A Celtic Tiger: Talking to the Irish
The Emerald Isle is the land of green hills, Celtic music, folktales, and, of course, potatoes. For the next three months, this land of myth will be my home and playground. While studying Irish literature, culture, and history, I will explore the country’s treasures and learn of its secrets, and so far, I’ve found that the best way to do so is on foot.
This works well in Dublin, where I will be living during my study abroad experience. Although the city is Ireland’s largest — containing about 1.8 million people — it is still small compared to most big U.S. cities, and is thus extremely easy to walk around in. Just over the two weeks that I have been here, I’ve noticed my definition of ‘a long walk’ redefined several times.
This constant walking has given me a great opportunity to get to see Dublin and orient myself in the city. How else would I have discovered the seahorses on the lamp posts, the myriads of street musicians, and the sign on one of the bridges over the Liffey warning of the “troll below?” Though it is the capital city, Dublin possesses all the charm and character of a tight community. On my first day of orientation, one professor told me that people in Ireland are often soft-spoken because in a country of this size, it is entirely possible for the person you sit behind on the train to know who you’re gossiping to your friend about.
While walking everywhere is a reputed theme of European cities, I think this practice especially speaks to the nature of Irish culture. Speaking on a generalization, Irish people are extremely comfortable with and aware of the community in which they exist. Unlike people in America, the Irish find nothing strange in asking a stranger off the street for directions. Already, I’ve had three different people ask me how to get from one place to another, so I guess I look like I know where I’m going!
For me, this is perfect, as it gives me an opportunity to talk to the locals. The people I pass on the street have always been friendly and eager to have a conversation with me, from the old lady I met at the bus stop — who told me about her granddaughter studying in Australia — to the woman walking her dog, who started describing the weight loss regimen her pet was on. Even the huge parks in the center of Dublin such as St. Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square are testament to the community-focused culture.
Over the next three months, I look forward to becoming a part of this community. While my feet may be complaining about all the walking now, they’ll get used to it. As I wander around the city and meet new people, I aim to learn a little bit more about what it means to be Irish.