Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Introduction to Ireland

Ireland, that mysterious green island across the pond that evokes images of everyone wearing green hats, drinking merrily while singing in a pub, and speaking in the most welcoming accents you've ever heard. Okay, some of that may be true, but I wanted to discuss a few minimum cultural and historical facts, and some general information to be aware of before traveling to Ireland. I can't get them all in one go, but here's a few... (As a disclaimer, this is a foreigner's/expat's impressions of Ireland based on my experience thus far.)

Yes, that may be my dog Sammie and fellow biker friend Andrew having a pint at a pub in Dublin.

Language : Just to get this out of the way, no one says "top of the mornin' " please don't say that...ever. There are loads of beautiful Irish colloquialisms and idioms that stem from the Irish language, but that is not one of them.  And speaking of language, the native Irish language is Irish or Irish Gaelic (Translated from the Irish word Gaeilge), not English.  Though only the 7th most spoken language in Ireland, Irish is part of their rich culture, and where many of the complex and charming idioms come from.

Gaeilge is typically spoken as a primary language only in the west of Ireland. Speaking Irish has a long history of oppression and wasn't allowed to be taught or spoken in many areas for hundreds of years. Through a rocky road of politics and policy to bring back Irish, starting in 1928, Gaeilge is now part of the national curriculum. Neva is currently attending a full immersion Gaelscoil, where all instruction is given in Gaeilge. It's no coincidence that Ireland has bred so many poets and authors with its Irish language roots!

Neva on her way home from her first day of Gaelscoil. She wears a uniform which involves a snappy kilt!

Geography : I get asked many times by Americans if Ireland is part of the UK. The answer is no, N-O. Ireland is split between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (independent). Now, it's kind of a long story, but it started with the Normans invading Ireland in the twelfth century, a bunch of wars happened mostly surrounding English rule over the Irish, Ireland was then split into north (Anglo) and south (Irish) in the Irish war of independence in 1921, then officially became a republic (free from British Commonwealth) in 1949, ending with 'The Troubles'; a civil war between 1968-1998 waged on whether there should be a unification of Ireland or not.

This makes the Brexit business difficult because if Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland don't have the same rules, it makes border control difficult, and I'll leave it at that. Knowing the history and difference between Northern Ireland and The Republic is important not only culturally when you visit, but economically as well. For example, the Republic uses the Euro, while Northern Ireland uses the GBP.

Cost of Living : We live right at the border of County Wicklow (south of Dublin) and County Dublin. Dublin is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, right up there with London, however, in our daily lives, the main thing that was a notable difference as far as cost goes was the rent and housing prices. Ireland got hit much harder than the rest of western Europe in the global market crash of 2008, so interest rates are higher (eg. Ireland : 3.1% compared to France : 1.55%), banks are very cautious of mortgage approval, and the fact that Ireland is currently in a housing crisis due to high demand and low availability drives the housing prices up. Tourists aren't really affected by this, but if you're looking to move here, it should be a consideration.

We have the sea and the mountains within a 10 minute or less walk from us. The high quality of life of being easily near nature and the city was worth it for us!

Part of the reason houses are so high is because lots of people want to move here. To put this in perspective, Ireland only has a population of 4 million people, with 600,000 squeezed into the capital and surrounding areas. This doesn't sound like a lot, but considering the size of Ireland, and the size of where people want to be (Dublin, see above in yellow on map), the city is quite packed.

On the flip side, many places outside of the Dublin and Cork have more sheep than people. That is part of Ireland's appeal, how quickly you can be in the city, countryside, or at the sea. The longest it may take you to get anywhere on the opposite side of the country is a 5 hour drive, taking a long, windy backroad, making it a great place to go on holiday and see lots of interesting sites!

Cost of Tourism : As a tourist, Ireland is like many popular EU cities. You only tip if you had excellent service (maybe 10%) as waiters/cab drivers/etc. get paid a livable wage, and VAT is included in everything, so no math to add on extra tax cost, it is what it is! Bed and Breakfasts are popular in rural Ireland which are quaint and reasonably priced, and the rumor that you can ask anyone on the street for directions and be met with a big smile and detailed answer is very true. The hospitals have cost caps (our local one is 500), which we got paid back in full by our insurance just a few days later. Waits can be long during flu season, but our experience has been pretty good. Many Irish may disagree with me, but having experienced US privatized healthcare, where a short hospital stay can result in a multi-thousand dollar bill, pregnancy is a pre-existing condition, etc. Ireland is pretty good. In short, you can go on holiday here, and not have to worry about breaking the bank if you break your leg.

Me in the hospital with the mumps. Total cost after all said and done, $0.

In the year and a half we have lived here, I can say that we have been very welcomed; the classic Irish kindness and chattiness is refreshing. It's nice to be able to fairly easily travel around the island. Though it's a small area, the history is rich, and it is a country that should be taken at the speed of the locals, with appreciation for the land and of those that came before. There is so much to see here, and I am honored to call it my current home. If you haven't been, come visit, enjoy the craic, have a pint, and experience the beauty and rich culture that has fought to preserve traditions of old.

Below is a sneak peak of some of the beautiful Irish places we have been. I'll tell you all about them, and when to time!


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