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WE WERE AN unsightly crew, to be sure. In the wee hours of the morning, eight of us sat around a table in the parlor of Ballymaloe House in County Cork, Ireland. For days, we’d explored the grounds, spoken to the locals and dined on some of the best food to be found anywhere on the Emerald Isle. But on this night, our last before heading back to our real lives, we’d become oblivious to our bucolic surroundings. Maybe it was because the early-morning hours in the Irish countryside are cloaked in a darkness that’s all but foreign to Americans. Or maybe it was the enchanting effect that Ballymaloe House — a Norman castle almost 300 years older than the United States — had on us. But at that moment and particular place in time, we were partaking in a local custom that dates back generations and is still ardently practiced today: hanging out and drinking pints of Guinness.

Indeed, we’d all head in different directions when the sun woke the farmland. Half of us would return to the United States, several more would head north to Belfast, and one would return to his home base in London. That would come soon enough. Yet at that moment, we were all about the moment, and we were all about spending as much time as we could with our newly minted crew.

We were a group of writers and editors who had embarked on a journey from points near and far to this charming rural hamlet. The reason was the four-day Travel Classics International Writers Conference, a premier industry event that puts some of the best writers in front of some of the best travel- and leisure-magazine editors. And as is the case with this conference and others under the Travel Classics umbrella, there was no shortage of talent. When the day’s work was done, various writers and editors participated in various activities. I spent a lot of time just roaming the sprawling grounds of Ballymaloe House. On one occasion, I took a walk with Ashley Williams, senior editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. We got lost in the woods and then were startled by a herd of cattle that seemed to stalk our movements. But that was the essence of Travel Classics International — that was the essence of being a tourist in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. For me, returning to Ireland was like a homecoming, even though I don’t have a single Irish gene in my body.

JOY BE WITH YOU ALL: Adam (far right) with new pals (from left) Jill Robinson, Ramsay Short, Crai Bower, Ashley Williams and Jackie Froeber
Kimberley Lovato
Twenty years earlier, I thought I was Irish. Or, at least, I tried to be Irish. I had a lot of Irish friends, though none of them had ever been to Ireland. Still, they’d always talk about going, and their second- and thirdhand descriptions of a country blanketed in green triggered my teenage wanderlust. I bought a giant poster of O’Connell Street in Dublin. I had a subscription to Ireland of the Welcomes magazine.

Then, right after college, seven of my buddies and I did that post-college whirlwind trip around Europe. We started in Dublin, and I instantly confirmed my childhood suspicion that it is one heckuva city. My fondest memories of that trip were sitting around a table — all eight of us — and talking about everything and nothing, taking breaks from each other only to chat with the locals. That was 14 years ago.

I’ve wanted to return to the Emerald Isle ever since, and Travel Classics International was my opportunity. I seized it and explored the interior of Ireland this time, not once setting foot in Dublin. But after reading Joseph Guinto’s cover story, I’m just waiting for another reason to go back.

Of course, the main reason to return isn’t necessarily the natural beauty and the rich history (you can find those in any city or town anywhere in the world). What defines Ireland for me are the people. I’ve never met nicer people in all my travels. And I’ve never been more content sitting around a table and shooting the breeze as I am when I’m in Ireland. I have a feeling my college buddies who made that trip with me 14 years ago will tell you the same. And so will my new Travel Classics International friends.

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Adam Pitluk