Back to the motherland: Irish-Americans share their impressions of Ireland

Ireland is well known for its lush rolling hills and castles. But there’s more to the story than the surface lets on.

The Irish-American experience is a very varied one across the nation. Many Irish-American children are brought up with some sense of their “Irishness” but it is often romanticized beyond reality. A few Irish-Americans recently commented on their experiences in Ireland compared to their expectations. Here are their responses:

Madeline Kuhn comments on the level of community and Irish-American commonalities on her visit.

“Before I left I had some idea that it would be very green, there would be lots of beer and I assumed it would be very similar to other countries in Europe. I also assumed it would rain a lot ( which it did). I assumed the Irish would be very similar to Americans in mannerisms, humor, socially and culturally because every American likes to trace their family roots back to Ireland. The Irish were incredibly friendly and hospitable but they kept to themselves. Community and family was very important and they were open to help you find directions but otherwise they kept to themselves. There was a strong American Irish connection — American flags flew from many store fronts and hotels. Our tour guide explained that it was because American tourism really helped the Irish economy. Having lived in Germany I felt the Irish viewed Americans differently from other European countries. I would say more positively compared to the statements I heard in Germany. They were more inclined to know someone or have family in the US.”

-Madeline Kuhn

Madeline Kuhn highlights some of the special connections between Ireland and the United States.

Father and daughter Robert and Brigid Finn just returned from Ireland in July.

“I was there 31 years ago. It has changed, but the people are still as friendly and courteous as they were then. Ireland is beautiful. The west was the most important areas that I enjoyed. County Mayo & Galway were my favorite areas to visit.”

-Robert Finn

The Finn family and friends in Ireland

Before going to Ireland, I was told so many stories as to what to expect. It’s much more than the land of constantly drinking & being silly. It was the most breath-taking place I have ever encountered. While I thoroughly enjoyed the west the most, Dublin was your typical tourist area. The Irish people couldn’t do enough for you. They were always there to lend a hand with a map or to get you another tea. There was never any miserable people, which was something beautiful to see.”

-Brigid Finn

Meghan O’Hara had such a profound experience, she made it permanent.

“I have lived in Ireland for the past 3 years, I’m only home to Long Island a month and already can’t wait for my moving permanently to Ireland in January.

Before I left for Ireland, I thought that the people were going to be partying and drinking all the time, that part wasn’t completely wrong- but I was at a University and therefore can’t judge for the whole country. Going to a Catholic school with a strict dry campus, it seemed at time more wild with more drinking than I am comfortable with, but it would probably be the same amount of partying at not-dry campuses in the states. I was also expecting a largely Catholic and religious population who would be very right winged. While those people do live in Ireland (I found, mostly in small country/farming areas or areas with a large amount of elderly folks) I found the complete opposite where I was staying. Most of the people I met were atheists, unsure, or religious just because their family was (and going to mass only for holidays and to keep their mom off their backs).

They were also extremely liberal and a lot more progressive than I could have imagined before I visited. I was there for the Vote Yes campaign (on same sex marriage) which was a cool experience.

There are also the rumors of the Irish people being the friendliest and most helpful people- I can say for a fact that that is the truth. I can’t say enough how far the Irish are willing to go to make sure that a visitor will enjoy their stay (so much so that I stayed for three years when I was only supposed to be there for four months).”

-Meghan O’Hara

Caroline Conover was very taken by the scenery, and talks about the warm nature of the people against the not so warm climate.

“I traveled to Ireland during September of 2013 with my Mother who is like 75% Irish. I guess I didn’t have too many opinions about the country or the people before I arrived. Basically, I expected the country to be green and lush, there would be Catholic churches everywhere, and plenty of beer. After spending about a week and a half in the southwest portion of the country, I can honestly say it was one of the most wonderful and surprising experiences of my life. To begin with, the country is absolutely beautiful. It’s so much more than just green. The Cliffs of Moher are stunning. I was lucky enough to stay in a village about 10 minutes away, and the scenery was stark but beautiful, even when it was raining and about 45 degrees out.

The Cliffs of Moher are known for their striking beauty.

The Irish people are the most friendly and warm hearted I have ever met and I have traveled through Europe extensively. After visiting the Cliffs and freezing my butt off in the process I stopped in a little cafe and as soon as I spoke to order the owner realized I was American and was just so interested in where I was from, what life in the States was like, and how I liked his country. He sat me down at a table by the fire and helped me select a slice of cake to go with my tea. Everywhere I went in Ireland the people seemed truly interested in me and were eager to help me make the most of my trip with travel suggestions. After visiting, I can honestly say that Ireland is one of my favorite countries. There are historic castles, modern and old fashioned cities, small but wonderful towns, stunning scenery, amazing beer, and the most wonderful and friendly people in the world.”

-Caroline Conover

Greg Dool sums up the experience of having another culture dominate his upbringing despite his Irish blood, and what “Irishness” meant to him during his time on the Emerald Isle.

“Growing up, the term “Irish” was, to me, little more than the part before “-Italian” when explaining my heritage to a friend in the way that Americans tend to fetishize the old countries of their ancestors. My view of Ireland was probably not much different — and certainly less informed — than John Ford’s in The Quiet Man; it was always my Italian-American mother’s side that dominated my cultural identity. That changed when I was 18 and finally visited for a week with my two older brothers. It didn’t take stirring views off the Cliffs of Moher, endless pints in Temple Bar, or the magnificent cross-country drive from Dublin to Galway to make me fall in love with Ireland (although it didn’t hurt); it was the spirit of the place, truly alive with history and modernity all at once and at every turn. Sadly, I will never know just who my Irish ancestors were 200 years ago or where they came from. It hasn’t stopped me from reserving a place for Ireland deep in my heart, and ever yearning to return.”

-Greg Dool