Book Review: An Irish Experience

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Book Review: An Irish Experience: Travel Tales Flowing from History, Humor & the Search for Home, by Howard G. Franklin

"It begins with brainwaves, an idea: I want to see Ireland. Then, like a gentle breeze, enters emotion, a curious yearning, whispering: I need to see Ireland. Add imagination, and the lady is wearing a smile. A beautiful smile. A coquettish smile.

All right. All right. So the lady is a country, you were expecting a romance maybe? Well, all right again, her name is Rachel and she lives in Sligo. But that’s its own separate story, and for the moment the subject is beginnings, so as I was saying, the Lady is sporting a smile. Dressed in soft green velvet, her shoulders support a shawl of lakes and rivers and mountains. And around her neck curls a single strand of wedding-white pearls, one each for Dublin, Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Killarney, Cork, and Waterford.

On her left wrist dangles a gold bracelet, heavy with the charms of song and dance, art, and the four Nobel Prizes for Literature, all jingling sweetly beneath the smaller Claddagh brooch nestled near her heart: two arms circling to join hands in friendship, then cradle a heart for love below the crown of loyalty, while in the center, twin emeralds sparkle to speak of the two Hs – History and Humor.

I suppose that is why she is not wearing a watch. For when the Carrowmore Tombs teach a text originating a thousand years before the Pyramids, and the pictures paint a painful but poignant panoply of tragedy and triumph in human nature’s native colors, the lesson learned is live now and laugh as much as possible."


Howard G Franklin, an Irish Experience - Donegal Abbey

Author at Donegal Abbey

And so starts a wonderful book about traveling, Ireland, and experiencing the joys of life. An Irish Experience: Travel Tales Flowing from History, Humor & the Search for Home, by Howard G. Franklin, is a must-read! Howard makes the reader laugh, teaches about Ireland and her history, and shares his great enthusiasm for life in this fun travel memoir.

"Saturday begins in the spellbinding land of sleep. Two extra hours' worth, nourished by stardust sprinkling sweet dreams of Sligo: a quaint cottage, a curvy colleen to warm my heart and bed, fervent friends to share the day with, and yesterday's question, Could you live here? answered with the smiling echo of I do...I do...I do.... A beneficent bonus, brought to me by the luxurious ten-thirty starting time for the tour of Sligo's countryside, after a long hot shower and a full Irish bereakfast of cereal, fruit, and sunnyside-up eggs with bangers, I'm feeling seriously sunny myself, despite the light rain falling outside. "Go away," I chirp cheerfully from my comfy chair next to a lobby window, trading the Irish Times for Matt's latest baseball fax. And when it does, shortly thereafter, my mood climbs the Scale of Satisfaction all the way to a perfect ten."

See? Howard not only Loves Ireland, but he manages to share that love with us, his readers, so very well. We were lucky enough to sit down with Howard and talk about Ireland, history, travel - and new beginnings. Here's what he had to say...

WE: Please tell us about your book, An Irish Experience...

