It turned out to be one of the best travel decisions we ever made. It has been said that Donegal is Ireland in miniature, and that the Inishowen peninsula, where the cottage is located, is Donegal in miniature. The saying is accurate: Inishowen has mountains, lakes, wild scenery and spectacular views of the North Atlantic - not to mention prehistoric stone circles and ancient crosses and ruins. But what we found most memorable were the local people, who went out of their way to be gracious and hospitable.
On our first day in Ireland, while walking on a Lough Foyle beach, we met a young couple from Derry and their children. They asked us if we planned to go to Derry, the nearest major city. We said that we did. The wife then proceeded to give us their phone number and said to call before we came and that they would give us a tour of the city. We did, and were met at the bus stop by the couple in their SUV.
On the bus trip to Derry, the driver noticed that we were unfamiliar and asked where we were from. When we said Philadelphia, he replied, "Had I known that, I wouldn't have let you on the bus."
I asked him what he had against Philadelphia, and he said "the Broad Street Bullies," and went on to list Flyers' team members from the Stanley Cup years of the 1970s. It turned out he had lived in Toronto during those seasons and had followed ice hockey intensely. Then, for the rest of the trip, he greeted each new passenger by name.
To keep in touch with family, we used the computers in a small library in a nearby town. The librarian was unusually well informed about American politics and was eager to discuss the subject - so eager, in fact, that he would remove the telephone handset from its cradle when we arrived.
After one or two visits to the local grocery we were recognized and warmly greeted by the staff, a courtesy that we haven't received at the supermarket in Philadelphia where we've been shopping for more than 30 years.
When we first arrived in Inishowen we quickly became aware of all the things that we were used to as Americans that were not available there. Then, as the days progressed, we began to see that what we were missing was not half as important as what we had found in Inishowen.
Walter Fox lives in Philadelphia.