Ireland: How To Make Sense of the Things That Don’t

by Katie McKenna

There is a little island that consists of a simple four million residents, a place where the longest drive from one end of the country to the other is only a handful of hours.  Everybody knows each other, many coming from families of twelve or more siblings, a country where everyone is a cousin, or a cousin’s cousin, or a teacher’s brother’s wife’s son – some of the connections more tenuous than others. 

A local pub in Dublin
A local pub in Dublin. Photo by Lucy Remitz

There is little crime, and nothing is taken too seriously.  Socializing is a cultural necessity, whether it be with a pint of Guinness or a bottle of Bulmer’s. Cities are defined as anything but farmland, and the town centre really just means the street where all of the pubs are. Music and art are appreciated as talented street artists are found playing all instruments – the guitar, sitar, clarinet, fiddle, harp, saxophone – and play at every hour despite the quiet spell that sometimes comes with nighttime.   

Seasons consist of rain, hail, wind and an unshakeable chilling dampness right down to the bone.  No one bothers to wear a rain jacket.  Anyone who doesn’t own and operate an electric teakettle on a daily basis is considered an outsider, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich seems an unappealing lunchtime option.  Though, perhaps with a side of pickle and onion crisps, it wouldn’t be so unbearable.  Potatoes, though, are an essential vitamin and have a permanent place on the food pyramid. 

People are friendly and honest, genuinely hilarious and harsh all at once, whether it’s telling a friend they look “wrecked” or joking with friends, as they would put it, “pullin’ the piss,” sometimes more affectionately spoken as, “rippin’ the piss,” either one acceptable.

Street performers in Dublin, Ireland

Street performers in Dublin, Ireland

A visitor’s Ireland would be a very different one than the one the natives live in, as they were all born with an inherent understanding of one another, just as anyone else is at home, just as a Boston native would instinctively use “wicked” for emphasis or avoid all eye contact when riding the city’s underground, or as they’d all know to call it, the T. 

But Ireland, unlike any other place in the world, has the habit of pulling visitors in, making them a home, to assimilate and persuade and include.  

Of course there are things that don’t make sense to the outsider 

The fact that no one owns a raincoat, teen discos for kids under eighteen have designated smoking areas, all scheduled times start fifteen minutes later than planned, classes meet at two separate times during the week, curry and corn are acceptable pizza toppings, language is unfiltered and out for a reaction.  Yanks, they say, are too soft, and they don’t know how to handle the craic – as we would greet our friends by saying, “Hey, what’s up?” or “How are you?” they may use a more colorful expression, one that specifically sticks to memory being, “What up ya shower of c@%&$?” as laughter ensues because they were unafraid to joke about matters the rest of the world held serious, and giving a simple response never an option. 

In downtown Galway, there is a Saturday morning market that offers a variety of goods for purchase, the most popular, though, being Nick’s Donuts.  As Nick would ask what the customer wanted on their donut, the outsider may ask, “What do you recommend?” expecting an answer having to do with which flavors or toppings are best.  

“What do I recommend?” Nick replies, “A heterosexual lifestyle? No drinking before smoking? Reading the newspaper?” He’d supply a series of answers that didn’t actually answer anything – a trait that can somehow be traced to everyone in the entire country.

Port in Ireland

Port in Ireland

Nothing is ever taken too seriously 

As the bouncers outside each pub do, contrary to some popular belief, enforce the legal drinking age, but in a way that is not so demanding or intimidating. One could easily find the security singing along to the band inside, “Her eyes, they shone like diamonds/I thought her the Queen of the land…” 

Because they can’t be contained, and because they are genuine, and honest, and because they respond emotionally no matter what the consequences, a country of romantics. 

Perhaps they aren’t logical, but following their hearts in a way that the rest of the world doesn’t quite know how to do.

George Bernard Shaw puts it a bit more eloquently, as he says, “You see things and ask ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’

Find out more study programs in Ireland and experience Irish culture and tradition first hand!