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Back from Ireland

I have returned safely from the Emerald Isle, and holy crap, I don't even know what to say, but being me, I will now expend a pile of words to say it.

First, there's the color.

To call Ireland green is to commit glaring sins of omission. It is the sort of green reserved for gods and Pantone swatches. Kelly green, acid green, the greens you see in jars of pure mineral pigment, greens that blow out your photos the way that red roses or blue skies do. Green as primary color.

View from Kilcrea Castle Ruins, County Cork

When I lived in Oregon, I thought it was green, and then I moved to North Carolina and realized that it had been grey-green. North Carolina, I thought, was green. Then I went to Ireland. Now I see how yellow the undertones here are, and how desaturated the greens are by comparison. Fortunately, I am told that the only color that compares to Ireland is in the depths of the rainforest, so it will stay green in my head for a long time.

Also, as with so much of Europe, things are relentlessly old. I stood on the battlements of a ruined castle built at the same time as Blarney Castle and I could see three other ruins from the top. "Oh," said my friend Carlota, "that's the NEW ruin, over there..." Eventually it became a running joke--"Oh, that's the NEW standing stone..."  It became exciting when the new building wasn't old than my country. Occasionally they predated Europeans in North America at all.

Yes, I'm including the Vikings.

But possibly the most intense thing was simply that it was relentlessly, savagely picturesque. You could point your camera in any direction and come away with a postcard. It was beautiful, and it kept being beautiful, and eventually it got to the point where you would look over the view and start swearing, because it was being beautiful again.

After awhile, you stopped going "How lovely!" and started going "How do people stand this?"

(I asked Twitter. Residents uttered some variation on "Whiskey" and "You get used to it, but whiskey helps.")

You just have to figure that sooner or later, living in that kind of beauty would weigh down on you, and you'd either become hard as diamond or break and become a poet. It's just...intense. I think of people who left there--my ancestors, some of 'em--to come to America because of poverty or starvation or hope or whatever, and I can get just the smallest glimpse of what that must have been like--enough to know what I can't really imagine what it was really like. America is beautiful, don't get me wrong! (I believe there's a song about it.) But it's a completely different sort of beauty, a sort that doesn't much care about the people on it. If we all died tomorrow, I doubt America would even notice much, but Ireland would be sad that the people were gone. It's the difference between the Rockies and a green field with a black horse grazing surrounded by rooks, under a hill covered in mist. They're both beautiful, it's just...scale.

I don't know. Maybe I'm raving. I am only a tourist and don't pretend to know anything about what life is really like there. It was just...so intense.

To me Ireland will always be the green land at the end of the world. I would have fallen for it if I hadn't already lost my heart to Oxford.

It's so odd to a North American to see a place where humans have made such long-term marks on the landscape. Sure, we have a few such, but nothing so common. It's astonishing.

I feel that more people probably broke their necks on Blarney Castle's stairs than ever died defending the place...

It's so odd to a North American to see a place where humans have made such long-term marks on the landscape. Sure, we have a few such, but nothing so common.

There's actually a whole lot of places where humans have left long-term marks on the landscape of North America, but not of the sort Europeans or their descendants are used to noticing. The patterns of meadows and woods in Oregon, and the open forests filled with fruit trees along the mid to upper East Coast are only two example of the ways natives peoples spent many centuries shaping the landscape with hoe and fire. It all looks "natural" to us, but it isn't. However, it also looks entirely different from the magnificent but also tame and human scale beauty of much of Western Europe.

I'm told that portion of New Zealand greatly outdo the raw grandeur of the best parts of the US, but I've never been there.

Back in the day the husband was working a student internship at a lab somewhere, and one of the other people in the group of interns was a young woman from Ireland. He and the other Americans sometimes teased her by deliberately confusing Ireland and Scotland (which I believe is a mortal insult to both the Irish and the Scots), and one day she got back at them with this reply: "My college is older than your country."

Not as bad as confusing either of them with the English.

Utterly beautiful, isn't it? (I stayed on the Cork/Kerry border decades ago and I still dream about it.)

