Welcoming American tourists to Ireland, 1913-2021

Americans remain welcome in Ireland, even as other European nations tighten or prohibit non-essential travelers from the United States due to surging COVID-19 infections.

“They’re a very important part of our tourism sector, if we were to block Americans we would definitely be shooting ourselves in the foot,” John Galligan of the Irish Travel Agents Association told TheJournal.ie. “There are not a lot of American tourists at the moment but there are some. Business travel is a part of this too.”

In 2019 the Irish travel industry reported record visitors, paid room nights (with a related decline in visitors “couch surfing” with relatives), and other tourist spending. Only tiny fractions of those figures have been realized since the pandemic erupted shortly before St. Patrick’s Day 2020. Visitors are now required to show proof of vaccine or negative test results.

Americans began driving the Irish tourism industry before the 1918 flu pandemic. It’s a recurring topic in Ireland [1913], the 118-year-old travelogue by German journalist Richard Arnold Bermann, now translated into English for the first time by Leesa Wheatley and Florian Krobb.[1]Published by Cork University Press, 2021. 200 pages, including Introduction and Note on Translation, Endnotes, and Index. No interior photos. The book has drawn particular attention as a snapshot of Ireland at the start of its revolutionary period and a year before the Great War. In their Introduction, Wheatley and Krobb also note Bermann’s “umbrage … at traces of mass tourism prone to erode the serenity of the autochthonous culture where it might still survive,  and the blatant exploitation of visitors by entrepreneurial yet intrusive individuals who offer their services as guides or coach drivers.”

Early in the original text, Bermann writes:

At this moment in time tourism is really taking off in Ireland. It will not exactly do away with the country’s history because it feeds on it — Ireland’s history populates the countryside with splendid sights, with druidic stones, with ancient kings and ruins in every shape and size, all meticulously decorated in ivy. But the tourist industry should help clear the huts, these dreadful holes, even if then the ladies from Connecticut are thereabouts find Ireland a lot less delightful.[2]Ireland, pp.45-46.

At Killarney, he grumbles about tour buses “packed with Americans.” Later, he smirks that “it is just too comical seeing really old American women climb onto gentlemen’s saddles and gallop off.”[3]Ireland, p. 47 and p. 51, respectively. Was Bermann sexist as well as anti-American?

Other perspectives of these same American tourists are found in the 1913 U.S. newspaper clippings on this page. The Boston Globe reported how members of the city’s Irish county clubs–groupings of immigrants from Cork, Clare, Cavan, etc.–were touring “the Old Country.” Lady Aberdeen, wife of the Lord Lieutenant, hosted a U.S. agricultural delegation and promised to open a “Welcome Club” for American visitors in one of Dublin’s old Georgian mansions. Instead of climbing to the top deck of a tour bus or saddling a horse, other U.S. visitors to Killarney boarded a jaunting car.

“…a truly enjoyable experience,” Bermann wrote. “A trap on two high wheels, drawn by a single horse, rides like a fairground contraption rather than a coach. It looks as if the house’s saddle has slipped onto the horse’s rear end.”[4]Ireland, p. 49 

An American family on a jaunting car at the Lakes of Killarney, Co. Kerry. (Decatur, Illinois) Herald & Review, Aug. 31, 1913.

The 1913 Ireland trip was the first of what became three decades of “frenetic, restless, almost driven travels all around the world” for Bermann (1883-1939), Wheatley and Krobb write. He wrote the book “to establish himself as a journalist of punch and substance.” His “pinpointing the Americanization of the beauty spots” and satirizing of fellow tourists “often borders on the affectatious.” Yet, “in spite of some gratuitous posturing, he conveys a very vivid picture … of the Ireland of his day.”

Bremann’s 1913 travels occurred only weeks after my Kerry-born maternal grandfather sailed to America. The journalist’s descriptions of Ireland frame the county just as the emigrant left it, never to return. (Coincidentally, and overlooked by Wheatley and Krobb, the French photographers Madeleine Mignon-Alba and Marguerite Mespoulet made the first color photographs of Ireland in May and June 1913.)

Belvidere (Illinois) Daily Republican, Aug. 21, 1913

Fifty-six years after Bremann, about halfway between 1913 and today, one of my grandfather’s six daughters became the first of his American family to visit Ireland. After her death, I inherited my aunt’s collection of ephemera from her 1969 trip and subsequent visits to Ireland. A 44-page Irish Tourist Board pamphlet promotes both 6-hour flights from New York and Boston, as well as 7-day “regular sailings by ocean liner into Cobh and Galway.”

Packed with lovely photos, the pamphlet describes mid-century Ireland on the eve of the Troubles in romantic marketing prose:

Their little island contains all you ever hoped it would–the fabled scenery, the castles rimed with age and legend, twisting lanes and peat bogs and mists, Irish whiskey and linen and tweed, Irish wolfhounds and soda bread, Blarney Stone and Blarney talk. … Aran’s children with enormous eyes, scholar priests a-walking; slender young gentles of ancient line, jaunty old chaps who spin the tales; farmers and fishers and cutters of turf, writers and actors … Oh, it is a marvelous spread of folk we have over here! Bunched in the cities where the stunning Irish theater is, spread over the lush and rolling green of the south, spread a little thinner in the west where the ribs of rock show through.”

I made my first trip to Ireland in 2000, a dozen years after my aunt’s last visit in 1988, and 87 years after Bremann. Over 10 trips I’ve covered the same ground as both of them (including Killarney) and millions of others since 1913. I’m anxious to return after being kept away for two years by COVID, but I don’t expect to make the trip until at least next year.

“Ireland is much too close to America,” Bremann wrote in 1913, a sentence that probably resonated with his German readers a year before the outbreak of the Great War. For contemporary Irish tourism officials, the travel reluctance of so many potential visitors is a troubling concern, even as the country remains more welcoming then other parts of Europe.

The Boston Globe, Aug. 18, 1913

References

References
1 Published by Cork University Press, 2021. 200 pages, including Introduction and Note on Translation, Endnotes, and Index. No interior photos.
2 Ireland, pp.45-46.
3 Ireland, p. 47 and p. 51, respectively.
4 Ireland, p. 49

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