The Emerald Isle Was Not Easy
I wish I could say that I saw all the coasts of Ireland, but I only saw two. In between I saw rainbows and fields of rapeseed, and it was beautiful. The week-long trip went smoothly, but for some reason the journey was not easy.
First thing upon arrival: learn to drive on the opposite side of the road. Shift changer in the left hand, roundabouts, tight roads, a knack for napping behind the wheel: all primary challenges that needed to be overcome. I had to drive the 40 minutes to the county of Kildare, home to the small town of Kilcock. No Dublin, no hotel. I was living with an Irish family for a week and feeling pretty nervous. I wondered if I would understand the accents or the sense of humor. I wondered if I would find the country too worn from years of religious conflict.
Inside the family house were many rooms. A family of two parents and six children grew up there. The parents have since separated, a right given to couples as of 1996. Times must have been tight in the days before. I ask the youngest of the six whether he remembers what it was like. His dad worked three jobs to support his growing family and so there were challenges. This is a sensitive issue and I redirect our attention to Steven, the dog. Steven will forever be the Collie that peers in the window with wonder.
Over the span of a few days I meet the whole family. Mom, dad, oldest brother, oldest sister, second-oldest brother, middle brother, and sister of the youngest boy. Oldest brother is single and lives in Dublin. Oldest sister has three children. Second-oldest brother has three children. Middle brother has one girl with another on the way. And so it goes and may forever continue.
The youngest boy is the first of his family to move far away from home to another country. He moved to Canada with hopes of more job opportunities. As he said to me on the phone, “If I stayed here, I’d be cutting sticks for money. That’s what I could be doing.”
Through the lilting humor and those dang Irish-eyes-that-are-always-smiling is the reality that pangs the modern, young Irishman/woman: jobs, housing, politics and relationships. This is Ireland — real talks.
Although Ireland is on the slow upswing of an economic tumble in 2008, time seems to stand still. This young man’s family did alright for themselves when the economy was good (during the Celtic Tiger years of 1995-2008), but have been on cruise control ever since. They all are slowly paying off their mortgages and bank loans that were once distributed like free samples of shampoo (at half-a-million euro per packet and then recalled).
Even more recently the government has issued a notice of a water tax. This tax aims to be relative per usage so the more you use, the more you pay. Even though it seems to make sense in numbers, the reality is that those who will need more water (the large families) have less money (two working adults that support so many heads to clean). It is a tax to be added to the other expenses, and it joins the ranks with other obscure utilities like the T.V. tax (an additional cost per household television). It causes concern for working families who already have increasing costs with little rise in employment opportunities.
We take a trip to Galway, a small city on the west coast. There we ride the ferris wheel, we enjoy fish and chips and pints of Guinness. We venture to the aquarium and to the gift shop in search of Claddagh rings.
At the sho, the owner tells us of the rough winter and how the consistent rain caused mass flooding. Although her shop is a couple hundred feet from the shore, she told us that the water level was above the counter after the heavy rains. Hundreds of euros in damages from the worst flooding she had seen in years. She maintained her good humor, but her smile was humbled by the stress it must have caused.
We returned to Kilcock, Kildare, to finish the rest of our vacation. I couldn’t help but wonder how everything we had experienced was a typical week in the life of this average Irish family. Even as a visitor, the flight in was smooth, the check-ins were orderly, but by no way did I feel like hearing those stories was easy.
Toronto born and based, Brit Weaver is an avid leisurely cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog, TheBubblesAreDead.wordpress.com.