Does the 'Real' Ireland Still Exist?

The New York Time's Dan Barry finds some answers in co Galway.

AN August night in the sea-scented village of Kinvara finds us at Connolly's, a pub so permanent that if some codger were to tell you it was here before Galway Bay, lapping now just outside the door, you'd nod and buy him a pint. My wife and I are hunched at a small table with friends when a smiling woman in a peasant skirt sits beside us, carrying a perfectly appropriate accessory in this corner of Ireland -- a button accordion.

She is Mary Staunton, a musician known throughout the Irish west. When the inevitable call goes out, she obliges, her fingers skipping across the buttons like children playing frantic but sure-footed hopscotch. Then a white-haired man mentions an old song from his childhood. Does she know it? Why yes, she does, and when her fingers finish their dance, leaving the man smiling, there suddenly rises from across the room the hesitant but clear voice of a young woman who has summoned the nerve to sing. ("And I said let grief be a fallen leaf/At the dawning of the day.") As she sings, all talking stops: an entire pub, transported. And I think to myself, now this would never happen where I'm from.

Was this the real Ireland? Or was it a rare dash of magic, sprinkled into Connolly's to validate an antiquated sense of Ireland -- a sense rooted in the days when economic inequity between two countries allowed American tourists to spend as though Ireland were one sprawling duty-free shop? Though the country is now experiencing some economic uneasiness, you still cannot help but think: How times have changed.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time in the western counties of Galway and Clare, and if nothing else, this is what I have gleaned: Ireland can be that place you missed as you traveled around Ireland, looking for Ireland.

Yes, you can find a thatched cottage here and there, if you try. Yes, you may even encounter a white clot of sheep blocking your rented car's path, raising from musty memory some postcard caption about Irish Rush Hour. But to wander about, looking to bag with a digital camera some approximation of a time-faded Irish postcard, is to miss the complexities of a country that is thoroughly enjoying its wealth and adapting to its European Union membership while at the same time trying to preserve its dreamlike landscape and proud cultural heritage.

You may indeed hear a young Irish woman suddenly break into song in Kinvara. But you may also walk around the corner and be served dinner by a young man with an Eastern European accent instead of a brogue. Travel 10 miles up the road to Gort and you might wade into a celebration of Brazilian culture, staged by a transplanted community that is now an integral part of that old market town.

Recent Entries

Celebrating Tim Robinson
By Richard MarshI've always loved maps.  I can't think about travelling or a new place without a map, not always…
Cottage
"The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. . . ."
Photo: Leonard DoyleExtract: JOHN JEREMIAH SULLIVAN New York Times Published: February 10, 2012 He was blind in one eye and…
Separated at Birth, the Burren and the Aran Islands
The Burren, a rocky wilderness in western Ireland, is a region of ancient magic and infinite strangeness The cliffs…
Stones of Aran, a NY Review of books "masterpiece"
Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (New York Review Books Classics) by Tim Robinson">Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage (New York Review Books…
Inis Meáin, through the peephole, 1973
Inis Meáin, Aran Islands, Ireland. 1973 from Brendan F. on Vimeo.A short film on life in Inishmaan (Inis Meáin) in…
Inis Meáin, Aran Islands, Ireland 1973
Aileen's is the perfect wave
LORNA SIGGINS, Marine Correspondent The Irish TimesIT IS a magnet for surfers, a nightmare for rescue agencies, and now it…
At last the west awakes to broadband
Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór in the Aran Islands. The islands have already been covered by the National Broadband Scheme,…
Turning Green With Literacy...Why should we celebrate the Irish?
Op-Ed Contributor"Well, the heart's a wonder," says Pegeen Mike in John Millington Synge's comedy "The Playboy of the Western World."…
How Many "Greats" in Obama's Irish Grandfather?
President Barack Obama walks with Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., after a…
St. Patrick's Day With the Irish and the Jews
Above, Mick Maloney's new album recreates music from the nearly forgotten era of collaboration between Jewish and Irish songwriters in pre-World War…