In the pub, the owner presents my sister Mary with an engraved glass. My brother Ed asks the bartender’s girlfriend, whom he’s just met, what she sees in this fellow, Daniel. A band plays traditional tunes on pipes, a fiddle, and a button accordion. The Guinness and Jameson flow freely, and everyone, it seems, is laughing. We are one hour into our weeklong family holiday in Sligo, Ireland, and the Sullivans have already found our comfort zone.
Regular readers of AFAR know that I love going to new places and getting out of my comfort zone. On those trips, I often gain a new perspective on my habits, my customs, and my assumptions. Going to Ireland with my brother and sister was different but still revealing. It brought out our Irishness.
We were raised with a strong sense of our heritage—our eight great-grandparents emigrated to North America during the famine about 150 years ago—and we certainly look Irish. Even though we have no close relatives in Ireland, whenever we stepped into a pub, it looked as if we were at a family reunion.
And so this scene would be repeated often over the next seven days: Mary up on stage to play the penny whistle; Ed bantering with whomever was sitting nearby; Mary inviting the band to her home in Seattle; Ed inviting himself over for a late-night breakfast fry at a local’s house.
In Ireland, they call it good craic. I’m not sure craic is translatable, but it’s about good times. The key ingredients are conversation, relaxation, music, and, ultimately, warm feelings all around. In these cheerful settings, I marveled at how easily my siblings made friends, how smoothly they melded into Irish life. Being around our kinsmen somehow let them be themselves, only more so.
Ed has always been hilarious, and Mary has always loved trying new things, but I was reminded of what makes them special, and it made me appreciate them even more. As if I needed another reason to love Ireland.
Photo by Edward Sullivan. This appeared in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue. AFAR just announced that we are hosting our first domestic AFAR Experiences event in my sister Mary’s hometown of Seattle. I hope you’ll join us March 7–9, 2014. Good craic guaranteed. For details, visit afarexperiences.com.