Irish Hospitality – by Allison Brennhofer. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
At our welcome dinner that we had a few weeks into the semester, three of my friends met an older woman named Agnes. They struck up a friendship with her and she invited them over to her house for scones. One of the girls, Annie, took her up on that and continued to meet her a few times.
For our Travel Writing class, we were required to write a paper about a person from Ireland. Annie chose Agnes because she had gotten to know her so well. One day when Annie went over to interview her, she invited myself and two other friends to come with. We braved the rain and hail for the three-minute walk to Agnes’ bright yellow house. When there was no response at the knock, Annie opened the door and stuck her head in, asking, “Agnes?” Agnes then ushered us in and scolded us for walking in the rain just to see her.
[The street leading to Agnes’ house, taken later in better weather]
We quickly found out that Agnes has strong opinions about everything. She warned us away from the Irish boys, telling us not to bother. Her advice for any woman was, even if they were married, to save money separate from her significant other. She even told this to her daughter-in-law.
Agnes actually left Ireland for the United States after we left her house that day. She has ten children and many of them live in the states. The truly ironic part is that she will return to Ireland May 9th, the day we leave. Her eldest son drove up from near Galway, two hours south of our location, to take her to the airport. We tried to leave then, to let her get ready and visit with her son but she told us we were ridiculous. They made tea and served us her amazing scones. Then her youngest son, who lives in town, came by with his eldest son to borrow baking soda. We tried to leave then as well, because they would not see her for two months but her son’s wife had not come with and she wanted us to meet her.
We begged her for the scone recipe because they were the best thing I have had. They were light and delicious, with raisins that added a hint of sweetness. She talked her way through the recipe, having to think about the measurements because she normally just throws the ingredients in. We asked if we could put chocolate chips in them, instead of raisins, and I have never received such a horrified look in my life. After a little wheedling, she grudgingly admitted that she supposed we could put chocolate chips in.
[Agnes’ scones. She insisted we take the leftovers]
We tried to leave a third time, so she called her son and told him he had to bring his family over. It was interesting to meet her sons and their family. Agnes has an Irish accent. Her eldest son has a mixed accent that everyone he meets has trouble placing. Her youngest son and his two sons all have American accents. His wife has a softer Irish accent. Agnes moved to the states when she was “eighteen and a half, almost nineteen” (she corrected us each time we said she had been eighteen). She lived there for almost sixty years. Her children were all born there except for one daughter who was born in Scotland. Her youngest son stayed in the states until he was fifteen, moved to Ireland for three years, moved back to the states and then moved to Ireland again. Their two boys, 14 and 12, were born in America as well. However, their family moved back to Ireland when they were 8 and 6 because college is free in Ireland and the parents wanted to start planning for that.
The 14-year-old grandson decided that the presence of four guests would soften the blow of a bad grade. A little while after they had arrived, he leaned over and whispered to his mother, “Is this a bad time to let you know I got 42% on my Gaelic test?” Without missing a beat, she replied, “We’ll speak about this later.” Then she returned to our conversation. He grinned at us a tad sheepishly, which makes me think he wouldn’t get into too much trouble for it. That little aside, though, led his mother onto the topic of how silly she thought it was that the children were required to learn Gaelic. Since they moved back to Ireland when the boys were 8 and 6, they had not grown up with the language like the other Irish children had. She thought it was ridiculous that they were required to learn a language that would not help them anywhere in the world except for Ireland.
Ultimately, we spent three and a half hours at Agnes’ house. We had planned to just stop in and say goodbye to her and go do homework in one of the local pubs (they have great Wi-Fi, much better than our cottages). Instead, we just headed back home after that and made dinner. I didn’t end up getting any homework done that day, but I think it was incredibly worth it.
Allison serves as an editor for The North Star Reports.
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13 responses to “Irish Hospitality – by Allison Brennhofer. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports”
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Thank you, Allison, for this excellent report on Irish hospitality! It is so good to hear this story for I am going to Ireland this Spring! I am incredibly excited and can’t wait to meet Agnes!! Hospitality is truly, in my opinion, the most crucial benedictine values to take away from. Well practices hospitality is the ability to drop all differences humans may face, and to simply to everything and anything to make sure that your guess feels completely and wholly welcome in your space. It is inclusiveness on steroids. Human interaction in the most sacred time to take advantage of to learn and dive into a culture that one is less familiar with. It is through these interactions that I find hope in humanity to put our differences aside and work on community. You are so lucky to have had this amazing interaction!
