Sitting on a park bench this Sunday morning in the Diamond, the central square area of Donegal Town. The Road Warriors straggled back here, battered and bruised, late last night between rounds at Donegal Golf Club and Enniscrone. What we found upon checking into the splendid Abbey Hotel was a major league party underway, in our hotel bar/disco, and in every hotel and bar surrounding the Diamond. Saturday night in Donegal is no joke, and it wasn’t just a gaggle of young things strutting about. This was clearly a cross-generational night out. When I checked into my room, I shared an elevator with a 50something couple and another woman who had broken the heel off one of her 60s-era, black, Nancy Sinatra-style, go-go boots. The three of them were literally falling all over themselves in hysterical laughter at what had happened, and they wanted me to join in. When I crashed last night, sometime around 3 a.m., there was still plenty of laughter emanating from the Diamond.
It’s morning now, close to noon actually, and it’s quieter here in the square. A motorcycle club has gathered here on the stone plaza, but their comings and goings are the only break in the quiet remove of a Sunday morning after. You may think I’m crazy, but I believe I hear some Irish pan flute in the distance. Honestly. Some business establishment must be piping it in. I listen to the familiar chug of diesel engines (they predominate here) as lines of slow traffic putter by me. The three main roads all meet on this one spot, heading off south to Sligo, north Letterkenny and west to Killybegs. Nothing here in the square is made of wood. It’s all stone masonry, businesses on the first floor, residence apartments on top. People are out and about and the pubs are open for business.
I’m from Boston, so I’m used to the way Irish towns are laid out (i.e. around a square or town green — these forms of public architecture were imported directly to New England from the old country), and I’m used to the Irish. Growing up, I just assumed (up to a point) that everyone in America but me was Irish and Catholic. Everyone had relatives back in Ireland, just as everyone here has kin in the states.
The difference is (aside from the presence of a proper castle, Donegal Castle, just off the square), the Irish in Ireland are all too happy to chat you up about their relatives, where they live, where you live, what sort of trip you’re doing, have we played Sligo, there’s a pub round the corner you must try, and let me buy you a pint. The American Irish are nice enough; no more or less congenial than me, or any other immigrant population in the U.S., which is to say all of us. But the indigenous Irish are off-the-charts friendly.
Oftentimes the Scots and Irish people are compared, as the links courses in Scotland and Ireland are often compared. There is, I think, an austerity to life in Scotland, to the golf they play, to the courses they play, to their outlook on life. It’s nothing cold or perverse, but there is a reserve, a near asceticism to the people, culture and the courses. I love it there, but when you think of the Scottish links you’ve played, do you think green?
Well, this ain’t the Emerald Isle for nothing, people. It’s green and lush. The outlook is sunny, even if the weather isn’t always. Ireland and the Irish don’t do asceticism. They are, in contrast, generally garrulous and outgoing. Their golf courses run the gamut, naturally, but they generally reflect their keepers: they are greener, the dunes are bigger and more dramatic, the welcome in the clubhouse more genuine than those you find across the Irish Sea. Handsome is as handsome does.