That indefinable entity 'the craic' proves we're not gone too cool for a warm welcome
Published 18/06/2016 | 02:30
Joe Biden and Donald Trump may both be coming our way shortly and at least one of them is guaranteed a red carpet. But what about the Ireland of 100,000 welcomes? Does it still exist or is Ireland 2016 too cool to be warm?
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised the US Vice President a real 'céad míle fáilte', but is there still a welcome on the mat or have we left that threshold behind us in the mists of time along with the shillelaghs and 'The Quiet Man'?
With another bumper tourist season already on the cards, it certainly seems like our little island still holds a special place in hearts and minds around the world. A recent survey of 46,000 of readers by the prestigious 'Conde Nast Traveller' magazine saw "grand scenery" and "friendly helpful locals" underlined repeatedly as the key crowd pleasers for tourists.
Calling us a place where "there's always something to see and participate in", the magazine placed Kilkenny, Dublin and Cork in its top 20 most welcoming city destinations on the planet. The latter was described as "warm, like a beautiful gem" - a portrayal that added an extra few inches of pride to southern chests. Even the mixed weather, high prices and pot-holed roads are quickly forgotten in the gush of a unique cultural attitude built around that indefinable emotion known as 'the craic'.
In a world marked by suspicion, and threat, honest-to-God friendliness is becoming a rare commodity - and is proving itself one of Ireland's golden attributes in these turbulent times. Who knew?
But a study by the World Economic Forum ranked us amongst the warmest countries in our attitude to visitors. Measured on a scale of 1 to 7, where 7 was 'very welcome', we registered 6.6 - just behind leaders Iceland and New Zealand. A recent TripAdvisor entry by a Canadian visiting these shores for the first time put it best: "The 'craic' is a subtle thing, elusive and unplanned. It begins with a chat, before broadening into a likable inquisitiveness one would normally only allow from an old friend."
Of course, all Irish craic is a first cousin of eccentricity - as demonstrated by a hitch-hiking German couple I met in Dingle a few years ago. "We were hitching from Killarney to Listowel when a brand new Mercedes pulled over," Rolf, from Hamburg, explained. "'You'll have to ride up front with myself,' the driver told us, 'the back seat is a bit crowded'." There in the rear lay three lambs and a pair of calves - all perfectly at ease amidst the leather seats and walnut trim. "And the most amazing thing was, none of the animals made a sound all the way to Listowel," added an incredulous Brigitta. That's the thing about lambs on the way to slaughter, they're famous for their silence, even if the rest of us aren't.
When you throw in our castles and coastlines, there's a lot to like. But there are other attractions bringing plane-loads in every summer - like the men, for instance.
Patti Stanger, presenter of the hit show 'Millionaire Matchmaker' on the Bravo channel, has no doubts about the scenery she's interested in during any visit to the Auld Sod. "Irish men win me over every time. They're rugged, tall, sexy and they take charge. You feel like a woman next to them," she says. Form an orderly queue, lads. For a real deal view of what's excellent about Éire, asking your own often yields the clearest results. In this regard, ex-pats are a safe bet, as they look back across the datelines from Sydney, San Fran and Shanghai.
In Ryan Sheridan's evocative song 'Home', the overseas Irish pinpoint what they miss the most. Saoirse Ronan craves her mammy's Sunday roast, while MTV's Laura Whitmore yearns for a chicken fillet roll, and One Direction's Niall Horan has a predictable yen for an Irish fry. Actor Liam Cunningham misses "the banter", Robbie Keane craves a pint of Guinness, while Brendan O'Carroll misses "my Dublin". As the fabled Green Army descend on La Belle France this weekend, they will no doubt astound, intrigue and flabbergast everyone in their path.
There may be less brogue, more banter, less pulling the forelock and more pulling the leg, but the record numbers of visitors seem to love it. As was overheard not far from Blarney recently: "Is that a welcome in your pocket or are you just glad to see them?"