Thursday, 22 March 2012

It's the Circle Of Life...

So here we are. The time has come. The time that we have all been dreading.

I am leaving Ireland.

Now I travel a lot. I've lived in Chelmsford, Coventry, San Remo, Pratovecchio, Foiano Della Chiana, Rome, Florence, Bologna, Verona, Loire Valley and Wicklow, and have had to say my fair share of goodbyes.

And the same two things happen every time.

Firstly, I get emotional and sentimental and everyone around me tries to reassure me that it's The Circle Of Life, that I should just Look Forward to my Next Adventure, that I'll meet lots of people in my life and those that matter will stay in contact somehow. That the world is small. That it'll get easier as I get older.

The first time I left I was eighteen. I'm now almost twenty-three. It doesn't get easier.

Secondly, the best bits happen right before I leave.

I don't know whether that's because I know it's coming to an end, or if it's just plain Murphy's Law, but what I do know is that Ireland is no exception.

Now in this case it may be partly my own fault for planning to leave two weeks after St. Patrick's weekend (that's right, it's not just a day in Ireland, oh no!)- the weekend that was always going to take my love affair with this beautiful island to the next level.

I once told an Irish friend that I would love to be in Dublin for St. Patrick's day, to which he replied "Ah now I'd say it's a bigger deal in England than it is in Ireland".

He was categorically wrong.

St. Patrick's day is the biggest deal in Ireland.

In the weeks leading up to The Big Day, my world became a green blur- shops were filled with bright cards and decorations, the TV was filled with celebratory, 'happy-holidays' ads, huge, emerald billboards appeared across the country, buses and train stations were suddenly adorned with over-sized shamrocks, and I was given strict instructions to make as many St. Patrick-themed-cakes as humanly possible for my lovely boys' school.

And that was before the 17th March graced us with its presence.

On the day, hot dog and ice cream vans popped up as if from nowhere, stalls settled themselves on roadsides; trains, buses and cars came to a standstill. Shops were empty- in fact most were closed- and Irish music skipped through the air, as though emerging only from the atmosphere itself. Ireland stopped, as one, to celebrate everything Irish.

Parades took over the whole country: they were on TV, shown in all pubs, and, of course, perfectly accessible in real life.

I chose to take advantage of the latter, and was one of over five hundred thousand people who made their way into Dublin to watch the parade as it happened.

The train was packed with bright-green-clad, face-painted, hat-adorned crowds, with huge, genuine smiles and excited laughter, as was the city. 

The parade was made up of groups from all over the world celebrating Dublin's self-declared 'City of Science' name; answering questions such as 'why do we dream?' and 'why does the weather change?'

So I've been told.

I wouldn't be able to confirm that for definite because, whilst it was simply wonderful that people from all over the world came to Ireland to celebrate, what they don't advertise is that they appear to invite The Tallest People On The Globe, and stand them right along the front.

So I was stood behind the world's giants, between two groups of equally short girls who couldn't see anything either, and in front of a man from a country where they clearly haven't discovered deodorant yet. Or even baths.

I loved it.

Now I don't normally have a penchant for unhygienic men pressing themselves into my back and shoving a camera in my face, but for some reason in Dublin on St.Patrick's day, even that seemed magical.

I did only see the tops of the hats of the firemen (major disappointment, I know) and I missed all of the dancing, the kiss-blowing, the waving and the instrument-playing.

But the atmosphere was electric. It was magical and busy and multi-cultural, it gave you a sense of community and togetherness, and it was so, (as my friend Mary Poppins found out when she tried to point out a man by describing him as 'the one with the green hat').

During the time that it was on, I laughed until I cried, then cried until I laughed, and just couldn't believe how lucky I was that I had only hopped on a train to get there.

When the parade was over, Mary Poppins and I had a quick trip to Butler's for a warm-me-up-hot-chocolate, stopping on the way to get the Irish flag painted on our cheeks, then dropped in at Claire's to buy some green accessories for the evening's festivities.

We both popped home for a couple of hours to get ready, then headed back into town again to see what St. Patrick's Dublin looked like at night. 

Exactly the same. 

Except the atmosphere was no longer mainly coming from the sense of community. 

It was mainly coming from the alcohol.

Now I could bore you with every second of what was my favourite night of the year so far, but instead, I'll just leave you with three facts:

- Irish people will talk to anyone about anything. When I mentioned this to my host mum she laughed and said 'ah yes, the Irish and alcohol...', but I don't mean with alcohol. During my forty minute wait for the bus I made friends with a couple in their late thirties on their way home from a wedding-planning meeting. I may as well have been at the meeting- I imagine that I now know more about the wedding than the bride's mum. I also made friends with people on the bus ride home that I'm now meeting up with next week, and met someone as I stepped off of the bus that proceeded to walk me home to make sure that I was safe.

- The Irish know the words to every Irish song that there is. And I don't mean Flying Without Wings and Love Me For A Reason, or even Galway Girl and Fairytale of New York- more like The Rare Old Times and The Rose Of Tralee.

-Not only do they know the words to all of these songs, but they also all have the ability to play the spoons to these songs. Now I don't know if the whole world is secretly practicing The Spoons without me knowing- if you are then I apologise for being so excited about it-but until Saturday night I'd never even heard of this, then suddenly once one person whipped her spoons out, everyone else followed. And everyone was amazing. 

