Friday, January 20, 2017

10 years in Ireland.

Ten years. A whole decade.
When I moved to Ireland on January 4, 2007, the intention was to stay here for 6 months.
The plan got derailed somewhere along the way.

I have been thinking a lot lately about why this happened. Why didn't I go home as planned, in July 2007, to celebrate my birthday and get on with life? What made me stay? Why am I still here ten years later?

Rather than write up a long drawn out story about all that happened in my time here in Dublin, I decided to explain why Dublin is such a great city and why feel so at home here.

Why Dublin? Is a question I get asked a lot. What made you move to Dublin, with its shifty weather, room-for-improvement public transport system and mid table social care system.
Why not Barcelona or London or Edinburgh?

I always had a thing for Ireland. When I was a little kid, the main things on the news were the war in Iraq and the Troubles in the North of Ireland. I guess that made sort of an impact. I always had a fascination for the country. I’ve always read about it and have always been interested in anything related to Ireland. I once featured in the magazine of the housing corporation in Rotterdam, in their series about people with strange hobbies. After a guy who breeded pigeons, a woman who collected tea spoons and a bunch of other random people with oddball ways of filling their spare time, it was my turn to explain why much of my life revolved around that little island in the Atlantic Ocean.

                     Feature photo

When I eventually went to Ireland myself for the first time, in March 2004, it was an experience that changed my life. I stepped off the airport bus in Cork and immediately felt at home. It was like stepping into something you’ve seen in a movie a long time ago, but never forgot.
People talked to each other in the street,  told jokes at bus stops or were discussing the day’s news outside pubs. I loved it. When I went home at the end of the week, I vowed to return.

I did return. First in February of 2005, when I tagged along with friends whose band had organized gigs in Dublin and Belfast, and then in January 2006 to attend the Dublin festival commemorating the 20th anniversary of Phil Lynnott’s death.  I liked Dublin even better than Cork.
I knew there was more in it for me.

                                  Much more

Somewhere in Spring 2006, I decided that I wanted to know what it was like to live in Ireland. I set out to research information on how to base myself there for 6 months, and how to get a job.
On 4 January 2007, I got on a plane to Dublin.

All this explains what made me go to Dublin, but not what actually made me stay.
This is what did.

What first stood out to me, was how open and friendly the people here are.
Dubliners have some interesting character trades:

- They talk a lot. All the time.
If you are waiting for the bus in Holland and address a stranger just for the sake of having someone to talk to, they’ll get a look in their eyes like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. It’s somewhere between ‘please take my money but don’t hurt me’ and ‘If you come any closer, I’ll scream’.  In Ireland, everyone talks to everyone else all the time. On the street, in shops and, ofcourse, in the pub.

- There are 3 basic accents in Dublin; North Sider, South Sider and Culchie.
The Northside accent has 2 vowels: oo and oi. Anything that can not be caught in these 2, is not pronounced. ‘Money for the bus’ becomes ‘Mooney f’de boos’.  Girl becomes goil, bird is boid and murder turns into moider. I still stick with my theory that the New York accent largely comes from supplanted Dubliners.
The Southside accent is what is generally recognized as ‘an Irish accent’ abroad, but they sort of want to make it sound like posh English. Really strange. These people stand out like sore thumbs when they cross the river into the mighty Northside.
A Culchie is someone who is Irish, but was born outside the Dublin postal code system. The Culchie accent is used as an umbrella term for all accents that are identifiable as being from somewhere in Ireland that is not Dublin. These people generally don’t appreciate all the comforts that come with living in The Big City and constantly moan about Dublin being too busy, polluted, noisy and expensive. To which I say: feel free to move back to Leitrim and either become a farmer, go work in the local Centra shop, or face a daily 2 hour each way commute. You’re welcome.

- It is impossible to walk around the streets of Dublin for more than 3 minutes without seeing someone carrying cans of beer.
- It is impossible to walk around the streets of Dublin for more than 20 seconds without seeing discarded beer cans on the street
- The only thing that is more ubiquitous on Dublin streets than discarded beer cans are scratch cards
- On Saturday afternoons, about 1 in 3 people walking around the streets of Dublin is carrying a see-through carrier bag containing a newly bought duvet.
Pro Tip, Dubliners; duvets are not single use items. They can be used over and over and over again.

- No drink is ever bad. If you don’t like a certain drink, or think it is too strong, or weak, the correct way of of indicating you won’t have a second is to say ‘I wouldn’t drink a bath tub of it’
- You can never go for just one drink. If you intend to go for ‘just the one’, no matter what the situation is, as soon as you reach the end of your drink, someone will buy a round, the juke box will play your favorite song, or the bar tender will identify you as his best friend and give you one on the house.
- If you have one drink, you will have two. If you have two, you will have three. If you have three, you will have ten. That’s just how it goes.

And while we’re on the subject of drinking- Dublin has the best pubs in the world. While some people may think that every bar in the world is the same as any other, this is not true. Dublin has a pub to cater for your every mood. Want to sip Guinness in a pub where you can hear a pin drop? We’ve got you covered. Want to drink craft beer from 30 different taps? No problem. Want craft beer but are specifically geared towards IPAs? Right over here. Interested in seeing the entire Australian football season? Ofcourse. Cocktail bars? Bars specialised in Mexican food? A pub that caters to dog owners? It’s all happening here in Dublin.
The first pubs open at 7AM and if you play your cards right, you can drink straight through to 5AM the next day. Have breakfast at one of the 24/7 Subways, Burger Kings or convenience stores and you’re good to go for the next round. Life is good here.

