Three weeks ago I arrived back to Ireland after living in Hong Kong for a year. Hong Kong is a wonderful and unique city with an abundance of contrasting landscapes to take in. One minute you’re on a street bombarded with people, surrounded by buildings so dizzyingly tall that if you tried to look up and see the top, you’d have to crank your neck so far back you’d fall backwards. You can be surrounded by magnitudes of wealth and grandeur within all the designer shops, malls and snazzy apartment towers, then turn the corner to an old side street more akin to a traditional Hong Kong, accommodating stalls filled with fish, meat, dried food and all sorts. HK boasts a magnificent harbour bustling with activity and it’s ever only a train, bus or ferry ride away to a beautiful beach or hike in the jungle like surroundings. It’s a charming country that I’m so happy I got to spend time in and meet some wonderful people. But since I’ve come back I’ve been doing a bit of a Dorothy with the ‘there’s no place like home’ craic. Here’s some observations I’ve made since I’ve returned to the Emerald Isle.
Tá sé an-fuar:
(Translation: It is very cold)
Sweet jaysus, the cold! To be fair, it isn’t that cold for an Irish winter but coming from a tropical climate where the winter consists of a ‘chilly’ 19 degrees down to a brisk 5 takes a bit of getting used to. Not that I came prepared, I arrived in Dublin Airport with my only shelter from the elements being an oversized denim jacket, the kind of thing mammies would scorn you for because “there’s not a bit of warmth in that’. I’m slowly adjusting back to the climate, I say while wearing 2 tops, a housecoat, scarf and hat indoors. The acclimatisation also leads to having this conversation a lot:
Me: ‘It’s freeeeeeeeezing’
Family member: ‘It’s not’
Me: ‘Is the heating on?’
Family member: ‘No, it’s not that cold’
Me: ‘It is.’
Family Member: ‘It’s not’
The last two lines are repeated x 20 and are usually followed by ‘well you better get used to it.”
The craic really is 90:
When I was away I would often find myself comparing nights out to at home and landing at the conclusion of “it’s just not the same”. Not very specific, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it. The first night out I had, upon my return, I witnessed in real time the difference. The day after Stephens Day I met up with my buddy for a few casual catch up pints in Cork city, when we got to the second bar people were dancing, swinging around, stomping and strutting, with their pints swaying from side to side yet not a drop of drink was lost. No one seemed to be worried about what they looked like or who was looking at them, everyone was more concerned with flinging their limbs about, head banging, general tom foolery and just plain messin’. It was fantastic. Now it may have been the Christmas spirit but this energy is lot more common than other countries I’ve visited. The table service system in bars and pubs abroad makes everything a lot more reserved and civilised. There’s less opportunity to be galavanting about the place talking shite to strangers. When you’re confined to the one table it’s much harder to find fun strangers to bring back to your mates, introducing them as “this is my new friend, they’re great craic” and then proceed to continue doing this throughout the night until you obliterate them completely from your memory the following day once ‘The Fear’ hits.
Before the bar closed that night they played some song (I actually think it was Maniac 2000) and everyone, red faced and manic went so mad I thought the pub was going to lift off the ground with force equivalent to the engines powering Apollo 11.
“Ah sure, it’ll be grand’:
There is a zen proverb, similar to an old Buddhist proverb that states “If the problem has a solution, worrying is pointless, in the end the problem will be solved. If the problem has no solution, there is no reason to worry, because it can’t be solved.” Not to make things too complicated us Irish have a similar philosophy in fewer words: “Ah sure, it’ll be grand.” Slightly cryptic to foreigners at first, it may seem vague and unclear but it is an optimistic approach that everything will be okay. This approach can be and is applied to most situations.
A blog on the MatadorNetwork.com called “Please Don’t Come to Ireland until You’ve Understood these 5 Things” captures the philosophy perfectly (link at bottom):
‘Ah sure, it’ll be grand‘ is a common saying in Ireland that exemplifies the pragmatic optimism of the Irish, or the ‘Jamaicans of the North Atlantic‘ if you will: the road ahead may be rocky but regardless, we’ll deal with it. The ambiguous, laid-back attitude of ‘Ah sure, it’ll be grand‘ can be quite infuriating if you happen to come from a place where decisiveness and punctuality is valued. This attitude towards life, rules, and regulations is one of the main things that differentiates Irish people from British, and other Northern European nationalities. It’s also the reason why the number of prostate cancer deaths is a lot higher here.”
