July 2008



Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

Being temporarily homeless a few weeks ago, Amy and I decided it was time to get out and see a little more of Ireland. Our lease in Rochestown ended on Wednesday, 18 June, but we couldn’t get into our new rental in Turners Cross until the evening of Monday, 23 June. It was a bit of an odd feeling to go from owning a house eight months ago, to renting an apartment, to finally having only a tent to call home and storing most of our possessions in a car. It was particularly odd when I realized as we left the campsite and headed for town that someone could literally steal our home.

Still, Kilkenny called, and we headed there with a plan to spend three days seeing the town. It turns out you can see all of Kilkenny in two hours, and a Welshman we met at the campsite said it could be done in an hour. Small it may be, but it’s a lovely town, and Amy and I agreed that while it might only take hours to visit, it’s the kind of place we could live in for the two years we’re planning to be in Ireland.

What I particularly like about Kilkenny is that while it’s pretty obviously dependent on tourists for its livelihood, it does it so much better than Killarney (Kill, by the way, means “church” in Irish, so there are many place names with that in it). Killarney seemed like a Disney version of Ireland, expensive, fake, and with horrible food. We thought we may have just had bad luck with our restaurant choices in Killarney, but after our trip, Amy talked to a woman who lived in Killarney and asked if there were any good places to eat. The woman thought about it but couldn’t think of a single place to recommend.

But everyone had restaurant and pub recommendations in Kilkenny. On our first night there, we got in too late to want to look for the places we’d been told to check out so we just decided to try our luck at a pub called Langton’s. It turned out to have delicious food and good Irish music, all reasonably priced (for Ireland, anyway). Later, our campsite host said he didn’t much care for Langton’s, because it was too rushed for him, too much of a conveyor belt. I explained that was exactly what most Americans want in a restaurant. Not many Americans will complain about being seated quickly, ordering in just a few minutes, and tucking into dinner just a short time later, especially if the food was as good as it was.

Kilkenny has beautiful churches, abbeys, and a castle, and is well worth a visit, but having spent Friday in town, we decided to head out to the surrounding villages of Inistioge (pronounced Inishteeg), Graiguenamanagh (pronounced GREG-nuh-MAH-nuh), and Thomastown (pronounced Thomastown). The villages themselves had been recommended to us as worth a visit, but they were also jumping off points for hikes along wooded trails, something that is relatively rare in Cork. Unfortunately, it was perhaps the wettest day of the year. Weeks later, we read a newspaper account explaining there had been about twice the usual rainfall in June across all of Ireland, that the Saturday we were in Kilkenny had been the wettest day of the month, and that the wettest place in the country that day had been Kilkenny. It was a lashing rain, as the Irish would say. Not being a great day for hiking, we went back to Kilkenny to go on a tour of the castle which is being restored, then hunkered down in the tent (we were afraid if we didn’t, it would blow away).

Despite the weather, we loved the town, and look forward to showing it off to any friends or family who come to visit us.

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This afternoon we went to a football game. Actually, here, “football” can mean different things to different people. Almost every time an Irishman says football, he’s referring to Gaelic football, which might best be described for our American readers as a kind of cross between soccer and rugby. The ball is round like a soccer ball, and the players can “pass” the ball by hitting it with their fist, or run so long as they sometimes drop the ball and kick it right back into their hands. I’m really not sure how they do that little drop kick to themselves at a full run but they do. It’s pretty much played only here in Ireland, but it’s thought that Australian rules football may have derived from Gaelic football.

What the rest of the world calls football, the Irish call soccer, just like Americans do. But, since so much of the soccer on television is broadcast from Britain, and so is referred to as football, we can sometimes hear that, too.

Finally, there’s good ol’ American football, with helmets, padding, and a pointy-ended ball, and that’s what we saw today. The Irish American Football League was formed more than two decades ago, and today it has nine teams, including the Cork Admirals.

There are three divisions made up of three teams each, and the winners of each division make it to the playoffs. The two teams with the next best records must play in a wildcard game and the winner becomes the fourth playoff team. Cork finished 6-2 in the regular season, second in their division to the defending champion University of Limerick Vikings, and so had to play the Dublin City University Saints, who finished the regular season 4-4.

