Thoughts on Ireland from an Emigrant in 2013

January 2nd, 2013

After deciding to write this piece earlier this afternoon, I thought it would be nice to head to a café or pub to work. It would be better, I said to myself, if I could relax with a drink and earwig a bit. It would be better than the bedroom in my parents’ house, anyway.

I’ve spent the guts of two years abroad, spending roughly a year in Montreal and the same stretch in New York. We’ve gone from Bertie to Enda via Biffo, in doing so trading the dregs of one side of a pointless near century year-old civil war for the other. We’ve said goodnight for the last time to Anne Doyle, but Miriam, Dobbo and the ageless Sharon Ní Bheolain are still there every evening to confuse us to oblivion. We’re fucked, says one. No we’re not, says the interviewee. Sure we’ll be grand.

The local cafés with free internet were either closed or about to be and so, after a quick search, I found that one of my local pubs was listed as having WiFi. In I went, armed with one laptop and two questions: Can I get a cappuccino, and do you have internet? It was then that I realised I might be the problem with modern Ireland, and I felt dirty. Oh wash me, yore . . . drench me in mucky pints of Beamish and poke me with overcooked chicken goujons while smothering my face in ham sandwiches.

“We did have internet, but we took it away because people were cheating at the quizzes,” said the barman. An Irish solution to an Irish problem. That’s a phrase we have to describe this kind of mish-mash hodge-podge effort at resolving matters, and this is a good example. A classic example, quite frankly. Yes, it is amazing how many people can suddenly know the name of the storm that just passed through Tuvalu or which Bulgarian city is designated European Capital of Culture for 2014, but there is a better way of arresting the onset of cheating at table quizzes – we agree to stop being arseholes. But no, instead we’ll just get rid of what was once the only public WiFi zone in the entire village of Glasthule.

And here I am, all internetless but writing, just like they did, and did well, in the last century. My plan for a good earwig (eavesdrop) hit something of a stumbling block when I looked around and saw there was nobody else in the entire pub, save one man at the bar drinking cider and watching Premier League Years. For those uninitiated, this show tells, over the course of two hours, the story of a football (soccer) season of times past. It’s the sort of show that you catch by accident and watch for twenty minutes while coming up with something better to do. Nobody thinks ‘God I must rush home to catch Premier League Years!’ and absolutely nobody goes to the pub to watch it by design. The other TV is showing Barrow against Hereford in the FA Cup. That’s two teams ranked somewhere between 100th and 200th place in England, so both TVs are showing absolute rubbish. And that’s coming from a football fanatic. The music has gone from Mariah Carey to AC/DC by way of Westlife and some Christmas classics, because we all know that’s what people want to hear on the 2nd of January.

The limited bar taps offer the usuals (All Hail King Diageo!) plus a new offering called ‘Smirnoff Mojito’ that comes from a tap and looks like it could kill you. We’ll have Joe Duffy telling us in no time that he met a woman whose son died because of a badly cut Mojito. I hear they have Mojitos on the streets now. They’re dangerous, those Dublin streets, but not as dangerous as a Smirnoff Mojito.

Alas, I might not be the problem with modern Ireland. Maybe modern Ireland has neglected to keep up with modern kind. We can be pretty demanding and, by Zeus, if you don’t offer us a bit of internet and some thought and nuance behind your playlist, we’ll get you back by buying your coffee and writing on the internet with deadly sarcasm.

But I’m being harsh, cynical even – that’s what you’re saying. Perhaps I am. My Canadian girlfriend and I just got home from a few days in Galway and the pubs were savage. (Not savage in a Jack the Ripper way, but savage in a Jimmy Rabbitte from The Commitments way. You know, savage, as in deadly. And not deadly in a . . . oh forget it.) Not only were the pubs great, but we went to a cocktail bar in a city centre hotel and they gave us shots on the house because it was her birthday. That was after having tasty, well-mixed and thought-out cocktails made by an affable, I would go as far to say charming, barman. Galway in general was a joy, but then again that town rarely, if ever, disappoints. Not a Premier League Year or Smirnoff Mojito to be seen. St. Patrick must have chased them all out of the west and over to The Pale for the jackeens to enjoy.

Venturing west and then north a bit into Mayo before coming back, I kept seeing signs and references to ‘The Gathering’ – the official effort that is being made to get the Irish diaspora to visit the island in 2013. It’s weird, because in New York and Montreal – two cities with massive Irish diasporíní– I never heard about it nor saw it advertised. And yet I get home and I’m asked ‘Ah would ya not head home for a bit?’ while feeling as though somebody is trying to recruit me into a new religion, using rashers and strong tea as bait. Why are they only after me here? Why are they only advertising it in Ireland? We’re already here.

Why are we here? Socrates and his mates asked the same question over 2,500 years ago, but I don’t think they were thinking of Ireland in the year 2013. Why the feck are we here? A video that went semi-viral this week attempted a reply to that question with a thousand answers, counting as positives the existence of Bewley’s Café and the possibility of getting badly sunburnt in May, but I think we can do better than mediocre hot beverages and a trip to A&E.

For one thing, we’re now being offered good quality food in restaurants and at a fair price. No longer is the Irish style of cooking to boil the bejaysus out of anything that came up out of the ground and fry the fuck out of anything that ever breathed. We’ve introduced tone and forethought, dare I even say flair, into our cuisine. And we’re washing it down with some better quality, locally-produced booze. I was in my local pub (not the one I’m sitting in now) recently and saw that they’re stocking bottled beer made by a brewery called ‘Trouble Brewing’ – three lads I interviewed for Scope Magazine two years ago who took out a loan and stuck a load of shiny tanks in a barn in a field in Kildare and who, at that time, were struggling to get their product out on the market. That’s a good story, whichever way you look at it. The majority of my generation will probably skip the delicious beer and stick to Coors Light and Smirnoff Mojito, but hopefully enough people shop around a bit and stop consuming rubbish.

Those three men did something that Irish people are never formally told to do. You see, in Ireland we’re taught that the goal of education is to train to get a job. You go to school and then either do a trade or go to college, then apply for jobs. But if we’re passionate enough about something we can get that job, and on our terms, by creating it and investing time and effort in it.

It’s striking, however, how many of my fellow Irish emigrants are doing exactly that, only abroad. My brother is a web designer and multimedia producer in Berlin, two of my best friends in New York are Munster men with their own self-made Smartphone app that allows you to reserve time slots at sports clubs, and I have another school friend in Amsterdam with a startup company that’s trying to coordinate carpooling across the continent. Without wanting to sound all junior capitalist sitting in the corner, there is much to be said for entrepreneurialism as part of a solution to our collective and individual woes, and a lot to be said for eschewing the kind of conservative thinking that pervades within the Irish education system.

It’s inspiring stuff, and a reminder that getting up off your hole and not watching Premier League Years can lead to wonderful things. I have an idea – let’s get all these tech savvy, industrious emigrants back for a while to inspire those at home while spending a bit of money to help our ailing economy. We can call it ‘The Jamboree’ or even ‘The Get-Together’. We can even put Smirnoff Mojito on special offer while they’re all here. If only someone would organise such a thing.

  • Paul

    Agree with you on the Gathering. Good piece not all negative but some very pertinent points particularly around innate conservatism which is often ignored.

  • http://www.peterfry.net Peter

    Great bit of writing Hugo, you have great potential at it! Still think you should be playing for Man U or Liverpool though, they missed a big opportunity not coming to cabinteely football club

    Best wishes

    Peter

    • Hugo

      Ha thanks Peter