The majestic landscape:
Like most Irish folks abroad I found myself (particularly after a few pints) telling tales of a picturesque landscape with green fields billowing as far as the eye could see. The elongated green meeting a blue sky filled with bountiful clouds with air crisp and fresh. I rejoiced when I came back and saw the postcard image I have in my head is in even better in real life. Obviously the cities are built up and boast tall buildings but they are not at all claustrophobic and the architecture of an Ireland past remains amongst the newer buildings. A train, bus or car ride will get you out to a place worthy of a tourism board advertisement, or the shooting location of a Star Wars film. The beauty is inspiring and the magical quality to the whole experience is glorious.
The bread, butter and cheese:
Anyone who has been to Ireland or any Irish person that’s been off out foreign knows there’s no beating Irish brown bread, a bit of Kerrygold and a good slap of cheddar cheese. It’s superior to any else I’ve tasted all over the world and my waistline is suffering because of it, but it’s totally worth it.
The food and drink in general:
I’ve been spoilt for choice when it comes to craft beers. Even all of the smaller shops have upped their beer game in the past year and host a fine selection of yummy local brews to indulge in. Every supermarket I’ve been to now has an aisle or two solely dedicated to affordable healthy foods. They have gluten free stuff galore due to the fact Ireland has a very high population of people with coeliac disease/ gluten intolerances. The reason for so many coeliacs here is a consequence of our ancestor’s diet restrictions and the famine. There’s also a load of veggie and vegan foods available so we’re not just stuck eating chips. Not that that’s a bad thing, the chips here are awesome too.
Everyone has an opinion:
On just about everything. It’s a wonderful thing to openly have casual wee debates with friends, strangers in smoking rooms or the random old men and women that chat to you at the bus stop and share opinions freely. It doesn’t erupt into a shouting match, rather just a swapping of ones thoughts. If one party disagrees with the other or the conversation is getting a bit too much, a handy out is practising the philosophy of “ah sure, it’ll be grand” and on we go to the next thing.
Ireland’s history is very present in modern day Ireland and is commemorated everywhere about the country with art, monuments and informative posters. I went walking with my family in West Cork over Christmas and we walked along the Butter Road walk which is an old road built in the 18th century when Cork became the largest centre for butter trade in Ireland. The road was built to bring butter from the rural parts of Cork up to the city. The road isn’t what would be considered a road nowadays but it’s a lovely walk over streams and hills. Along our travels we met some farmers who were out working and stopped to have a chat. Jaysus, it was like a history lesson, but a good one at that. One man knew the names of everyone in the area who were apart of the rising, their stories, about their lives, practically what they ate for breakfast. Everything here oozes the country’s history and it’s great to have interesting characters as such, who are happy to share the stories at the drop of a hat. I’m eager to refresh my knowledge of the stories of people past and the wonderful theatre and literature born from it.
As stereotypical as the Ireland I’ve spieled about here sounds, it’s also very modern in that it’s a melting pot for different nationalities and the cities are a hipster’s dream. The cities are the European home of some of the worlds major corporations like Google, Facebook, Apple etc. I realise I sound like someone who was away for 40 years on the coffin ships and has returned to a changed Ireland but it’s just great to be back.
I don’t have on green goggles completely, the housing crisis is a glaring issue, to the point where I’m evaluating how long can I live out this drifter life I’ve carved for myself over the past three weeks, wandering between family and friends places. I am also fairy skeptical about our government as a whole. Plus, the job situation in the arts is far from ample but with fingers crossed and the affirmation of “ah sure, it’ll be grand” I have hope yet.
(for now anyway)
Author: Shaunna Lee Lynch
About: I am an Irish writer, performer, avid day dreamer, generally enthusiastic, hip hop enthusiast.
Follow: @ViragoCarnival on Twitter
Here is the link to blog I quoted above, check it out: http://matadornetwork.com/life/american-expats-bill-oreilly-please-dont-come-ireland-youve-understood-5-things/ written by Klemins Casey.