However, it didn’t take me long to realise that the local population was just as surprised with the clear blue sky. Quite a few have commented on my luck in coming to Galway, at a time when the weather is so amazing and far from the rainy grey that normally clouds Connemara and the Burren.
There have been two reasons for my visit to Galway. Firstly, it has been my dream to explore Western Ireland for some years now and to investigate whether the island truly is as green as everyone says.
Secondly, Donál is born and bred in Galway and while he himself was on a meeting in London, I couldn’t resist his sweet-talking me into discovering the cosy atmosphere of Galway.
Unlike in Dublin where I have had quite some magnificent company, I decided to check into a youth hostel in Galway and to spend my days here going on tourist trips with the large groups of young and middle-aged white Americans who had come to the region to rediscover their ‘true’ homeland.
On Irish-Americans, Potatoes and History
To be honest I will never be able to understand the way Americans relate to the place from where their forefathers originated – calling it their own. But then again, on all sides my family has been Danish since forever and in general Danes just never emigrated in the numbers as the Irish or our Swedish brothers. So the idea of being part of a diaspora through generations is only something I can academically study.
Perhaps that is why I found it a very interesting study to see Ireland in the company of Americans. The Irish national identity though in itself a powerful force is closely linked to the millions of emigrants who left starvation and disaster for the promise of a better life in the West. These have become the so-called Irish-Americans, and even today on both sides of the Atlantic they play a powerful role in shaping the identity of both countries.
Between the Republic of Ireland and the Irish-Americans there is a very strong bond of sameness. The Irish-Americans like to talk about themselves as Irish and of Ireland as their country, while the Irish accept the Americans as part of the Irish historical nation – though removed from the issues of modern day Ireland.
In Denmark, you would not receive the same feeling of sameness should you as an American claim your Danish ancestry. This surely relates to the fact that not many Danes emigrated.
But I believe there is a deeper and more significant reason behind the strong relationship that Ireland has to the Irish-American.
The emigration of the Irish to mainly America happened as a consequence of mass-hunger and starvation – an experience which even today is deeply rooted in the Irish mentality and history. Danish emigrants were never to that extent a part of something which so crucially shaped Danish history and mentality.
In Ireland few historic events are as crucial as the Great Famine which took place between 1845 and 1852 during which more than 1 million Irish starved to death while more than 1 million emigrated in a desperate attempt to stay alive.
While it is difficult to understand the enormity of the Great Famine from afar, being in Connemara and the Burren certainly makes you feel as part of the terrible history. The events seem as if to be alive in hills, where ruins from small farmhouses are strewn across the countryside while the British attempt to create work for the Irish is seen in the stone walls criss-crossing the hills for no apparent reason.
As a historian, Ireland strikes you right at the heart. The green hills move you in a way that a few places can do. Not only because they truly are as lush and green as I imagined, but also because of its connectedness to history and Irish mentality. From both sides of the Atlantic the memories live on and have established a very special relationship between modern Ireland and Irish descendants in the US.
But what did we learn, the Irish-Americans and I, as we toured through the green hills of Connemara taking in the breath-taking views. While I won’t bore you anymore with the overarching events that made the Great Famine such a devastating trauma and how it could have been avoided by proper aid from Britain, I’d like to add a few of those anecdotes which the guide loves to fire off.
What do Native Americans have to do with anything…
Staying within the realms of Irish-American relations, what really stuck to me was the story of how a small tribe of Native Americans aided the Irish during the famine, beginning an unlikely relationship between very different peoples, with very similar histories of colonisation. One of many gruesome stories from Connemara tells how 400 Irish died in a last desperate attempt to get food from their landlord, walking for miles up to the manor only to be dismissed at the door. the story which crossed the Atlantic caught the attention of the Choctaws, a Native American-tribe which not many years prior had experienced a similar fate as they amongst many other Native Americans were forcefully removed from their homes. By history it has been named the trail of tears, and more than anyone the Choctaws must have understood the cruelty of the story from Ireland. Thus, the tribe gathered $170 which they sent to the Irish in 1847. Despite the difference of origin and culture, colour and ethnicity and despite the impoverished state of the Choctaws who themselves were struggling, they decided to help others in need – human beings as themselves. I like that story – the light in the middle of the dark.
Walking in Connemara
While a study into the Irish-Americans meeting with their true homeland was interesting, driving around a bus unable to take pictures except through the window can be tiresome. Thus, I decided to join a walking party through Connemara.
In the brilliant sunshine we walked through Mám Éan in the Maumturk Mountains to a pilgrimage site which dates back to the 5th century and relates to the stories of Saint Patrick. The place was stunning and so unearthly peaceful with a blue sky, rugged hills of green grass and only the local sheep there to keep us company. In planning to go to Ireland, this was the kind of place I dreamt of visiting.
Afterwards, we drove to a view of Kylemore Abbey soaking up the beautiful vista of the castle reflecting in a clear lake.
Finally, we ended up climbing Diamond Hill, taking in the amazing panoramic view at the top. I still cant believe that I survived being in such a terrible shape, but I might just have hated myself had I not made it to the stunning view of the top. I’ve added a separate gallery for this trip hoping it will do the place justice.
My days in Connemara and the Burren were everything I hoped for in a trip to the lush green Ireland. However, I most definitely will return. With Dónal in Dublin and loads of new places to discover on the island, I don’t think I could stay away.