"The Irish are the blacks of Europe, so say it loud. I'm black and I'm proud."
(If you don't understand, rent "The Commitments" this weekend...)

I have returned. My trip to Ireland was... words fail me.

While I process it a bit, here are some choice things I (re)discovered in the motherland.

For those who don't care for Guinness, there's Bulmers. A wonderfully refreshing hard cider, it's available on tap in virtually every pub in Ireland. Sold in bottles in America under the name Magners, it makes a perfect gift for the pastor of your choice...

If, like me, you find football (soccer to us) about as exciting as watching paint dry, try Hurling. It's like hockey or soccer with out those pesky offsides or icing rules. I went to a game in Carrigtwohills (don't ask me how to pronounce that...) and it was amazing. These guys are tough - so tough they make hockey players look like little girls. During the game, one of the players got a bad cut on his forehead (unbelievably, helmets are optional), and I watched them put three stitches in his head with no anesthetic. As if that wasn't proof enough of his warrior status, he exchanged his blood-soaked jersey for a clean one and returned to the game, still without a helmet! The girls play a similar game, but it's called Camogie.

In the morning, the Irish believe in fueling up thoroughly. This means a "full Irish breakfast." It consists of poached eggs, toast or scones, clotted cream, smoked salmon, bacon, tea (with cream and brown sugar), and the best part; black and white pudding. White pudding is suet and oatmeal packed in sheep intestine. Yum. But wait, there's more... Black pudding is congealed pig blood and oatmeal in a sheep intestine. Despite this, both are excellent. As with most sausages, it is best not to think about the ingredients - just dig in.

The good people of Dublin celebrate "Bloomsday" on June 16th - the exact day that Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom wandered the streets of Dublin in James Joyce's Ulysses. This year it is especially important, as it is the 100th anniversary of the day depicted in the book. If you haven't read it, you must. Now, while you are young. Don't "put it on the long finger" as the Irish say; do it now, while you are thinking about it. You'll be glad you did.

While in Killearney I heard a piper playing the Uilleann Pipes (pronounced "illan"). Now, I like bagpipes as much as the next guy, but I could never see learning an instrument that sounds best from about 50 yards away... The Uilleann pipes, however, are an indoor instrument, and their tone is not so wailing (or loud) as the highland pipes. I have decided to get a set - just as soon as I have $1500 to spare...

As time goes by, I'll post more bits about the trip but for now, it is enough to say that I am back in the states, trying to recuperate, and really wishing I had a cold pint of Bulmers and a plate of black pudding...


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