Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Thing About Ireland

There was a time, years ago, my first stint in Germany when I was things like 20 something, that I had this madly romantic notion of Ireland. And that was back in the day when there was no internet radio that you could have blasting the farming news in the kitchen, and no Irish Times online or nothing. Germany was Germany and Ireland was Ireland. There were Deutsche Marks and Irish Punts, and the Irish 5p, which was on a par to today's 5cent, worked as a Mark, similar to a Euro in phone boxes and cigarette machines. So you didn't need WhatsApp and you could get a really cheap deal on cancer.
Flights were luxury and you got a 'free' meal and 'free' drink in the air, or as my mother used to say (upon arriving sozzled to Germany) 'I paid £500 for that half bottle of wine.' It was just that the flight came for free.
So every year or so I'd come home and go to a trad session, eat a 'full Irish' breakfast and buy a new aran sweater. Everything bad about Germany was purely because it was not Ireland, and my most used sentences were things like 'you wouldn't get that in Ireland' or 'the Germans just don't get it.'
It was because Ireland was a place that no matter what was going on, it was all about people and community and caring and interaction.
So, yeah, I went back. Lock, stock and barrel. I had originally only gone to Germany for three months, and always had the rule that I didn't want to own anything that wouldn't fit in my rucksack upon my imminent return. Of course the three months turned into fifteen years, and I returned to Dublin in 1999 with the aid of a professional removals company who required a removals truck and trailer; a camping van jam packed with the extras; three kids and a German husband ( the latter being the only thing I've gotten rid of in the meantime.)
It's life Jim, but not as we know it...
Twelve years later I realised that Ireland wasn't all that amazing once you were done with the aran sweaters and the sessuins. There was corruption that would make the Russian Mafia look like little Bo Peep, a police force to turn the Muppets into James Bond, and a public health service that couldn't hold a candle to the streets of Calcutta.  So back I went. Realising that it may not be Ireland, or Germany or Germany or Ireland, but that maybe I'm just one of these eternal grumps where 'the grass is always greener, especially in Boolavogue, or the Black Forest, depending upon where I am at the time.

So when I arrived in Dublin airport this morning, I reminded myself that I was spending the week in a dump. A nice dump on the coast, but a place where nothing works properly, and if it does it's because of some bribery or scandal or something that caused three people to get rich and 300 people to get poisoned, or end up homeless or something. Galway - a nice place for those who can survive life 200 metres below sea level. We spent the journey to Galway ridiculing the state of the roads, the god awful neo georgian monstrosities of ghost houses and the sprawls of fields that could be put to better use.
I still had the number of my old taxi driver from Galway, so I gave him a buzz and he met us off the bus. Of course in Germany - the land of pretzels and good horse meat, there would be a proper taxi rank, there would be a proper set down point.
But then the whole Oirish thing started to happen. You see, a German taxi driver wouldn't give you a bear hug to welcome you back to some gaff you used to live in, and a German taxi driver wouldn't remember all of your kids by name, and want to know how they were getting on. And would Mr Taxi, Germany, remember the last trip he picked you up on almost a year ago. But that's Ireland. Mr Taxi, Ireland, knows a few interesting details about my private life that the people who I plan to meet up with this week don't. You see, Ireland is a good country for the multi tasker, and with the demise of the church, taxi drivers have taken on the role of the priest when it comes to anonymous confessions.
Mr Taxi, Ireland, took our cases out of the boot. I had a generous tip lined up.
'Ah, nah', he said, 'get me another time, sure you'll see me again.'
And that was the moment where I got dragged into that time machine, and I was 20 something all over again and Ireland was a place, yes, that place that I had written off,  the one that was all about people and community and caring and interaction...

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