Did you see Killarny? That's an area that looks as though it has stylists. Everywhere you look has a scene set for a beautifully composed picture (including the photogenic walls.) They probably audition the cows to make sure that whole herd are colour-complementary.

The greenness might have something to do with all the rain Ireland has had recently.

and by recently, you mean within the last geological era. The grass there has evolved to be semi-aquatic.

It sank home for us when we passed a farmhouse with a tool-shed that was quite possibly older than the USA. And it was just a tool-shed. (Versaille provoked a similar experience because there are all these statues -- old ones! Like, 400+ years old! -- just standing out in the weather. And I wanted to say, "But, old art! It should be sheltered and protected; not left out in the rain." Except there are hundreds of these things, and where else are you going to store them but out in the gardens? And they're not that old, anyway.)

What got me were the rainbows. You couldn't turn around without spotting one -- and often a double. The only place I've found close to the same Ireland Green is in the middle of an Appalachian stream in high summer. Even then it's not the same, but it was close, and I understood why Appalachia was settled by so many Irish. There's a similar feel to the land, even without all the rainbows.

Having grown up in Appalacia (as did my wife), I'm familiar with the next-to-a-stream-in-the-summer shade of green you mean. There's a stretch of the one-lane road up to the house I grew up in, where the road parallels a twenty-foot-wide creek, in between a couple of hundred-yard-high bits of mountain, with trees that form a canopy over them both. After a late-spring rain, when the sun comes out and is shining through the tree-canopy, everything is astoundingly astonishingly beautifully green.

I miss it.

It's been a decade and a half since my wife moved out here to California to join me, and she still grumbles about everything being "the wrong damn shade of green". I have much sympathy for the Irish moving over here back in the early settlements, who must have had similar feelings.

Husband who has been to Ireland says, "I seem to recall that in the local dialect, 'lovely' in a particular tone meant 'Oh fuck, not again.'"

I've heard that (as in listened), sometimes in the form of "Oh lovely..." and it is an excellent and quite recognizable phrase.

That sounds, wonderful.
And filled with history.
I do love green - but Oregon is gray-green, North Carolina is yellow green, while Ireland is God-filled-green? SWEET.

Oh yeah.
It doesn't take a nature lover to enjoy the great outdoors . . . or "new" ruins that happen to be older than the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.

You're alive, and just saw one of the most amazing places on earth! I envy your ability to put words on paper.

I found that Ireland wasnt the right shade of green as Oregon is.

My most embarassing moment was when some famous mountain outside of Dublin was pointed out, and I said I didnt see it only the foothills... sigh. That was the mountain.

As an Alaskan living in Ireland this is a perennial conversation. :)

There's a reason why the Irish invented whisky possibly just after the last Ice Age. I.e, when it started being green there.

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Yeah, I always hate arriving in France going abroad. It's all so... so... beige!
[To be fair to the French, the environs of Calais are not exactly selling the country well. There are some pretty bits (the foothills of the alps, bits of the massif central). But... so yellow. You just want to get out a massage watering can and irrigate the whole country...]

Ages: yeah, I always get the feeling that the New World is... well, just that. It's like a space colony or something, an alien barren planet with a few sparse scatterings of near-sci-fi habitat-structures (which all seem to be made out of cardboard, as though they didn't even care about whether their houses were going to make it to the next millennium or not...). And no... knitting together. Here, 'nature' and 'civilisation' are interwoven, both geographically and technologically, but in the New World it seems like... countyside countryside countryside countryside PLONK GIANT CITY countryside countryside countryside....
...of course, that's part of why there's a sort of hostile, human-ignoring grandeur about it. In a way, America is much older than Europe: Europe has grown younger and younger until almost nothing remains of the oldendays, but so much of America is virtually untouched, the way it first was when humanity found it, the sort of landscape that our instinctive brains evolved to live in (and to be afraid of)...

