Archives for posts with tag: Ireland

Dublin is booming at the moment. Over the last 20 years or so that I’ve lived in Ireland, I’ve noticed a genuine boom-bust flow to the economy here, which makes it very difficult to plan for the long term, as any government will tell you.

In the mid-to-late 90’s the tech industry in Ireland exploded. By the end of 2001, and the introduction of the Euro at the beginning of 2o02, the dot com bubble had burst and the country was in recession. By the mid-noughties, it was flying again. Then came the tumultuous global meltdown of September 2008 and we were all sent to the brink, our pension funds destroyed. Construction, which had formed 25% of GDP, stopped overnight.

Dublin rebounded more quickly than the provinces, and now it’s booming again. I was waiting for a meeting to start on the 3rd floor of an office on the north quays recently, overlooking the river Liffey and the south side. Out of this narrow window I could see 9 cranes. 9 cranes within my view is a sure indication of a booming city economy.

I wish some of this productivity and boomingness was a bit more equally divided across the country, which is not doing anywhere near as well as the capital. Dublin is full. It’s roads are full, its hotels are full, it’s hard to get around. Not so in the provinces. The prosperity, tech hubs and inward investments are starting to flow to the regions, slowly but surely.

But, for now, Dublin is top dog. It’s booming, at least until the next bust…

If you’re reading this post pretty much as soon as it’s been published, then I send you a heartfelt and well timed Happy New Year. If you’ve come to it later, by a different route, don’t click away just yet.

I have an observation to make. In England we tend to wish people Happy Christmas slightly before Christmas, and on Christmas Day, and not usually after. We also say Happy New Year on the stroke of midnight going into the first of January, and for a week or two afterwards. Never before.

In Ireland, you can be wished a Happy New Year before the new year starts.

In some quarters this would be thought of as slightly odd, unlucky even. ‘I haven’t got there yet, but thanks, I think.’

The Irish for December is Nollaig, which also means Christmas, so you’ll receive Christmas greetings from the first of the month, which is nice. Furthermore, in the Emerald Isle it’s not considered out of the ordinary to wish folk Happy Christmas slightly after the big day, or Happy New Year slightly before the other big day.

I consider it all part of the Irish way of friendliness, chattiness and welcomingness.

Did you know that Dublin has the only European capital city airport without a rail link? Well, apparently it is, and this presents problems for the traveller, as you might imagine.

When I’m flying back into Ireland, I have two choices to get home in the west of Ireland. Choice 1 is to take the coach from the airport to Galway in the west, and then make my way into the countryside. I can’t do this if the coach arrives at an unsociable hour; the inter-town services are done for the day, or should I say for the night.

Choice 2 is to take a bus, run by Dublin Bus, from the airport to the 2 main train termini, Connolly which services the north, and Heuston which serves the South, South West, West and North West.

On this occasion I had opted for the rickety 747 bus service in the form of choice 2. It was my first time taking this option, since I always preferred option 1, but the timings didn’t suit. ‘Besides,’ her Ladyship said, ‘it’s a good service.’ Very good then.

Imagine my good fortune, then, as I trotted out of Dublin airport to see a 747 waiting for me. 2 minutes later we were off. The route from the airport to the city centre is about 4 miles, and another 1 or 2 miles to the west of the city for Pearse Station. As I discovered, the route is pretty circuitous. Firstly it loops around the airport’s vast one-way system to pick up people from Terminal 2 before giving all Terminal 1 travellers a sense of deja vu as we take the same route out of the airport for the second time.

The service then takes a somewhat ’round the houses’ approach into Dublin, which, during the early evening rush hour took 45 minutes. We stopped on the mighty O’Connell Street and some people got off, along with, rather controversially, the driver, who announced that this stop was a driver shift change and the next driver would be along in 2 minutes.

20 minutes later, which is a lengthy 2 minutes even by Irish standards, we were still waiting. What made this rather illuminating was that the departing driver couldn’t leave his shift until the relieving driver turned up and the remaining travellers on the bus could hear the two-way ‘walktie talkie’ conversations between the driver and the dispatcher. The new driver was somewhere near, but not answering the phone, by all accounts. Moments later the relief driver turned up, having been waiting at the wrong stop on the street…

Somewhat wisely and ultra-conservatively I had allowed 120 minutes for us to travel the 6 miles between the airport and train station for the last train west of the day. The 6-mile journey took 85 minutes. It then took me 120 more minutes to go 120 miles to my home town.

And we wonder why public transport is always both broke and broken.

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…