The weather has taken a turn for the better lately. Warm summer days and hot sunshine are just around the corner. But I don’t think about the summer to come, I think about the summer that WAS.

The summer I have in mind last summer - when my Irish friend, Pearl O’Shea, announced she was coming to the states to visit. Pearl gave us advance notice and a heads up of her travel dates and just like that, Irish Pearl was soon among us.

Pearl and I met in 2011, when my husband had a business trip scheduled to Shannon, Ireland, and asked if I wanted to tag along. Of course I did. While the husbands worked, Pearl became my tour guide for all things Ireland. We became instant friends. 

Last summer, Pearl ventured away from Dooradoyle, Ireland, and made her way to Grant, Alabama, and it was my turn as tour guide. Pearl’s two week visit included a boat ride on Lake Guntersville when the night was cool and the water was smooth as glass. We drove to Florence and dined on eclectic Italian food. We visited local historical spots and shared the beauty of mountains and lakes.

I introduced Pearl to all my friends and she attended book clubs and went with me to pool parties. Pearl had an encounter with numerous bug bites and even roadkill, both which were very foreign to her…but the best part…we took a road to the beach.

There are beaches in Ireland, but not hot, white, sandy beaches and warm waters like we have at the Gulf. We arrived in Gulf Shores, and Pearl was like a fish in water. Where we looked forward to a lazy lounge on the beach, Pearl hit the water running. Literally. And she stayed in the water, almost all day, only coming up for air and selfies on the beach. Later, we decided Pearl had to experience FloraBama - where she danced the Irish jig to Sweet Home Alabama (she won’t admit to it, but I swear she did) and we all sang Sweet Caroline (Ba, Ba, Ba) before the night was over.

And just like that, Pearl was back on the plane, headed across the water home. A few months went by and I began planning my trip over THERE.

So, I messaged Pearl and announced my intent to travel her direction…and Pearl sent back an itinerary of how I would spend my days in Ireland. Turn about is fair play as they say, and Pearl did her part in keeping me busy. I arrived in Dublin, Ireland, on a cold, rainy Tuesday morning and we hit the ground running. We toured the National Gallery Art Museum and the "Dead Zoo,” Ireland’s Natural History Museum in Dublin, we gave a “Like” to the Facebook European Headquarters and ended our evening watching “Warhorse” at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre. We stopped at midnight for coffee and desserts on our drive to Pearl’s house. This was just the first day.

The next four days were a blur, a glorious exhausting blur of beauty and scenery and mouthwatering food. With perfect weather and no rain in sight, we climbed and hiked dizzying heights along the cliffs of Loop Head. We explored caves, and natural bridges. We held on with both hands through crevices that opened into nooks in the side of the cliffs. We waved at fishermen in their boats as we walked along the edge. We were equally windburned and sunburned. We took selfies.

We walked the cool beaches along Killkee, and watched the kids in their wet suits swimming in the frigid North Atlantic waters. We saw wild dolphins and puffin birds in their nests in the Cliffs of Moher. We toured a castle and ate Irish stew in the pub. We drank the smooth richness of coffees and espressos, and treated ourselves to desserts I can’t even describe. I can honestly say the carrot cake almost made me cry. Or was it the time difference? My body clock lost track of time and after a few days, I couldn’t even remember the day of the week. It was perfect.

THERE and HERE to sum it all up:

Here’s what’s interesting about Ireland in relation to Alabama: the country of Ireland is about the size of the state of Indiana. There are no snakes, no poisonous spiders, no hummingbirds, alligators, or weird roadkill - no predatory animals (which, after her visit to Alabama, Pearl jokingly said, “how do ye allow yere children to play outdoors?”) no poison ivy or pesky insects, no Krispy Kreme, Dunkin Donuts, or Chick-fil-A (not yet anyway) no fried green tomatoes, no squash, and no Twinkies.

There’s no Walmart, no Ford, Chevy, and very few Dodge - no outdoor pools, no tornadoes. Restaurants have servers, but no tipping, please. There are crisps not chips, those are served with fish.

Pearl shops at TK Maxx, not TJ Maxx. There are no h’s either - it’s Tersday not Thursday. Pulled pork is relatively new on the Irish menu, I think they call them baps. Hurling and Gaelic football rule over baseball…because there’s no baseball. Yet.

There is no mail pick up either, only letter delivery in Irish residential letterboxes in the front doors. Needless to say, Pearl loved our unique mailbox flair. Thinking of a European trip abroad? Think Ireland first. Southern Ireland as Pearl calls it, those folks are just like us. Please and thank you, and y’all.

(Paula Henderson is the Advertiser-Gleam's Grant correspondent and will soon be writing more for the paper.)

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