As a student who studied in Louisburgh last semester, reading this story brought a wave of nostalgia over me. I walked by Agnes’ house nearly every day on my way to the beach, but never knew she lived there. She sounds like an incredible woman, a true embodiment of the Irish hospitable spirit. In today’s world, where connection oftentimes seems to be only virtual or for convenience, the Irish know how to honor the sacredness of human conversation. I experienced this welcoming spirit at Books @ One (the local bookstore) every time I went there to do my homework. The shopkeeper, Anne, offered me tea or hot cocoa at no charge and always addressed me by name. Sometimes, studying abroad was an isolating and anxiety inducing experience, but I could never miss home for too long when I was talking to Anne. Now that I am back home in the United States, I hope I can be a vessel for that hospitality and channel it into the life I make here.
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Meeting people from different cultures is always a great experience. I think almost all people have good and bad prejudgements regarding new people and places. No matter what ideas or prejudgements we might have, humans are humans. All humans beings are very similar deep down. Agnes certainly sounds like a wonderful woman to meet. Agnes sounds like your stereotypical grandma whether it’s in the U.S. or Ireland! She has yummy snacks for visitors, and holds her children and grand children very close to her heart.
This was a very fun story to read about! It is important to note how much one can learn from their elders in any location of the world. How did Annie and Agnes grow so close to on another in a short amount of time/Do you know how often Annie visited her? What are your thoughts on students learning Gaelic, a language that Agnes said “would only be useful to them in Ireland”? I would think perhaps it taught to preserve the culture a bit, but I do not know the real answer. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.
Your experience reminded me a lot of mine in Guatemala. They were very family oriented and wanted me to meet everyone. For them, they don’t work on very strict schedules and move at the pace they choose. This is how we spent hours and hours in places that we thought would only be there for a few minutes. It’s incredible that different cultures have such vast differences in what is considered polite and hospitable. I wish I can see more of Guatemalan and Irish hospitality here in the United States. Thanks for the article!
I really enjoyed reading this story because I think it relates to my own culture. Overall, however, this is not the culture that is known in the United States. We are all often in such a hurry and an individualistic culture. This could be seen as a lack of hospitality. For my own culture however, I find myself trying to be as welcoming, caring, and inclusive while meeting or hosting people. I would like to think that this is a trait to Minnesota and how we are “Minnesota nice.” I have wound up in many situations like this one that you describe where I end up spending more time at a persons house because they make you want to be around them with their hospitable ways.
I think that it is really incredible that you got to have such a great experience with an Irish native, especially for your friend; who it seems made very fast friends with Agnes! How long did you guys end up staying at Agnes’s home? It sounds like you guys had a good time and they didn’t want you to leave! It was interesting to hear Agnes’s sons wife say Gaelic was unimportant and wouldn’t help them. I find that even if it won’t help them outside of Ireland, it’s still a neat thing to learn. Indigenous languages are important to the heritage and culture of the Irish community. While it may not seem important for their futures, I think that it is important for keeping important aspects of culture alive.
Wow, Agnes seems like such a great host! I loved reading about how she had to talk her way through the recipe as she didn’t have one written down, this reminds me of a lot of people I know who just memorize them. Her family seemed charming. It was a pleasure to read about how she had lived in both the US and Ireland. The youngest son and his wife moving from the US Ireland as a way to plan for their college education was really illuminating. It makes me wonder if that’s a common occurrence. I want to thank you for writing about your time in Ireland and all the interesting things you experienced there.
Just from your article, I can imagine what kind of person Ms. Agnes is. Also just from the description, her family seems to be so unique. One thing that caught my attention is Ms. Agnes’s reaction when you asked about the chocolate chip in the scones. Personally, similar things happen to me. Whenever I introduce Kenyan food to non-Kenyan individuals they always come up with different questions on how they can alternate it to make familiar to them. The idea is really interesting to me. Moreover, I have done this multiple times when I have been introduced to other cultural foods. In my own experiences and practices I do it thinking I want to be adventurous and try new foods, but in reality, I still want to eat the things that are familiar to me. Thank you for sharing about Ms. Agnes and a bit about your stay in Ireland.
Thank you for such an amazing article and for sharing this great experience with us. I am glad you got to experience this and hope that you had a great time abroad. I can see this hospitality based on the time I traveled to Ireland. Everyone would always say hello and invite you out to dinner. We actually met a man in the natural history museum in Dublin who invited my four friends and I out to dinner at the pub he owned and it was on the house. Irish hospitality is unlike anything I had experienced before, everyone I met was so gracious and accepting. I truly cherish Ireland and the memories that I have from that experience.
What a wonderful story! This absolutely sounds like an amazing experience and well worth skipping a night of homework. It is very interesting to hear about the accents that she, her children, and grandchildren have and how they all traveled back and forth to the U.S. The idea that her son and his family would move back to Ireland simply to avoid the ridiculous cost of higher education in the States is very telling. We have discussed at length this semester the toll that student debt is taking on generations of people, and I am glad that Agnes’s son had the option of escaping it. Thank you for sharing your experience, and I am glad that you were able to spend time with Agnes as she sounds like an amazing person.