Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy Belated St. Patrick's Day

Since yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, it seems like a good time to wax sentimental about Ireland. We lived in Ireland for two years—near Limerick, for you Angela’s Ashes fans. I’m completely non-adventurous, so when we discussed moving overseas for my husband’s work (we were living in Boston at the time), I was scared to death. But I knew it would be a great opportunity for the family, so in the summer of 2002 we hopped aboard Aer Lingus and winged our way toward the Emerald Isle. We arrived on a cool, damp July day—Ireland doesn’t really have summer, just a lot of spring. We drove from Shannon Airport to the home we’d rented and discovered that—oops—my husband’s keys, including the keys to our new house, were at the airport security check in Boston.

But he sorted that problem out, we got settled in, and I discovered that driving on the left-hand side of the road wasn't nearly as scary as I’d feared. Even roundabouts weren’t too scary, and shifting gears with my left hand in our standard-transmission diesel minivan (really a micro-mini van) quickly became second nature. Roads in Ireland are a lot narrower than I was accustomed to. On back roads, you can’t believe that two cars could actually pass each other, and you haven’t lived until you’ve driven over Conor Pass in County Kerry where you have to stay out of the way of oncoming traffic without falling off a cliff (hint: if you suck in your stomach and hold your breath, it will make your whole car skinnier).

All road signs in the Republic of Ireland are in English and Irish. The Irish language is a core subject in school, like math, but only a small percentage of the population actually speaks it fluently, and only in some small areas on the west coast do people speak it as a primary language. My two younger children studied Irish in school and quickly came up to speed. My oldest daughter was exempt; she was old enough when entering the school system that it would have been hard for her to catch up with peers who had been studying Irish for years. That gave her a lot of free time during Irish class, which she didn’t mind at all (go figure). School was an adjustment for the kids, but they settled in and did fine—and I loved the school uniforms. The kids looked so classy in their jumpers (sweaters), ties and wool skirts or trousers. I even learned how to tie a necktie, though I've forgotten that skill now.

We discovered that some things are a lot more casual in Ireland. When I wanted to enroll my son in an after-school program I was waiting for official announcements or forms or what all and finally found out that it wasn’t like that. You want him in the program? Just say so and leave him there. In the U.S., you’d have to fill out forms, say which hours you wanted to leave him and fill out insurance forms and medical releases in triplicate or quadruplicate or quintuplicate with one copy for the teacher, one for the school district office, one for the school’s district’s lawyer, one for your lawyer . . . man alive, but American schools generate a lot of paper.

One thing I had to get used to was the absence of drinking fountains. In the United States, every museum, school, theater, or mall has a drinking fountain. In Ireland, not even the church had a drinking fountain, which blew my American mind. (But . . . but . . . it’s an LDS church!) Speaking of church, there is a wonderful branch in Limerick and when it came time to head back to the U.S., it was very difficult to say goodbye to these wonderful people who had been our support system.

Ireland is a spectacularly beautiful country. Since we knew we’d only be there for a couple of years, we did as much sightseeing as we could. We even kissed the Blarney Stone. Dingle, Connemara, Mizen Head in West Cork, the Giant's Causeway in Antrim . . . ah, so gorgeous.

One last thought--I think it’s ingenious how the Irish supermarkets make you stick a euro coin in the shopping cart in order to unchain it from the queue. Then when you return the shopping cart, you get your euro back. Voila! No carts all over the lot, since every shopper wants her euro back.

Erin go bragh!


Cheri J. Crane said...

Stephanie, I am so jealous!!! =) I would love to see Ireland for myself someday. Until then, I will live vicariously through your adventures. =D What a wonderful experience for your entire family! And I like the shopping cart idea---it makes a lot of sense.

Anna Buttimore said...

Stephanie, what a wonderful blog. England is so like Ireland in many ways - narrow roads, school uniform, having to pay £1 for your shopping trolley - and of course we don't have drinking fountains anywhere. I always believed it's because, when you're out and about and feeling thirsty, all you have to do is tip back your head and open your mouth. Our chapel doesn't have a drinking fountain either. In fact, the only place I know that does is my gym.

Anyway, it was fascinating hearing your impressions of Ireland. Sounds like you had a great time.

Michele Ashman Bell said...

I loved this blog. It totally carried me away. Thank you for sharing it.