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St Patrick’s Day was just a few days ago. Sadly, we missed the holiday in Dublin, but New York City put on quite a show. Now St. Patrick’s may normally be just an excuse to cut loose for a bit, but the holiday is also a reminder of how important our Irish ancestors have been to the history of New York City. A fact that was further highlighted by the reading material I perused over a covert tea with whiskey during our trip to Ireland (don’t tell AA, he is an adamant tea-toller).
Before I dive in, I should say that AA and I sometimes have very different takes on the highpoint of a particular trip. Ireland was a case in point, so for this post I’ll be fair and share with you both of our perspectives.
Erika – Ireland and the United States
A wonderful thing about traveling as an American, and especially a New Yorker, is that no matter where you go you will likely find one person who is visiting the land of their ancestors. This was particularly true in Ireland where we ran into a number of Irish-Americans, including a descendant of one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising come to pay his respects at the site of his forefather’s execution (Kilmainham Gaol).
Kilmainham Gaol was a bit disconcerting not only for its legacy, but also because its account of Ireland’s history and radical politics feels so strangely familiar. It was a clear reminder that Ireland has a rich revolutionary history, one that is often intertwined with America – after all, the Clan na Gael organization in the United States was one of the biggest financiers of the 1916 Uprising.
New York in particular has a strong Irish legacy, and there are remnants throughout the city of a time when the Irish comprised a quarter of the city’s populace (which is now one man closer to reaching its old heights, thanks to the distinguished Simon Mescal).
Dublin Castle and Temple Bar
Most of us are quite familiar with the large wave of immigration to the United States during the Irish potato famine of the 1850s; however, the history of the Irish in the United States goes back to the earliest days of the original thirteen colonies. In particular, the Scotch-Irish have left an indelible mark on the culture of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas.
Which leads me to the highlight of the trip for me – the opportunity to catch up on my reading. There are a couple of great books that delve into the unique cultures created by the Scotch-Irish, Pilgrims and Cavaliers in colonial America, and the lingering tensions today that came out of these different societies . Fortunately, the long plane ride and my frequent tea breaks gave me a chance to plow through a couple of these.
If you are interested, below is a brief reading list:
This last book in particular goes into a great deal of color on how the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland played out in the United States. Irish catholic immigrants for most of American history have often made it a point to side against their old protestant foes: during the Revolutionary War, many were Tories; during the civil war, Irish immigrants rioted in Northern cities protesting Northern draft policies and anti-catholic sentiment; and for decades after the civil war, the Irish in New York and other cities were Democratic opponents to the Republican descendants of New England Puritans.
But to Get Back on Track – AA
While I am happy to ruminate on history all day long, it is Ireland’s contributions to television that peaked AA’s interest. The top draw in Dublin for him was not the museums, the Book of Kells or Temple Bar, but the fact that Game of Thrones was filmed just two hours outside of the city. So naturally a Game of Thrones tour was the first thing planned.
Game of Thrones Tour
The excursion to Northern Ireland was complete with swords and cloaks, although the winter rain put a damper on the cloaks for most of the trip. The tour also included a chance to meet a few show extras (who served as guides) as well as the furry actors who played the wolves. Although our wonderful guide was not an extra on the show, she had appeared on an episode of Vikings (much to her chagrin, she was required to show us the episode she appeared in).
But the Game of Thrones tour was not all Hollywood, we also got a chance to trek through the beautiful Tollymore Forest and the old Castle Ward Estate. As sheepish as I was about the outfits, the drive through the scenic countryside and walk through the old pine forests of Tollymore were worth the embarrassment.
And a Few More Recommendations
For those of you who are neither Game of Thrones fans nor bookworms, there are many other Ireland vacation ideas. Galway and the Cliffs of Mohar are also a must, as is a Black Cab Mural Tour of Belfast. And when in doubt, check out Lonely Planet.
 This is not to leave out the histories of Native American, Spanish and African residents in the colonial era, but unfortunately these histories are – as is too often the case – absent from most of these books.