March 2009 Reflection

I catch myself doing it more frequently now. It started off subtly, merely a change in intonation when asking questions, saying “hiya” when greeting people, and getting people’s attention by saying “sorry.” Now, I catch myself saying “your man,” “thanks very much,” and “brilliant” without a second thought. Irish-isms are seeping into my vocabulary. I even use “footpath,” “proper,” “grand,” and throw in an “I’d say” or “I figure” when making a statement. “Like” also has begun appearing at the end of my sentences, not as a pause between thoughts. I noticed that the changes in my vocabulary became most pronounced after participating in a Suas training weekend in Maynooth, where I was immersed in a group of 100 Irish students for three days. By the end, I even called a car trunk a “boot.” It has gotten to the point where two Americans who I hadn’t met before asked some of my friends if I was Irish because I spoke with an “accent.” It’s not that I am intentionally changing my speaking habits; rather, I suppose (there it is again!) that it is a natural result of living in a place for an extended period of time.

I made it one of my goals this year to learn about and better understand Ireland and Irish culture. I’ve found “loads of” ways in which I am gaining a better understanding of what makes Irish people tick. I’ve done this through many trips to the pub with my Irish classmates, going on runs with my friend Claire from Cork, getting involved in extracurricular activities, and participating in many tours and historical visits around the island. Subsequently, my increased knowledge of the Emerald Isle is beginning to change me. I’m becoming more Irish in many ways, including in my speaking patterns, daily schedule, eating habits, knowledge of popular culture, charity work, understanding of Irish politics, travel, and ability to act as a cultural ambassador.

Along with vocabulary, my method of storytelling has changed as well. Irish people, perhaps as a result of their oral tradition, are not as straightforward in speech as Americans, frequently taking the indirect route in sharing information. I have begun throwing in extra words into sentences as well, a trait less than desirable for a naval officer. For instance, instead of simply saying, “It’s cold outside,” I find myself saying, “It’s cold enough out there for ya, isn’t it?” The content of my stories has changed as well. Irish people often tell stories within stories, and talented storytellers always bring their “diversion” right back to where they left off in the main story. One of my lecturers, a quintessential Irishman from County Clare, is a master storyteller and I could listen to him for hours (Full disclosure: he’s so good that I am sitting in on two of his classes). I’ve noticed myself doing the same, taking much longer to complete a story and sharing bits of information that add something extra to the tale at hand.

Along with the Irish infusion into my vocabulary and speaking habits, I am becoming more Irish by learning Irish, or “Gaelic” for the American audience. Thanks to my weekly Irish class, I can now make very, very small talk with the native Irish. I can greet people with “Dia Guit,” ask how people are doing in all three major dialects, and tell people I live in Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin in Irish). I can also count to 100 (a great party trick) and also state my phone number in Irish in case I get hit on in the Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking areas of Ireland. I’m also getting to the point where I can actually read and pronounce Irish public signs, a necessary trait when driving around the Dingle Peninsula. Though Irish linguistic skills may be of little use outside of the island, the coolest part about learning Irish is the reaction of my Irish friends when I try to speak it—they really appreciate the interest I demonstrate in their country. Learning Irish also allows for a new level of appreciation of Irish culture through an understanding of the roots of the distinctive accent and the impetus behind certain Irish phrases. Plus, it’s always good craic!

My daily schedule has also become significantly more Irish. I’m now used to operating on Irish time, which is much more fluid than that in the States. In fact, last week I was surprised when I met some of my American friends at Trinity Gate and they were actually on time—I’ve gotten so used to the Irish ten minute to an hour grace rule. I’ve also taken to running in the evening, which is apparently the primetime for people to work out in Ireland. I’ll go for a run at two in the afternoon and see absolutely no one, but if I wait until 8pm, I’ll run past at least ten people. I haven’t yet adopted the Irish workout attire of a GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) jersey though! Also, I’ve also become accustomed to going out for pints with my classmates a couple of times a week, especially to celebrate completing a paper for class. I really enjoy the social aspect of the pub culture here in Ireland— it does not really exist in the States. Incorporating trips to the pub into my schedule has also made me more Irish.

My culinary tastes have been altered as well. I’ve become a connoisseur of pub grub and Irish breakfasts. I’ve also taken to drinking tea with milk and sugar on a daily basis. I’ve also come to love Indian food (the Irish version of Mexican food, which is available at both fancy restaurants and kabob vans in every village). Though I am still unwilling to eat more than one kind of potato at a meal and season my chips (French fries) with curry, I do enjoy a good carvery lunch and the fried cod at Leo Burdock’s Fish and Chips, the best in Dublin. I’ve even put on a few pounds to demonstrate my dedication to Irish cuisine.

I’ve also gained an understanding of Irish popular culture. My biggest accomplishment thus far has been watching all 25 episodes of “Father Ted”, a late 90’s sitcom about priests in the west of Ireland that is consistently referenced in everyday conversation. I now know what people are talking about when they mention the episode on the plane, “My Lovely Horse,” Dougal’s goofy faces, and the milkman in “Speed 3.” Sporting-wise, I also had the chance to attend my first hurling and Gaelic football matches on St. Patrick’s Day in Croke Park. Thanks to the expertise of my good friend Oonagh, I now understand the scoring and rules for both games! It was great to finally experience the excitement of Croke Park as well as hear the Captain’s speeches in Irish following their victory. GAA sports are such a big part of Irish culture; it was fulfilling to finally see them firsthand in Ireland’s most historic stadium.

