Louise O'Neill: hospitality in the land of Céad Míle Fáilte

A friend of mine, J, lives in LA and although we text and phone regularly, we realised recently that we hadn’t seen each other in the flesh since the summer of 2016. It was a situation that must be remedied, we decided, and as soon as possible.

Louise O'Neill: hospitality in the land of Céad Míle Fáilte

A friend of mine, J, lives in LA and although we text and phone regularly, we realised recently that we hadn’t seen each other in the flesh since the summer of 2016. It was a situation that must be remedied, we decided, and as soon as possible.

A few weeks ago, she messaged to say she would be in Zurich for work – maybe she could make a pitstop in Ireland on her way home, she wondered? “I’ve booked my flights,” she said. “And I’ll be arriving into Dublin on the 17th of March. I hope that suits you.”

I’m not a religious woman but I blessed myself immediately at the mere thought of this. An American, coming to these shores for the first time on St Patrick’s Day. What was I going to do with her?

Keep her as far away from any parades as possible, was my first instinct, and I’m also considering pretending that Dublin simply doesn’t exist. “It’s only a myth,” I’ll have to tell her. “Like Leprechauns and a world where millennials will be able to own their own homes without winning the Euromillions.”

To be fair to Dublin – a sentence that deeply hurts me to say as a Cork woman – I haven’t been in the city for Paddy’s Day since I was in college. There could be far less teenagers vomiting in the streets now, I don’t know, but I don’t want to risk it. I couldn’t be shamed like that with a foreigner by my side.

Coincidentally, J’s younger sister was in Ireland for the festivities last year as she was doing a year abroad in London. I pleaded with the sister to do the Bray cliff walk or take a bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher, -- “anything with cliffs is a good start!” I cried – she was determined to see Dublin in all its glory on our national holiday.

She didn’t book accommodation because she thought she’d stay with me (necessitating an awkward conversation where I explained Clonakilty was a four hour drive from the capital. Ireland is small but it’s not that small), and she was left floundering, trying to find a hostel or hotel that wasn’t charging extortionate prices.

I had to stage an intervention when she sent me a link to a “single folded bed in a cozy living room’ on Airbnb, with an addendum written in capital letters: NOTE, THIS IS NOT A PRIVATE ROOM.

Me: You can’t stay here.

Her: Why not?

Me: Because you’ll probably die a horrible death and it’ll be all my fault.

Ps – The chancers were charging a hundred euro a night to sleep on a mattress on the floor of their living room because… capitalism, I guess?

The thing was, I really did want to help T out because her family have always been incredibly kind to me. J and I bonded from the first moment we met; it was one of those soul connections that happens far too rarely and you know you should treasure.

She was funny and earnest and goofy, as well as being endlessly creative; she acted and did comedy improv and wrote musicals, her singing voice was sublime. Despite being ten years younger than me, sometimes J seemed like a wise woman, like she had been here many times before.

She invited me to her parents’ home in Germany to celebrate New Year’s in 2015 and it was, to say the least, an experience.

There was a butler and private chefs, drivers to bring us to the Christmas Markets, black tie parties with waiters holding trays of champagne and hors d’oeuvres aloft, and in the midst of it all, we would sneak off to play rounds of Cards Against Humanity and ‘Get the Americans to Pronounce Irish Names like Meadhbh, Sadhbh, and Ruaidhrí’.

Hours of entertainment for all. Afterwards, what struck me the most, was how unaffected J and her sisters seemed. They were surrounded by immense privilege and yet they weren’t spoilt -hence, perhaps, the willingness to sleep on a mattress in a shared living room – they were unfailingly polite, an utter credit to their parents. (Although I did have to laugh when their mom and dad encouraged the three girls to sing a medley for their party guests. I tried and failed to imagine any Irish parent doing similar, no matter how talented their children, lest they develop the dreaded Notions.)

The entire family couldn’t have been more welcoming to me or made me feel more at home. This is my chance to show J the same sort of hospitality, in the land of Céad Míle Fáilte.

I’m tempted to make my father pretend to be the house butler for the weekend but a) he doesn’t seem overly keen and b) he’s outright refusing to do it. In lieu of an extensive staff of people to tend to our every need, I’ve decided I’m going to dazzle J with how beautiful this country of ours is.

I’ll show her the cliffs and I’ll take her for walks on the beaches and we will breathe in the clean air and we will feel it burn in our lungs as we stretch our arms out wide, as if to take it all in. Welcome to Ireland, I will say. Isn’t it wonderful?

LOUISE SAYS:

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