It was 1994, August, and the weather was behaving itself for a change. I told my husband that his perception of Ireland, based solely on the John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara classic movie, The Quiet Man, was totally and utterly inaccurate.
“People don’t dress like that!” and “We don’t eat spuds at every meal!” and “Ireland has become modernised, for Gawd’s sake!” or “We even have pasta now! There’s lasagna in the country! Waffles, pancake syrup, and corn on the cob in the supermarkets in Galway city!” This was 1994 and the idea that someone could like a stereotypical notion of Ireland was silly to me.
Then a funny thing happened on the journey around southern Ireland. The people proved me wrong.
It started when we had dinner at a restaurant in Killarney. We ordered our meal and, this is a true story now, without even asking for potatoes the main course arrived with scalloped potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, chips (French fries) baked potatoes and roasted potatoes.
“Yearra shure ye’ll be well able for it!,” was the encouragement the waitress gave us when she saw my husband’s eyes do a cartoon bulge out of his head and back in at the sight of food on the table. “Potatoes are in season now shure! Give us a shout if ye need anything else!” Mushrooms were in season too. Two massive bowls of mushrooms were placed on the table. And we were not charged anything extra for all of the extra food! Not a penny! Mind you, we didn’t eat ALL of it either.
The restaurant, I can’t remember the name, was the Bubba Gump Shrimp of potatoes. So much for this metropolitan, modernised version of Ireland that I was trying to push on my husband.
After doing tours of the Jameson distillery and Waterford Crystal factory we headed off to Dungarvan to play 9 holes at the Gold Coast Golf Club. Located on a beautiful peninsula just outside of Waterford city, it was an absolutely gorgeous location and the weather was glorious.
Around about the third hole, an old farmer stood watching us over the barbed wire fence that separated his farm from the golf course. We began to feel a little uneasy. It effected my golf game greatly, I started to play lousy under his gaze. 🙂 He watched us hit our drives and then threw his leg over the fence and followed us all around the course.
I wish I had a camera to take his picture. He wore a tweed cap, the peak tipped to the side of his head, and his trousers were held up with a rope. He stopped, watched us take our shots, and then quietly followed us around as he pulled on his tobacco pipe and shoved his hands into his pockets.
Then, with a tip of his cap, a nod of his head, he disapperead back over the barbed wire fence onto his own farm. Maybe he was an avid golfer himself and wanted to see how well the young Yanks could play, I don’t know. But he proved me wrong about the Irish being modernised.
In 2007 my husband, son and I went back to Killarney. We sat in a restaurant and ordered dinner. The boom had come and gone, but its effects were still evident.
“That’s what I miss most,” my husband said as he looked around the restaurant, “the accent.” Most of the people who worked in the restaurant were not Irish. Though the waitress was friendly and lovely to us, she was Spanish. The woman behind the bar was Polish, big changes in a what seemed to us the blink of an eye, 13 years.
The world is shrinking, people are migrating, and the old fashioned idea of wanting to hold onto a stereotype of Irish culture is a foolish thing. But that day in the restaurant I didn’t try to push a modernised view of Ireland on my husband, because I missed The Quiet Man version too. I wanted Maureen O’Hara to bring out a bowl of spuds to our table, but she didn’t.
Today we serve lasagna, cappuccino, banoffi pies and we can take your order in lots of different languages. There’s nothing wrong with that, diversity is good. But we’ve gotten a bit nicer in Ireland, because we realise that we almost lost our identity in the boom, almost. The Euro won’t steal away our identity either, because on the peninsulas and back roads of Ireland, there are little old farmers wearing ropes as belts and little old Irish women serving lumgullion.