After staying for almost a month in Brussels, Belgium, spending a week in Dublin, Ireland was quite the change. All the chocolate shops and Belgian waffle stands were replaced with barber shops and Irish pubs. Suddenly my ears had to adjust from hearing French to English, a language that I was more familiar with, but being spoken in an accent I had only heard in movies. While the streets seemed filled with subtle signs of poverty and the architecture around the city wasn’t particularly spectacular (one of the highlights includes a random metal rod in the middle of the street), many of the people were down-to-earth and some of the most vibrant, open, and friendly folks that I have ever met. After visiting many interesting sites like Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Jail, and the Irish National Parliament, hearing from officials from the Irish Prime Minister’s Office and Department for Foreign Affairs, and visiting beautiful sites in Northern Ireland, here are a few interesting things that I noticed and learned about Ireland and Irish culture:
1. The financial crisis took a toll on the people: While everyone’s been talking about Greece, it was surprising to see the economic hardships that Ireland is going through. Although everyone we talked to, whether it was officials, tour guides, or taxi drivers, seemed to be fairly supportive of the European Union and the favorable impact that the Euro has had on Ireland, they would also almost immediately mention the immense financial burden that was placed on them after the 2008 economic crisis. As the government of Ireland, the once “Celtic Tiger” and post child of the EU, struggled to pay off EU/IMF bailout loans, it resorted to increasing its taxes and lowering wages – creating obvious dissatisfaction among the public.
2. They are proud of their culture: Being as small of a country as they are, Ireland has invested in an export that has been quite beneficial to them – Irish culture. Everywhere we went, a street was bound to have a few bookshops showcasing Ireland’s literary wealth or an Irish pub housing the “world famous” Irish Guinness. After speaking with the Minister of State for the Diaspora, it was surprising to learn how Irish people have spread all across the world – taking along with them their prominent red hair and parts of their Irish heritage. Had it not been for such migrations that came as a result of the Great Famine between 1845 and 1852 and other periods of hardship, Ireland may have forever remained a small, unknown country on the British Isles.
3. St. Patrick’s Day is a source of diplomatic pride: While for many of us St. Patrick’s Day is simply a time to wear green and have a good time, after talking to the Department for Foreign Affairs it was clear that to them it is a day when the whole world is celebrating Ireland. It was often mentioned to us by other Irish officials that in many countries, St. Patrick’s Day is the one official holiday that celebrates a nation other than their own. The fact that there is an entire day in many places across the world dedicated to dressing up like a leprechaun, drinking some Guinness, and celebrating Ireland is certainly a testament to how far-reaching Irish culture has become!
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