Island of Enchantment, Celtic Paradise, Emerald Isle—Stab City? Limerick, Ireland, has had this stigmatism stamped upon its streets since the 1980’s when 75 percent of homicides were committed with a knife. Though I have yet to confirm the reports, some sources I have found say the number dropped to 50 percent around the turn of the millennium. Being raised in relatively rural Montana—where I worried more about mountain lions and getting mauled by a bear than being held at knifepoint—it wasn’t the most comforting thing to move to a city rumored to have the highest crime rates on the island. Reading “Angela’s Ashes” by the late Frank McCourt, though a fascinating book, did not help Limerick’s reputation. And if you are ever a visitor to the city, talking about “Angela’s Ashes” to a pureblood local is almost as unforgiving as debating “The DaVinci Code” in the Vatican. Now that I have lived here almost three months, it has been interesting to see many preconceptions melt away, and begin to understand some of the history behind current conflicts in the area. This reflection therefore, addresses preconceptions and expectations of what life in Ireland would be like. To everyone that has been duped to believe Limerick is the joke of the island, take a brief look at the actual crime rates per capita sometime. I believe Dublin is in for a surprise.
The expectations about Ireland’s beauty, have been well justified. Walks into the countryside have given me a love for the smell of peat fires, the patchwork asphalt quilts, and the ubiquitous blackberry bushes. Here, roads still move with the land instead of across it, although it wouldn’t hurt to widen a few of them. The Shannon River rolls with such power and solemnity, dotted with swans and castle ruins up and down the riverbank. Limerick has, I believe, the only major campus outside of the city. Its large green spaces adjacent to the river are just the thing for a country boy.
After overcoming the typical adjustments of living in a foreign country—power adaptors, currency, opposite sides of the road—I found myself surprised at the smallest things. For example, instead of listing the date as MM/DD/YYYY, everything is in DD/MM/YYYY. I didn’t have this “sorted” until several library books were overdue by a month. Buildings are rarely numbered. They are just on a particular street and hopefully you choose the correct direction. It is not uncommon to have a 21st century apartment building or car park adjacent to a 600-year-old church. The oldest artifacts by Montanan standards (save dinosaur bones), would still be in the cradle by a European timeline.
Do the Irish drink? One of the best-known rhetorical questions has been reconfirmed. My favorite example comes from my training for a marathon in Athens. Along my regular route I had seen a group of guys four or five consecutive workouts gathering at a particular river bench. From what I overheard, it was a regular social session to catch up on the news, politics, sports, and to vent the frustrations caused by the opposite gender. As I became a usual part of the evening as “the guy who runs by,” they invited me over to refresh myself. Alcohol not being the best thing to consume while exercising, I politely declined, but afterward they would toast as I ran by and cheer me on. The act of drinking itself is not important, but rather the social glue it provides to nearly every facet of Irish culture. Witnessing the national excitement for the 250th anniversary of Guinness was just a taste of this.
One of the most frustrating and simultaneously alluring qualities of Irish culture is the difficulty of planning in advance. “Irish Time” isn’t a myth, and it has been a challenge to figure out when punctual means responsible and when it flags my ignorance of social behavior. I didn’t know what my courses were until a week before they started, but I have been given a wonderful flexibility to explore my own areas of interest in Music Therapy. The Irish are less preoccupied with the plan and doing events and more focused on relationships and experiencing events. They live life as it comes.
I often wondered what my life would have been like if I had “stuck to the plan.” By now, I would be an architect in Montana if I hadn’t changed my major two weeks into undergrad. I wouldn’t be doing a Masters in Music Therapy and working with clients who communicate through spelling words on a touchscreen with their nose, or try to teach me sign language to indicate musical preference. I would have never kissed the Blarney Stone, run the original course of the marathon in Greece, met with countless people of influence in Irish and global events, and enjoyed the company of the wonderful Mitchell Scholars who share a similar passion to, as Gandhi said, “be the change [they] want to see in the world.” Perhaps this year I will finally come to acknowledge the simple truth that life is unpredictable, and be open to opportunity. What will the future bring? To be continued…