Friday, June 23, 2017

Why Rural Ireland is NOT DisneyWorld (and what you should learn about it when visiting)

A magic window. But no matter how
captivating you  may find the view,
please remember it's someone's home.
Yesterday I received the shock of my life when someone decided my quaint little Irish home was a tourist attraction. Here's what happened - and what I hope visitors to rural Ireland might learn.

I live in Eyeries, County Cork, something of an idyllic location perched in the very southwest corner of this country. Too, I'm blessed to live in a rather quaint, blue cottage-like home overlooking the sea. 

Like most homes it You know: those things holding glass in a large frame that let in light and let you look out. Windows have another occasionally bemusing function of course. They also let other people look in.

Living in Eyeries as I do, we get a stream of tourists visiting the area mostly during the peak summer months. Because my home is on the only Main Street in the village, all sorts of people walk past. And many are attracted to the front window because - well, they're curious, is all.

You must understand, if you look into my front window from the Main Street you can see all the way through the house, all the way to the back room ... and right out the far window which happens to overlook Coulagh Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. If the weather happens to be fabulous - a rare event in this part of the world - that little view is staggering.

Which means, of course, that the front window operates rather like a magnet. People walking past will glance at the window. They'll get a glimpse of what's beyond. They'll stroll up to the glass. And they'll stand there, gawping at the view.

Now if you happen to live in this house like I do, you get somewhat used to living in a fish bowl. I'll be sitting on my couch, for example. I'll look up - and there gawking into my front living room will be a half-dozen tourists. Honestly, it usually doesn't bother me. Usually. But there are occasions when it does.

The Mad Woman from Texas
Like two days ago, for instance. I was in the back room and chanced to walk into the living room. I looked up - and there was yet another tourist gawping into the house. Only this one was acting somewhat brazenly.

This one was holding a camera. She was pointing it into the interior of my home. I realised instantly that she intended to take a photo of the stunning view out back. Which was absolutely fine by me. I walked toward her with a grin on my face, intending to make her welcome and perhaps even offer to take her onto my back deck. The views there are unobstructed, naturally, and she would get a much better photograph.

Anyway, as I approached her, I noticed one of her fingers pointing at me. Then it began to wave madly as if some sort of insane turn indicator. For a minute I couldn't figure out what she was doing. Then I realised:

The woman wanted me to move. I was blocking her view. I was spoiling her picture and her fun. 

She wanted me to get out of the way. Even though it was my home. 

And I wanted to kill her.

I am not proud to say it but I lost the plot. I stormed out the front door. There, the woman was still standing at my front window, camera in hand, ignoring anything else except her intent  to get the best photograph in all of Ireland.

Me (steaming mad): May I ask what you are doing?
Texas Nut (ignoring me): I'm trying to take a photo. Now if you don't mind....
Me (gobsmacked): I beg your pardon? 
She (still not turning): Look,fella. Can you please be quiet for a minute? I'm almost through.
Me (starting to boil): Where are you from?
She (finally turning to me): What? What did you ask?
Me (hah! I got her attention!): Where are you from?
She (realising something just might be wrong): Why I'm from Texas honey.
Me: I'm from Chicago. Do you understand that this is my home? You wanted me to move because I was spoiling your pathetic little picture and... this is my home? You are possibly the rudest individual I have ever met in my life!
She (still not quite getting it): Rude? Why are you angry? Everyone from Ireland is so nice. Why aren't you nice?
Me (not believing the comment): We are nice when people treat us nice. Now get away from my house. Right now. Before I unleash my nasty dog (I do own a dog but he's frightened of even small things like buzzing flies and wouldn't harm a soul).

The Mad Texas Woman gave me a look that suggested I was insane. Perhaps believing I was an escapee from a mental ward she walked carefully around me, then broke into a run and ran away. 

Rural Ireland is Not DisneyWorld
The Mad Woman from Texas never grasped even remotely why I was angry. Instead, she believed (as a very tiny minority do) that all the quaint little structures - the houses and shops and wee little pubs - have been magically fabricated just for their entertainment.

These slobs think they have the right to do just about anything. They touch and grasp and stand on stuff and ignore signage printed in bold lettering: PRIVATE PROPERTY. KEEP OUT. 

These are the rude ones. They have no respect for almost anything and from a local standpoint, quickly out stay their welcome.

