Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ireland; Four More Attempts

Hmm...shall we get into the real depths of the Emerald Isle?
Can I just reiterate how much I love that place.

First of all, we stayed in the Shire. No exaggeration. The Shire. It was incredible. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting and reveling in the green. It was such a stark contrast from the yellows, browns, and blacks that I have become accustomed to, sad as that thought is. We went shopping at a massive grocery store before we got to the Cottages and I bought as authentically as I could for the week. Let's just say that there is nothing like sitting on an ancient, creaky, wooden picnic table watching sheep on the side of the Mourne Mountains while slowly munching sausage, cheese, eggs, and soda bread, washed down with some Irish Breakfast tea.
It's easy to see God in moments like that. He must enjoy the Irish countryside as much as I did, because he seemed present everywhere. Especially at the monastery we had class at. The place was phenomenally beautiful. One of the only buildings I've ever seen and thought Ah! Contemporary architecture can be just as beautiful as architecture of old.


I went to a service there. (Yes, this is skipping a bit, but that's fine) It was lead collectively by the six monks who live at the Monastery. One would lead in the hymns, one had a sermon, one the reading of the Gospel. Each man demanded respect in his own unique way, and yet they worked together to make an enriching and powerful service. Think of it like a tapestry. The small pictures and designs can be intricate and beautiful, but the entire thing is what is breath-taking and majestic.

So, clearly, God lived in Rostrever. He was apparent everywhere, but there were places he seemed very far from.

We spent a day touring Belfast. Mainly in a bus, which took a bit away from the experience, but not much. I knew some of the history of the Troubles. I understood the division (mostly), and had heard of the murals and the violence. Really, I knew nothing. Everything I thought I knew was shot to hell when I stood under the Union Jack looking across the street to buildings covered in Green and Orange. When you stare face to face with a "peace wall" that has the names Israel, Palestine, Nicosia, and Berlin carved into it as its "sister places".

That will haunt you.

So will the murals. There are plenty of them. Around every street corner it seems. It's so strange to see something that honors men in black hoods with Kalashnikovs. It's even weirder to see that mural painted above a grocery store. And then to think that the very people the wore the masks because of live 2 blocks away, and are honored by their own loyal friends just the same.

Now, on top of all of that, do it in the name of religion.

But really, its not about the religion. Protestantism and Catholicism don't really have anything to do with it. It's all about politics.

There is some redemption in Belfast, though. There are glimmers of hope. The city itself is improving (read: rebuilding), and is on its economic feet. The Troubles have technically been over since 1998, and this is most apparent in the citizens. I had heard that the "new" generation (my generation) was trying to avoid the troubles. Trying to distance themselves from it all. I actually had an encounter that displayed this pretty well:

I was walking alone through the Belfast airport waiting for our flight out to Amsterdam (Yup, I jumped around again. This is not in chronological order at all. Think of it as a Tarintino movie). I was heading towards the airport coffeeshop (read previous posts to find out how much I enjoy these two things put together). A rather attractive Irish lass caught my attention by asking if I was interested in learning about the Bank of Ireland. I stumbled with my words at first. Originally, I was quite excited that a local thought that I was Irish, and then I realized that I was going to have to tell her I was from the States, and thus, I needed to have no accent (I pick them up extremely easily. Especially inflection. Especially when talking to locals. So this was rather difficult to do). So, I told her and her co-worker (who was later revealed to be her mother) that I couldn't exactly join the Bank of Ireland, and yada yada yada. We got to talking, mainly because people really want to know where you are from in the States if you talk with them. They didn't know Colorado, and the conversation turned into me trying to explain the difference between "mountain people" and "hillbillies". Oye. (there's a point to this, I swear). Then I was asked about why I was in Ireland (to study), if I had any Irish family (yes, to which I was told "oh yeah, all you Americans do"), and what I had seen in Belfast. At this point the mom left the kiosk we were talking at (relevant, I swear). The girl asked if I had seen "the murals, and all that stuff". I tried to be as polite and politically correct about it and just said yes, that I had. And that was it. She said something like "cool", and the conversation went on. A bit later, her mom returned, and proceeded to ask me the same question. Once again, I tried to be polite: "Yeah, we saw them on our tour".

"Well, which ones did you prefer? The Green ones, or the Red, White, and Blue ones?"

I froze. There was no real way to answer this question properly. I told her that I liked the Green ones better. I did this half trying to gauge which she would prefer herself, and half being honest (politically, I'm a bit more of a nationalist. I love Ireland so much I think it should just be its own entity completely. However, I understand the nationalistic point-of-view and its political necessity all the same. But I digress...). I chose wrong. She upturned her face and asked me why. I then realized I needed to save myself from looking like a stupid, knows-nothing-about-what-actually-happens-here American, and say something other than "I like those colors better", and I still hadn't quite caught her affiliation yet. So, naturally, I said something that made me look like a stupid, doesn't-know-anything-that-actually-happens-here American. I opened my mouth and out came "Well, the Green ones we saw were less violent than the Red, White, and Blue ones".

