Dear Mrs. Heckler,

So you were sworn in yesterday as our ambassador to Ireland. We wish you well, and we hope you understand that this is by no means a demotion. Ireland may look like a snap: The Irish do speak an approximation of our language, after all, and you don't have to wear peculiar robes or anything. But make no mistake. Ireland is hard. Ireland is harder than the Soviet Union.

Hard! When you get done in Ireland, you will be ready for Mars.

The president must think a lot of you to send you out there. Maybe you felt he was sweeping you under the rug. Uh-uh. You have got it all wrong, Margaret. This is any American's chance for greatness, and he is giving it to you.

You thought that the worst problem you would have was the tragic division between Catholics and Protestants? That's only the beginning.

First of all, there is the division between Irish Americans and Irish Irish. The Irish who left the island are not the same as the ones who stayed, not at all. They do not get along.

It has become an election-year ritual for our presidents to discover Irish relatives in Ireland. It's something like putting on an Indian war bonnet. Well, did you ever notice that when the president finally does go to Ireland and finally does meet those relatives, they have nothing whatever to say to each other? Your Kennedys, Nixons, Reagans or whatever just back out of that picturesque hovel as fast as they can, grinning with embarrassment.

That's one division. Another has to do with tribes. Many Americans assume the Irish are Anglo-Saxons. Now it is true, there are a lot of redheaded, freckled Irish with skin as white as typewriter paper, and these are Anglo-Saxons. But there are other Irish with black, black hair, olive skin and dark brown eyes.

These are Celts. They were not left behind by the Spanish Armada. They are an ancient people. Their ancestors were Indo-Europeans from Armenia, and they do not take kindly to being confused with northern barbarians. Whatever you do, don't call them WASPs.

Then there is the division between city and country. Dublin is quite a civilized place (until you order a "brandy and cream" at the leading hotel, and it turns out to be brandy with cream soda). The countryside lives in another century, and you must not turn a hair when you see people riding along in donkey carts. Nor should you stand blithely in the middle of the prehistoric stone circles that abound in fields everywhere and take snapshots. Those things are real. The Celts think so, anyway, and if you don't feel the magic in them just keep your mouth shut.

Do not talk lightly about bogs until you have seen one. It is possible to walk to the very top of a rather steep hill seeking dry ground -- and find yourself still slushing and squishing up to your ankles. Do not get into discussions about whiskys, either. There are lots of them, and each has its devotees, and if someone tries to get you to sample a lovely homemade clear-as-water liquid called poteen, go home immediately.

You will find the Irish a handsome people, with great cheekbones and fine narrow noses and bright eyes, lively eyes that flirt and mock, but you must remember that they know nothing about sex. As the great "Dev," former prime minister Eamon De Valera, once said during a visit to Paris, "Sex in Ireland is in its infancy."

No need to be intimidated by all this. The Irish have a charming sense of humor. Of course, as with anything, there are limits.

Whatever you do, dear lady, don't say "begorra" at any time that you are in Ireland, even in confidence. Do not so much as mutter it to yourself, or the spirits of the stone circles will spy on your dreams.