We arrived ten minutes before the game started, and were the tenth and eleventh fans there. Eventually another fifteen or twenty people came by and watched at least part of the game. Although the game had been scheduled to be played in a new stadium at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), for some reason the game was actually played on a field next to it, so there was no seating (and no toilets). It’s been a long time since I’ve watched football from the sidelines.

The teams were a bit bigger than high-schoolers, and the quality of play was variable. I can’t throw a football, but I could have done as well as the Saints’ quarterback on most of his shorter passes. For whatever reason, the further downfield he threw, the better his passes looked, but most of his short passes were wobbly lofts to whomever happened to be in the area, regardless of the team. He was hampered by a center who usually skittered the ball along the ground to him instead of hiking it into the air, which I’m sure presents its challenges.

The Admirals outplayed the Saints the whole afternoon. The Cork quarterback was better, and some of the players had real talent. Some, though, had what Amy described as “emerging” talent. Perhaps latent is a better word. They had heart, and perhaps always wanted to play the sport, but in many cases never had the chance to play until they were adults.

On the sidelines, we spoke with Brenda, the mother of one of the Cork players. She explained that her parents had lived in New York for ten years, and her son became a big fan of baseball and American football. When he came to school at the CIT, he joined the team and became a running back. Unfortunately, earlier in the season, he experienced what she was told was the worst injury the team had ever seen, dislocating his ankle and breaking a bone. He spent three weeks in a Dublin hospital and is still on crutches.

It was a fun afternoon, and if the Admirals can get past the Dublin Rebels next week, we plan to watch them this August in Shamrock Bowl XXII, which will be played in Cork for the first time. Up Cork!

Although the Irish and Americans both speak English, there are times when the use of the language is noticeably different. Most of the differences are easily translatable, but not all. In light of this, we are adding a recurring post called: Watch your phraseology. In these posts we will share some of the differences and miscommunications we have encountered while here in Ireland.

“How long are you here?

When chatting with locals, we often get asked this question. As Americans we took it to mean, “How long do you plan to stay?” or “How long are you here for?” Not so in Ireland. They want to know when you arrived. The first few times we were asked this, we got some baffled looks when we replied, “About two years.” Clearly we were fresh off the boat, so to speak, and there was no way that we had been in Ireland for two years. After hearing the question for the umpteenth time, the Irish meaning started registering with me part way through my response. My answer morphed into, “About two years, but we arrived here in December.”

Just as the Irish translation of this phrase was starting to click and my response was getting more accurate, I was thrown a curve ball. I was talking to another American who was in Ireland as a tourist. As we chatted, she asked me, “How long are you here?” My response was, “Since December . . . but we will be here for two years.”

To all of our American readers out there, I hope you had a lovely 4th of July. This is the first time for both Pat and me to not be in America to celebrate Independence Day. While neither of us had severe pangs of homesickness, it did feel a bit odd to be at work instead of sitting outside in the sun eating burgers, potato salad, and homemade ice cream. (Well, I’d eat the potato salad. Pat wouldn’t touch the stuff with a ten-foot pole.) And, of course, there were no fireworks to watch in the evening.

Actually, the weather yesterday was terrible! As they say here in Ireland, it was “lashing rain.” Patrick Street is always very crowded during the day, and I had to run a few errands on my lunch break. In order to make any progress through the crowds, I had to hold my umbrella very close to my body. Every now and then a gust of wind would roll through and knock the stem of my umbrella against my glasses. It would catch me by surprise every time and elicit a few choice curse words. I probably looked like one of those crazy people on the streets who mutter and curse to themselves. I probably was one of those people.

I am one of four Americans working at the Cope Foundation. To mark Independence Day, and as an excuse to be social, the Six Pubs of Summer was planned. About 20 people from work met at Captain America’s (an American-esque restaurant) for burgers and fries. After dinner, the group proceeded to a variety of pubs (six of them, as you might imagine) throughout the evening.

Pat had planned on joining the group later in the evening, but the weather proved to be too great a deterrent. I managed to hang in there with the group for the first three pubs, but then my 36-year-old body told me I should go home and I wisely decided to listen. Typically, an Irish night on the town will run until 2:30 in the morning. And some revelers will stay out even later than that. I’m just too old for that kind of fun.

It is definitely a different experience to be in another country on such a big American holiday. I wonder if I would have felt more homesick if the weather had been less inclement. I suspect the answer is yes, but since the likelihood of having a beautiful warm summer seems slim to none here in Ireland I may never know.