When I tell most of my friends where I’m interning this summer, they simply don’t get it. As If the thought of me: a pre-med, science student-turned writing fanatic, working at a news publication instead of in a hospital for the summer wasn’t enough, then it must be the fact that I have absolutely zero Irish blood in my ancestry that confuses them. I’m a 21-year-old Jewish girl with Polish, Russian, and German descent- and this summer, I’ve been writing for IrishCentral.com.
My knowledge up until 52 days ago about Ireland consisted of a mixture between leprechauns, the color green, sheep in the middle of a road and some jumbled scenes from the movie “P.S. I Love You.” If you said the word “taoiseach” to me I’d have thought you sneezed. I also knew that Ireland had great scenery.
So, after nearly two months here at IrishCentral, I can now proudly say that my knowledge of Ireland has thankfully expanded to one that’s not based off of a Lucky Charms box. Below is a list of what I believe are the top ten things I learned about Ireland from working at IrishCentral.com
1. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of Guinness
It was only when I started working at IrishCentral that I realized the true depth of how a brew could affect a country. I saw articles on: Obama with Guinness, how to cook with Guinness, top ten facts about Guinness, foods that taste good when paired with Guinness, how Guinness can cut your cholesterol, how Singapore (of all places!) cooks with with Guinness, and, my personal favorite: Queen Elizabeth with a Guinness. After working here, I may have to cheat on my gluten-free diet just to experience that true symbol of Irish culture.
2. Potato farl is not served with a vegetable roll
For my first “Top Ten” article for Irish Central, I picked one that I believed I could screw up the least. Since this was early on in my internship and I still didn’t know too much about Ireland, I thought that I could look up potato recipes, provide a little blurb, and essentially not cause too much harm. I even sent the list to my editors to make sure that they had actually heard of the dishes that I was about to call “popular.”
After spending nearly a week researching my potatoes, the article was finally posted and soon after, I received this comment: “Where did you get the idea that traditional Irish corned beef comes in a tin....and traditionally served at breakfast, also potato farl served with a vegetable roll at breakfast..gees.”
My first emotions after reading that was serious concern that I had offended someone with my elementary knowledge on spuds. People MUST know that I’m not Irish now if I had thought potato farl was served with a vegetable roll of all things. But after reading that comment, I also learned that many viewers approved of my list. So I did learn an important lesson about Irish culture from my potato article: There can be many ways to serve a potato, and Irish people can debate endlessly about which one is the best.
On the other hand, there are certain rules that I just shouldn’t tamper with, and better to just leave it to the experts to the more inexperienced potato eaters which is truly the best.
3. Irish priests aren’t always so holy
I’ve been aware of the sexual scandals involving Catholic priests for a while; having only been inside church a few times across Italy, my knowledge of Christianity is limited at best. But I did know - and double-confirmed it with my editor - that Catholic priests are not married, and thus should not be sexually active.
In my mind, the church is a holy and sacred place, so to me, it’s extra confusing that priests, the ones that have taken a vow of abstinence, break it in such abusive ways. Knowing now that, due to my exposure in just the past few weeks, that scandals like this aren't all that uncommon, what was also surprising to me is how some of the priests aren't kicked out right way.
I wrote an article about sexual abuser Fr Donncha Mac Cárthaigh, who, as Senator Mark Daly pointed out, continues to travel around Europe, wear his priest's collar, and was even given a different job that gave him more access to children after complaints had been made against him.
I'm well-aware that not every priest is like this- in fact, I'm sure that the majority of them aren't at all - but it still was surprising to me that all of the allegations against "holy" priests seemed to pile up, one after another.
4. There’s a separation between church and state - kind of
After learning about the church scandals, perhaps the article that shocked me most was how the Irish government issued a statement in the wake of the Cloyne report demanding that priests are obliged to report child abuse disclosed to them during a confession or could face prison time.
There were two reasons that this was shocking to me: 1. I knew that confessional was totally confidential, and 2. Irish government was getting involved with church relations. As I soon learned, this was extremely common.
In the mind of an American girl, in whose own country church and state are supposed to be totally separate, the fact that the government even issued a statement about church affairs at all was surprising. But it brought up an interesting question: has it come to a point that religious men (such as priests) will have to break an age-old tradition and spill secrets if it's for the benefit of another person? To be exposed to such situations where I even have to question a government is involved with church during recently times was surprising, but good for me. I now know that up until the 80's or 90's, the Irish church and state were extremely intertwined; even today, most schools are run by the church, as well as many hospitals.
But what about when the governmental relations go haywire? Take the example of the Magdalene Laundries. After researching them and seeing the movie, I was horrified at not only the possible involvement of the government, which is thankfully being investigated now, but how both the church and the government allowed those atrocities to happen under their watch. It’s definitely been a beneficial exposure to see a culture where the church and state seem to unofficially work hand in hand, producing both good and bad outcomes.
5. Debating Irish writers is as hot of a topic as politics is
For another “Top ten” article, I decided that it was time for me to expand on my knowledge of Irish authors, from just Flann O’Brien, Swift and basic James Joyce to the countless, remarkable others.
To begin my research, I’d done a few searches to see how various authors ranked in other peoples’ lists. I subsequently discovered that my task at hand would not be as easy as it looked, because it seemed like everyone’s list contained different authors. I only could use ten, and I had about 40 to narrow it down from. I knew that I couldn’t base it on my own knowledge because I’m hardly an expert in the area, just a fan. After polling two of my professors, two of my editors, and anyone else with a knowledge of Irish literature, I compiled a list that I thought best represented Irish novelists only.