And I don't want you to think Mad Americans are the only ones who can behave like this. I've run into Germans, French, Dutch, Italians ... rude people can be from anywhere.

For instance, last  year I caught a German couple who decided to have a picnic in my back garden. I'd been away at a meeting and came home to find Hans and Gretta perched on my sun loungers eating sandwiches. When I suggested they were trespassing they became offended. "Gretta, we won't come back," said Hans. And they marched out the door.

Last week it was a bus load of French. Again I'd been at a meeting. Again I came home - to find 20 people snooping around my back garden. "Ah, don't you realise this is private property?" I ask. "I mean, the entire yard is fenced in. Isn't it obvious that it is a home?" 

The 20 shook  their heads in unison. making them look like a troupe of Parisian Puppets on parade. "Private property? It cannot possible be private property."

I knew they were lying. Of course they realised it was someone's home, not that it made a difference to them. They decided to trespass so they could get a better view. That's all.

Or on another occasion: it was about 8:30 in the morning. I'd just taken my shower and was standing in a towel in the kitchen getting a cup of coffee.

The front door, which I forgot to lock, suddenly opened. A woman who never had the chance to put a name on her nationality walked fully into the room.

She: "Oh I say! That's a wonderful cup of coffee I smell."
Me (absolutely flummoxed): "Ah, yes."
She: "Could I buy one, do  you think?"
Me (unbelieving): "Ah, no."
She (the light suddenly dawning): "This isn't a cafe, is it?"

Then she noticed only a towel separating the rest of my body from total nudity and left.

I've kept the door locked ever since.

Please Be Respectful
If and when you visit rural Ireland I honestly think you'll love it. The people are warm and inviting and will make you feel at home. You'll experience some absolutely stunning views and you'll make some wonderful memories.

All I ask is this: what you're seeing and visiting - those quaint little buildings that could be a part of a DisneyWorld Main Street location - were not built by Walt & Co.

They are homes and businesses. People - including parents and kids, dogs and cats, cows and sheep - live there.

Please respect that, okay? And if you decide to take a picture through someone's front window, don't wag your finger at him to get out of the way so you can get an unobstructed shot.

If you do that, you may find you have annoyed an immigrant Yank.

If this blog interests you and you want to learn more about Ireland why not consider purchasing A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland 2017 Edition. Are you thinking about living and working in Ireland? Would you like to move to Ireland? Do you want to know how to get an Irish work visa in this country? Do you need to know how Brexit and Trump policies may affect your plans? If so, consider purchasing the 2017 edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland by Tom Richards. Now almost 90,000 words long, this book could make the perfect gift for  those interested in this wonderful country. Over 14,000 people have now learned how to live, laugh, and drink like the Irish by reading this Kindle ebook. I hope you enjoy, and my very best - Tom

Friday, June 9, 2017

Learning to Talk Like the Irish

A good number of years ago when my dear mother, God bless her, still strode this good earth she came to visit. It was her first time on these shores and to give her a bit of fun I brought her to the local Mall. 

Back then a Mall in Navan County Meath wasn't exactly like Woodfield Mall in suburban Chicago in which she spent a good deal of time when I was a boy. We did not have a Macy's or a Sears or a lineup of expensive boutiques. I warned her but it was sort of lost in translation and she insisted on going.  "I need a small pouch in which to pack my various valuables and potions," she smiled. "I'm sure they'll have exactly what I need." 

So we climbed into my small jalopy (a falling-apart 1978 brown Ford Escort that would never start) and bounced our way through the rain to the Mall.

I followed her into the local Dunnes Stores, an emporium of rather cheap and tatty goods but all we had back in those days and found a young clerk, and as I stood at my mother's side she asked,

"Excuse me. I wonder if you could show me a fanny pack?" And I wanted to die. I glanced at the girl, a real stunner, who glanced back with a confused face bright as a polished red apple. She took off to parts unknown, possibly to call the manager, who would in turn call the Garda, and have my mother thrown out.

"What's wrong with her?" my mother sniffed. "Doesn't she know what a fanny pack is?"

"No," was my answer and led her as quickly from Dunnes as I could. I never did explain to my mother what caused the confused kerfuffle. As her son, and as you will soon understand, I simply could not utter the reason for my embarrassment. 

For you see a Fanny in Ireland is not a pack nor is it a fashionable method for hauling unguents, passports, money and change, or any other item. 

In Ireland a Fanny is the descriptor used to define the female genitalia. 