I woke up at nine am on Sunday morning- just three and a half hours after I had made it into bed- with that fab, hungover-but-wow-last-night-was-amazing-I-wish-I-could-do-it-all-again-tonight feeling. So I  grabbed a slice of toast and Bovril, walked down into Greystones and wandered along the beach before meeting Mary Poppins for a coffee and a post-night-out analysis.

After laughing our way through the events of the night, we came to the heartbreaking realisation that we have only two weekends left. This then led to a conversation about what we're going to miss most about Ireland...

My future husband: Niall Breslin
1. Bressie. The gorgeous, rugby-playing, singer/songwriter coach on The Voice who is apparently fun and friendly. I hear wedding bells...

2. Today FM. Particularly Ray Foley who keeps me laughing all afternoon. In fact, I'm going to miss Irish radio altogether- only in a country this small do you get a shout out every time you text in to the national station.

3. Walking along the beautiful Greystones beach, listening to the waves (well....I actually normally have Be Our Guest blaring on my ipod) and watching families play at the water's edge.

4. Being able to make friends with everyone...everywhere. I've met people on buses, at train stations, in shops, cafes, restaurants, walking the dog through a building site where hardly anyone goes....

5. Going to order in a restaurant and the people on the next table leaning over to recommend what they have had. This has happened to me almost every time I've been out for dinner in Ireland, and not once in any of the other cities I've lived in.

6. Mi Wadi. Ireland's answer to Robinson's Orange and Pineapple.

7. Irish bread: the best thing since...well....

8. Ballymalone's Country Relish. It makes lunchtime an absolute joy.

9. The people I've met: the Irish Prince and his gorgeous family, Mary Poppins and the other nannies, my zumba instructor, dance teachers, bus/train/cafe friends....

10. My three new best friends: the beautiful boys that I look after and their wonderful mum.

We then discussed our favourite Irish-isms. In my January blog I posted a handy Irish-English dictionary for those of you travelling to the glorious island any time soon. I have, of course, discovered lots more since then, and have shared them below...

- Janey Mack!: OH MY GOODNESS ME I CANNOT BELIEVE IT. Or, 'Oh really? I hadn't realised.' Basically Ireland's very own exclamation mark, this phrase is used to express shock or surprise- at all levels. 

-Deadly: Contrary to the obvious, this is actually a positive thing. I felt about eighty years old when the Irish Prince's brother used it and I had to ask whether that meant good or bad. I felt a bit better when my friend, almost-18-year-old- Justin Bieber asked the same thing.

-Yoke: Thing. I'm totally guessing the spelling of this.

-Gaff: House. I know this is used in the UK but in Ireland they use it all the time. 

- Savage : Again, at the risk of sounding ancient, this is a good thing.

- Cop-on: Common Sense. When my host mum told me that a friend had no cop on I was temporarily horrified until she corrected me...

-Banjaxed: Exhausted or confused. A fantastic word that needs bringing to the UK.

-Mind: Look after. Like child-mind. But with everything. 

-Sliced pan: Bread. Unlike most of the others, this does make sense really...

-Buns: Used for all cakes- fairycakes, cupcakes, even biscuits in some cases. At the risk of sounding patronising this one always makes me want to hug the speaker- whether it's the five year old boy I care for or the sixty year old man behind me in the queue at Superquinn. (That's the local supermarket for those of you who don't know. When Tinkerbell visited me a few weeks ago she was most disappointed to discover that it wasn't an Irish Legoland....)

-Delighted: Again, I know that this is used in the UK but it is used by every age group in every conversation here.

But my favourite part of the whole of Irish speech is the addition of the following words/phrases to ordinary sentences: making them sound Irish but actually adding no meaning whatsoever. 

-Ah: Added to the beginning of a normal sentence, I think to emphasise the point, as in 'Ah she's grand'.

-So: Not meaning 'therefore' as it would in the UK, but just added to the end of a sentence. For the craic. For example: 'Ah she's grand so'.

- So he/she/it is: This phrase appears to be added to the end of sentences to confirm that the speaker still agrees with what they just said: 'Ah she's grand so she is'. I'm not sure whether everyone does this but I always picture it with an emphatic nod.

-There:  Added to the end of sentences for no reason at all that I can fathom: 'I watched the football there earlier' (not referring to anywhere). 

-Sure: This one can be added to the beginning or the end, which is why I think it's my favourite. 'Ah she's grand sure' or 'Sure she's grand'.

Finally, there are several 'Irish' ways of speaking that I'm not totally convinced haven't just been made up by the Irish Prince for his own entertainment....

-Now in a minute. He'll be here now in a minute? Does.Not.Make.Sense.

--'I'm going to head'. You're going to head? How is anyone supposed to know what that means?

-'Ooh let's get some Fruit Pasteeeels'. That's right, the Irish Prince has tried to convince me that the Irish way of referring to the delicious fruit-flavoured jellies is with a long 'ee' sound rather than the 'i' in its spelling. Confirmation from an Irish person not connected to my Prince would be gratefully appreciated.

So here it is, I can't put it off any longer.

It's time to go.

Following my lengthy 'Wonders of Ireland' conversation with Mary Poppins, I made a vow. Having fallen totally and utterly in love with everything about this gorgeous country, I have to come back. So now as I head to my adventures in Rhodes, Asia, America and wherever else my journey may take me, I know that I will return, that my Circle of Life will bring me back and I will grow old surrounded by Chocolate Kimberleys, Mi Wadi and beautiful accents.

Ireland: you have given me love, laughter, friendship and memories that will stay with me forever.

Thanks for the craic.

I'll be back now in a minute :)