As January comes to a close, it is hard to believe that we are already on the other half of our time in Ireland. It seems like only yesterday that I ventured onto a Dublin City bus headed for the train station that took me to Maynooth. It has been a wonderful time and our adventures on the Emerald Isle continue.
One of my fondest memories over the last couple of months was preparing for Heather’s and my first Christmas season as a married couple. One weekend, we rented a car and drove an hour south to find our first Christmas tree. We were so early that the man working the farm was unprepared for our arrival. Despite his surprise, we enjoyed roaming the fields in search of the perfect Christmas tree!
What was interesting was the company of some four-legged friends who watched our progress.
It was great to around Christmas trees again! Walking those fields reminded me of my childhood, working on the Christmas tree farm, and coming home smothered in that sweet pine smell and millions of pine needles. Heather and I had a great time looking for the tree that was just right for us. We eventually found it. I have to admit when I went to go cut it down, I missed the chainsaws we used back on the farm. Terrible I know, but I got my lift in for the day.
Taking the tree back and then attempting to explain to the car rental company why there was so many pine needles in the car was a bit entertaining. We did get it back though and Heather did a fantastic job of decorating the tree!
Christmas is such a pleasant time of year, and the atmosphere in Ireland was no different. Walking around downtown Dublin, or even Maynooth, people are scurrying about trying to find the perfect gifts, or simply enjoying some of the decorations surrounding the downtown area. Preparing for Christmas in Ireland was a little interesting in that Christmas decorations become available as soon as Halloween is over. Normally when Americans would be preparing for Thanksgiving, the Irish make preparations for Christmas. This did not stop us from gathering as a class and spending a couple of days to celebrate Thanksgiving. We had a wonderful meal with different dishes prepared by each of the scholars. We ate great that day!
It was in and around this time that Ireland experienced its worst snowfall in years; arguably worst ever. The first of it came down right around Thanksgiving.
What was interesting was the way the country reacted to it. First, in preparation for the threat of imminent snow fall, I heard stories of last year’s icy winter and the shortage of “grit.” Newspapers started reporting reassuring comments from those in charge that this year’s winter would be different, and different it was. Once the first flakes of snow started to fall, it did not seem to stop till after Christmas. This of course is an exaggeration, but describing how the country reacted to the snow and ice once it was on the ground could not be exaggerated. Though the country claimed to have enough “grit,” it did not stop a layer of ice from forming on many roads, especially the back roads. Schools closed down for over a week and public transportation stopped in certain areas. Despite all the challenges, Heather and I were able to get out and enjoy the chilling beauty that only snow can bring to an area.
We walked around Maynooth, walked the university grounds, and found time for a few snowballs! There is no doubt it was cold and hard to get around, but we managed to travel into Dublin and stock up on our hot chocolate supply. The one things that we certainly did not stop because of the weather was the school work that needed to be done.
I have learned a great deal about myself over the last few months, especially in regard to my academic responsibilities. Coming to Ireland was a significant change from the regimented system of the Naval Academy. At first this came as a breath of fresh green air, but as the weeks went by I had to learn how to balance all my time with all the things I wanted to do while here in Ireland. My program and the progress of my thesis certainly ranks right at the top of my priorities and areas where I would like to experience the most personal growth. I really enjoy attending the courses throughout the week. It is in these classes that I can put my thoughts and opinions of history and current events to the test. The class discussions we had over the course of the semester taught me a great deal about different perspectives and ways of viewing events or people. The structure of my program affords me a considerable amount of time outside the classroom to work on my thesis. One of the first lessons I learned in writing about history, is to research and write about something that interests you. My research in the South African War in 1899 continues to draw me into its details, leaders, and major events. With us starting the second semester this week, I am looking forward to all that it has to bring.
Outside of academics, I experienced the wonderful world of Irish Rugby. Having never watched a match before, it took quite a bit of explaining to understand the different rules and strategies used by each team. I first went to the Ireland vs. Samoa match with some buddies who had come to visit Dublin from the United Kingdom.
During the game, though I do not have any pictures to support my claims, the Samoans looked like giants compared to the Irish National team. But, despite the size difference, we end the match victorious! My post-game analysis concluded that I knew very little about rugby, but I was excited to learn more, which meant more rugby! Looking back on the match I noticed that the environment of the game (the fans, cheers, etc.) was not different from what I would have experienced in the United States. We went to the newly built Aviva stadium where the stands were filled, but it was not as packed as I had expected. I was a bit surprised when, after the match, a departing fan told me “the match was no good.” I did not understand him as I had a great time, and Ireland won. It was not until I went to a Munster match in Limerick that I understood, a little better, the difference between an “ok” match and a great one.
Eanna, a close friend in my program, invited Heather and me to travel with him down to Limerick so that we could watch Munster take on the Australian national team. We could not go to Limerick without visiting Fagan so we had dinner with him before we stepped off for the game.
Everything about that match was incredible! The fans and the intensity of the game (there ended up being three fights) made the experience. We walked into a filled stadium with people on their feet even before the players had walked on to the field. Musicians sang songs while men standing on stilts braved the wind and rain that threatened to blow them over at any moment. Even at half time we were entertained with a group of three men and one of their sons singing “Whiskey in the Jar.” From start to finish we had a great time and, on top of that, Munster ended the match victorious!
My time at the Dublin Fire Brigade continues to a great experience and something I look forward to every week. I know I may have said it before, but the more time spend with the fire fighters, the more I recognize the similarities to the Marine Corps. They provide an aspect of home for me that I never thought I would have been able to find in Ireland. Each and everyone of them has taken me into the family. It is a fascinating occupation, with fascinating people. My experiences with the Brigade have exposed me to a side of Ireland that I would not have found anywhere around the university, or anywhere else I might have gone for that matter. These men and women provide a service for Dublin which many times goes unrecognized. It is with these firefighters that I have grown to understand the consequences of the recession in the form of cutbacks. It is from them that I am able to glimpse at how people feel about the current political problems facing Ireland.
In all of our experiences, it seems like over the last couple of months, I have grown closer to the Irish as a people. Initially it was a bit of a challenge to find our place with people as they take time to get to know you; decide how close they want to get. Presently, however, the number of Irish friends I have has grown exponentially. For the month of January it seemed like Heather and I were away each Sunday having dinner at a friend’s house. Even though Heather and I use a prepaid phone service, she teases me that I spend a lot of time texting and talking with friends from school, church, or the fire brigade. The Irish are a wonderful group of people, and I have thoroughly enjoyed establishing lasting relationships and immersing myself in their culture. Heather tells me that I have started talking with a hint of an Irish accent, on top of using words such as “craic, grand, no bother, or whats the story?” I have to admit, I do not notice when it happens, but it does not surprise me. Ireland has very much become home for me, and it will be hard to leave.