So be warned: should you come to Ireland come prepared for a new way of speaking and woe to the person who misunderstands.

A Short Guide to Irish Slang

The Irish may talk in English (as well as As Gaeilge) but that does not necessarily mean they speak the same language as you do. Here are a few worrisome examples of what to expect.
  • Rubber - is not a prophylactic. Should you decide to go frolic in wild Irish undergrowth with a new mate and desire to protect yourself from the unexpected get yourself to a Chemist and ask for a condom. A Rubber is an eraser, as in the gob of pink at the end of a pencil. 
  • Flute - okay I'll stick with the sexual but just for moment. if a fella approaches you and says he wants to show you his flute, do NOT go there.Ditto with Langer. Though Langerous means something else entirely.
  • Yoke - should someone ask to "hand me that Yoke" do not think you have suddenly relocated to a farmyard. No, you are not being asked to bridle the cattle. Yoke is the equivalent to that wonderful term "thing-a-ma-bob" and a great word it is too.
  • Jacks - should you want to use the toilet asking for the bathroom can be somewhat misunderstood because a bathroom holds just that - the bath. "Bathroom" is a word rarely used outside the home. If in a restaurant or other public place you suddenly hear the call of nature, ask pleasantly using any number of words: The loo, The lady's, The  men's, the Gents, The Pisser (if you've had a few) - and yes, The Jacks - though the term is mostly used by males.
  • Banjaxed - should someone make the observation that "You are Banjaxed entirely" you might consider hitting him or her in the nose. "Banjaxed" means broken. 
  • Scoops - yes the word is used when asking for ice cream as in "Can I have a scoop of vanilla please?" However, should you be asked by a stranger: "Let's run up to the pub and I'll buy ya a Couple of Scoops", immediately accept the invitation. It means the fella has just offered to pay for a few rounds of Guinness. 
  • Deadly - should someone say, "See that fella over there? Isn't he deadly!" do not panic.The term does not mean the 'deadly fella' is about to blow up the world. Deadly is in fact a term of affection and praise. 
  • Feck -  is an oft-used iteration of the usual 4 letter word. You must understand: the Irish swear and they swear quite a lot. They pepper most sentences with some sort of sometimes mis-understood pejorative. However, "feck" is not necessarily a negative comment. "Feck it, let's have another feckin' pint anyway" is just such an example.
  •  Wanker - in the US the term 'Wank' if used among good friends can make eyebrows soar. In Ireland 'Wanker' has a quite separate meaning. Truly a pejorative, if someone calls you a Wanker they think you an eejit, fool, or much worse.
Why Should You Care?

Many is the time I've met tourists who don't seem to have an ear for foreign tongues and don't want to. These poor folks are not only missing all the fun, they could well be on the road to making grave errors simply because they've misunderstood their Irish brethren.

As an example: when I first moved here I found work selling electronic Cattle Weighing machines (don't laugh - it was the only job I could find). One early morning at the office the receptionist, a gorgeous young thing named Cheryl, sashayed over to my desk, batted her deep brown eyes at me and asked,

"Tom can you hand me your Rubber?"

As you can imagine I was stupefied. As a happily married father of one at that point, I wondered how I could possibly let her down without embarrassing the two of us.

Me (gulping): "Cheryl I'm sorry but I didn't bring one this morning. In fact we don't use them."

Cheryl (confused): "We don't use them? But of course we use them. We've always used them."

Me (very very confused): "WE'VE used them? I don't think so. In fact I'm sure of it. (speaking very confidentially)  Cheryl, I know nothing has ever happened between us. If my  wife comes in I hope you won't ever say anything like this."

Cheryl (now annoyed): "What the feck are you talking about. All I want is the bloody Rubber."

And she reached past me, across my desk, and grabbed - of course - the erasure.

So be warned. Language here does make a difference. Take time to learn it and enjoy it and revel in it. If you do you'll have learned one way to survive in Ireland just as I have.

(P.S. I've a complete guide to Irish Slang in the book below. So if you're traveling to Ireland any time soon you might want to buy the feckin' thing.)

