Rachel Gaffney's Letter From Texas

A Brave New Connection

There’s no substitute for experiencing a foreign land firsthand. Aldous Huxley understood this when he wrote: “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”

When American Airlines makes the inaugural direct flight from Dallas to Dublin on June 6, 2019, my hope is the beginning of a deeper connection between two cultures that may hold some misconceptions about one another.

I had misconceptions of my own prior to moving to Dallas in 1996. What little knowledge I had about Texas, I learned from watching, ’Dallas’, the long running tv show of the 1980’s. J. R. Ewing represented the wealthy Texan, gold skyscrapers lined the freeways, oil was plentiful and cowboys all looked like Ray Krebbs.

Conversely, people here in Texas thought Irish food was boiled and bland, we drank a lot of alcohol, our golf courses were spectacular and our fields were many shades of green. I will not deny that there are accuracies in some of the above, but the knowledge void is as wide and deep as the ocean that separates us.

The Irish and the Texans are a lot alike. Feisty, passionate and fiercely proud of their heritage. Perhaps this is why so many Irish died defending the Alamo in San Antonio in 1836 and later that same month in the more historically significant Battle of San Jacinto. It is now known that the Irish, played a very significant role in the formation of Texas as an independent state.

Interestingly, both Dallas and Dublin have bridges designed by the Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, Dallas has the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge crossing the Trinity River in Dallas and Dublin has the Samuel Beckett Bridge crossing the River Liffey.

Returning to the present day, Irish people are still moving to Texas and are thrilled that there is to be a direct flight connecting us with Ireland later this year, thanks to American Airlines. The flight will leave Dallas Fort Worth at 8.30pm and arrive in Dublin the next morning at 11.20am. Some may decide to stay in Dublin for the duration but my advice is that you think about leaving your sojourn in Dublin to the end of your trip. This way you can be in Dublin the night before your departing flight and thus not having to stress about getting to the airport.

The majority of American travellers will be staying in Ireland for a week. There are of course, some who stay longer, but they are not the norm. So how do I persuade clients to stop trying to speed date with Ireland? It is hard, very hard, let me tell you! The natural inclination is to see as much of the country as possible. With a day on either side for air travel, they ideally have 5 or 6 days to experience all that Ireland has to offer.

I begin by explaining that the island of Ireland is quite simply beautiful, wherever you go. I completely understand that they have heard all about the Cliffs of Moher, The Ring of Kerry, Blarney Castle and The Guinness Storehouse but they do not need me for that. I remind them why they came to me in the first place. They have asked me to create an adventure for them, one that allows them to actually experience Ireland. The only way to truly experience Ireland is to engage with fiery, passionate, opinionated, witty, intelligent and creative people. Upon returning to the United States, these interactions will perhaps give a little insight into the ‘Hands that built America’ for it was the Irish who built the roads, the buildings, the bridges and indeed designed the White House.

I travel back and forth to Ireland every 3 months. I carry an old fashioned blue notebook with me at all times. Every positive experience gets written in here. A product I loved. An exceptional cafe. A friendly driver. An old bric-a-brac shop. A restaurant at the end of the pier. A yarn shop. A cheesemaker. A shop assistant. Yes, a shop assistant! I have two in particular and, by coincidence, both are called Helen.

Dunnes Stores is an Irish department store chain, founded by Ben Dunne over 70 years ago. If you walk to the back of Stephens Green Shopping Centre in Dublin, and walk into their flagship store, you may be lucky enough to meet Helen. A true Dublin character and an absolute delight. Each time I am in Ireland, I carve out time to do some shopping in this particular store (there are Dunnes Stores in 136 locations around Ireland). It is because of Helen. Yes, she helps me find what I am looking for and much more at times too, but her stories and personality encapsulate a genuine Irish lady. Recently I came away with a recipe for Roast lamb that Neven Maguire would envy! Helen shares stories about growing up in Dublin, gives you great tips and an even greater smile and welcome.

Then there is my other favorite Helen, who works at the House of Ireland in the Dublin Airport Duty Free location. A larger than life character you will not meet. She has the greatest Dublin accent, amazing patience and will treat every customer the way they deserve to be treated.

Both these ladies are hard working, funny, determined Irish ladies. I will of course guide you to castles, golf courses, country house properties and more - and my motto is very simple, If I won’t stay there, I won’t put you there - but meeting characters like these will enrich your experience in Ireland.

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