Ireland Looks Like Oregon

Oregon is like a happy marriage or effective air conditioning. It’s hard to appreciate if you’re never outside it. I polled others to find the farthest I could travel and still feel at home.

My red-eye flight landed in Dublin, Ireland and I lifted the portal shade. How many other places look instantly green, even from the airport tarmac? The land boasts what moviegoers might call moisture-by-mood, with no discernible source but a swelling soundtrack. An Oregonian knows different, if not necessarily better.

I came to walk 1.60934 kilometers in their shoes.

This weather is better for brooding — not dark, but dim. The Romans came to conquer it, but decided this “land of eternal winter” was not worth keeping. This land of twilight noons was considered west of the west for more than a millennium.

Temperatures, population, and land mass are all roughly equivalent to western Oregon.

It’s a curvaceous place. The roads meander, as do their stories. Doors often arch at the top, and windows wrap themselves around on three sides, pursuing the sun wherever it may be found. Sunrooms are everywhere; the sun, not so much.

Chips are fries and crisps are chips. The beer bottles are bigger and the driving lanes smaller, which is probably not a good combination. Taxi companies often co-locate with taverns, so they are near their customers. Automatic transmissions are rare, even in taxis and trucks. Bicyclists and busses share a lane of traffic along stretches where congestion occurs.

They drive on the left, which stops looking strange after a day or two, except when a dog is sitting upright in what should have been the driver’s seat. I haven’t yet seen a single “Keep Off the Grass” sign. It’s good for a place to know its strength. In my first three days of countryside walking, I passed four libraries, three churches, and more pubs than I could count.

There’s a famous church in downtown Dublin that’s no longer a church. The parish closed in 1986, but its history is still celebrated. Brewery founder Arthur Guinness was married there. Jonathan Swift was a deacon. George Frideric Handel worked out “The Messiah” on its pipe organ before its first audience heard it a few blocks away. The organ remains, but it’s now a bar called The Church, not to be confused with The Cathedral, which is also a bar, or The Bank, which is an “inn” — another name for an Irish bar.

Dublin has always been where the country kept its troublemakers. They are celebrating the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising. The battle started on Easter Monday, April 24. Its leaders surrendered on Friday and were executed after the weekend.

Those eight days created modern Ireland. As leaders, they failed; as martyrs, they guide Ireland still. Patrick Pearce wrote a letter from his mother, insisting he could think of no better way to die. Joseph Plunkett married his sweetheart in the prison chapel, a few hours before he was executed.

James Connelly had been shot twice in battle, so he could not stand before the British firing squad. Gangrene and blood loss had weakened him. He slumped, then fell from his chair. His executors tied him to that chair before shooting him dead. British rule became forever untenable after that moment.

Travel sometimes allows history lessons for what hasn’t yet happened. In 1963, Ireland imposed what they called a Turnover Tax of 2.5 percent. It was controversial in its time because it was assessed to each transaction, with no deductions for expenses. In concept and calculation, it’s identical to Measure 97.

As Mark Twain noted, history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Ireland’s Turnover Tax lasted three years. It was replaced with a wholesale tax of five percent. In 1968, the wholesale tax for luxury items was raised to 15 percent. In 1972, it was replaced with a conventional European Value Added Tax, which currently stands at 23 percent.

Some places are more steeped than brewed. Flavors are coaxed, not forced — willingly, almost longingly. That’s what feels very much like home.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.