If this blog interests you and you want to learn more about Ireland why not consider purchasing A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland 2017 Edition. Are you thinking about living and working in Ireland? Would you like to move to Ireland? Do you want to know how to get an Irish work visa in this country? Do you need to know how Brexit and Trump policies may affect your plans? If so, consider purchasing the 2017 edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland by Tom Richards. Now almost 90,000 words long, this book could make the perfect gift for  those interested in this wonderful country. Over 14,000 people have now learned how to live, laugh, and drink like the Irish by reading this Kindle ebook. I hope you enjoy, and my very best - Tom

Friday, June 2, 2017

Important Tips on Driving Ireland's Wild Western Rural Roads ( to go from A to B without driving off a cliff)

Truly, Rural Ireland offers quite narrow
roads. Please believe me.
Photo copyright John Eagle.
Recently I had reason to run up to Shannon Airport to pick up a friend. When such opportunities arise I very much enjoy watching newly arrived visitors to these shores walk off various in-bound flights. Oh, the excitement as they steel themselves for a week or more of traipsing around the Irish countryside! And usually I can’t help but have a chat with my fellow countrymen and women as they ready themselves for just such an adventure.

My only concern is that along with jetlag and general distraction they’ll forget they’re now on Ireland’s wild West coast and instead think they may be in Peoria or some such place. So it was with an American couple I encountered at the Avis Rental counter.

Me: “So, where are you off to?”
Him: “We’re gonna take the car and jaunt down to Bantry. That’s in West Cork, right?”
Me: (nodding enthusiastically) “You’re going to love it! But do make sure you take your time. It’s a bit of a long drive from here.”
Her: “That can’t be right. It’s only that far on the map.” (Turning to Hubby): “What do you think Harry? Maybe three hours?”
Harry: “Ah, we’ll do it better than that. I’ll have you there for dinner!”
Me (with growing alarm): “Honestly, it’s going to take you much more time than you think. You’re driving a bit into no man’s land, you see. And you’ll be on narrow roads and driving on the left to boot. And the signage here can be a bit sparse. And you can’t always believe the Sat Nav....”
Harry: “Fella, stop right there. We’ve driven all over America and I’m sure I’ll manage. Isn’t that right, Sweetie?”

She smiled dismissively at my left shoulder then the two turned, grabbed keys from the amused agent, and sauntered off to find their car. I was certain they were doomed and uttered a quick prayer of safekeeping, hoping Harry and Sweetie wouldn’t get killed.

For you see, driving in Rural Ireland is a bit, well, different than driving almost anywhere else I’ve been. And while Ireland has drastically improved its road infrastructure since I first came here in 1982 (today we’ve vast Motorways connecting most corners of the country. Back then, when I was a young pup, we were forced to jiggle and jaggle across a patchwork of sometimes ill-kept roadways to get almost anywhere), driving in the West requires a bit of planning.  So may I offer some quick advice?

The Left, the Left, the Left!

It’s obvious when you arrive here and rent your first car that one of the first challenges is the car itself. The driver’s position is, of course, on the right hand side of the vehicle. So climb in and get settled. But before you start up and drive yourself into oblivion, you may also want to take a careful look around.

The rear-view mirror is on your left. The side mirror is on your right. These details may seem trivial, but if you’ve been driving for years and years back home in the States, then your entire being is used to those positions. In the event of a minor road skirmish, or should you become confused, lost, distracted or worse, you will automatically look to where you expect to find these handy mirrored devices. And instead, you’ll come up with only air. I know. I learned to drive in Chicago. Instinctual habits of the dangerous kind still happen to me all the time.

So get oriented within the car before you drive away.

Then – do please remember to drive on the left hand side of the road. You may say to yourself as you read this from the comfort of your easy chair, “Well of course I realise the Irish drive on the left hand side and why would this moron remind me of such details?” But trust me. Such an about-face requires constant attention.

As an example: many years ago my father – who as it happens is an airline pilot (now retired) and prides himself on navigational aptitude – came here for a visit. He’d rented a car, just as you might, and was in the Captain’s seat as we sped down some sort of roadway in some forgotten part of the country. We’d stopped for petrol, climbed back into the car, and as he started the engine I gently reminded my ‘right stuff’ father, “Dad, remember – it’s the left.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he groused. Then put the car in gear and entered traffic, and as he did so was distracted by a woman pushing a baby’s pram across the street, and successfully made his left turn and I watched horrified as he completed the turn – into the right hand lane.

“Oh shit!” he hissed because when finally getting his bearings Dad happened to notice a large semi-trailer heading straight for us. Dad swerved into the verge, we came to stop in a cloud of dust, and I peeled my hands from the dash board realising we’d passed close enough to the oncoming juggernaut that I saw the scared-shitless scowl of the Irish driver who looked as if he might die.   

