Thursday, May 8, 2014

Some advice before you head off on the Wild Atlantic Way

Many a tourist will be visiting the West this year, at least that's what we all hope with the Wild Atlantic way being advertised everywhere. There are a few things you need to be aware of when you come to the West, and who beter to tell you than someone like me, a true foreigner who's been living in the (South) West for the past 16 years.

Here are a few things you need to know when traveling the Wild Atlantic Way.

1. Language
According to the 2011 census 82.600 people speak Irish every day outside of work/school in Ireland. The areas where Irish is the first langugae are known as the Gaeltacht.
if you see this sign , you're in an area where Irish is the predominant language. You will not understand a word of what is being said, but do not panic, everyone in these areas is bilingual and if you ask kindly, they will help you in English.
You will be popular if you try and say a few words like 'conas atá tú'
( how are you), or if someone says that to you, you could answer'Tá me go maith',

( I'm fine).
Caution! You might think people are speaking Irish sometimes, when, infact, they speak English. Like these Cork/Kerry farmers

2. Greetings.
You will notice while driving that everyone greets you. I was told this is not out of kindness, but just to make sure not to miss anyone known to the driver, as to ignore someone could be taken very badly. It is therefore better to greet everyone you pass. The way to do this is by sticking up your index or briefly hold up your hand. Don't wave at people, that is just too silly.

If you pass someone you talked to the day before and that person says 'how are ya', please don't make a fool of yourself by stopping and explaining you have a bit of a sore head that morning because you're not used to drinking Guiness, don't stop at all, just keep walking and mumble 'grand, and yourself?' You should never say 'very well', that's just not done, in order to make the other person feel OK about himself you just say 'not too bad', while walking on, of course!

If you do want to start a conversation, talk about the weather. People will stop and take their time to talk about the weather. Now bear in mind that ' a lovely day' in Ireland can vary from a very grey dull day with no wind and no rain to blue sky and sunshine. Irish people are always very optimistic when it doesn't rain. I needed a few years before I could say 'isn't it a gorgeous day', while looking at a grey sky. But here any day without rain and heavy winds is a gorgeous day.

Don't be shocked if a man winks at you while turning his head slightly. It is not an indecent proposal ( as it would be where I come from), it is just his way of saying hi. I've never seen a woman do it, so ladies, don't try. Come to think, men don't try either, there is a special technique to it, which only Irish men from the West seem to master.
No, Irish people don't say 'top of the morning to you' , I've only heard it said once in my whole 16 years here.

3. The Ocean
The Atlantic ocean is wild! Be careful. Learn about rip tides, try and bath at beaches with life guards, stay close to your children and don't take risks. Tides come in very fast in some places.
The ocean is cold. Think about wearing a wet suit. This is not the mediteranean, although last year you could have mistaken the coast for it, that was exceptional. You normally freeze in the water. No topless beaches here!
The ocean is fun. Go surfing, kayaking, kite surfing, wind surfing, sailing. Anything is possible. Just leave the jet skis behind. We can do without the noise.

Eat fish. There are some great fish restaurants around.
Enjoy Irish breakfast. You won't need lunch and you can save some money that way. Make sure you know the difference between an English breakfast and an Irish one, and when you do, come and explain the difference to me, I still haven't quite figured it out.
If you eat out, always check if a restaurant takes cards. Some don't and you don't want to end a great night out with washing dishes.

5.Night Life Well, that can be great fun of course. Try and seek out the traditional bars, the most fun you can have is when people burst out in song spontaneously, although, beware, they might put you on the spot and demand a song from you. So, to make sure, rehearse a few 'party pieces' at home, don't end up singing a nursery rhyme in a panic.
Enjoy the wealth of musical talent in Ireland, you can never be disappointed.
Be aware of extreme drunks,.
If you happen to pass by a teenage disco, where teenagers are locked up in a hall with music from 9 pm till midnight. You are not prepared for the revealing clothes, at least not if you're not British, or Irish. You will be shocked by the make up and the mile-high heels the 14 to 16 year old girls wear. Your mouth will fall open and that looks silly. Mine did, the first time I went and picked my eldest son up from such a disco, and again another time ( around Halloween) when I saw one of the girls dressed in an Ann Summers red latex nursing outfit . No, this is not meant for untrained eyes.
You do get used to it, but not during the course of a holiday break.

Most of all, enjoy the beauty, the sound and the fun of this wonderful part of the country. Send me some pictures!

Monday, May 5, 2014

A cry for help in Ireland. What to do?

On Saturday I went to the Ballydehob jazz festival with my friend Lucy, a Moorish looking woman from the West. Lucy married a Corkonian with an Italian father. I always thought she was the Italian of the two, but I was wrong.
We thoroughly enjoyed our evening, although we barely heard any jazz. The town was buzzing, the charming little pubs that probably never changed over the last 100 years were full,everyone looked happy.
We went in to the Levis' bar and settled in the tiny living room in the back, which felt like a museum with the old stove and the towels drying above it, the lovely old photographs, and posters with bed time prayers on the walls,the kitchen cabinets with porcelain, the sacred heart on the wall, it felt as if grandma Levis had only just gone out the door to get some peat.
A few people sat down at a table next to our seats and we started talking. They were from Edingburgh, visiting their friend who lives in Schull but was from, and here you have it, Sligo.
'Oh dear' I thought, 'here we go, we'll never get away now'. Because, you see, my friend is from Sligo as well, and when two Sligo people meet they have to compare notes on who they know, pass on the gossip and especially show how happy they are to meet another Sligo person.
And I was right .
Lucy 's cousin had been to the same school as the other Sligo lady whose name I can't remember, they told each other where they lived, what they thought of the movie 'The Calvary', which was filmed in Sligo, and used the local butcher's as one of the locations.
Oh and how was the local butcher now? Gossip, gossip, gossip. When I thought everything had been said, the other Sligo lady exclaimed 'wait, there is a Sligo man standing at the bar, he's a musician who lives in Cork, but he's a Sligo man'. It didn't take long before mr Sligo came in, all excited about meeting his town compatriots. Of course he knew such and such and so and so and on and on it went.

It made me think. When I meet another Belgian, we mostly exchange a few words, and then never see each other again, unless it's accidentally. If anyone tells me they know another Belgian, I just say 'Oh Really?' but that's about it. So it is nice to see that over here even being from the same county is special.
What would Lucy do if someone from Sligo became ill, depressed, or needed any other help? I think she'd step in and do all she could to help out.
So, when I got a text message from a fellow Belgian last night saying 'please help' I decided to go and find him.
I don't really know the man. Someone brought me in contact with him a few months ago when he was destitute, thrown out by his wife, unemployed. with no social welfare. I helped him by pointing him to Focus Ireland, invited him over for dinner a few times and went out for a drink and a chat with him as often as I could, but as I was going through a separation myself, he was dragging me down, so I told him , once he had sorted his social security out and found a room, I wouldn't see him anymore. I didn't hear from him again, until last night.
Until that message.
I drove over to where he was at the coast.We talked and talked, I tried to convince him to seek medical help, which he refused. It is not easy to convince an ex- university lecturer, but at least I think I did manage to stop him from doing something stupid, just for the next 24 hours anyway. He went back to his room. I sent him a text this morning, which he answered saying he still felt like it makes no sense to go on living. And this afternoon I got no more replies. And here I am now, worrying about this fellow Belgian, who is somehere in Cork, I have no address, only a mobile number.
I sent him another text asking him to contact The Samaritans, with their free call number. No reply.
What should I do?