Ireland is a country full of surprises.
What follows are ten things I learned about Ireland during my visit that surprised me most. Brace yourself. This isn’t a cheerful travelogue nor a tourist postcard:
1. Abortion is illegal.
Abortion is illegal in Ireland. The only exception to this national law is in cases which save the life of the mother. No exceptions. Severe birth defects, rape, incest — all of these deplorable circumstances require the mother to bear the child. I don’t know why I was shocked by this. After all, this is an overwhelmingly Catholic nation (although the church’s influence is clearly in decline — more on that to come). My presumption was that virtually all of Europe was intransigent when it comes down to a woman’s right to control their own bodies and make choices for themselves. It’s hard to believe this is one issue where the United States is actually ahead of places like Ireland, which continue to impose severely restrictive abortion laws.
Now, a few consequences of these restrictions. One does tend to see comparatively more public facilities around the country to care for those with the most deformities. Since many more children are born with defects, it becomes incumbent upon the state to care for them. Another consequence of the Republic of Ireland’s abortion restrictions is the booming medical market across the Irish Sea over in England, which is accessible via a few hours ferry ride. Thousands of Irish women travel to England each year to terminate pregnancies (England’s abortion laws are similar to the U.S.). Finally, Northern Ireland allows for abortion, provided certain medical criteria are met.
The bottom line is — Ireland is very much a 1950s nation on the controversial topic of a woman’s right to chose.
Most people have at least heard of Waterford Crystal. It’s the best crystal in the world and the ultimate symbol of both excellence and craftsmanship.
Excuse me while I Americanize my remarks here, but remember that glittery piece of glass held up by the college football national champion every year? That’s Waterford Crystal. Recall the Peoples’ Choice Awards? That’s Waterford Crystal. Visualize the winner of the Santa Anita Derby hoisting a trophy? That’s Waterford Crystal.
That doesn’t even begin to note all the awards and sporting competitions in Europe and the rest of the world which include a special-made prize crafted at the original factory of the Waterford name, located in (where else?) — Waterford, Ireland.
Nothing tops nature.
Not the Las Vegas Strip. Not the Manhattan skyline. No man-made object can possibly surpass the splendor of nature’s abundant power and beauty. Borrowing a famous line I once heard somewhere — You think a tall building is impressive? Try making a butterfly from scratch. You can’t.
I was introduced to the magic of gardens by two very special people about five years ago. Marieta and I traveled to London. However, we also spent a week wandering around in the English countryside, in Cornwall. We were the guests of some dear friends — Des Wilson (the poker author) and his lovely wife Jane.
One afternoon, Des and Jane took us out to an traditional English garden, which was more of a huge estate surrounded by thousands of unusual plants and animals. Once there, I couldn’t believe was I was seeing. One doesn’t associate England with being a nature’s paradise. But it was, and still is — at least when it comes to flora and fauna. There are dozens of gardens sprinkled throughout the entire country, all worth visiting, no doubt. Perhaps the best destination of all for greenery is the famous Key Gardens, located in south-central London.
This past week, Marieta and I were in Ireland. We noticed, much like neighboring England, Ireland is absolutely filled with gardens in just about every part of the country. These estates are usually free and open to the public.
Today’s highlight included a visit to the Cliffs of Moher, located along Ireland’s western coast, facing the Atlantic Ocean. If you were to scale the cliffs, dive into the ocean, and then begin swimming due southwest, well — the fall would most certainly kill you. But if you’re Superman and the fall didn’t instantly turn your torso into a life raft, then Atlantic City would be 3,200 miles across the water.
The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most visited attractions, and it’s easy to see why. There are two ways to see the towering rocky ridge — either by sea or from high above overlooking the sea. We opted for the sea journey.
A ferry ride took us out, which lasted about 90 minutes. The total cost was 20 euros per person. I’d say the trip was well worth it.
Here are a few snapshots from the ocean, looking upward towards the cliffs.
For those of us of a certain age, raised on a steady diet of MTV (when music videos were played exclusively), many of us will remember U2’s huge breakthrough hit, “Pride in the Name of Love,” recorded in 1984 which came off The Unforgettable Fire album, a masterpiece.
That’s always been one of my favorite rock songs, written by Bono and intended as a tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Long before other musicians were winning Oscars for other anthems dedicated to MLK, U2 did their own salute, which certainly stands the test of time. Rolling Stone magazine routinely picks that as one of the greatest songs of all time, and rightfully so. Even if you weren’t around back then, you’ve probably still heard it.