One writer looks for his roots in Busch Gardens' "Ireland." 

Taking My Queues

I am in Ireland, almost.

With a handful of fairy dust, a storyteller transforms my friend Turk and me into little people. I let it ride. Besides, I can always take off the 3-D glasses to see the truer-than-life-sprite, flat on the video screen.

We have entered Corkscrew Hill, a high-speed "mystical Celtic journey and 4-D experience" with "a great sense of Irish history" at Busch Gardens' newest "country," Ireland.

America has a strange relationship with Ireland. I, with my Irish family history, have come to this pseudo-Ireland to see that relationship take physical form.

There are four generations between me and the green island across the pond (not to mention a drop of German blood). But that hasn't prevented me from claiming an Irish ancestry like someone else's luggage. When I think of myself I think: Irish.

To Americans, Ireland is the land that brought us Lucky Charms, Irish Spring, Mickey's Malt Liquor, and strangely, Ireland Cleaners. None of this exists in the real Ireland. But none exists in the synthetic one, either.

During the Corkscrew Hill ride, we experience what is either a virtual-reality malfunction or a cunning marketing initiative: When a fluorescent-green halo revolves slowly above us in 3-D sparkles and turns, mesmerizing us for several minutes, Turk falls into a mild hypnosis and confesses an inexplicable urge to purchase Waterford crystal from the Emerald Isle Shop across the street. I have a slightly different experience: a flashback starring Jerry Garcia and one wicked batch of St. Patrick's Day Jell-O.

Anyway, it's all surprisingly fun. The computer-animated ride takes us through a land of giants, witches and flying stallions. The "great sense of Irish history" escapes us, but we are not disappointed.

Later, we also enjoy Abbey Stone Theatre, where we watch "Irish Thunder," a kind of 30-minute "Riverdance" featuring 21 quick-footed Irish dancers. As the dancers' practiced feet pound out jigs under equally choreographed spotlights, it occurs to me that during my three-week stint in the real Ireland five years ago, I never once saw an Irishman dance. Nor did I hear any Irish music, except in the more polished pubs in Dublin where American tourists may enjoy corned beef and cabbage — a meal only Americans attribute to the Irish.

Could it be that I am actually making up for lost time — even coming closer to my roots — at a theme park?

The theme park's 4-acre-or-so hamlet, with thatched roofs and castle themes, is a cross between a fairy tale and a Dublin tourist shop. Surprisingly, the shops are authentic-looking. A cafeterialike "grille" serves Irish delicacies: rows of smashed potatoes, corned-beef sandwiches and Irish stew. There is, of course, a pub and an "Anheuser-Busch Beer School," where visitors with more discriminating taste buds may discern the subtleties between "a variety of quality Anheuser-Busch beers."

Busch Gardens recruited most of its young Irish workers from colleges in the genuine Ireland. We discover one of them wandering the street of Killarney. She is playing the part of Molly Malone, from the traditional Irish tune "Cockles and Mussels." She is wheeling a barrel and joshing with a singer who is grabbing a quick snack, a pickle from Germany. "Good luck, Keepher, on your show," she says. "Enjoy your pickle." He is bashful and Molly is relentless: "Doesn't he look handsome? Look how handsome you are!"

Molly, who declines to give us her real name, informs us, "I've never been on a roller coaster before I came here. All the turns about killed me." Like Molly, many of the Irish employees have never before traveled inside the United States. In fact, many of them never have had the opportunity to travel much beyond the Irish hamlet or past their Busch Garden dorms just outside the park. Perhaps it is this isolated view that explains their unilateral observation about Americans.

In Ireland, the workers say, nobody would wait in the long lines — they actually call them queues — even for a roller coaster. "Americans will queue up for anything," Molly says. "In Ireland you just go. It's so funny." I tell her that we usually only line up for all-you-can-eat buffets and in megastores. She is skeptical.

The phony Ireland has its quirks. At noon, the lines are short in front of Groggin's Pub. I attribute this to its omission of Guinness stout, Harp or Murphy's from the menu. Nonetheless, Budweiser fans will enjoy the selection. In fact, the connoisseur who has been searching to combine his love for the King of Beers with his passion for fine hand-cut Irish glass may order an Anheuser-Busch logo cut in Waterford crystal ($40,000) at the Emerald Isle shop.

After a pint or so of Killarney Ale, Turk and I wander into the town square where the town's resident leprechaun, or "sprite," named Dooley O'Sullivan sings and jokes from inside his Killarney Sound Machine, a kind of gypsy-Celtic caravan. His thin mechanical arms move stiffly over an organ-control board while his grins twist and turn with every roll of his eyes. The kids love him. But when he tells me to kiss the Blarney Stone on the back of his caravan for good luck, he seems more creepy than cute.

At the end of his routine, we learn that the puppeteer is a guy named Ira from Los Angeles, killing time between acting jobs and perfecting his Irish accent. "I don't have any puppetry background," he explains. "It just seemed to work out."

Then, just when we begin to feel like we are starting to figure out this place, the park's public-relations department spies Turk and me hanging around the workers, taking pictures and asking questions. Two young ladies, a sort of courteous PR Gestapo, politely reprimand us for failing to check in at the gate for an "escort."

Not the least deflated, I am warmed by this attention to detail. But I wait patiently in line for the parking lot trolley to take us to our midsize

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