Trip Start Dec 12, 2010
Trip End Jan 05, 2012

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Flag of Ireland  , Munster,
Tuesday, July 26, 2011

IRELAND was a country I had particularly wanted to visit for years but which had eluded me thus far. A dream since childhood it was even more poignant after marrying (Pre children days) as my then husband (father of my children) also had a keen interest in visiting the country. He was a jockey in his teenage years and his keenness to visit Ireland was perpetuated by the love of race horses, race tracks and trainers where mine was Ireland as a country with its unique language / culture and 'dreamy' accents. Unfortunately for him the dream of visiting Ireland was never realized however memories of those historical joint dreams were remembered as I made the pilgrimage to the first stop, a gorgeous working man’s city County Cork, with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

I arrived early (9am) at County Cork Airport from Heathrow and followed the advice my kind and hospitable Couch Surfing host had suggested catching a taxi from the airport to his terraced home situated ontop a hill in the northern side of the city. The first surprise was the community of Taxi drivers who were congregated outside the arrivals hall chatting animatedly, smoking and laughing. Most of the men were African and ALL were dressed in their traditional clothing which consisted of the very colourful long kaftan or tunic, the small pill box type head wear and finished with the brown roman sandal or thongs. I felt like I had arrived in Nairobi and even closed my eyes and reopened them to see if the scene before me were true or just a mirage. I was ‘not’ expecting this cultural phenomenon at all so smiling I waited for the lead Taxi driver to talk to me to see if the lovely Irish ‘twang’ had infiltrated his African accent. Surprisingly or not suprisingly it had not but getting into the cab I found the man friendly, informative and very helpful with local knowledge, he informed me he had lived in County Cork for 13 years and most of his family now resided in the country somewhere.

The township or CBD of County Cork was gorgeous and everything I had imagined. Old styled buildings with the brick facades, cobbled walk ways and swinging signs advertising the myriad of small shops that lined the cute, narrow streets. The mix of old and modern architecture was cleverly orchestrated giving the area a historical feel regardless of the age of the building. As we left the town square the scenery suddenly became what I would consider ‘traditionally Irish’ with small homes all in neat rows basically identically designed with one picture window and a door on the front facing the narrow footpath . I likened the homes to those of the U.K.  however on a much smaller scale.  Little Public houses (Pubs) littered the streets, obviously ‘going for a Guiness’ was a popular past time because the number of them with in a small stretch of road was amazing.

I met my Couchsurfing host at the front door of his home which, from the outside, was the same terraced front with one window and one door just as the remainder of the road was. However inside the home while quite small in comparison to Australian homes, the area was adequate for a small family or couple/single person. My host’s home consisted of a small kitchen, lounge and bathroom downstairs and a single bedroom upstairs.  There was no driveway or garage and a very small terraced lawn area (9ft by 4 ft) completed his ‘sanctuary’. My home for the next three days would be the comfortable lounge/couch that occupied the living area.

I was really looking forward to learning all about Ireland from and Irish perspective but did I mention that my host was German?  He moved from Germany and had lived in Cork for some years working in the public sector and we talked easily as we walked to the local shopping centre down the road to buy supplies and ingredients in order for me to cook a roast lamb dinner as an offer of thanks for hosting me.  However before we left I was very fortunate to be treated to what is considered an Irish breakfast, a mixture of egg, potato bacon and tomato all fried up together and served in a bowl, very yummy and after a very early morning start with no breakfast it was well received.

We shared wonderful conversations on varying topics whilst we walked and shopped mainly about his growing up in Germany and his experiences in Ireland and his travels to various countries in Europe. With the leg of lamb purchased (at a very reasonable price I thought) and a good look around the supermarket with its differing brands, labels, products and prices, we sauntered up the hill to begin cooking the roast with my host generously handing full access to the kitchen and its contents to me while I prepared the meal. He sat on the stool and gave me an amazing insight into Ireland’s tumultuous past and very unstable economic climate of late which includes almost forty percent unemployment and most of the unemployed native to Ireland. Animosity is brewing between the native Irish and the newcomers to the country with ’they are taking OUR jobs’ comments ringing in the ears of anyone who will listen. What I found amazing (as an outsider) is that its this VERY issue or mentality that was the catalyst for the great divide and eventual war between the north and south, Protestants and Catholics   in Ireland not so many years ago. Here is the possibility of things deteriorating again with the added stress of the Global Financial Crisis to worsen matters somewhat. My host explained that Pubs were closing their doors at a rate of knots!  Ten establishments per month in Cork alone was no exaggeration with the lovely town left to experience one of the most difficult periods since the great depression of the 1930’s. Adding to the woes of this city was the racial tension rising rapidly because of the African immigrants taking the low paying positions the Irish nationals believed to be THIERS!

