Friday, September 21, 2007

Our Ireland trip from D-G

Dun Aengus: A ruined cliff-side fortress on Inishmore, an Aran island, which we viewed on Wednesday with a hefty climb that challenged even our most athletic colleagues, up slippery rocks and stones, but well worth the trip. We also had a local tour in a small van of the island and lunch of salmon, rice, tomatoes and greens at the Mainistir House with tea and biscuits.

The fighting Illini, out of breath.

Economy: Ireland's economy really is the "Celtic Tiger." We were all stunned by the beautiful, new homes, the expensive cars, fashionable shops and the bustling towns. We saw many upscale developments, but also plush, single family homes. As the Guardian reported: "Hames ir far tae dear fer ordnar fowkquhan pit langside the wages oan the mainlan’. Developers pour ootbaag amounts o’ money fae their bottomless pockets." It would take 2 college educated professionals spending one income on the mortgage to buy a home in most areas.

In the tourism industry, the service people are almost all foreign--Brazil, Poland, Slovakia, Scotland, the middle-east, Philippines, Germany etc. The minimum wage is around 8 Euros, and apparently, not many Irish will work for that ($11.20) because they would lose their government benefits. The Manila waiter at our hotel is sending money home to his wife and 3 children--he goes home once a year. Controlling immigration is a bit easier on an island. Even so, the law has recently been changed; a baby born in Ireland is not automatically a citizen. We could learn a few things from them about anchor babies. Right now, they seem to think their immigrants are temporary and only in the tourist trade. Yes, we used to think that about our agricultural workers. They could learn a few things from us.

We stopped at a Catholic Church and the newsletter was bi-lingual--Portuguese and Polish. The outside sign was digital giving days and times of mass and events.

Famine: One can't over estimate the long term effect of the 19th century famine on the Irish, or the percolating bitterness against the English and the Anglo-Irish. Not only did it decimate its population, but it sent millions to the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, where they enriched our culture. The population which had doubled in the early 1800s after the potato was introduced and changed their diet, was cut in half by the famine and the exodus. Many of the ships that carried them were called coffin ships because of the loss of life among the already sick and starving emigrants. While the people where evicted from their homes and starving, other crops that could have kept them alive were being exported.

Gaelic and English language: The Irish speak English and learn Gaelic as a second language (although it is a first language for many), however, English sounds quite different depending on the region or county of the speaker. John, our driver, was from Limerick and his vowels all seemed to melt into "a" as in farty (40); or far (for); and TH sound disappeared as in turty (30). Our guide Judy was from Dublin, but had lived about a decade in the USA. She's also an actress and gave us a stretch of dialogue from a play by a Dubliner--I didn’t understand a word. Road signs and many business names were in both languages. RTE, the Irish National Radio, which we received in our hotel rooms had news and programming in Gaelic.

Galway Bay:We didn't know our driver John had such a beautiful voice until on our way to lunch on the 10th he began to sing, Galway Bay, and for a brief moment, we were all displaced Irish longing for home:
"And if there's going to be a life hereafter
And somehow I feel sure there's going to be
I will ask my God to let me spend my heaven
In that dear isle across the Irish Sea."

Lunch overlooking Galway Bay

Genealogy: Interest in their Irish roots brings millions to Ireland, and there are Heritage Centers in each county with experience searchers to assist. On Thursday the 13th, Antoinette O'Brian of the Clare Heritage Center gave a fascinating presentation. The Irish didn't own their land and the rental agreements were set up so that all land eventually went back to the landlord. After the introduction of the potato, their tiny lots could support 10-15 people, and when that crop failed, evictions began of whole families. Today Ireland has the highest percentage of owner-occupied houses--ownership means a lot. Some of these centers have complete ledgers of people forced to leave. 125,000 people left County Clare, more than the current population. But the Irish continued to emigrate right up through the 1950s, and many didn't speak of the past. What you may know from family stories of your Irish ancestors is probably incorrect, she told us, with date of birth almost always wrong. Parish records have been indexed.

Memorial to a starving, orphaned child trying to get into the workhouse. The inscription begins: "Gentlemen, There is a little boy named Michael Rice of Lahinch aged about 4 years. . . "

1 comment:

JAM said...

The cliffs almost make my head spin just looking at them in photos.