I got a Northern Irish death glare. Do yourself a favor and never, ever get one of these. She said "On no! That's totally backwards. Those Greens ones are so much worse." Welp. Nice going. Foot so far into mouth. She leaned in close and whispered "The Red, White, and Blue ones. Remember that." Then left. Yikes. I felt awful. I ended up apologizing later to her daughter "if I had said anything too offensive, or come across as an uninformed American", she assured me that everything was fine. I ended up seeing the mom later, and she was perfectly nice again (It was only later that I realized that I should have said that I liked the Greens better cause I am a fan of Celtic. That would have saved me some trouble).

Later, I realized that these two had perfectly epitomized the Troubles. The older generation not only cared about it enough, but she went out of her way to find out what I thought about it, and then proceeded to tell me how wrong I was. However, when it came to working, she pushed my uninformed opinion out of the way and was more than cordial again. The new generation didn't care about it at all. She just asked if I had seen the murals and then moved on. It's the classic "yeah, that's part of our past" mindset. It's incredible what you can glean from a simple airort conversation.

The Irish are a fascinating people.

Speaking of which (I promise this is almost over. éire just has a lot of good stories to offer.), let me flesh out Ned and the Five Attempts. The day before we went to Belfast, we traveled down to the Republic (see. Tarintino.). I was so excited. Dublin. Dublin! Giddy is an appropriate word. We go there and toured Kilmainham jail. Which is fascinating. You may recognize it from various U2 music videos or recordings, it has incredible acoustics. Then, we were on our own for the rest of the day.

Naturally, five of the guys headed quick for the Guinness Stockhouse. It was a really decent walk from where we were, which was perfect, because we got to see a good chunk of Dublin in a short amount of time. We went from the university area, to a shopping square, to churches, and finally to a rather depressed neighborhood before we reached the Stockhouse. I look back on this now as such a blessing, because most people only stayed around the shopping district. Then, the factory was lovely. Just a very well done tourist attraction. Top it off (literally and metaphorically) with the best view in Dublin. The top floor is called the Gravity Bar, where you can claim your "free" (with admission) pint straight from the brewery. 8 minutes from brew to glass.

So, take quite possibly the best beer you will ever have. Add four friends who are loving every second as much as you. Then finish with a 360 degree view of the town you've wanted to see your whole life. That, right there, is life.

Back to the Irish people. After the tour, we headed to a pub on the way back to the bus. We were treated exceptionally well. The owner of the bar (the previously mentioned Ned) sat us himself, asked us where we were from, and actually cared to listen to what we had to say. He took our orders, and had a witty, Irish quip for everything we said. Perfect. We, naturally, ordered Guinness with our meal. Ned then told us of how he had worked for the company for forty years before opening the pub we were then sitting at. Clearly the man knew his Guinness (I asked him if it comes straight from the factory. His reply: "Rolled it here meself this marnin'!" There's Irish humor for you). He taught us how to properly drink a Guinness. The first "attempt" as he called them, sips to us non-Irish, has to be "past the Harp". On Guinness pint glasses there is a logo with a harp right above it. According to Ned, your first sip should make it past that picture. Sip is an improper word really, gulp is probably more accurate. "You should feel it back there in the back of your throat". We all did. Then he said, "Alright lads, so if you wan' ta drink a Guinness properly, ya get 5 attempts total. That was the first." I thought maybe he was just trying to push more beer on us for profit, but when asked, he preserved that it was just the way the Irish do it. I gotta hand it to Ned, it really does make the Guinness better. Trusting an Irishman when it comes to alcohol is probably smart (or really stupid depending on the circumstances).

Sheesh...I am not succinct. 'Course, there was a lot to say about Ireland. I didn't even mention Tommy Sands (the bard of peace. He played a full three hours in my cottage. His daughter danced jigs. They played traditional songs, I sang along. It was heavenly. Just amazing.) There was a ton learned, and other things that I thought I knew that were shaken up. One thing I do know for sure though:

I'm going back. :)


  1. as amazing as your experience sounds and your writing is, i'm disappointed, kurt. you didn't mention the lisbon treaty once. maybe you're planning on writing a separate entry entirely devoted to the issue. don't flake out on me now, kurt =)

  2. Kurt - thank you for writing this. you just took me right back to my two weeks in Ireland (which, incidentally, were two of the best weeks of the whole semester). I'm glad you enjoyed the Guinness tour - we went directly after going to church at Christchurch...I believe that somewhere there exists a picture of me drinking a Guinness while holding my Bible. Great :).

    Also, my time in Belfast pretty much rocked my world. I can't wait until you get home so we can talk about all of this in more detail.

    Keep writing!

  3. Maybe you can know this for sure, i want to go with you... and will do what i can to make it possible.