Ireland – far away, up close

Time to say goodbye
Time to say goodbye

Some things, like impressionist paintings, are only clear when you take a step back. Not having lived in Ireland for a decade there are certain things I am seeing with fresh eyes. As I near the end of a four-month sabbatical in Dublin and contemplate the return to my life in Switzerland, it’s a good moment to cast an objective eye on the homeland.

Cold comfort: I now understand why we like to live in terraced houes, in the city at least. Huddling together, as penguins know, is the best way to keep warm. I’m not entirely joking when I say that the only thing keeping me here right now is my electric blanket.

Irish houses have chronic insulation issues and heating – what time you turn it on, how big your bills are, how useless storage heaters are – is a big topic of conversation. This issue should be the central plank of any political party manifesto. I think the political leader who makes our homes affordably warm is destined to win the affection of the nation.

Gale force: A note from the second windiest country in Europe (after Scotland). The wind is wreaking untold devastation on the hairstyles of Ireland, a problem that does not get the recognition it deserves. You could have your hair set in iron cladding and it would still get blown to bits. If there was some way we could marry the wind resource with the home heating gap we would be set up for life. Anyone, anyone?

Comfort eating: You have to have something with those endless cups of tea. The Irish are the biggest chocolate, cake and biscuit munchers in Europe and the selection of crisps is second to none. Yes there may be public health implications but it is also worth celebrating the sheer wealth of delicious treats available.

Storytelling: I don’t think Irish people live more dramatic lives but they certainly have the ability to turn life experiences into good stories. This comes across a lot on radio – I’ve often been stopped in my tracks by the voices of people recounting something powerful. Amongst my own friends and family I’ve had evenings here where story after story is told which could provide the plots for several novels. Speaking of which, I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met who are writing novels. The competition is going to be stiff!

Rule bending: Travelling with three children on the bus every day I have experienced plenty of instances of friendliness and kindness from bus drivers which never ceases to amaze me. There have been other situations where the ability to apply common sense or compassion over the rules has made life easier for me. It’s not something you come across as often in Switzerland.

The next twelve days will be all about letting go and saying goodbye again. But that’s OK. The trip has gone really well overall and I think I can say I found what I was looking for.

17 thoughts on “Ireland – far away, up close

  1. Plenty of food for thought here, as always Clare. Good luck with your packing and leave some space for crisps and chocolate digestives!

  2. This is so wonderful. So rich. So much of it resonates with me for reasons I won’t go into. A simple, wonderfully-told story of your take on Ireland, but just full of life lessons. And thank you especially for the first sentence… May I reblog this post?

    1. Thank you for your kind comments Bill. Delighted to have the post reblogged. I came close to abandoning this post when I was nearly finished writing it. Funny how the ideas you doubt can turn out to be well worth saying.

  3. I’ve enjoyed being a vicarious follower of your Irish adventures, Clare. I’m glad it’s been such a fruitful time and that you’ve found what you were looking for. I hope we can catch up again for a pint and a chat some time in the New Year? In the meantime, enjoy the last part of your stay and safe travels back to your other home. Jo

  4. Reblogged this on Ghost In The Walls and commented:
    Fellow bloggers, if you don’t already know of her, I’d like to introduce to you Clare O’Dea and her wonderful writing, full of experiences and life lessons. If you’re not following her, check out her blog and I think you’ll be following her soon. ~ Bill

  5. It has also been a joy for me to imagine you (and me vicariously!) having a taste of what you left behind all those years ago and how re-assuring to know you could dip back into it that easily.. Marianne

    1. Thanks Marianne, like you I never really let go, which makes things harder in one way but on the other hand everyone is still there for you, ready to take up where you left off.

  6. An excellent post. Ireland has always been a bit of a mystery to me. My Irish grandmother disappeared before I was born, and the second wife burned all the pictures of her. So all these bits of information (the cold rooms, the wind, the big selection of cakes and biscuits to eat at tea time) are like little treasured surprises. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Nicki, it’s lovely to hear that my thoughts were meaningful to someone else. I have lots of relations in the US and find the whole Irish American emigrant experience very interesting. One of my grandmother’s sisters emigrated to New York in the 1930s where she worked as a maid. The family she lived with had a summer place on Nantucket and she fell in love with a local fisherman and stayed there for the rest of her life! You might enjoy Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, tells one such story.

    1. Oddly enough, we used electric blankets in our lovely old, but extraordinarily freezing house growing in Dun Laoghaire. Well, my mum did, (i don’t think the family budget stretched to such luxuries for myself and sister in 1980s Dublin 🙂 . And indeed the bed did eventually catch fire. Everyone was okay. Did gut upper story of said house however. Your stance on electric blankets is vindicated Susan. Apparently the trick is to have a fuse in the plug. Ours didn’t, (it later transpired). Some muppet electrician… Anyway, nice to find this blog Clare. Thanks for the follow by the way, I find myself happy to reciprocate. I very much like the piece above, found it fresh, pithy and perceptive, all at once.

      1. Thanks Arran, I was also very pleased to stumble across your blog through Jane’s reblogging of the Christmas Day swim. I wish I’d known about the Dominican Convent oratory when I was in Dun L for four months. Beautiful and fascinating. I’ll just have to visit it on a future summer visit.

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