February 27, 2020

STELLA | The Irish Experience

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Ireland plays host to the only musical instrument that holds the place of a national emblem. For anyone vaguely familiar with Irish advertisements, culture or banners, the harp may be a familiar sight. However, the emblem’s origins may not be. The Guinness brewery opened up well before Ireland received their independence from England and actually copyrighted this long-established Irish symbol for their brand. On every pint of Guinness, glass or can, the harp is front and center. The government of Ireland had to flip the harp for all national paperwork and buildings because of the famous brewery’s copyright on the original image. I learned this in my orientation from a local tour guide, excited to share this bit of history in which a brewery changed a nation’s image.

Welcome to Ireland.

People told me a lot of things about Ireland before I came here. Now halfway through my time abroad, I’ve experienced vastly different things than mom warned me about.

Alcohol is one of many things people associate with the Irish (maybe they drink to deal with the weather, like we do in Ithaca). One of the most devastating periods of Irish history was the potato famine of the 1840s. Today we still regard potatoes as the staple of Irish cuisine (still better than Okenshields). There’s a whole wall dedicated to different potatoes at Irish grocery stores, and, considering their small size, that’s about an eighth of the store. Our Irish orientation leaders informed us that, as still relatively new independents from the colonial British Empire, the Irish maintain some bad blood with their bigger island counterparts, and — as a derivation of that — they have a lack of conventional respect for authority. The Irish never liked their British King, and they still find ways to stick it to the man when they can. There are, also, lots of “pick up after your dog” signs all around Dublin. Yet there’s still a lot of dog shit around the city. No one will tell them when to scoop their collie’s poop.

Probably the most popular place to meet the negligent dog owners of Ireland are in pub men’s bathrooms. For those unfamiliar: Typically, in the States you have some sort of privacy at the urinals in a men’s bathroom . Even if there aren’t dividers between them, the vast majority of the time you get a personal, ceramic bowl to empty your kidneys into. The Irish counterpart to the urinal, however, is a metal wall with a couple drains on the floor. You stand shoulder to shoulder with fellow bathroom dwellers, packed in like a can of sardines. In Ireland, urinals are meant for socialization. I met a local Irishman who talked to me and a friend of mine about his dream of moving to America and becoming a famous YouTuber. I told him to look me up if he ever did. Have you ever seen David Dobrik’s awful videos of gifting cars to his friends, or Dude Perfect’s kooky trick shots? I could think of worse career paths (rhymes with Wall Street … oops, I gave it away).

Outside the loo, in a discussion section, I met two fellow Trinity College students. In accordance with the friendly Irish persona, they introduced themselves to me and took an interest when I said I was from the States. Not because they wanted to be YouTubers, but for a different appreciation of American media. The next question was, “are you in a fraternity?” They had the Hollywood-fantasy about American Greek Life,  and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’m just not as cool as Miles Teller playing Miles Teller in Project X. Cornell banned garden gnomes years ago.

However, the most accurate generalization I heard was about  the weather. We have it bad in Ithaca. Cornell’s winters are the worst times I have spent outside. It’s not made easier by the administration’s lack of care for its students’ wellbeing, but these are small prices to pay to maintain an aura of prestige. As Lord Farquad puts it: “Some of you may die, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

One thing we can always depend on is the predictability of Ithaca weather. Meteorology majors have it easy: “Today, your hair will freeze on the walk to class with a 95% chance of being sprayed by snow slush from oncoming traffic.” In Ireland, you can experience the four seasons in four hours.

When I travelled to a more rural area of Ireland a couple of weeks ago, I was picked up by two 65-year-old cousins I have in Killarney — a brief stop before heading further south to Dingle. My two family members reminded me of the drinking stereotype about the Irish. I was getting over a sickness, but right when we got through the front door they began pouring pints for the three of us. I had planned on letting my immune system heal, but I wasn’t about to let these two show me up. Alcohol kills germs anyways, right? Slainte (sh-lawn-tuh) is how they say cheers in Ireland, and now the word is seared into my memory. They were up at 8 a.m. for a hike. I stood no chance.

Upon getting to Dingle, I wanted to do a famous hike to the Eask Tower. There was a storm with torrential downpours and 40 mph winds. I made it down the block to grab breakfast at a pub and tried confirming directions I had to the trailhead. My waiter told me if I did the hike, they’d be looking for my body the next morning because it’s uphill on the coast. He recommended I go to the town aquarium instead. I ordered a tea and sat for the next half hour weighing my options. The rain and wind died down some and I had a much larger aquarium by my house at home. Screw it, the aquarium probably didn’t have otters anyways.

Goes without saying, but my body is very much still alive (probably because I chickened out one sixth of the way up), but I count it as a win. And now I’m here to tell you about the parts of Ireland your mom won’t mention. Go forth and figure a place out on your own, rain or shine. Mostly rain, though.

AJ Stella is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at astella@cornellsun.com. Stellin’ It Like It Is runs every other Friday this semester.