in the car and let's go! Oh, and since we are talking about cars, be sure not to say that they drive on the wrong side of the road. Say they drive on the "opposite" side of the road. The Irish (and the English as well) don't appreciate it and they will definitely give you a dirty look!