Auf Wiedersehen, Ireland that we have come to love
The Irish combination of determination, optimism and warmth provides an example for the entire euro zone
Germany’s departing ambassador, Dr Eckhard Lübkemeier, embraces the spirit of Irish Euro 2012 supporters. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Auf Wiedersehen, Ireland!
A few weeks ago, the Eagles gave several concerts in Dublin. The lyrics to the band’s rock classic Hotel California that culminate in two cryptic lines: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” I have struggled with this brain-twister ever since I first heard the song. But no more. The solution to the riddle is Ireland. My wife and I will soon check out of Ireland, but we will never leave Ireland.
The Ireland of the land and the people. Having seen quite a bit of the country in the past three years, we agree with those who say you don’t have to leave this island to know Ireland boasts one of the world’s most stunning ensembles of landscapes. And all of it decorated in an eye-soothing colour that is the Irish green.
But what really makes you feel you will never leave Ireland is the Irish people. In the course of our three years here we had numerous visitors who took trips throughout the country. All returned with very fond memories of the Irish they had met. And they had met many!
For this is one of the first things you experience when you come here. People will start talking to you at the drop of a hat. They do it with a smile, a warm-hearted curiosity, and a genuine willingness to help. So even if you are shy and not used to it, you begin to like it. Maybe not instantly, but what might be called the “great Irish embrace” proves irresistible in the end.
“A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet.” I have thought long and hard to find something that would sound even more Irish. Here it is: “A stranger is a friend an Irish person hasn’t spoken to yet.” No wonder Ireland has more mobile phone subscriptions than people.
Something uniquely Irish
The people are this country’s greatest asset. It’s their friendliness and humour, their optimism and resilience that blend into something uniquely Irish.
“Angela Merkel thinks we are at work” on an Irish flag taken to Poland for the Euro 2012 soccer championship: to the German ambassador this stands out as a paragon of Irish humour. As for positivity, there is hardly a better proof than Irish demographics. Ireland has the youngest population and it has retained the highest fertility rate in the European Union even after the Celtic Tiger, but not the Irish people, had run out of steam. In the global happiness index Ireland is in the top group.
Last year The Irish Times compiled a list of “50 reasons to love Ireland despite the rain, recession and repression”. One was “because we’re good at funerals”. And it wasn’t meant as a joke. It was meant to highlight two traits of the social fabric: that cohesion of family and friends is strongest when needed most; and that keeping upbeat in the saddest of moments can alleviate grief.