Letter from Ireland

Although English is used in Ireland, it can sometimes come across as a quite foreign language to me. They speak rapidly, and the accent is distinct, pronounced, and different. Even to my unpracticed ear I can hear distinct differences in accent from region to region.

In Northern Ireland, for example, the English monetary system is still used. When I got my first cash from the ATM there, I asked a lady the value of a particular coin.   “It’s a poont” , I heard her say. When she repeated the word for me I understood it as ‘poond’ and then I finally figured out that she was saying ‘pound!

Inquiring for the ATM was also enlightening. It’s called a “hole in the wall” in Northern Ireland. I could understand the cashier in the restaurant very well as he explained this to us. He in turn, was puzzled by the term ‘ATM’.

I had not really realized that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are two separate countries. I’ve been aware of “the troubles” (as it’s called here) in Ireland since the 1950’s, but only in a vague way. In simple terms it’s a struggle between Irish people who want to be a separate Nation, and those who wish to maintain strong links to England.

Historically the English treated the Irish people quite harshly, and the resentment about that still simmers…somewhat like Civil War sentiments in our own Country. Of course, here it often breaks down along religious lines, with Catholics wanting separation from Protestant England and Protestants favoring strong ties.

We have found many Irish people to be quite politically aware. Many of them seem to know all about politics in American and can even name some of our politicians. (Can you name the president of the Republic of Ireland? Or any president of any Country, other than the U.S.?)   Bill Clinton is greatly admired over here, while Donald Trump is not. We’ve encountered quite a few people who are ready and willing to speak out on this subject.

Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve found the Irish people to be most friendly and extremely polite. I’ve wondered if extreme politeness may not be necessary in a land which has experienced so much internal strife. Politeness has become a way to circumvent trouble before it starts, perhaps.

In many of the smaller towns and villages there may not be a restaurant. Food is usually served in bars and pubs in these locations and can range from mediocre to very good on occasion. With our American view of bars, I was surprised however (almost amazed), to see a small collection box in some pubs and bars for missions collections, i.e. collections for missionary activities sponsored by the local church.   To my Protestant eye this seemed quite incongruous, but illustrates the different way in which bars are used here. They are very much a social gathering place for the community and entire families may be found there on some evenings.

It rains in Ireland. During the time we’ve been here we had only partial days of sunshine…about 4 half-days for the month we’ve been here. If praying for sunshine will do any good, we have plenty of help. All of Ireland is sick of rain.

Ireland was an unexpectedly beautiful Country. I guess because of the constancy of the rain, even in drier years, it truly is an ‘Emerald Isle’. The fields marked by hedgerows or divided by stone fences present bucolic views every minute of every journey. (Except that the hedgerows often prevent any distant view for a few miles at times.) Trees are often allowed to grow right over the narrow roads and trimmed from below. This forms a charming ‘tunnel’ through the trees that can be most enchanting to drive through.

Driving is done on the left here. The left lane is the ‘slow’ lane when there are 4 lane ‘carriageways’. The car on the right always has the right-of-way.

The attitude about driving is a striking contrast to our sensibilities in the U.S., where the slightest infraction of any driving convention seems to produce a lot of anger and resentment.   Here, people seem most patient about someone who has stopped on a two lane road which has no shoulder.   He will be parked right out on the roadway. Other drivers just wait for opposing traffic to pass then they go around the stopped vehicle without any emotional reaction.

When two cars approach each other on a street which is just wide enough for two cars to pass, but where one side of the street is filled with parked cars, one driver will pull into an empty space to let the other driver pass, or maybe pull up onto the sidewalk so both cars can get through. It’s all done as a cooperative venture rather than drivers vying for oneupmanship.

The Euro is the unit of exchange used now (only since Jan. of 2002). It is roughly equivalent to the value of a U.S. dollar so calculating prices is easy. Food is generally somewhat more expensive than in the U.S., although milk cost $1.05 for two liter bottle (approximately 1/2 gallon). Food has been better than I thought

Shopping for food isn’t too different from the U.S. There are somewhat fewer products, but the experience is very much like being in an American supermarket. However, people bring their own shopping bags, or the plastic bags they used from the last trip to the store. If you have to have one of the plastic bags furnished by the market it will cost you .15 cents for each one. This sure cuts down on the waste of those damnable plastic bags and I wish we would adopt this policy here in the U.S.

Watching the Irish at restaurants was amusing to my American eye…in this respect: Most Irish people use their fork in their left hand and use the knife in their right to push and scrape vegetables onto the fork. Furthermore the fork is held in an upside-down position! Looks like a real balancing feat to me, but it really distinguishes an American from a European.

We finally had two weeks of sunshine before returning to the States. Everyone knows it rains in Ireland…but not ALL the time!

Dale Johnson