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Larry Donnelly: 10 things I still just don’t get about Ireland

I love this country as much as where I was born, but there are some things I just can’t my head around.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

LAST YEAR, I wrote a column entitled “10 ways my American English is fighting Hiberno English for survival”. Thousands of readers on both sides of the Atlantic enjoyed it and suggested lots of additional words and phrases in the very same language that get lost in translation when used 3,000 miles away.

Upon reflection, while my internal linguistic battle continues, I’ve also realised that, after more than a decade of living and working here, there are (at least) 10 things that I still just don’t get about Ireland. Some of these are minor and trifling in the grand scheme of life. Others are representative of broader societal and cultural realities. And I won’t delve into those objections I have to things way beyond anyone’s control and/or make me appear to be an “ugly American,” such as the godforsaken metric system. At the risk of offending readers – please note that this list is firmly tongue-in-cheek and deliberately over the top – here are 10 pet peeves in no particular order about this country that I love every bit as much as the country where I was born.

10. Property Tax

When the property tax was introduced, I did not expect a huge amount of additional services from our local councils. My one hope, however, was that the further revenue stream would allow for road works and other disruptive projects that traditionally took place at the busiest times of the day to occur at off-peak hours. Having repeatedly been stopped in traffic on Friday afternoons over the past twelve months because of resurfacing and other repairs, I now know that I set my sights too high.

9. Love Affair with New York City

This one is deeply personal for me, and for many of my fellow Bostonians, who admittedly suffer from something of an inferiority complex when it comes to the much larger city 200 miles to our south. I nearly lose it when Irish people rave incessantly about New York City as my mind’s eye conjures up arrogant New York Yankees’ fans in an oversized city that is outrageously expensive. Ok, that’s well and truly overstating it. I like “the city” and its people. But please don’t forget about my understated, historic, classy, beautiful and very Irish home city. I’m never as happy as when I meet Irish people who were first mesmerised by Manhattan, yet have come to prefer Boston.

8. Absence of Sugar-Free Drinks

The emergence of American staples like iced tea and Gatorade in Ireland has been a most welcome development over the past few years. It is unfortunate that these drinks, with their high sugar content, have helped contribute to Ireland’s growing obesity problem. It is equally unfortunate that their sugar-free and reduced calorie versions, which are widely available in the US and nearly as tasty as the full flavour original blends, haven’t made it onto the market here. The sooner they do, the better.

7. Preferring Soccer/Rugby to GAA

Having been introduced to GAA in 2001 by my Galway cousins, it has become one of my passions in life. The GAA may be Ireland’s greatest institution. As such, even though sport is a matter of taste, I cannot comprehend why some Irish people prefer soccer or rugby to their own games of football and hurling. I have witnessed putative customers walk into Galway pubs and ask for English premiership soccer to be turned on instead a Galway vs. Mayo Connacht final. That would be the rough equivalent of an American walking into a Boston bar and asking to watch the US water polo team instead of the Boston Red Sox or New England Patriots. It does not happen. And I wish it didn’t happen here.

6. Eurovision

With all due respect for Ireland’s storied track record of success in the European song contest, I cannot abide it now. The songs and accompanying performances are alternatively bizarre and outdated, and invariably horrible. Why so many remain infatuated by it will always be a mystery to me. Dustin the Turkey was our contestant several years ago. Enough said.

5. The “Ice Famine”

In addition to the high prices, the most common complaint I hear from fellow Americans about Irish pubs is how skimpy the bar staff usually are with the ice. We like cold drinks – and no, they can never be too cold. I don’t get how anyone can enjoy a beer or cider that isn’t absolutely freezing, particularly during a warm summer like this one. Accordingly, when I request a glass of ice, it means a glass full of ice, not two or three measly cubes at the bottom. Ice is not expensive!

4. America and Americans: Love or Hate – or Both?

The truth of the matter is that some people in Ireland aren’t fans of America or Americans for their own reasons. Thankfully, they are distinctly in the minority and most I’ve encountered and befriended over the years profess their affinity for the US and cherish their close American friends and/or relations. Favourable sentiments notwithstanding, they are prone to mimicking American accents, and not in a flattering or apt way. We’re all valley girls, don’t you know? Moreover, words offered to me more than once as the sincerest of compliments – “you’re not really American” – leaves me scratching my head about who “real Americans” are and how Irish people regard them.

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3. If Americans Are Loud, Irish Are Quiet.

The recent controversy involving a sign erected at an establishment in Waterville, Co Kerry banning “loud Americans” has attracted international media attention. Although I think the proprietor is foolish for turning away potentially deep-pocketed customers, I concede that he has a point. I witness it when my friends and family come over to visit. Generally, they are loud. Conversely, I frequently find myself straining to hear Irish people who tend to speak softly, even when in crowded places. While I rarely say “huh?” in America, I constantly say it here, to the annoyance of my wife and others. I don’t wish Irish people were as loud and brash as Americans, but I do sometimes wish they would speak up.

2. Relationship with the Church

There is no question that the Church held absolute power in Ireland for way too long and abused its exalted position. Consequently, while I remain a practising Catholic, I fully accept the reasons why so many Irish people have either fallen away from or outright disdain the Church. However, I have a great deal of sympathy for a priest I heard lately lament the fact that large numbers of the young people he had confirmed that week wouldn’t again be at Mass until a parent died or they got married. He’s right. Many in Ireland want the Church to be a part of their milestones, despite feeling indifferent or hostile to it otherwise. I recognise that there are myriad, complicated reasons behind this. It’s nonetheless a confused relationship.

1. Obsession with Tea

Irish people really, really, really love tea. I have heard more “Barry’s vs. Lyons” debates than I care to recall. And for a substantial segment of the population, events in life – whether sad or joyous, work or pleasure – revolve around cups of tea. There is nothing at all wrong with this. It’s actually quite nice, surely comforting and totally harmless. Yet tea doesn’t do it for me at all. I would almost always prefer something colder or, to my shame, stronger, than a cup of tea.

Well, that’s the list. These are the matters that continue to perplex me in a country whose people have been wonderful to me since I moved here in 2001 and whose passport I have carried for even longer. I have no doubt that you may agree and will definitely disagree with elements of the foregoing. Please do. And I think a similarly framed, yet inverse, column from an Irish person who either now lives or formerly lived in the US would be the most suitable riposte!

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and columnist with IrishCentral.com and TheJournal.ie.

Column: 10 ways my American English is fighting Hiberno English for survival

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Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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