Archives for posts with tag: Ireland

In the northwest corner of the Republic of Ireland, bordering Northern Ireland, sits the ludicrously beautiful county of Donegal. It has a long, particularly curly coastline and consequently some amazing beaches. A lot of them.

Some of these beaches are easily accessible from the main road, and easy to find, especially now the touristic powers that be have strengthened the signage and naming as part of the Wild Atlantic Way.

When I first travelled to Donegal, it was on a road trip with my brother. Somewhere in the county on a coastal road I drove past what looked like an interesting track down to what I thought might be the sea, though I couldn’t see it. We passed a couple of houses and then stopped the car before an unused sports field. The field was full of flowers and was so desolate that sheep were asleep on it and didn’t see us coming. Through the field was a saddle that bore onto the most deserted and prettiest beach I thought I’d ever been on.

I duly locked the place away in my head and saved it for a another time. That other time was a couple of years later when I was on a break with my good lady. I wanted to revisit the route the brothers had taken and propose on the beach.

Couldn’t find the damn thing. Had to revert to a plan B 3 hours’ drive away.

A couple of weeks ago, we were both back up there for a few days, the first time in 15 or 20 years. The roads had changed a bit, the place a little more commercialised. Still couldn’t find the damn thing. You see, there are a lot of coast roads and a lot of beaches, including the mystery Donegal beach.

I reckon I’ve narrowed it down though :-).

There’s more to come on this saga, I think, has to be…

I always thought that SAD syndrome – where you’re down in winter and up in summer – was related to dark, short days in the beginning and the end of the year for us northern hemisphere folk.

I think for me it’s more a nagging, low-level frustration than sadness. As I write this we’re emerging from my ninth consecutive winter in the west of Ireland. It’s been a very damp, windy, mild winter. This morning – April – it snowed. Anyone who knows about global warming will tell you that it doesn’t necessarily manifest in simply a warmer climate. It also increases the extremes of weather.

It rains a lot in the west of Ireland. While we’ve had our share of storms this last winter, you might be surprised to know that in terms of annual rainfall the figure here is half of the Seattle figure. We tend to get what the locals call ‘soft’ rain; drizzly, filmy, misty rain, falling out of predominantly light grey skies. In fact, it probably rains at some point during the day – perhaps some days a couple of drops, other days perhaps a dozen quick showers – 300 days of the year.

It never absolutely clatters down and then clears up, like in Florida during certain seasons. Precipitation here is an almost constant, gentle friend, with a slight smirk on its face. The kind of smirk you want to wipe away.

I may, dear reader, have detected one of those almost imperceptible changes in language that form part of its relentless movement. It’s a bit like being able to break down a movie into the 24 stills per second and grasping one of the stills as a discrete moment in time. Or, I might not have.

When I first moved to the Emerald Isle, back in the late 1990’s, greetings were a bit like they were in the US. People would say hello by asking you how you are without ever expecting a response. Where Americans say ‘what’s up?’, Irish might say ‘How are things?’ Contrast this with the German equivalent ‘Was gibt’s?’ – what’s up? – and its answer ‘Nichts Besonderes’ – nothing special – where our Teutonic friends are generally expecting a response and perhaps an ‘Und dir/ihnen? – and you?

The interesting thing about living in Dublin was that you would often hear a compound rhetorical question, where someone quite genuinely, and without any hint of irony, might say,’Morning, how are you, how are things, are you well?’ The first time this happened to me I had to ask which question they wanted answering first. Even then folk would look at you funny if you said ‘I’m pretty good thanks, and how are you?’

Over the last six months I’ve noticed kids actually answering the greeting-question, which I’ve never observed before, hence my opening paragraph which you’re probably thinking I might have slightly oversold. So now, when you greet friends of your kids with a ‘Howya?’ you tend to hear ‘fine’, ‘fine, thanks’, ‘I’m good’. I’m not saying I’m disinterested in their general wellbeing, rather that I’m not ready for them to provide an answer to what is a ‘hello’. This takes me back to my days of learning German when someone would ask ‘wie geht’s? – how’s it going? – and I would answer ‘ja’, or yes. Not what they were expecting.

So there you have it, the Irish greeting is now not a greeting, it’s a question, and one that should be answered.

You heard it here first. And probably last.

I can’t explain it either, but it’s fascinating.

Why is St Patrick’s Day celebrated in such style and with such fervour in so many places around the world? Ireland boasts a diaspora of 70 million people, but that can’t be anywhere near the largest. Only the Chinese New Year comes close, and we’re talking about a national powerhouse of 1.4bn souls, fully 350 times Ireland’s population.

Paddy’s Day – and that’s not a pejorative term by the way, not is it ever St Patty’s Day, my American friends – doesn’t even occur on the weekend most of the time, yet still hundreds of thousands of Americans take a holiday to celebrate it and their Irish ancestry.

Ireland – and I’m talking about the Republic here; I’m mildly embarrassed to admit I don’t know much about Northern Ireland, except that it has great tourism advertising – seems to have cultivated the art of charming the pants off you while taking ever so small liberties. For example:

– a corporate tax rate that is the envy of most countries except the ‘offshore’ ones and the bane of the EU’s life

– peaceful nation status with a peace-keeping force, for the best of both worlds

– a genuinely warm welcome unless you’re English (an 800-year reversal of fortunes, let’s not go there) and then if you are it’s a genuinely warm welcome until they know you better

– the high wire act of leveraging a world renowned stout without getting bogged down by unhelpful links to alcohol and its abuse

– genuinely friendly and talkative while also using swear words like definite articles

– cutting edge in areas of business like IT, and antediluvian in its tolerance and memory of shady business and political practices

– great on innovation and entrepreneurship, less so on infrastructure and healthcare

– lovely scenery, without ever being out-of-this-world lovely as boasted by other countries 

For all these reasons Ireland is the most transportable of brands and punches way above its weight in cultural and touristic terms. How this translates into the global transplanting of Paddy’s Day once a year – beats me. I do love living here though…