Common misconceptions of Ireland: When people think of Ireland, they call up images of rolling hills with hedges separating a patchwork of fields in various shades of green, thick mists, silver lakes, thatched cottages with peat smoke escaping from chimneys, twisting one-lane roads, friendly pubs, inebriated men in caps who want to buy pints all around, women who drink tea, bland food and mile after mile (actually kilometers) of emptiness.
The new Ireland, the Ireland of the European Union, is quite different. Ireland is crowded, so crowded that traffic clogs up the roads leading into the villages and modern, multi-lane bypasses alleviate the congestion around the towns and cities. Most of the population is under thirty-five and men rarely wear caps. They drink carefully because of no-tolerance laws and because education and prosperity have given them opportunity unheard of by previous generations. The food is delicious and varied, although expensive by American standards, and because of the water, the coffee has a delicious smoky flavor without the slightest hint of bitterness. Corned beef isn’t common, but bacon and cabbage is, a kind of bacon that bears no resemblance to the thin, crispy, fat-layered bacon we order with our eggs and pancakes. Irish bacon is back bacon, lean, tender and flavorful. For a treat, perhaps St. Patrick’s Day, place a bacon order with Tommy Maloney’s of New York. Cook it with cabbage, boiled potatoes, carrots and turnip. You might not give up corned beef entirely, but you’ll definitely appreciate the difference and you’ll certainly have a more authentic meal.