HGF: An Irish Experience (AIE) has as its mission to share with the reader the flesh-and-blood reality, the true experience of an actual visit to Ireland. And AIE accomplishes this goal by carefully interweaving Eire’s storied past and vibrant present into an exciting journey of discovery, complete with a spiritual search for Home, and accompanied by an off-beat sense of humor that makes the learning adventure fun.
With Ireland introduced as “a lovely lady wearing a single strand of wedding-white pearls, one each for Dublin, Sligo, Galway, Limerick, Killarney, Cork, and Waterford,” the reader then travels north, west, south, and east to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell the fascinating facets of a culture created by 5000 years of history amidst a geographical wonderland. And spiced with generous helpings of engagingly earthy banter between the narrator and his traveling companion, a fictional Greek-Jewish philosopher from antiquity known as the Professor, this journey offers a total experience comprised of art and architecture, song and dance, poetry, politics, and people. As from Dublin Castle, to Yeats’ Land of Heart’s Desire, to the Gap of Dunloe and Reginald’s Tower, the reader is immersed inside an adventure formed from day-to-day discoveries, intermixed with meeting both the welcoming citizenry and Erin’s renowned historical and literary figures.
In Dublin, on Wood Quay alongside the River Liffey where the Vikings landed in 842, shopkeepers, students, and pretty ladies mingle, then talk to the reader, as does James Joyce when he’s spotted later about to enter his favorite pub, Buswell’s, near Leinster House where the Irish Senate and House of Representatives meet. When the scene shifts north to the countryside and the Hill of Slane, St. Patrick shares how he introduced Christianity into the Emerald Isle, while at nearby Tara, Eire’s greatest King, Brian Boru, relives the saga of Clontarf where his army drove the Norse invaders from the motherland’s shores. On a train ride to Sligo Town, farmers, housewives, and merchant marines share thoughts and feelings about work, family, and community, while further south and west, Galway waits with its tale of the 14 tribes, as does Limerick City, Cork, and Waterford, each with a separate story that smoothly merges into One. There’s Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, to meet, along with freedom-fighter Michael Collins, not to overlook George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett. The diamond-dazzling lakes of Killarney beckon, as do the monumental Cliffs of Moher and the melancholy desolation of the Burren and Connemara. And there’s music and food and fashion, each separate thread weaving itself into a full fabric presented so personally that one can actually feel the true treasures and tender frailties of a foreign society.
And more. For AIE is also a celebration: Of the uniqueness that is Ireland—of a more simple and slower-paced way of life, graced by true touches of “innocence” in a world growing increasingly complex and cynical. Of the need for each of us, in our own separate way, to reach in and outside ourselves in order to connect to the places and people where we live, and visit. Of the eternal question: Is there a Home? A particular place where we truly Belong? Or are there only the lakes of love that the heart makes?

Howard G Franklin, an Irish Experience - Yeats Memorial, Sligo

Author at Yeats Memorial, Sligo

WE: What was the genesis of An Irish Experience?

HGF: An Irish Experience was born shortly after my first visit to Ireland in September, 2001. En route home, I visited a dear friend, Annie Forshaw, in York, England, and thereafter wrote a short article about York, entitled “England’s Uncrowned Jewel.” When it was accepted for publication, Annie then suggested I employ my passion for the Green Isle using the same format, the two Hs: History and Humor.


WE: You planned extensively for your first trip to Ireland - what was it like, when you first arrived?

HGF: I did plan extensively for my first trip, because outside of the unusually strong urge I felt to visit Eire, I didn’t know very much about it. Then, after much study, I grew more and more comfortable with the idea of visiting. And when I finally landed in Dublin nine months later, my already high expectations were immediately exceeded by the warmth and friendliness of the people and the incredible beauty of the landscape.

Howard G Franklin, an Irish Experience - Carrowmore Tombs, outside Sligo

Author at Carrowmore Tombs, outside Sligo

WE: What were your favorite aspects of being in Ireland?

HGF: The incredibly welcoming Irish people. Historically, over the past 1600 years, the Irish have absorbed invaders and visitors alike. They absorbed the Celts first, then the Vikings, and finally the English. And today, first off, their warmth and friendliness instantly puts you at ease. The next, their relaxed pace of life slows one down to allow full appreciation of Ireland’s art and architecture, song and dance, and almost indescribably gorgeous geography—not to forget for a second, their great literary tradition, which features four winners of the Nobel Prize.
As I pointed out in AIE, through its investment in education, Ireland has over the past 20 years enjoyed the highest level of prosperity in its history. However, while enjoying the so-called Celtic Tiger, the Irish have not become a consumer society. Instead, in large part they’ve retained their ties to the land and remained devoted to family, community, and church—thereby establishing a refreshing balance between progress and tradition.


WE: When you've gone back, what have you done differently?

HGF: On my second and third trips, in 2005 and 2009, I’ve visited more of the Republic’s smaller towns and villages such as Cashel, Tipperary, Donegal, and Westport, explored archeological wonders such as the 5000-year-old burial tomb at Newgrange outside Dublin, and the even older Carrowmore Tombs outside Sligo, and further expanded my exposure to the entire Island by journeying to Northern Ireland and the cities of Armagh, Belfast, and Derry.

Howard G Franklin, an Irish Experience  - Gap of Dunloe, Killarney National Park

Gap of Dunloe, Killarney National Park

WE: What are your favorite memories of Ireland?

