Landing in Shannon Airport, Ireland is a joy. It is a world class, modern facility with the longest runway in Ireland – and the only one capable of landing the new Airbus A380. But rather than the hectic, frenetic pace normally associated with air travel, arrival in Shannon is calm, quiet and peaceful.
I first flew into Shannon when I was four years old. To this day, the moment we break through the clouds and I am able to see the myriad squares of green fields divided by stone walls and hedges, I am transported immediately back to my first childhood visit when I thought that view from the airplane window was of tiny toy cars being magically moved along by some unseen child’s hand.
Most flights to Ireland from the US are what are commonly called “red eye” – you leave the States in the evening, fly overnight and land in the early hours of the next morning. Especially in the summer, when you are flying a northerly route there is usually only about an hour of darkness until the plane catches up to the early rising sun. Despite the best efforts of the crew to simulate darkness and night, passengers arrive bleary eyed and sleepy having missed the vast majority of a night’s sleep.
Occasionally, as can happen on any flight, there is a really unhappy child. Last month, while travelling with my first (of hopefully many!) group to Ireland, I was seated about 4 rows behind the bulkhead where families are typically seated because Aer Lingus has “murphy” beds that fold out from the wall to accommodate small children. There was a family obviously traveling home for holidays and their youngest child was not happy. Not only did she cry, but she wailed and screamed (that piercing, “make you scrunch up your face and grimace” scream) for the entire 6 hour flight from New York. Despite the best efforts of parents and flight crew, nothing would placate that child. For any passenger seated within ten rows, there was no rest on that flight. By the time we arrived in Shannon, not only were we sleep deprived, but we were jarred from the incessant din.
Of course, I was thinking, “What a great way to start off our tour. My guests are going to be wondering what I’ve gotten them into!” The next part however, is what really makes it a joy to land in Shannon.
Now what, you ask, could I find possibly find pleasant about clearing immigration? First, the queue. Or rather, lack thereof. In the arrivals hall, as you prepare your passport and landing card for inspection, you’d better be quick, because there may only be one or two people in front of you. Then, when you approach the Immigration Officer, rather than a surly, scowling, fierce looking countenance sizing you up from behind the counter there is a pleasant, if not smiling officer wishing you “Good Morning” and welcoming you to Ireland. (The used to say, “Good Morning, Dear” or “Good Morning, Love” which I found charming, but I guess Political Correctness has permeated all parts of the world) After a few pleasantries, “Is this your first visit to Ireland?”, “How long will you be staying?” they stamp your passport – of course with green ink – and send you on your way with a smile and an “Enjoy your stay.” or possibly a comment about the weather – which is always a prime topic of conversation in Ireland.
On this last trip, with my group of “virgin” visitors to Eire, that green ink represented for some a first visit outside the United States and the fulfillment of a life-long dream. We were met outside international arrivals by our excellent guide and chauffer for the week, Michael Quinlan. And of course, being a retired teacher, an author, historian and speaker of Gaelic, he greeted us in the most appropriate way, “Céad Mille Fáilte”. Indeed.