In July of 2015, I joined a group of 21 Badgers on a journey through Ireland. It was a captivating adventure that created lasting memories, friends, and stories to be told for years to come. We started our travels in Shannon, spending time in the village of Ennis and exploring Galway, the Burren, the Cliffs of Mohr, and the Aran Islands. We took in the beautiful western peninsulas of Dingle and Kerry from our home base in Kilarney. We kissed the Blarney Stone before we made our way to the big city of Dublin. Along the way, we experienced the scenery and hospitality that Ireland is known for. And, because we were a small group of friendly, Wisconsin travelers, we created the camaraderie that made the trip one we won’t soon forget.
Ireland is a land of lush, green landscapes. From the farmlands of the west; the stark and beautiful landscapes of the Burren, the Cliffs of Mohr, and the Aran Islands; and the gardens, flower baskets, and public parks of Dublin, we experienced Ireland in all its emerald splendor. We were equally amazed at the breathtakingly grand beauty of the ring of Kerry and the Dingle peninsula as we were with the abundance of flowers hanging from homesteads and storefronts in the small towns and big cities. A highlight for most of our travelers was the presentation from Tony Kirby — a local walking-tour host, amateur poet, and passionate conservationist — who taught us to appreciate the abundance of plant life flourishing between the rocks of the otherwise stark and rugged-looking Burren landscape in County Clare.
The people of Ireland are known for their friendly and welcoming hospitality, and the locals we met did not disappoint. We were regaled with stories of fairies and leprechauns from master story teller Eddie Lenihan; we tapped our toes to traditional Irish music and dancing; our pint of Guinness or Irish coffee was always served with a smile; and our tour guides and lecturers laced their knowledge of the land with a bit of Irish humor. We even tried our hand at a local tradition by holding a limerick contest on the bus as we journeyed through County Kerry! Not all the limericks were instant treasures, but each one was welcomed with a laugh, a cheer, or occasionally a good-natured groan.
As can be expected when a group of 21 Badgers hits the road, the camaraderie was the most important part of the traveling experience. We stared out as strangers with little in common accept our ties as proud UW graduates and fans. We ended our trip as a cohesive group of friends promising to share photos and reunite at a future Badger football game. Along the way, we celebrated milestone anniversaries for two of our traveling couples, shared drinks at local pubs, huddled together in the wind and the rain to watch a sheepherding demonstration, and found new connections and common histories that we did not know existed. We also adopted some new “honorary Badgers”: fellow travelers who joined us from other universities and of course our travel director Judy and bus driver/guide Jerry.
The scenery, the hospitality, and the camaraderie all came together to bring the country of Ireland alive. The small group — 28 travelers and a bus driver — made our experience intimate and added to the feeling that we were a family coming home to visit our ancestral lands, even if some among us did not have any Irish blood. The music, the landscape, the stories, the dancing, the history, and the people — from small towns to the big city — welcomed us, charmed us, and captivated us. We ventured home from Ireland knowing exactly what native son W.B Yeats meant when he said, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”