I’m back, almost a month now. And vivid Ireland is starting to fade. I’m having to rely on my photos and notes more. Which makes me sad, but no one said I can’t go back, right?
Some have asked about the trip. Did Ireland meet my expectations? Was it like I had pictured? What surprised me? And I figured the best way to answer would be to blog-it-out for you here.
So here goes, my trip.
The accents weren’t nearly as thick as I thought they’d be and maybe it’s from listening to a lot of RTE radio, but it sounded normal to me. Through literature and other media, I had this idea that the Joe O’Shmoe of Ireland would have a thick brogue and I’d have to be listening extra carefully to catch every word. But I didn’t. At least down in Co. Cork west, where we spent most of our time, it was hardly noticeable. Present, but not so obvious.
And, with the exception of a small group of tourists (whom I think were using it on purpose), I didn’t hear anything in Gailege (Gaelic, Irish). I had one young guy in Glengarriff, greet me with Dia Duit (Good Day/Hello– literally means God be with you). And I was ready, too. I’d practiced my reply ‘Dia is muire duit’ (Good day to you– literally means God and Mary with you).
What I did hear? Thanks a million! It sounded more like tanks a million (they really do omit that pesky ‘th’ sound), but it was one of the phrases I didn’t expect to hear there, but I did, a lot. They have their trends of overused exclamations just like we do. Paid for your bill? Thanks a million. Visited a landmark? Thanks a million. Bought a toothbrush? Thanks a million. As far as overused phrases go, I don’t mind this one. Hey, you are super welcome and I’ll be glad to buy another toothbrush from you.
The other term I heard a lot was “lovely”. And frankly, I didn’t mind that either. Maybe it’s because it’s not overused here yet. Lovely fires. Lovely food. Lovely people. Lovely.
Here, we get slight marks of disappointment. I was all ready for some Irish food. Ready to pass on the black sausage. Eager for some stew. Corned beef? Colcannon? But no. In general, there’d only be one traditional Irish food item on a menu. The most popular choices, most advertised, were deemed “Bar Food” which is your standard fried/battered/not as healthy option. But there was also a lot of more modern cuisine. Things you’d find in a higher end restaurant. We aren’t the only ones addicted to cable television reality shows about cooking. The food overall was okay to really good. They did add things like potatoes (often boiled first, then fried to be crispy on the outside) and a cabbage slaw to a lot of their dishes, so I guess that gets a mark for traditional. I did manage to get a divine bowl of Irish Stew, and I had some potato/leek soup. And our B&B host offered a full Irish breakfast or her toast and eggs breakfast (scrambled eggs on top of toast with a side of rashers (think Canadian bacon), sausage, tomato, mushroom, or smoked salmon). All-in-all we ate quite well. The pubs we tended to eat in (only one or two places we ate would not have qualified as pubs) had a similar set up. Walk in, take your seat (we didn’t get the hang of this in time– you just seat yourself, we stood around like imbeciles adding the flashing arrow over heads that indicated we really were tourists), and they offer you a menu. You order, eat, and in the end you go up and pay your bill. The places tended to look a little worn around the edges, but isn’t that what you’d expect in a pub? And whether it’s because we were out on weeknights or maybe it was too early in the evening- but we were often one of two parties in a place at a time. We were also early seasonally, too, and that may have been a large part of it. Some stores were just opening that week after a winter lull.
In general, people are people no matter where you go. But I was surprised by the lack of curiosity about these two strangers in town. But maybe they just figured we were the harbingers of the tourist season about to start. Like a pair of geese that flies back north a little too soon. Some people asked about us, but most kept to themselves. We tried to hang out a little longer in the evenings to try and talk with people, but it didn’t work that well. Part of that is me. I am shy by nature and it’s hard for me to just walk up to people and start asking questions. My husband helped push me on that. I say helped, but he probably felt like Sisyphus. I’d read or heard (can’t remember) an Irish man saying to someone “we’re not all eidly-deidly’” and that’s what it came down to for me. People in Ireland aren’t a bunch of caricatures, there are extroverts and introverts and people having bad days and codependent folks and all the rest. I think part of my surprise comes from having written a book where I feel like I’ve lived there already and here no one knows me. And it wasn’t me that lived there, but the characters in my book. Anyhow. There was a little disconnect and I think it was largely due to not running into my characters there.
This was a shocker. I could swear I’d read announcements about live music in the pubs during the week of St. Patrick’s Day, but with the exception of the last night- we didn’t hear any. And when we did…. exaggerated shock here… it was country. Not Irish country. American, early 70′s country. Kenny Rogers. When we walked into the pub and sat down, I smiled. They’d get to the traditional stuff soon I was sure. Two pieces were requested but other than that- old country. I leaned over to my husband, ‘they’re not doing this for us, right?’ I talked to a friend of mine and she said, oh no. Country is definitely a thing. My main character was seriously disappointed. We did hear some in Dublin, but then, we were there on St. Patrick’s day.
I could marry the Irish landscape, especially of the Beara Peninsula. Bantry Bay, the Healy Pass, and my beloved Glengarriff Nature Reserve where I finally got to walk with my own feet where my characters had walked many, many times. If you love water and mountains and trees that stretch towards the heavens… it doesn’t get much better than the Beara Peninsula. And the oak trees there are amazing, all twisty and scraggly. Gorgeous. The weather? As expected. Chilly. Damp. Not a whole lot to warm a person up. But I was coming from Indiana, so it didn’t bother me that much. But it was downright frigid for those who live there. And… I hear after I left, in the last month, it’s been very, very cold for them.
I was able to get most of my questions answered, and for those that didn’t get answered- I now have contacts that live there who are willing to help me figure stuff out. And that is really awesome. I did decide, after coming back, that I really do need to fictionalize the village where my story is set. I like the idea of a real place with a real name, but the problem is- anything bad in the story (antagonist, sad parts of the story) could give a bad impression of one of the places there and I don’t want that. The other part of it is, the more I talked to people, the more I realized they identified themselves more regionally. Like the whole of the Beara was their identity– and in order to include some of the great things from different parts of the Beara Peninsula, I need to have a fictional place that could incorporate them. And, it gives me a little more flexibility on the writing side. I’ve come up with a name, but will be keeping it to myself. It’s kind of like picking a baby name.
That’s it for now. I’m including a map below (thank you Google maps) that shows the area I’m writing about.
Do you have questions? Want to know more about something? Ask away.