Oh yeah, Guinness.
The best Guinness in Dublin, and consequently the world, can be found in any of the 257 pubs that are frequently quoted as the Best Pint in Dublin by experts in pubs around the city. Ask 100 Dubliners which pub serves the best Guinness in town and you will get 98 different answers.
To be honest, it is hard to say where the best pint can be found, but it is generally a good rule of thumb to go to a place where they sell a lot of Guinness. This way, the beer keeps moving and it will taste better. Two places that are mentioned often in this debate are Mulligan’s on Poolbeg Street and The Gravedigger in Phibsborough. Though The Gravedigger is really called Kavanagh’s. But don’t confuse them with 2 other pubs called Kavanagh’s nearby, which are next to each other on Dorset Street. One of those is generally referred to as Big Kavanagh’s and the other one as –you guessed it- Little Kavanagh’s. But the pub referred to as Little Kavanagh’s is actually slightly bigger than Big Kavanagh’s. Both of them are smaller than the Kavanagh’s that is referred to as Gravedigger.
But I digress.

So what is your favorite pub?

Ha! That’s impossible to say. As I said above, different pubs are for different purposes. I have been to 323 different pubs in Dublin since 4 January 2007. It is impossible to discuss each and every one of them individually here, so I’ll just shout out a couple of special mentions here.

Murray’s was the first Dublin pub I visited after I moved here, and it has always had a special place because of it. What also helped is that they showed all Celtic matches (they still do)
Through an intricate biergarten system, Murray’s is connected to 2 other pubs- The Living Room and Fibber Magees. This creates a little enclave in the heart of Dublin (I like to refer to it as The Bermuda Triangle) where you can basically spend all your free time without having to interact with the outside world. You have  traditional pub in Murray’s, that also shows sports, a sportsbar in The Living Room (that sort of functions as a pub/club hybrid after the games are finished) and a rock/metal bar in Fibbers, that caters to people who like music on the  louder end of the spectrum such as metal and punk, has a lot of live gigs and is open until 3AM every day of the week.

The Woolshed ofcourse gets a mention here. When I walked into its doors on August 5, 2007 (I’m good at dates) I knew instantly that the place was special. It has become my second home and it is one of my favorite places in the whole world. They show every sporting event you can think of, and quite a lot that you can’t, from Australian Football to Snooker and from Premier League football to baseball. And it’s the best place in Dublin for American football. And, you heard it here first, it is the place where I will see the Raiders win the Superbowl, whether they remain in Oakland or not.

Finally, before I abandon the subject of pubs, I do ofcourse have to mention the good people of the Galway Bay Brewery.  After operating  a couple of pubs in Galway, they decided in 2010 to open a pub in Dublin, and called it Against the Grain. It was a bit of a gamble, because operating a pub that only sells small batch craft beers wasn’t really done back then. When Against the Grain became a success, they opened a second pub. And then  a third one.
The count currently stands at 9. All their bars have their own specific niche and value, but my favorites, I must say, are The Brew Dock and The Black Sheep, with Against the Grain also deserving a special mention. They all combine excellent beer selections with mighty fine food, friendly and knowledgeable staff and a personal touch. Dublin wouldn’t be the same without them.
There are many other pubs in Dublin where I spent memorable nights, but none of them have become such a constant factor in my life as the ones mentioned above. They really have become an important part of my life and they really are places where everybody knows your name.

And they're always glad you came

Before I wrap up this story, there’s one final thing that keeps me here. It may seem contradictory, but one of the reasons I stay in Dublin is that it is so easy to leave.
Dublin Airport is one of the busiest in Europe, and has connections to pretty much anywhere. Add to this the fact that it is the main hub for Ryanair, Europe’s biggest and cheapest airline, and you can travel pretty much anywhere whenever you want. I have set foot on 5 continents since I moved to Dublin and I have been to some really amazing places.
Australia definitely deserves a mention here, because it really is one of the most amazing places on earth. I spent a month there in 2010 and it is a trip that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
The only downside to Australia is that it is so far away. Ofcourse, that is one of the reasons that it is so different and amazing, but it does really prevent me from going there on a regular basis. If Australia was where, say, Dubai is, I would go there every year. But unfortunately, this is not how these things work and that costs Australia a spot on the Elite List here.

There are 2 places, however, that I have travelled to in my decade in Ireland, that stand out above all others.

The first one is the USA. I always wondered what it would be like, but after a year in Ireland I decided I had to go and see it for my self. It was my first time in New York and one of the best trips of my life. America really is a place where everything is possible, if you are willing to put your mind to it. I love the country. I have been there half a dozen times now, seen amazing places like New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Boston, and will be back many times. I have set my target on visiting all 50 states  and I still have some 30+ to go. And from Ireland, it is less than 6 hours to New York or Boston, which makes it only marginally further than, say, Istanbul or Cyprus.

The other one is Spain. 4 years ago, I had never been to Spain. Then I went over on advice from a colleague who told me her home town of Malaga is amazing, and fell in love with the place after about 5 seconds. I have been to Spain 6 times now, and it has raced to one of the top spots on my Awesome Countries List. Spain is fantastic. The weather is great, the food is amazing, the people are friendly, the women are beautiful, life is cheap.. Spain, like the USA, ticks all the boxes.

So why don’t you go live there?

That is a question I have been getting with increasing frequency when people see that I have booked yet another trip to Spain.
My answer to that is that at some point I might.
But not now.

I feel at home in Dublin to such an extent and I love it so much that even thinking of leaving it makes me very uncomfortable. I could not face the idea of not walking down these streets every day, visiting those great pubs on a daily basis, seeing my friends here every weekend, going to the football in Croke Park.  I could not do without that.

I do have a feeling somewhere in the back of my mind that, at some point, I might decide that it is time for me to set sail for a sunnier climate, but not now.

That is for the future.

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