BY RICHARD CARRENO[WRITERSCLEARINGHOUSE NEWS SERVICE]
I alighted from my Philadelphia flight, at Shannon in western Ireland, like a hole in one. It might have seemed that a rump of the Philadelphia Orchestra was also deplaning. Round and round on the luggage carousel were hard-framed plastic containers that might otherwise safe-keep a viola or bass. Hardly. Packed were tools of the sport. That would be golf, and the Shannon terminal, if anyone needed to be reminded, was redolent with adverts claiming the virtues of the Irish version of Scottish sport. Just moments before, I was sharing a first-class cabin full of doctors and lawyers who, upon touching down, almost instantly morphed into locker-room jocks on French leave from patients, clients -- and wives. I was in, of course, First Golfer Bill Clinton's favorite Irish airport, linking to the place nearby, Ballybunion Golf Course, where the ex-President most often retreats in his non-fund-raising downtime.
Welcome to the Old Sod, otherwise the land of poets, lyricists, playwrights, the world's foremost breeders of warm-blood horses, and equally foremost rail birds who wager on them. And the Dublin Horse Show.
Nah. For most Americans, at least those middle-aged professionals who pack mid-week flights for a few days on the greens, welcome, rather, to the other Emerald Isle -- Golf Land.
There are scores of highly-praised courses in Ireland. Some, like the Royal Curragh and the Royal Belfast, in northern Ireland, are prestigious and old, dating to the mid-19th century roots of modern Irish golf. Whether they are renown or new, most attract for the most part visiting Americans, many of Irish extraction laying down roots and tossing back Guinnesses. American Anglophiles, the thinking goes, can bloody well go to Scottish links, they being more English really than the Gaelic variety here. From Shannon in County Limerick to counties just west and south of Dublin, local golf clubs are similarly enthusiastic hosts. Ballybunion residents have even erected a Bill Clinton statue, with the former POTUS swinging a nine-iron.
2.The good-looking 30-something blond in jeans and Hunter wellies was leading two toe-head girls, maybe six or seven, through the iron gate to back forty of a local estate. The estate, in County Wicklow south of Dublin, is the seat of Powerscourt House, a formidable Palladian-styled pile and former country home, in the mid-18th century, of Richard Wingfield, Viscount Powerscourt. (Wingfield's townhouse in Dublin now serves as the shell of an upmarket shopping mall).
As I walked by the woman's car, a late-model Volvo station wagon heavily laden with mud, this scene reeking of horses and tack dissolves into something like a tableau vivant of a Vanity Fair spread. It's sinking in that these are clearly uppers at home. Irish? Maybe English.
'Ew, I'm sorry,' said the woman in a posh English accent. 'This isn't an entrance. Try the gate just down the road.'
'I do have a ticket.'
'Well, it is near closing time. You'd better enter here. Never mind about the ticket.'
'You're visiting, as well?'
'No, I live here.'
'So, you're Lady Powerscourt?' I added in with my best version of cheekiness.
'No, my husband's father bought the place in the 60s. Just go round to the right to the gardens.'
Smack down. I did as I was bid.
Powerscourt's ornamental, terraced gardens were modeled in the 19th-century, I learned later, after those at Versailles. Schonbrunn Palace near Vienna, and Schwetzingen Castle near Heidelberg. In all, house and gardens loom under the mighty countenance of Sugarloaf mountain. If it seems something like a film location, well, it often has been -- most recently for French palace scenes in the lastest version of The Count of Monte Cristo.
Back at my nearby hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt, I learned something about the lady of the house, who it turns out is a Slazenger, part of the family that, besides running the house, a wedding site business, paid tours, and leasing upscale shop space, also owns the hotel property. The Slazengers are best known of course as the owners of the English sport goods company -- makers of tennis, cricket -- and golf equipment.
Not surprisingly, the Ritz Powerscourt is a golf resort. The property itself features two 18-hole courses. Within striking distance are six others, including the Royal Dublin and The European. There's a large American contingent at the hotel.At dinner, in the hotel dining room, I wouldn't have been surprised if any one of these Yanks had walked in swinging a club, a la Bob Hope.
'Just because I was born in a stable doesn't make me a horse,' Lord Wellington, in reference to his birth in Dublin.
I'm aboard the upper, out-door deck on a sightseeing bus, as it visits thirty-four sites in Dublin city center. The 90-minute tour has a peculiar spin: lots about hangings, executions, assassinations, and general mayhem (re the Easter Rebellion and Civil War), and booze (Guinness Storehouse, the old Jameson whiskey distillery, Temple Bar entertainment area, Cafe en Siene, and the Celtic Whiskey Shop).
In keeping, background music is comprised of mournful ballads. In other words, in-your-cups, down-in-the-dumps Irish drinking music.
The tour doesn't ignore literary Dublin; it just gets whisked by. The recorded script makes no mention of the Gate Theatre as we swing by. The Abbey Theatre is nowhere to seen, nor heard about. The National Library of Ireland gets a shout out. No such luck for the National Gallery of Ireland.
Lots of Swift. A heads up to Joyce. Shaw, Yeats, Wilde, and Behan are no shows.
The day after, Seamus Heaney, 74, the Nobel Prize-winning poet, died in a Dublin hospital.