'Why?', she said. "Well, because Ireland is a magical place. All the little towns are beautiful, and all the people there are so funny and so nice, even though they all drink a lot." Eva went on to tell me that she finds the backwardness of the place endearing. 'You know', she said, 'like, hardly any trains, and the sweet old drunks in the pub.' Most of all, she'd really like to visit the romantic castle they go to in the movie, and see the old fashioned red phone box in the park.
Oh dear, thought I, she's stuck in MOVIE IRELAND, and I began to tell her Ireland is not actually as it's portrayed in the film, but I could tell by the look on her face that she is married to this fantasy. Not wanting to burst the bubble in her Hibernian dream, I didn't tell her the train system in Ireland is quite modern and relatively efficient, and most pubs (aside from those aimed at college-aged tourists in Temple Bar) are family oriented and without the stage drunks. I didn't mention the fact that the castle in the movie doesn't actually exist, but is a digital enhancement of ruins in Portlaoise, and there is no English-style red phone box anywhere in St. Stephen's Green. Instead I thanked Eva for her help, and said I hoped she would one day take the opportunity to travel to Ireland.
|Left: An entrance to St. Stephen's Green featured in the movie 'Leap Year'. No red phone box in sight.|
Right: The sort of telephone booths you do see in urban Ireland.
|Top: One of several Luas (pronounced Louis) tram lines you will find in the city of Dublin.|
Bottom: The Dart commuter train system. This one is stopped at Bray, County Wicklow.
|The ancient past and the modern present co-exist.|
Top image: The Rock of Cashel as you approach it through the town of Cashel, County Tipperary.
Bottom image: Swords Castle in downtown Swords, County Dublin.
Pawel said he had already been living in Dublin for a while, and he bombarded me with exactly what he liked about it and what he didn't. He told me that the Irish are great talkers, but poor listeners, and think they know everything, and think everyone who is not Irish is stupid. He told me he hated all the rainy days, and the homeless people and the drug addicts in the street. His deeply negative attitude made me wonder why he would choose Ireland for study, but Pawel was a great talker and a poor listener, so he didn't answer my question.
Me? My opinion lies somewhere down the middle, between Eva's rose-coloured Ireland and Pawel's deeply cynical one.
It is true, in Ireland there is a serious problem with heroin addiction, and if you travel there, you may come across addicts in certain areas. On a couple of occasions I've 'interacted' with addicts in Dublin, on the quays, and on Marlborough Street near the Pro-Cathedral. This mostly involved refusing to give them money, and being very assertive in telling them to move away from me. Last summer, during a very early morning bike ride on the quays, I fast tracked away from a couple of addicts who were injecting drugs while seated on a bench across from the Custom House. As a historian, I am saddened by the fact that these days the grounds of Croppies Acre in front of Collins Barracks, as well as the grounds of the Golden Bridge cemetery, are locked up to keep the addicts out.
Also, it is true there are Irish who are great talkers and poor listeners, but I believe you will find people like that in every country in the world. It also strikes me that if you treat people the way you want to be treated, then most of them will respond in kind. If you are friendly and open and respectful, then they will be too. I think Pawel has failed to understand that fact.
One thing which seems to surprise some people, like Pawel, is the fact that many Irish are very well read, are engaged and interested in many topics, and have the expectation that others are as well. Personally, I have enjoyed discussions with taxi drivers, wait staff and guests in restaurants, and hotel desk clerks, as well as members of my own Irish family, on a wide range of topics, including Irish history. In my travels I have encountered people from many countries who do not know the history of their own country as well as some Irish know the history of Ireland.
As for Eva's impressions, the landscape of Ireland is absolutely magnificent, and is spotted with many charming towns and handsome cities, as well as beautiful castles and ancient ruins, and in that respect I also feel as though the island is a magical place. However, the mark of recession blots many Irish towns and cities, and there you get a dose of reality when you see shops boarded up, and once thriving businesses that have closed their doors.
Also, there are many nice, welcoming, and funny Irish people to meet in Ireland, but no, not everyone is very welcoming. Just as in other countries, some people are caught up in their own lives and couldn't care less about tourists. If you take a local bus, you will find some operators who will barely acknowledge you, other than to tell you to buy a map, while others will happily help direct you to your destination and beyond. If you venture off the beaten path and go into pubs frequented by locals, in some you will be welcomed with open arms, while in others you may be viewed with suspicion.
In Ireland, when I asked one of my aunts named Kathleen (I have a few) about perceptions of Ireland and the Irish, she told me she believes most Irish are very down to earth and easy going, and in favour of an enjoyable time, and a good laugh. However, she said at times some Irish, including her, look at tourists and just wonder what it is they want from 'us'. Aunt Kathleen put it best when she said,
At times Jenn, it's as if some of them are waiting for us to break into song or recite our party piece. We're not perfect. We're real people with real problems who just happen to live in a beautiful land with a remarkable history. We're not leprechauns or fairies, and we have no magic dust.
Aunt Kathleen paused for a moment, and I could see in her eyes that she didn't want to let me down, and then with a smile she added, 'well maybe just a little magic dust'.