Sunday, June 19, 2016


Bathers on a brisk day in the Irish Sea.
IN IRELAND THE SUMMER DAYS ARE LONG. I don't even think about going to bed until the long twilight comes, and it's way after ten before it gets full dark. I've been waking up a little after 4, and the sky is already light, but the sun doesn't actually rise until about 5. Although we are pretty far north, the climate is temperate, and we see palm trees mixed in with thistle and poppy and rose and hazel. Our guide tells us that the bedrock collects solar energy and keeps the soil warm year round, and the acid in the rain leaches minerals from the limestone, so that although the soil is shallow, it is quite fertile.
Strange triangular rock formation.

I thought I came here to study the intersection between setting and fiction, or maybe how characters interact with their landscape. But almost immediately I began to realize that politics needs to be in the equation, too. Maybe it's because I have studied so little Irish literature before, and because we're looking at it in context (which I already knew coming over that context was the point, but I didn't know know it) so when we started reading and learning more about the history, especially of the Rising, I began to see more layers of everything.

I'm loving the connections I've seen already—mostly just serendipitous. For example, in our first day history lesson we learned about the strength of feeling of Irish Nationalism, to the point that you could be banned for life from the Gaelic Athletic Association if you were caught playing, or even going to foreign games, like Cricket or Football.
Michael was over the moon when we
found a cricket match at Trinity College.
He would have lost his GAA card for sure.
(That’s what they call soccer over here.) Then, on the way to the Guinness Storehouse our cab driver talked about the very same idea. He told us that he didn't think you could banned for watching, but playing for sure. Still, his sense of Nationalism clashed with his independence. "I played both," he said. "You're not going to tell me what to do.
Sport is mean to unify; not divide." He told us that you couldn't find an Irish person without English relatives, and told us that he, himself, has nieces and nephews and in-laws who are English, as well as a good friend. He did admit to some national pride, though. He said that his English friend calls to congratulate him when Irish teams are in the championships. But when the English teams do well, he says he will root for them all the way up, and then at the top hope for them to lose. He called it a "sibling rivalry." He said, "Big brother is great. Big brother can run like the wind. Big brother can kick the ball. Big brother wins this, wins that. Big brother is a pain in the arse." He told us that sibling rivalry is always a deep and emotional rivalry.

We are in Galway, an artistic town with a brisk tourist trade. Michael has gone home to tend to Birdland. My husband loved his time in Ireland, but he has work at home too, so I wandered the Latin Quarter with my school friends. Pub meals have been so delicious here, but my favorite so far was a salted salmon sandwich on a flatbread with slices of some kind of red jelly and capers as plump as blueberries.  It was served with a tiny ramekin of coleslaw—just a taste—and dressed greens in a cup. The Irish brown bread is quite nice, too. Even when you buy it from a shelf in the store it has a moist, hearty, nutty flavor. After lunch we wandered in the shops, winding through the narrow roads, listening to street musicians.

Next time I’ll tell you about our tour of the countryside, but for now I’m thinking about Birdland. Wondering whether my daylilies are blooming, or whether the brown dog, Cullen has slipped away to run with the coyotes. Wondering whether the black dog, Ursula, has managed to steal anyone’s breakfast.
Wander in Beauty; Ramble in Peace; Blessed Be.

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