Full of Blarney
Of all the locales in Europe, Ireland is probably where most Americans will feel right at home. Whether you are Irish or not (and who isn’t on St. Patrick’s Day?), you will most likely have a number of friends of Irish or partial Irish descent whom you enjoy and are easy to get along with. You’ll find that same sense of familiarity and friendliness in Ireland. And if you are of Irish heritage, in a strange way you’ll feel as if you are going home, or at least back to your grandparent’s hometown.
Meetings start on time. If you’re 10 minutes late, it’s okay. If you’re going to be 15 minutes late you should call ahead, and if you’re going to run 20 minutes behind you should reschedule with your host. The Irish are not driven to the same degree that you find some people are in Southern California or New York City with their faster-paced lifestyles. The Irish take time for conversation. That said, they prefer to deal in facts and as a rule, they don’t have room for boasting or hyperbole … unless you are on your third or fourth Guinness and then a certain amount of blarney is allowed.
One thing the Irish do get edgy about is talking about their relationship with England. They still don’t care for the English, even though Cromwell invaded Ireland long before the English invaded the colonies. Hey, we got over it, but they haven’t. Despite the British waging war on us in 1776 and again in 1812, I have never met one American who harbors any ill will toward the British. Not so the Irish. In fact, another edgy topic for the Irish is their role in World War II, or rather their lack of a role. The Irish remained neutral in the war and even at times collaborated with the Germans. It’s not that they particularly cared for the Germans but as one waiter in Dublin told me a few weeks back, it’s a case of the old saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It’s not that they won’t talk about English-Irish relations or history, but if you’re trying to put a deal together you’re best off leaving that topic off the table.
As far as client entertaining goes, one of my dad’s favorite sayings is, “The reason God invented liquor is so the Irish wouldn’t rule the world.” I can say that because the Lawlers are Irish. But truth be told, while the Irish do like their pubs, I never saw anyone out of control or who looked like they had one too many. And that includes a visit to the Temple Bar area after a big hurling game had just concluded. (I never have understood the differences between field hockey and hurling, do you?)
No business trip to Ireland is complete without at least a couple of days of sightseeing and touring the countryside. If you’re going to get a rental car, keep in mind that they take things like door dings and scratches as a big deal if not an ancillary profit center.
Document every mark on your car with your own photos on your cell phone. And before making a turn—any turn—ask yourself at least twice, “Am I turning onto the correct side of the road?” I found it was helpful to conclude that I was wrong until I could prove otherwise. That method of thinking provided an extra layer of safety.
Dublin is a cool enough city. But after a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and tour of the Temple Bar area, you’ll find much more interesting things to do and see outside the city. On our trip we headed south to Adare Manor, just outside Limerick, which is a fabulous five-star, castle-like manor home built in the 1800s adjacent to the site of the still standing but now-in-ruins Adare Castle. A number of things make Adare Manor so special. For starters, it is surrounded by a beautiful 18 hole championship golf course designed by none other than Robert Jones. Indeed, their pro-am held every couple of years attracts crowds upwards of 300,000.
That’s a lot of people watching golf. The staff was very courteous if not a tad formal, and the beautiful main dining room was run by a seasoned crew as well, which is something you don’t always find in hotel-run restaurants. The resort was recently purchased by JP McManus, reputed to be one of the wealthiest in all of Ireland. McManus plans to close Adare Manor for an 18-month renovation. I found it pretty nice as it was, so I look forward to returning one day to see what he does with it.
Next stop for us was Blarney Castle. I have to inject a disclaimer: I was travelling with my 24-year-old daughter who saw someone kiss the Blarney Stone on The Bachelor, so naturally it was on our bucket list. That said, it was my favorite side trip. Blarney Castle is everything you always imagined a 600-year-old Irish castle would look like. When you first come upon it strolling through the castle grounds, it stops you in your tracks. It is truly imposing. I couldn’t believe how tall it was for starters. And built so many hundreds of years ago and yet every stone is so secure in its place. I found myself about 8 years old all over again climbing up, up, up the seemingly endless circular stone steps to the Blarney Stone itself, which sits rather precariously over a ledge in such a way that the only way to kiss it is to invert yourself with the assistance of a volunteer.
As legend has it, the Blarney Stone is said to be half of the Stone of Destiny, which is the stone that ancient monarchs of England and Scotland we crowned upon (the other half is under lock and key at Edinburgh Castle—see this issue’s Soundings column for more scoop). Supposedly the Scottish king Robert the Bruce gave half of the stone to the then-owner of the Blarney Castle as thanks for his support in some long forgotten battle. Prior to that, some say the Stone of Destiny was originally brought to Scotland by the Knights Templar as a souvenir from a crusade and that it, in fact, was the very stone that Jacob laid his head against as told in the Old Testament.
If that sounds like blarney to you, well, you get the idea.
How Suite It Is