As I say, do not take driving on the left lightly. Not even if you’re a Formula One racing car driver.

Ignore Speed Signs – They Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Down here in West Cork I suspect local County Council workers – those intrepid men and women responsible for local road signage – have a wicked sense of humour. For you see they seem determined to entice visiting drivers with road sign advice that may lure you into grave danger.

An example: speed signs. Now do first remember that signs dedicated to controlling speed are numerated in Kilometres per Hour. If you want to know what any given speed is in MPH use a very simple formula: multiply by .6. So 50 KPH = 30 MPH, 70 KPH = 42 MPH, 100 KPH = 60 MPH, and so on. You may want to conduct these calculations now and again as you pass speed signs simply to recognise how fast you truly are going.

But back to the local Cork County Council and their determination to play funny games.The roads around here are rather...ah...twisty. They’re also narrow. Many have potholes large enough to destroy toughened suspension systems. And it rains quite a bit. Which means you want to take it easy.  I tend to ignore the speed signs and instead pace my speed to match local conditions.

You’d want to ignore the speed signs too and for good reason – many are designed to maim or kill you. Now and again I’ll see a 100 KPH (60 MPH) speed sign which happens to be placed directly before a blind twist in the road. And the twist happens to be a hairpin turn. Should one actually drive at 100 KPH and attempt the hairpin, one will probably drive straight off a cliff and into the Atlantic.

Therefore please take my advice. Believe rural speed signs only at your peril.

Give Way and Move Over

As mentioned above, the roads in rural Ireland can be rather narrow. While they are called two-way streets it is a fact that it’s nigh and impossible to drive two cars side by side at the same time down many of these roads.

Here, you learn to look and anticipate. For instance: I’ll be driving down the coastal road from Eyeries to the small local harbour of Balycrovane. I’ll keep my eyes glued on the distant road ahead. Should I notice an oncoming car, I’ll search for the nearest place to pull over because both of us won’t fit and someone has to get out of the way. Usually it’s me and I don’t mind at all.

So be aware and if you see a car coming toward you exercise courtesy and caution. Because if you don’t....

Last summer a friend of mine was driving his erstwhile pickup truck along the same road I mention above. He looked up and saw a car coming toward him. As it happened there was no place for him to pull over but he saw there was a lay-by which said oncoming car could easily turn into. Which, of course, means my friend expected the driver of that vehicle to exercise this easy logic in courtesy. Which, of course, he didn’t.

The driver of the approaching vehicle, a German tourist as it turned out, kept on coming. My friend slowed down but was damned if he was going to stop. They met nose to nose, right in the middle of the road. The lay-by was just behind the German’s car and within easy reach. But the German decided not to go there. Instead he hit his horn.

My friend, smiling at the visitor who he saw was growing red with rage, put his truck in park. He turned off the ignition. He got out a newspaper, put his feet up, and started reading. The German marched up and accused my friend of various unprintable things stated in a vile stilted tongue, but the intent was clear enough.

My friend rolled up the window and kept on reading.

When enough time elapsed the German climbed back in his car, backed up the few metres, and pulled in. My friend drove around him and on his way. No one was hurt but German / Irish foreign relations were set back at least 20 years.

Stay Safe

When you’re visiting Ireland do please remember to stay safe. Take your time. Remember you’re in a foreign country and things are a bit different over here. Drive carefully.
Or as an option? Get someone to do the driving for you.

But however you do it, enjoy your time here and the wonderful beauty that is rural Ireland.

Picture supplied by John Eagle.John is an amazingly talented local photographer and painter. For more samples of John’s work go to:

Don’t want to drive yourself? Then why not consider hiring a coach to do the work for you? Local fella Tommy Hartnett can help:

If this blog interests you and you want to learn more about Ireland why not consider purchasing A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland 2017 Edition. Are you thinking about living and working in Ireland? Would you like to move to Ireland? Do you want to know how to get an Irish work visa in this country? Do you need to know how Brexit and Trump policies may affect your plans? If so, consider purchasing the 2017 edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland by Tom Richards. Now almost 90,000 words long, this book could make the perfect gift for  those interested in this wonderful country. Over 14,000 people have now learned how to live, laugh, and drink like the Irish by reading this Kindle ebook. I hope you enjoy, and my very best - Tom