I’m well into my 10th year of living in Ireland, and I often wonder about what changed during those years.
A long list builds itself in my mind on people, mentality, culture, politics, nature, life… Writing about everything would result into one very long blog post that will eventually bore everyone, so I will try to keep it rather short. After all, I’m here to be entertained myself.
During my first weeks in Dublin I was house hunting and it’s fair to say that I saw serious differences in what was up for grabs. Apartments with bright blue carpets, surely there to blind its tenants and with hallways like a maze. Now how should I find my way out here? I can’t even find my way out of a cereal box without Google Maps! In one of those apartments a bed was missing and according to the tenant about to move out, “you could always sleep on the couch permanently if you don’t want to replace the bed.” I saw him grinning at a desk in one of the corners of the bedroom. Why he didn’t break that one while he was taking down the bed, it’s not like I can sit at a desk when there’s no chair to go with it? Or was he grinning because he thought I could use that as a bed?
No dear chap, I will not move in here and make expenses you should cover. Mind you, this guy added that “if you want your clothes washed, you will need to go to a launderette because the washing machine is not working anymore also.” Gulp… what? No bed, no washing machine, €500 per month in rent yet “I would learn to love the place?!” Oh mister, how badly you know me! He thought that the location of his apartment would be a big attraction for a lot of people regardless the state of the property, living in D4, or Dublin 4, the well-off part of south Dublin. Ross O’Carroll Kelly surely can tell you a lot about D4 where the rich and (in)famous live.
But not me. Oh no. I ended up in a village on the Meath/Kildare/Dublin county border and I’m still here. I love the house, the area, its people and its community. Plus, I wanted to travel to work, yes… “travel”… meaning living far away from work and getting up at 5.30am, leaving the house around 6.30am to start at 8am… even if I had to get up at a very ungodly hour each day. Travelling time: over 1h to and 1h fro on the train, with some ten minutes in between to change trains in Connolly Station. The train was not the only means of getting to work because a shuttle bus waited for us at the station to take all train addicts to the office, and how I miss Christy and Martin, the bus drivers who were always cheery and ready for a chat. Travelling… yeah baby!
Before MS started causing havoc to my energy levels, I had absolutely no problem at all crossing the city north to south; after all I would only be gone from the house for about 12h. Once severe fatigue kicked in, I knew that both the fatigue and the time traveling to the office was just not right anymore and that something needed to be done to tackle it. Change big time because it was not Dublin’s fault for being so far from the office, it was mine.
But I’m sidetracking here. In the last few years it emerged that a lot of houses and apartments have been built sub-standard, simply because “hey, we have the money, this is the Celtic Tiger, let’s put some more, cheap and quick-fit houses up to stem the need of the country to buy, and then buy some more property!” In 2011 people were forced out of their apartments because of fire safety issues and they had to move to hotels until everyone involved finds out what to do with the place. I presume building houses by people with hardly any English was asking for problems? Shouldn’t builders be able to speak English so they could communicate with each other about what they’re building? (With the property bubble exploding and Ireland in 2004 allowing people from Poland and other new EU countries to work here, a very big influx of builders came west, looking for 10 times the money they’d be earning in their home countries. A lot of them however did not speak English at all, or when they did, they had little English to be able to make themselves understood*). In the end the apartments with the bright blue carpet and the one without a bed and washing machine might have been of the sturdier kind because they were built pre-Celtic-Tiger-years. Definite change in how to build sustainable housing.
Irish people? Have they changed in the last 10 years? Do always-happy-people need to change? It’s my belief they haven’t, or if they did I must’ve been on Jupiter when that change came about. When I arrived, the Celtic Tiger was roaring loud, so loud my ear drums ended up with permanent damage. Everyone was earning above what people had been earning before, leading to happy people, leading to a happy country. “Ah whatever about those eejits in Dáil Éireann, they’re throwing money at us left, right and centre so even if they are a bit thick, at least they’re not being greedy by keeping it all to themselves!”
Little did we know that 7 years later the truth would be revealed about how the government had been greedy, very, very greedy indeed. The Tiger died a long, slow and very painful death but still Irish people seem to keep their happy character and outlook on life. We’re now trying to save money wherever we can and we’re more thoughtful before spending but Irish eyes keep smiling. Of course we’re all nagging about what happened in the last 5 years on a financial level: an ECB/IMF bailout, recession and whatnot but we’re ever so slowly climbing out of that dark tunnel. We’ll never have those glory days again but at least we have the memories of how well it all went. So no, I cannot say that Irish people have changed much.
The only difference – but not one that I have personally encountered – is that apparently some Irish people have developed some tiny racist tendencies. I am afraid of using the word ‘racist’ because they are not true racists like white supremacy folk are but a few of my friends have been racially abused and said that they never experienced this from Irish people before. Perhaps something was done unintentionally to provoke the Gaelic tribesmen, or it was during a drunken night out, but I find it hard entertaining the idea that Irish people are real racists. In all my time here I’ve not once had an Irish person say something racially wrong to me and what little else I’ve heard from others was hearsay. So nah… Irish people have not changed much, thank the lord for that!
Culture-wise I am living in heaven. Ireland is a country that adores its authors and celebrates them by elevating the knowledge of its inhabitants on their national treasures. Ireland has always been known for opening its doors to a worldwide public and it’s doing so still. New museums have opened, others revamped and improved, and theatre companies are celebrating Irish authors and playing to large crowds of people. We also know at least 3 Irish music bands and old and new artists keep finding their way to perform here. Pubs continue having their trad sessions and yours truly has tried out a bit of Irish dancing herself back in the days where my feet were able to be somewhat rhythmic. A female Michael Flatley I will never be, that’s for sure! And film stars? Need I say anything more about Irish actors? No? Good, at least you’ve been going to the cinema a lot so, something Irish people excel in. Culturally Ireland is one big island of arts, of performing, of books and of museums and I see them celebrating its vibrant culture in 100 years from now also.
In fact, Ireland is an open air museum. Not the world’s largest open air asylum like George Bernard Shaw once said but Ireland is one big place of artifacts, of natural and archaeological finds that are incrusted in hills, mountains, farmland and coastlines from Malin Head to Malin Head. Wherever you are in Ireland, it’s as if history’s voice whispers in your ears, because history is just everywhere. If street corners could speak, they’d tell you about 800 years of English domination and thankfully, of more modern happy days. So if you are a history buff, a nature freak and a book lover, then Ireland is the place for you! And no, that hasn’t changed either!
It’s my belief however that Ireland could improve on a few things, like certain rights for women on abortion, or better control on alcohol intake because Irish people seem to be tied up to a bottle by an invisible umbilical cord. Woe the person who wants to open a debate on alcohol abuse!
I stopped seeing Ireland in a romantic view, simply because not everything is always 100% good or bad and at the end of the day, you need to stay realistic about life in Ireland. Some people have these rose-tinted glasses about Ireland, where everything is green, thinking that Irish people are gods and where life is just slowly moving forward. No such thing… I have days where I could curse at politicians but other days I am more even-tempered and willing to just sit back and relax about life. Some days I could curse the rain and others I am quite philosophical about it, saying that “Ah sure, the rain is what makes Ireland so beautiful.”
In hindsight, the only thing that really changed in those 10 years is me. I found my peace here. Or to use words from Riverdance: “My heart came home.”
* see: http://www.nccri.ie/pdf/06_Polish_Report.pdf (page 44)
© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2013. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.