Bob and Phyllis visit land o' the green By Bob Karolevitz Killarney, Ireland: Leave it to us. We came to Ireland AFTER St. Patrick's Day!
This is truly the land o' the green � 47 shades of the color in the fields, trees and floral growth.
The flag of the Republic of Ireland is tri-colored: one-third green for the Catholics, one-third orange for the Protestants and one-third white separating them, ostensibly to keep them apart.
There is a big difference between this country and the adjacent Northern Ireland where the British and the Irish always seem to be at each other's throats.
Residents of the republic, on the other hand, are so laid back it's said they use Valium as a stimulant.
Right now, though, the big concern is foot-and-mouth disease. Everywhere we go we step on mats containing disinfectant to protect the millions of sheep � not to mention all the cattle and hogs � from the contagion. Nobody seems to know for sure how it's transmitted, and they want to keep it under control if at all possible.
Actually the Republic of Ireland is about two-thirds the size of South Dakota, but it has some five times as many people. Incidentally, one in seven Irishmen carry the redhead gene, although the only carrot-top we've seen was our young guide at the Jameson Distillery.
Strangely enough, agriculture is no longer the number one industry, having been replaced by technology. Computers and cellphones are everywhere, but they still dig peat to fuel some of their power plants and to heat rural houses.
We've had the mistaken idea that Ireland is poor, but that's not so. We also think that the shamrock is the national symbol, when really it is the harp.
The southern end of the republic where we've spent our time is a tourism mecca. B and Bs (bed and breakfast accommodations) are universal; and bigger cities like Killarney have many hotels, some bordering on the luxurious.
Shopping and pub-crawling are great ways to get the American buck, but the Irish are no slouches at spending either. And drinking, too! Beer of all types � especially Guinness � are the popular pub orders. But they say that God invented whiskey so the Irish wouldn't rule the world.
Ireland is a great place to be if you are over 65. Drug prescriptions are free and so is health care, public transportation and electricity. The elderly also get a generous monthly stipend, similar to our Social Security.
A concerted effort is being made to preserve the Gaelic tradition, which includes the difficult language. It's a bilingual country, and roadside signs carry both English and the Gaelic counterpart, which is not the least bit translatable to those of us who don't speak or read the ancient tongue.
There are literally millions of cars in Ireland, all of them imported and all of them small. And no wonder! Most roads are narrow, and drivers go like mad, but there seems to be a politeness among vehicle operators. Very little honking of horns, for instance.
Pedestrians, though, take their lives in their hands when they try to cross the street. Americans look the wrong way for on-coming traffic because the Irish � like the British � drive on the left side of the road. And autos have the right-of-way over the walkers.
The Republic of Ireland is now a member of the European Union which is largely responsible for all the construction, road-building and reforestation throughout the country. Next year they'll start phasing out the Irish currency, too.
All in all, it's been an eye-opener to tour the land of leprechauns and fairies about which we have too many pre-conceived ideas.
We come away believing the local saying: "If you're lucky enough to be Irish, you're lucky enough!"
© 2001 Robert F. Karolevitz