I’m Irish and very proud to be so. I think that for such a small country, we’ve made a disproportionate impact on the global stage. Both our history and our mythology are extremely rich — as is our almost unique culture — some of which we share with our Celtic cousins. There are times though when I travel, that I’m reminded of how all such things are relative and that by comparison with some other cultures, we are only in the penny farthing category. A perfect example of this was a recent flying visit that I undertook to the island of Sicily, which was a first for me. As a lover of most things Italian, I was really looking forward to getting a taste of this amazing island so imagine my disappointment when the weather that greeted me upon arrival was thick fog and torrential rain which persisted for two of my three days there. The temperatures were still in the low to mid twenties but they were experiencing unseasonably wet weather for this time of year, including one particular torrential downpour of hailstones the size of ice-cubes that even startled the locals!
My third and final day on the island however was blessed by dry weather and this afforded me the opportunity to visit the world famous ruins of a large roman villa from the 4th century A.D. which is known locally as the Villa Romana del Casale and which is located in Piazza Armerina in the centre of the island. It is apparently the second largest Roman villa in the world (the largest one is located in Rome) and the sheer scale of the place was staggering, covering an area of several shopping centres. My extremely knowledgeable guide Sabrina Murgano, informed me that this particular villa would have accommodated around 20 Roman citizens, supported by a staff of upwards of 5,000 slaves! No, that’s not a misprint: 5,000 slaves!
But perhaps the most impressive (and humbling) part of the whole experience were the amazing mosaics which filled every nook and cranny of floor space throughout the vast villa complex — one of the more famous of which features what looks like bikini-clad maidens strutting their stuff some 1,500 years before the bikini was officially ‘invented’. Both the sheer scale, complexity and beauty of these works of art and antiquity just took my breadth away and reminded me very forcibly of the fact that we have nothing remotely like this in Ireland. Perhaps the Romans should have invaded Hibernia after all!
Sicily was friendlier, cheaper and more lush in its landscapes than I was expecting and my brief rain-sodden experience has only whetted my appetite for more (if you’ll pardon the bad pun!).