HGF: That’s a tough question, like picking from amongst one’s children. The geographic favorites are the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, and the impossibly beautiful Killarney National Park. However, the memory, the one that lives in my heart, is the remarkable Irish people with their true gift for welcoming, and their exceptional ability to not be too busy in a 21st-century world that seemingly can’t rush through life fast enough. I feel very blessed to have known warm “strangers” such as Mary and Jerry Mac, whom I met on a Train Ride to Sligo (Chapter VIII), and equally proud to count Brian and Mary Arrigan, David Long, Roland and Ciaran Ganther, and Aubrey Melville as close friends.

WE: Can visitors ever truly experience the "real Ireland" or are we all just tourists, passing through?

HGF: Yes. Absolutely. If the visitor is willing to be open, the Irish will reward you tenfold by welcoming you inside their culture and sharing fully all aspects with you—history, geography, music, art, literature, and their slower-paced way of life. To maximize this actual experience, the visitor needs to give the same time and attention to Eire’s small towns and villages such as Sligo and Westport as one devotes to Dublin and Cork.

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

HGF: Yes. First, I believe that Ireland possesses a special uniqueness embodied in a slower-paced way of life that is graced by true touches of “innocence” in a world growing increasingly complex and cynical—and that in their rootedness to the land, and their commitment to family, community, and church, there’s a wonderful lesson to all of us.

Secondly, I’d like to thank Eire from the bottom of a very grateful heart for my wife, Linda. Two years ago, when I submitted the manuscript of AIE to my publisher, Inkwater Press, Linda, their editor-in-chief, loved it. And subsequently, during the editing process, we fell in love and were married in June, 2008.

Now I’m not promising that Ireland will sprinkle magic dust on everyone who visits and falls under the spell of her considerable charms, but if you’re looking for a truly meaningful experience—joy and enlightenment—I do promise that Eire won’t let you down. Please visit and see for yourself!

Howard G Franklin, an Irish Experience - Yeats' Grave, outside Sligo

Author and wife Linda at Yeats' Grave, outside Sligo

WE: Thanks so very much, Howard! I truly enjoyed reading your book, and recommend it to all of our readers!




All photos courtesy and copyright of Howard G. Franklin.



Comments (7)

  • Tabitha McKown

    14 years 11 months ago

    Thank you for this very special book review. I cannot wait to pick up Mr. Franklin's book! I had the honor (and I mean HONOR) of visiting Ireland a few years back and my husband and I decided to visit the small, wonderful towns as well as the popular destinations (Dublin, Cork, etc). This two week glimpse of the Southern half of Ireland provided a lifetime worth of memories. The Irish people we encountered were the most welcoming people and made our visit feel more like a homecoming than a vacation. Thank you, Mr. Franklin for sharing your experiences in what I feel is one of the world's most special places to be.


    Tabitha McKown

    Chicago Editor,

  • Christy Nicholas

    14 years 11 months ago

    Fantastic article on a very intriguing book!  I always like to read other's stories and impressions of this mystical, magical island, and compare them to my own experiences. 

    It's inspired me to want to go back again, to parts I've not yet visited (there are many still!)




    Please visit my website for travel photography, art, jewelry, taxes and more!

  • irishfireside

    14 years 11 months ago

    Sounds like a wonderful account of Ireland and the Irish. Thanks for sharing.

    Corey Taratuta, Ireland Editor

  • jeff coyle

    14 years 11 months ago

    I can't wait to read this book! The wonderful book review seems to echo the same feelings I have toward Ireland and the Irish people. Ireland draws people in for many realson. Ancestry, sites, history, etc... But the Irish people keep them coming back..

  • Carla Moser

    14 years 11 months ago

    Thanks for a great review! Sounds like a wonderful that will be read and relive the joy of traveling in Ireland. I am putting this on my wish list for Christmas. ;)

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    14 years 10 months ago

    Thank you all for leaving such wonderful comments! Our winner of An Irish Experience is Carla Moser. I'll be contacting you for your address, carla!


    Jessie Voigts, PhD


  • Carla Moser

    14 years 10 months ago

    I just received the book in the mail today. What a nice thing to find in my mail box! ...scratching it off my Christmas wish list... I cannot wait to start reading it!

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