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Ice-cream in Ireland, or a story of happiness through resilience

by Silke Elzner

It had been drizzling on and off in Galway. I could feel the dampness everywhere, dripping off the top of my hood, finding its way into the dry shelter of my jacket pockets. Wet, and with a sense of urgency due to the wet situation I was in, I stumbled into the realms of what they call a “public house” in Ireland. My quest was to find ice-cream, and there was a good reason for this, too.

Yet, the second I walked through the double doors I realised that I just made a colossal mistake. The name of the pub was right, Murphy’s, but the location seemed off. It only took a split second to see that my question to the man behind the bar would probably be very, very misplaced.

But I needed to ask anyway. I needed to find out what I was suspecting all along: that Ireland was a country with an astonishing talent of churning out some amazing ice-cream.
Galway city centre in a constant drizzle

An unlikely candidate for ice-cream fondness

You might sense a juxtaposition here, and you are not very far off. Ireland is not a place that would naturally be a candidate for setting the stage for ice-cream. The island may not be particularly cold (even in winter the temperatures rarely fall below zero), but it is a wet island.

Water is everywhere. It’s in the massive streams that roll down the mountains and hills with a big thunder. It’s in the wild Atlantic Ocean that hits the west coast of Ireland with such ferocity that it sends big fluffs of sea foam over the top of the cliffs. It’s in the still lakes and hidden bays that are home to an abundance of wildlife – birds, fish, and seals.

Galway, an undiscovered capital of ice-cream happiness

So you might think that ice-cream is not the natural choice of food for the Irish. Yet, the incredible number of ice-cream vendors on Galway’s main shopping street alone will prove you wrong. There are frozen specialties everywhere. You will pass people with a cone in their hand every other minute. It may be cold, and it may be rainy, but this doesn’t seem to be an obstacle to the average Irish person.

Or, as one local put it, there are stubborn, these Irish.

Busker in the streets of GalwayBut I think the word “stubborn” doesn’t quite describe it. Rather, I believe that the Irish are extraordinarily resilient.

They have shown this so many times over the last couple of centuries. The Irish have gone through a lot in their history – conquests and wars, occupation and oppression, plagues and the Great Famine, the mass exodus that today sees more people with Irish blood live abroad than in Ireland.

Celebrating life in the streets of Galway

Yet, through all this, it seems, the Irish have kept their sense of humour and their community spirit. There is a lot that an Irish person can take on. The muddy weather is the least of their worries.

And it’s good that the Irish have decided to hold onto what they always had. The city of Galway alone has a lot going for it.

Local cheese

There is a lot of history here, reflected in the quaint shops and wonderful Irish bars that are just too beautiful to describe – you have to see them for yourself.

Also, there is wonderful food here. Sheridan’s, Galway’s local cheesemongers, are a cheese wonderland. The smell alone, as you walk into the shop, is like a sweet promise of cheesy goodness.

Also, there is fish here, so fresh and so well prepared, that restaurants like the well established McDonagh’s earn award after award after award.

Back to that Galway ice-cream story

So back to me as I was standing in Murphy’s Pub looking all forlorn and lost. The barkeeper was nowhere to be seen, giving the locals at the bar plenty of opportunity to look me up and down as they were sipping their pints of ale and watching the muted sports program on the telly.

It was that minute of uncomfortable silence where you wonder if you should just retreat and call it a day.

But then the man did appear from the kitchen, wiping his hand on a towel. “I heard you are selling ice-cream here?”, I said, with doubt swinging in my voice. I wished I was coming across a little bit more self-assured. But then really, the notion seemed ridiculous to begin with.

“Ah, yeah, no,” the man replied. “It’s 50 yards up the road. They have the same name, Murphy’s.” In my head I silently cursed the Irish for having so little variation in their surnames. Then I thanked the man, and slowly and surely I disappeared through the double doors and into the constant drizzle of a grey Galway Friday.

As promised, I did find the ice-cream shop right where he said, just a couple of steps up the road. I ordered a Dingle gin and blackcurrant sorbet mix – like a cocktail – and tucked right in. And it was only then that I realised that having ice-cream in Ireland made perfect sense.

Having a good time, no matter what

This is not a just a demonstration of the resilience of the Irish character. This is also about having a good time, no matter what. You may not be able to control the weather outside. Ireland has always been wet and windy and temperate. Nobody will ever change that.

But the way to deal with this weather is simply by accepting that there are things in life that you cannot change. You cannot change the wet weather in Ireland.

But what you can do instead is create your own place of happiness which lets you forget that the world around you may not be perfect all the time.

If this is done by ordering a scoop of ice-cream which you will enjoy in the constant drizzle that covers Galway like a wet blanket, then so be it. If there is something else that will warm your heart, by all means, go for it.

The thing is, we are not masters of the world. But we are masters of our own happiness. And happiness can indeed come in many shapes and sizes. It might just as well come along in the form of a delicious ice-cream cone.

Murphy's Ice-Cream