Strolling through the lands of saints and scholars with Allen Tatman.

That first clear morning, as I stepped out of the airport, a brisk breeze off the River Shannon washed over me and I knew. Call it genetic memory, recollections of dreams, or years of studying the history and culture of a land and its people, but I sank into it like roots into the earth. I was always and forever bound to Ireland.

A friend from Cork put it best: “Imagine Ireland as a big green teddy bear, laying on her side, her stubby little paws and feet reaching out over the ocean, calling for America to come give her a hug.” I couldn’t say it any better. If you haven’t already felt the Irish teddy bear’s embrace, you need to.

“Over these years, my affection for Ireland hasn’t diminished. I have been to all 32 countries and found something dear about each one.”

For me, no visit would be complete without a walk through the soft and craggy bogs and woodlands of Killarney National Park in County Kerry.

Ireland lies at the end of the warm Gulf Stream. The climate is always mild. It’s never too hot and never too cold, with lots of rain to maintain those forty shades of green (I actually believe there are more). The scenery will take one’s breath away. Adding to that, around every corner, back into the valley and over the next hill, are ruins and reminders of the past with tower houses, abbeys, monasteries, ring forts, and walled keeps. They are footprints left by those who walked before us.

The history of Ireland is of a volatile sort — “a terrible beauty,” as Irish poet W. B. Yeats penned. It contains centuries of invasions, struggles, and tragedies, from the early Iron Age, when Celtic culture arrived from Europe, until The Troubles in Northern Ireland ending with The Good Friday Peace Accords of 1998. In the 2,500 years in between, there have been incursions, attacks, and colonization by Vikings, Normans, Gallowglass, Cromwell, and others.

Then, there was perhaps the event that shaped the modern Irish more than any other: “An Gorta Mor,” also known as The Great Hunger. The potato famine of the 1840s killed or displaced more than 5 million out of a population of 8 million Irish souls. As my friend Patrick Murphy, a Cork City native and member of the band Gaelic Storm, said to me with a wink and a grin, “The luck of the Irish is we’re still (explicative) here!”

It’s that kind of attitude that makes the Irish people so wonderful. Take it in stride and look at the other side with a welcoming smile and a bit of craic. In Irish, they call it “céad mílle fáilte” (kayd meel-ah fawl-cha), mean-ing a hundred thousand welcomes. It’s that spirit of conviviality that has made Ireland one of the most visited countries in the world. The music, the culture, the art, the literature, and now even the cuisine — yes, the Irish have great culinary arts, more than just fish and chips and Irish stew. It’s all so grand.

But, without the people, the land wouldn’t have its soul. It’s the people that I miss, my cousins across the water, so to speak. I’ve missed their smiling faces and sharing a pint with them in the local pubs. Oh, and I forgot to mention the pubs. Sláinte!

Good to Know:

Craic” is the Irish word forfun, good times.

The island of Ireland is comprised of 32 counties in two separate countries: 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland (Éireis the official name in the native Irish language) and six counties inNorthern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom of GreatBritain and Northern Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union and uses the Euro as its currency. Northern Ireland uses the British Pound Sterling.

The term “Celtic” generally refers to culture. Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and theFrench province of Brittany are considered Celtic cultural areas. Celtic also refers to a branch of languages that came from Proto-Celtic, part of the Indo-European languages. The Irish Language is part of this group.

There’s really no bad time to visit Ireland, but it is crowded with tourists from the last week of May until the end of August. The days are very short, with only six hours of sunlight from December through January. April, May, September, and October are my favorite times of Allen’s Wylde Irish Tours. Ireland is only about 200 miles across and a little less than 400 miles north to south. For comparison, it’s 248 miles from Kansas City to St. Louis, and more than 500 miles to drive from the Bootheel to Maryville in northwest Missouri.

Traditional music, commonly called “trad,” is a big part of the culture and is kept alive in pubs, where open sessions are held and local musicians come to share tunes and songs. Ask your accommodation manager or concierge where the good trad music will be held and on what night. You can go have a “bit o’craic!”

Can’t-Miss List:

  • Visit the geometric, geologic oddity of Giant’s Causeway at Bushmills across the North Channel from Scotland.
  • See the soft bays and harbors along the Celtic Sea in counties Wexford and Waterford in the southeast.
  • Watch the crashing surf against the cliffs along the western Wild Atlantic Way, with its winding roads running from County Cork to County Donegal.
  • Walk the narrow streets of the bustling world cities of Galway, Cork, Derry, Belfast, and Dublin, or drive up into the pines of the wild Wicklow Mountains, where the Irish rebels held out against English kings over hundreds of years.