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To be honest, a lot of southern England is pretty similar to the green of Ireland (well, almost), with the same sort of lived-in beauty. I often think it's a shame how little people appreciate that this is probably one of the most beautiful places on Earth... and in many different ways, too. I mean, within an hour of my parent's house there's green rolling farmland, and deep dark woodland where you'd think you were hours from any civilisation (but you're actually 5 minutes' walk from the train station), and steep-sided gorges, and hillsides of radioactively yellow gorse and sandy heathland where people ride horses past ancient blasted oaks, and ridgetops where you can see for, no exaggeration, 50km (and yet most of the time on a small road you can't see more than 50m in front of you, because the roads wriggle through the woods and up and down the hills, none of which are any height but which add up bit by bit - you could (I've checked) ascend more metres cycling for a day here than you could in the Alps), and desolate coastal flats and marshes, and the green, wind-ruled desert of the chalklands, and the giant bright white cliffs, or the crumbly yellow cliffs further along the coast... and that's even before you think about the tudor mansions, and the Victorian gardens exploding with lakes and azaleas forests. And this is only one small corner of the country...

And yet people go on holiday to France and Spain...

We also don't appreciate how much of this is manmade. It's popular here to complain about windfarms, and a while ago I read a piece by some war photographer who has retired to take photos of the english countryside and complain about windfarms, how mankind was destroying the natural beauty of England. But... what natural beauty? The rolling green farmland, that's all man-made. The heath? That's manmade. The duck ponds are manmade. Most of the rivers and streams are either manmade or at least man-managed. Even the chalkland has been helped along by centuries of grazing sheep. The hedgerows (white with mayblossom) were planted. Much of the forest is unnatural - yes, this would be woodland of a sort without us, but in many cases it would be of a different type. What we think of as 'nature' in England is almost all fundamentally unnatural (and even more so in Ireland). It's a shame that we forget that. I think maybe we'd have a more self-confident, less pathological view of ourselves as a species if we allowed ourselves to appreciate the beauty we've created, rather than treating all beauty as natural and only the ugliness as ours...
[It also makes your idea of a 'native' garden seem rather quixotic under English (or Irish for that matter) light. I suppose you can do that in North Carolina... but in England, we've been introducing species, flora and fauna, for 10,000 years now, so the line of what's "native" and what's not has become a wee bit blurred!]
[Mind you, that doesn't stop me getting annoyed about the rhododendrons taking over such large parts of Ireland. I know they're pretty, but.. grrr....]

Of course, talking about the beauty of England may be out of place when you've just visited Heathrow... Heathrow vs Cork, probably makes the differences seem larger than they really are...

[Eddie Izzard on the American perception of time:
"This building was built nearly FIFTY YEARS AGO!"
"Impossible! Nobody was ALIVE then!"

Then again, I guess it's a trade. We have time, you have distance...]

The Izzard bit and another quote always get me about the differences between Europe and America:

To an American, 100 years is a long time. To an Englishman, 100 miles is a long way.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who was shocked by how green Ireland was. I've been brought up communally by England and Scotland and I still spent most of a week long trip round Ireland five years ago staring out of the window muttering "It's so green - I mean, reaaaaaaaaaaaally green".

It's the rain that does it. England just doesn't get the relentlessly persevering rain that Ireland gets. Have you been to Scotland? I feel like Scotland should be your next trip. Particularly Glencoe region and the highlands. Green isn't the colour there (colder than Ireland and less grass) but if you time it right, you'll spend your time muttering "Purple....so much purple ".

That, or wondering why the inhabitants haven't all left due to the horizontal rain.

It's like Cader Idris. You either become mad, or a poet. (Or maybe both?)

I think you summed Ireland up perfectly. Archetypically green, overwhelmingly lovely...

You just have to figure that sooner or later, living in that kind of beauty would weigh down on you, and you'd either become hard as diamond or break and become a poet.

And that explains Michael Collins and W.B. Yeats, to begin a list of thousands...

America is beautiful, don't get me wrong! (I believe there's a song about it.) But it's a completely different sort of beauty, a sort that doesn't much care about the people on it. If we all died tomorrow, I doubt America would even notice much, but Ireland would be sad that the people were gone.


I remember our flight home; the short hop from Dublin to Shannon was at a relatively low altitude and early in the day, so the light was slanting and picked out everything- layer on layer on layer of human presence, worked and folded into the land...