The results were better than expected; most of the people seemed to appreciate the list I had compiled, but there was the guaranteed two or three that objected to my list and demanded to know why I hadn’t included some of their favorites. One person even said, “I'll try again most of Ireland's great writers are not covered here. Jordana has a narrow view of Irish literature it would seem.” It was from that one comment that I knew for sure that the talent of Irish writers is one that cannot possible be contained in a list of ten, so it was my mistake for attempting to narrow it down.
I gained two pieces of knowledge that day: two things that day: 1. I have a ton of reading ahead of me, and 2. my suspicion was confirmed: Irish people love to argue and express their opinions, especially about books, potatoes, and politics as I was about to soon discover.
6. Irish people know their history- and aren’t afraid to share it
Another article that I wrote was one which I considered to be pretty straightforward; not surprisingly, it turned out to be anything but. True to my now-understood view of how Irish people love to share their knowledge and opinions, the comments I received on the article about Ireland’s celebration of its National Day of Commemoration shocked me, not in a bad way, but in a good way.
Instead of the usual banter and criticism, people were having a healthy discussion on Ireland’s history, which was quite refreshing even at such an early point in my writing career. The comments started out with one user citing how Ireland unfairly killed Hungarians, Turks, Austrians during World War I. Another user followed up with honoring Irish soldiers in the British Army and how important their roles were. After him, the IrishCentral members had a healthy discussion about the importance of remembering who fought for their country and which countries did (or didn't) care about Ireland. Names such as Roger Casement, Fintan O'Toole, Kevin Myers, John Spain, and Francis Ledwidge were thrown out as people that were to be remembered for their sacrifices for Ireland.
From the users' comments I learned this about Irish people: their history is a long and controversial one, and people aren't afraid to share their opinions on it. It’s truly refreshing to see another culture so passionate about their history, even if there are negative things to be said about it.
7. You abbreviate counties with Co. and there’s lots of them
This may seem silly, but the way that people in Ireland associate where they live was confusing to me at first. I had no idea why people would write Co. Dublin, for example, after their town. I say that I’m from Chappaqua (city), New York (state), and if I was being really specific, I’d add a “USA” to the end of it. But as I learned in Ireland, people seem to do their town or village, Co. ________.
After further research I learned that Ireland was broken up into 32 different counties, similar to the way that the US is broken up into states. I also noticed that there seemed to be an exceptional amount of pride for each county.
I’d seen this in articles when we highlighted a significant person’s achievements, or if we traced a famous person’s ancestry backed to Ireland and found that he was from Co. Galway, for example. When I researched my potato article, too, I found that there were different recipes unique to each region.
8. James Joyce is a pretty big deal
It’s safe to say that by having an Irish academic advisor for my English major all throughout college, I’ve been exposed to James Joyce. I knew he was a big deal, and I thought “Dubliners” was an extraordinary and emotional piece of work. But it wasn’t until IrishCentral that I learned how big the man is.
First, there was “Bloomsday,” the day dedicated to James Joyce that is celebrated not only throughout Ireland, but in New York’s Bryant Park as well. I learned that in Dublin, people re-visited the landmarks that Joyce discusses in “Ulysses.” To me, this symbolized just how much of an affect this one author’s words had had on generations of people and future generations to come. I didn’t realize the extent of the his fans’ fanaticism, however, until we ran an article on how much Joyce’s passport sold for: a whopping €69,747. That astronomical number truly proved to me how important this man is to Ireland- and to all literary cultures.
9. The Irish Prime Minister is called a taoiseach and it’s not pronounced anything like the way it looks
Despite my native language of English, near fluency in French, ability to dabble in Hebrew, and conversational skills in Italian, I somehow managed to pronounce the official name of the Irish prime minister something along the lines of “toy-sitch” (of course, I never actually attempted to say it out loud).
As for what the taoiseach actually does, his role in government is one that was unfamiliar to me because America doesn’t have a prime minister. Part of my confusion was that I didn’t understand why Ireland needed both the taoiseach (I actually thought Enda Kenny was a woman because of the name “Edna” in English- another lesson I quickly learned) and a president.
After reading several articles on it, I learned that the taoiseach has a more active role in the government as head, while the president’s primary role seems to be to sign legislation and approve important matters for Ireland as head of the state, similar to Queen Elizabeth and David Cameron.
So, who would have thought that you actually pronounce it like “tee shook?” That’s another thing I learned- I might never understand the Gaelic language.
10. Ireland’s in a pretty bad financial state
What I knew about recessions stemmed mostly from growing up in the suburbs of Manhattan- people are losing their jobs; those who were once able to afford nice things simply cannot.
I knew that when I went to Italy for three months the euro was pretty bad, and I followed from time to time the financial crisis of Greece. However, I was totally unaware of any sort of crisis in Ireland, a view that was quickly corrected once I began working here. After writing several financial articles (and attempting to make them as interesting as possible) I learned that an astounding number of people in Ireland - 25 percent - are at risk of poverty. Countless fear for the future of their homes, and the amount of people signing up for the Live Register (the equivalent of America’s social welfare program) grew by 1,500 people in July alone.
The most recent bit of information I learned regarding the financial crisis is that 60% of Irish people believe that the worst is yet to come in their economy. But if there’s one, useful bit of information I could take away from my experiences here at IrishCentral, it’s this: Irish people have a strong sense of persistence and courage pulsing through their “Irish blood,” and it’s that resilience that will undoubtedly hold them through the end of this crisis.
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