A quick sketch of circumstances both strange and familiar

Ireland is a country like no other. Of course, the same could be said about any other country but not to the same degree. The Irish identity has been forged in uncountable conversations over a pint, in a history older than many know, and the long struggle to maintain an ancient culture against foreign invaders. Revolution is in the air in Ireland. This is a people used to speaking their minds and exercising their natural rights against all adversaries. Throughout history the Irish have been accustomed to the fine art of disputation, on and off the field of battle. It is little wonder that a race so familiar to strife should be so adept at enjoying themselves. The land has been filled time and time again by foreigners imposing their culture on a people who do not welcome such intrusions and time and time again the Irish people adapted to foreign occupation then expelled those who try to rule a land that is not their own.
The mythology that the rest of the world has created to describe the emerald Islands is endless. The reality is much more prosaic. The Irish are not leprechauns or drunks or ruffians. They are on the most part ordinary peopling who want to live ordinary lives. This is reassuring to travelers, who may not realize that most people everywhere share the same hopes and dreams. What they hear of foreign places is the lurid and the bizarre and from those odds and ends they construct a place that does not exist. Take for example the referendum on gay marriage. The foreigner will see Ireland as a very devout catholic country—that is the stereotype presented to the public. In reality, the Irish saw that homosexuals deserved the same chance at a normal happy life as everyone else. They wanted to have families. And so the Irish people voted to allow gay marriage, an exercise in popular democracy that the American public could learn from. We imagine foreigners to be thoroughly foreign and are surprised to find they are just like us.
However, one of the most revealing aspects of my journey to Ireland is not the world of Ireland opening up to me. It is the new view of American that I can see through the windows of my fellow travelers. Foreigners abroad share a kinship completely unlike any kinship they can find back home. Surrounded by the vast mass of fellow Americans we forget those beliefs and experiences we share through our common culture. Abroad, we band together, forming rafts of familiarity fast amongst unfamiliar seas. We share with each other, safe in the unfounded notion that we will never see each other again afterward. We are ones who might never have met if we had not gone to another country. Indeed, freed by the anonymity of distance we act not as we acted at home but as we wished we lived our lives. The opportunities an unknown land offer are dangerous.