Impressions of the emerald isle
The ubiquitous and omniscient Lonely Planet has seen fit, in a series of annual lists which has also featured Australia’s Newcastle, to name Cork, Ireland, one of the top ten cities to visit in the world. That’s a pretty big call, and I’m not sure how I feel about it, having just spent about nine days there. It’s probably a case of expectations being different to reality, mostly.
Australia is usually a pretty humble country, if not in its anthems and policies and slogans, then at least in the attitudes of its individual people. And I think we’re inculcated somehow with this idea that we’re the ass-end of the world, that Australia’s a good place to live, but that’s it’s culturally, architecturally, technologically, culinarily deficient and isolated and that, by contrast, all the countries in western Europe, including Ireland, are ‘better’ than us in those areas. The thing is that Ireland isn’t, really.
Before Ireland I was in England, and I mistakenly believed that Ireland was going to be very similar – a tiny but densely populated country. It’s not. Its population is only about four million, which puts things in perspective. Here I was expecting culture and technology and a golden promised land from Ireland, but even some Irish people I met said they thought they were kind of backwards. They don’t have hot running water like we do – they have to switch on a boost or something which provides a certain amount of it. They have about four public TV stations which are absolute crap, and they have to pay for even those with ‘TV licenses’ (and they still have ads, as well). In fact, you have to pay for everything in Ireland: TV, garbage collection, public toilets, and outrageously priced public transport. It suggests to me some extreme right wing politics, maybe? Because it’s like it’s been over-privatised; the anti-welfare state, so to speak. Or it could just be the recession. I tried to talk politics a couple of times, but not very fruitfully.
But by no means was it all doom and gloom. I had a fantastic time, really. All of the above just added to the beautiful and at times hilarious experience. On the plane in I thought the air hostess was speaking Gaelic and was about to translate into English, but it turned out it was just the accent. The weather was also a great novelty for me – so much snow!
At one point I imagined to convince an entire room of Irish people that my uncle was a ‘poker’, meaning his job was to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge every morning at 4am using a forty foot pole to ‘poke’ the Koalas off it into giant nets. I laughed halfway through the story and thought the jig was up, only to find that they were still captivated by my tale, so I elaborated that I’d done work experience with him in year ten.
I was staying with my friend Charlene, and when I met some of her friends, one of them actually told me I was ‘so tanned!’, something I would never qualify for by Australian standards. They also told me they had a tradition of taking ‘beating’ (pronounced ‘baiting’) photos of one another, a tradition in which I shone:
I think the message for the trip was this, though: