by PAULA DAVIES
I HAVE OFTEN wondered whether Ireland was real or just a figment of the imagination. Ask anyone what Ireland means to them and they will tell you—in some considerable detail. Their views, good or bad, will bear little resemblance to the reality, for no one knows, least of all the Irish, what it is about Ireland that exerts such a hold on the imagination.
No other people are as good as the Irish at telling you what you want to hear rather than the truth. As one Irish priest put it: "It's not that we're natural liars, as so many people like to think, it's just that we like to say what we think will please you most."
This to me is the essence of Ireland, for in this way she can be all things to all men. Ireland is mists and bogs, fine rain and breathtaking skies. It is also the place where a girl got sunstroke. Ireland is horses. It is also a motorist's paradise.
Ireland is 2,000 miles of magnificent coastline, white sandy beaches and few people. It is also turning into a developer's paradise which may ruin it.
Above all, Ireland is its people. Warm, friendly, infuriating and given to driving one apoplectic at times, the Irish have made Ireland a person rather than a place. Opinions about her may vary, but there can't be any doubt about her personality. Loved or hated, she is someone to be reckoned with.
It would be an understatement to say that her people are talkative—they never stop. Gay, but with a morbid streak (according to one of them their conversation revolves around death and the weather, in that order). They have a great sense of wit and very little humour. From Dean Swift's barbed pen to Shaw's, which was dipped in acid, Irish pens have dominated the world of satire.
The Irish turn for dialogue and devastating wit has given the world some of the best plays ever written. Always ready to join in the talk they are equally ready to join in the fight. "Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?" sums up the Irish desire to be in on everything.
Unlike her citizens, though, Ireland until now has been out of most things. Turned in on herself by the disastrous consequences of British domination, it is only now that Ireland as a place is beginning to catch up with the myth. As a country it is old. As a nation, young.
No longer dwelling on a bitter past, it has now begun to live in the present and look
to the future. Along with the wealth it is acquiring comes the national self-confidence that goes with growing status. Along with new factories that are springing up like soldiers from dragons' teeth comes the realisation that it is no longer necessary to emigrate to make a living.
Along with the booming export orders, the results of trade fairs, exhibitions and hard selling all over the world, comes the knowledge that Irish goods as well as people are wanted everywhere.
Over 1+ million people went to Ireland as visitors in 1965. They went there for the peace and tranquility of the countryside. They went to a place where tourists are still treated with courtesy, for the Irish have always recognised the importance of the individual. They went there to enjoy the company of people who will make you feel you matter.
Pie reserved English may shudder at being asked by a comp,ete stranger exactly where they come from, how many children they have, and so on. But they soon melt under the charm of a people who are both curious and kind at the same time. "That famous Irish charm, it's all phoney", was the remark of one English woman. But, as a friend of mine remarked: "Even if it were, I'd rather have phoney chasm than downright rudeness."
This is one thing you'll never find in Ireland. In writing, tlIking, drinking or fighting, they'll "beat you down" if they can, but charmingly. It may he as well not to be taken in by the "blarney", but why not? One part of the charm is certainly genuine, another part perhaps false. Which part is which? That is an Irish secret.