Dinner that evening was nothing short of FANTASTIC! It had been months since I had enjoyed a roast dinner and even longer since I had utilized my culinary skills. The red and white wine that accompanied the meal went down a treat. I had purchased a bottle of German RED in Boppard Germany especially for my host to remind him of home. It was a very pleasant Cab Sav and he was suitably impressed with the surprise and the selection which was a relief.  The white wine was a gorgeous Irish drop which was very impressive and worthy of the addition to what was a really pleasant day and evening.

The following morning I rose early, showered and prepared for the 2km walk into town to find the Hop on Hop off bus so that I could explore Cork in more depth.  My host did not own a car only a push bike so traveling in this city was entirely my responsibility and I was looking forward to it with gusto. The only comment I could make about the township was that although very old in parts it was mostly very clean however there was abundant amount of doggy do do on the foot paths EVERYWHERE which led me to believe that the residents were not responsible for cleaning up after their animals in public places the way we are here in Australia. I nearly came a ‘cropper’ a few times however managed to keep my shoes/thongs clean for the duration. The weather was warm’ish’ but a cool breeze blew which kept temperatures lower than they should have been. I found the Hop on Hop off bus departed one of 2 bus depots in the town and missed the first one of the day but bought a ticket for the following one which I thoroughly enjoyed and was pleased I took my cardigan to keep me warm up there on the top deck of the open air bus.  I was surprised by the size of Cork and by its amazingly centrally located GUINNESS brewery that spread 3 blocks by 3 blocks and employs a huge local contingent. I managed to locate and complete the epic pilgrimage to Blarney Castle and waited patiently in line for over an hour to "kiss the Blarney Stone" which was an amazing feat considering you had to lay on your back and slip down into an opening between the wall and the floor on which you lay. It wasnt until I was completely upside down and feeling like I was going to duck dive down the hole to a mess on the floor that the sheer realization that I was going to kiss a DIRTY, greasy and many times kissed stone  hit me ! Eeek did I REALLY want to do this ??? Of course I did ! and so I just closed my eyes and kissed the cold stone making sure I wiped my mouth immediately afterward ! ... Did or has anything happened to me since that fateful kiss??  I really can't say it changed my life any then or now .... but then maybe I am not looking where I am supposed to be. :-)

I returned home to an extremely tasty pasta and chicken meal which my host had kindly cooked for me and we sat talking again for a while until it was time to go to the pub to have a ‘pint’ and a ‘yarn’ with his mate. I was particularly excited about going to an IRISH pub and when I arrived I was not disappointed. There inside a very small door in the wall of a building that resembled the terraced houses in the rest of the road only recognizable by the swinging sign outside above the doorway was the cutest LITTLE pub I have ever seen in my life. With possibly only 3 window box seats and small round tables and 4 bar stools this was IT in its entirety.  The bar was no more than 6ft long spanning almost the entire width of the room. My host explained that random acts of musical talent were unleashed in this pub almost every evening from 7pm till late. Not so much a ‘booked’ or ‘organised’ event but an impromptu jamming session by one or many patrons with or without instruments. The idea of this happening excited me however there were only 4 of us in the pub so I wasn’t sure how great audience participation was going to be meanwhile we chatted to my hosts mate, our fellow patrons on the table next to us and I was in awe of the many business cards that had been taped, pinned or nailed to every available surface in the pub, including the ceiling. By 9.30pm there was still no sign of a ‘jam’ session in the making however the Publican having sensed this and put a CD of Irish pub music on which wafted through the air as we conversed with those around us.  A tad disappointing to say the least but not my last chance to experience local pub culture, we wandered merrily home with the satisfaction that at least we got to go to that little pub before it too became a casualty of the right royal financial mess that Ireland was now experiencing.
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