It’s been a full last few days. Lots of observations to share! I’ve been in Ireland exactly four weeks now and I’m happy to say it is only gaining more interest for me the longer I stay.
Saturday morning I finally made it over to the outdoor market Drogheda has every week. The selection of fresh flowers, fruits and veggies I found was quite remarkable, not to mention the enormous size of things like turnips, parsnips, carrots and potatoes. The prices were reasonable as well. But this wasn’t your basic farmer’s market, not by American standards, anyway. It was also something of a flea market, with many stalls offering clothing, artwork, toys, household items like dish soap and toilet paper, and all manner of other junk. The most incredible thing to me was the number of booths selling bootlegged DVDs, and not just old crappy stuff – we’re talking movies that haven’t even been released yet over here, stuff like “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” “The Water Horse,” and “Dan In Real Life,” all in neat little cases with artwork! As I stood there gaping at the stolen goods in plain view, the girl behind the table told me I could choose any three for only 10 €. I guess I’ve led a sheltered life.
As I was forewarned, Ireland is very expensive. Someone told me it’s the third most expensive place to live in the world right now. Be that as it may, one can still find bargains. While a single pad of post-its might cost the equivalent of $3, a bottle of contact solution about $20 and a gallon of gas over $7, you can get a beautiful loaf of fresh, artisan bread for about $2. And let met tell you, the bread here is phenomenal. I remember a friend of mine coming back from a semester in France and saying she could never eat fake nacho cheese again… well, after the amazing breads I’ve sampled here, I don’t think I could ever go back to white Wonderbread. The bread here is so fresh and moist, full of flavour and texture like I never knew bread could have. I don’t even care so much about the rest of the meal – not even the potatoes, gasp! – just give me a thick slice of nutty brown bread with creamy Irish butter smeared on. (While you’re at it, why don’t you just add it to my hips…)
Ireland is also very environmentally conscious, which is sort of ironic to me because there is litter everywhere. Nevertheless, it was the first nation in the world to outlaw smoking in pubs. More noticeable on a day-to-day basis is the levy on plastic grocery bags, in an effort to get people to recycle and bring their own bags in to the stores. They just raised the levy this year – it’s up to 22 cents a bag, or about 36 cents American.
Of course, there are still Old World influences around as well. Though the Irish are not as superstitious as some stereotypes might say, there are some fun little rituals I’ve noticed. Sometimes when I’m introduced to a female family member or friend, they ask to see my engagement ring – I take it off and hand it to them so that they can put it on their own ring fingers, twist it three times, and make a wish. Then, of course, there are Catholic traditions I’m still not used to, being raised a non-denominational Christian myself. I’ve seen people cross themselves when passing churches or hospitals or when a scary story is told. It remains a Catholic nation, even with all the Protestant uprisings in its history. But people tend not to question their faith or even think much about it – it just is what it is. Although, I did raise an eyebrow the first time I read notices in the classifieds dedicated as prayers to the saints, always ending with “say this prayer for three days, promise publication, and your miracle will be answered.” (emphasis mine)
But leave it to me – the new girl in town, surrounded by Catholic churches and horrified by the tales I’ve been told of the wars of the last 800 years between religions – leave it to me to attend the only Presbyterian Church in town. It’s a romantic little place, just round the corner from Frank’s house. It’s very old and falling apart inside, with cool stained glass windows and little castle-like turrets on the outside. I sat in the creaky old wooden gallery my first week, and they’d forgotten to turn on the heat! I felt like I was back in old New England, about to be smacked with a rod if I fell asleep! The parishioners are very friendly, however, and even though I’ve been only twice, I was welcomed heartily each time. The minister invites everyone to tea and refreshments downstairs after the service and people hang around for a long time, just chatting. The congregation is mostly international – lots of people from Africa and Eastern Europe, and most of the Irish there are from Northern Ireland, as I’ve learned to tell by their accents. I’m pretty sure I’m the only American. There are tons of kids running around during the service and the minister even does a little lesson for them before sending them off to the “creche.”
Random little aside here, but the Catholic/Protestant thing got me thinking – I survived my first bomb scare yesterday! Yep, one of the major bridges into town was closed because of a “suspicious object.” I never did hear what it turned out to be, but I still couldn’t help but wonder what life was like in Drogheda back in the days of the IRA, which wasn’t so long ago… and could it still be lurking underground??? Nothing to worry about though, in case you were… I feel very safe here, despite this and the five murders in town over the last month. J
Yes, this Ireland is a mystical and magical place, overflowing with an intricate history, folklore and a million stories I’ve yet to hear. I’m still a little taken aback when I spy a ancient castle poking through the trees or see the ruins of an abbey along the road. It’s the kind of place I’ve always dreamed of seeing, and as the moments turn to months, I am just beginning to realize how lucky I am to be here.
Tune in for more soon. J