Also in sports, I’ve really enjoyed cheering on Ireland to the Grand Slam during the Six Nations Rugby Championships, especially since Ireland went undefeated! The England-Ireland match in Croke Park was particularly intense for historical reasons—I felt like I was watching the Army-Navy football game on a nation-state level. The Wales match for the Grand Slam this past weekend was particularly close as it came down to a missed Welsh field goal in the last few seconds. It was great fun to watch the game in the student bar at DCU surrounded by rabid rugby fans and then head down to Quinn’s Pub with them afterwards for some post-match celebration. I’ve finally learned all of the rules to rugby and actually prefer it to American football, thanks to the Irish.

On a random note, I’m socially becoming more Irish because I’ve started running into people I know everywhere. Ireland’s population is only five million and my friends always joke about coming across people from their hometown or school unexpectedly. I’ve been here long enough that it has finally started happening to me, particularly during the past week as I led a group of thirty people around Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day. I ran into friends from my course on O’Connell Street, teammates from Suas walking through Trinity Gate, and others in random pubs. Ireland really is a small country.

I’ve also become involved in charity work and fundraising, another Irish pastime. Irish people, perhaps because of their economic history and Catholic faith, are very active in giving to charity and raising money for good causes. I have become involved with Suas, an Irish charity that promotes Educational Development in Ireland, Kenya, and India, to complement my International Development Masters. I was selected to participate as an Overseas Volunteer for a 10-week work placement at Gatoto School in Nairobi, Kenya. In Nairobi, I will be witnessing firsthand the challenges of development that I have been reading about for my degree. I will be serving as a teaching assistant and help run a summer camp for Gatoto children along with 11 other Irish students.

The best part about getting involved with Suas has been getting to know the other volunteers who will be traveling overseas with me. Suas has getting to know people down to a science—I met my teammates over one weekend and I already feel like I know them better than people I’ve known for months. The caliber of the people involved in Suas is also very impressive. Because of Suas’ challenging application process and knack for putting diverse teams together, everyone selected is incredibly motivated and has a variety of talents that allow for strong, versatile teams overseas. With the other volunteers, I also attend weekly meetings hosted by Suas on global issues, such as childhood inequality and HIV/AIDS. In a seminar setting, we discuss the issues’ effects on development. We’ve also even begun to take Swahili classes at the Kenyan embassy! I’m really excited for the summer, both to further my development education and also to spend more time with Irish people. My teammates have already promised to teach me the Irish national anthem!

The only difficult thing with getting involved with Suas is fundraising. In order to make it to Nairobi, I must raise nearly 3,000 euro, which can be difficult when one is based in a foreign country. In order to do this, I am running the Prague Marathon in May for Suas, hosting a pub quiz on April 1 at Matt Weldon’s, and bag packing in May. If anyone is interested in donating to Suas and supporting me in the marathon, the web site is

I am also taking a course in Irish Politics this semester, which has allowed me to better understand the inner workings of the Irish government and the criticism heaped on politicians by the Irish. I have never been exposed to a parliamentary system before, so it is interesting to learn how it differs from the American system. I’ve also really enjoyed learning about Irish political parties and understanding the claim that there aren’t any differences between them; the only difference is historical and is a result of the Anglo-Irish treaty. Learning about Irish neutrality and the role of the President has also been very enlightening. I’ve always enjoyed studying different political systems, and now I have the chance to do that in Ireland.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve also had the opportunity to travel more in Ireland and appreciate its natural beauty. My brother, his friend Matt, and my friend Stef visited just two weeks ago and we drove down to the southwest, around the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. We saw some sites worthy of National Geographic posters, featuring some devastating cliffs, picturesque mountain lakes and waterfalls, extreme sheep snacking on tremendous inclines, and narrow roads that would pass as bike lanes in the United States. We also stopped in several great pubs, particularly in Dingle, and enjoyed a bit of Guinness and cider! Along with traveling in Kerry, I also made it down to Cork on two occasions recently. My favorite place that I visited was Fota Wildlife Park, a large zoo with freely roaming animals—Kangaroos and peacocks literally pop up right next to you! It was slightly disconcerting to see zebras and giraffes in the beautiful hills of Cork, but it was nonetheless a memorable experience. Getting to experience more of Ireland’s beauty has also made me more Irish.

I also had the chance to act an unofficial Irish ambassador for my many friends who visited during St. Patrick’s week. Not only did I introduce them to hurling, Gaelic football, and the joys of Korean Food in Dublin’s Chinatown, I was able to successfully lead them through the city and introduce them to many of Dublin’s finest pubs. The real highlight for me though was introducing them to Ireland’s history, whether through a tour of Kilmanheim Gaol, sharing a brief synopsis of the Irish independence movement while walking past Christ Church, or pointing out the numerous statues in the city center and explaining to them why these people were honored. I feel like I’ve really gotten to know Dublin over the past couple of months and I love sharing its stories with my friends. As I explained to some of my former teammates while telling them Grace Gifford’s story at Kilmanheim Gaol, I love Ireland because of its incredible and emotional history, particularly because despite the sadness of much of its stories, Irish people remain optimistic, happy, and full of personality. I had the chance to share my passion for Ireland with many of my friends from the States and I’m sure that some now have a latent desire to move to Ireland.

Through the past several months, I have noticed many ways in which I am becoming more Irish. I speak in a more Irish way; understand popular culture references; eat, drink, and live like an Irish person; travel around the country; share Ireland’s history with visitors; and remain involved with Irish organizations. An example of my newfound Irishness was evident this past weekend when I was out with my friend Oonagh at Quinn’s pub following Ireland’s grand slam victory. Oonagh introduced me to people not as an American, but as an Irish-American. Though that may not be ethnically true, my spirit (and my vocabulary) sure feel that way after six months in Dublin.

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