Bloody Irish

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Out and About with Miss Delish

A week ago I was sent a picture via SMS from a girlfriend who must have been enjoying a drink at the Vineyard. It contained four completely naked men riding bicycles up the middle of Acland St. I immediately muttered to myself ”bloody Irish”. If you’re thinking that sounds rather short sighted, please take a deep breath, I have been known to pigeonhole a person for far less conspicuous behaviour than naked cycling. For example- On any given winters night where most Aussies are rugged up in wool and fur, my girlfriends and I can be heard frequently labelling a group of young, slightly overweight, pale skinned, non stockinged twenty something girls who are running down the street and clearly intoxicated as “Poor Irish”.

Yes, yes, I know, sounds awful doesn’t it? If you are thinking right at this moment you don’t label our tourists/backpackers/migrants when a typical social behaviour comes into full view- you’re lying! That doesn’t mean we can’t live together harmoniously or that these ‘New Alien Australians’ won’t appreciate this wonderful country and try and fit in as best they can- I’ll tell you why. I spent December/January getting the full story.

Let me start by allaying your fears of how shallow a person I really am by telling you that my partner is Irish, he himself arriving a few years back in the hope that plentiful employment and a better standard of living would be what he found when he made the decision to leave Ireland and come to Australia. He had not been back since, Skype being the primary source of communication with his family who he misses terribly; so much so that he decided it was time to nip back for a real live catch up. He took me home to the Emerald Isle to meet the parents for Christmas and show me where he comes from (Not to worry- I added a week in Paris and another in London for us in case I was Guinnessed out!).

The experience was not what I expected. I truly had my imagination theorising that Ireland was green, beautiful, packed with jolly dark haired rogues who love singing and eating potatoes. The reality was slightly more alarming. Yes it was green and very wet as it rained every single day I was there. I managed to see many lovely places, County Claire where the family live, Cork, Galway, Ennis, Dublin, and beautiful Conemara. The accents are melodic and the sense of humour quick and altruistic, but there is underlying damp setting in this country and I fear it’s ten years away from drying through. Although the warmth that radiated from a family being reunited and reconnecting so quickly and strongly was a magical experience, I watched a beautiful soul crushed at times as he learned of how far his homeland had fallen.

It came in waves and different examples throughout the trip, some quite shocking. We hired a car to overcome the lack of public transport available to easily get around. As we drove through little villages where once people would flock to the local pubs on the weekends, we would find whole towns almost closed down. The only businesses surviving were often the petrol station for passers through or locals needing to fill cars as they commute elsewhere each day for work. Brand new homes that have never been lived in are for sale everywhere at prices that make you shake your head – 45,000 Euro (approx $55-60k AUD) for a brand new three bedroom home. Why are they not rented? Well, who is going to rent them? The population two years ago sat at over 4 million. It has now dropped to under 2 million people, with more than half of the fit and healthy on social security.

In the very dire areas, the friendliness of the country folk is clouded. For example, we happened upon a family owned service station at a time where I was desperate to use the bathroom. When I asked the lady behind the counter if they had a toilet, she replied “we do for paying customers”. I promptly bought something and shuffled off to relieve myself. When I met himself in the car, he mentioned quietly he was experiencing a feeling of shame at what had just occurred “That’s not the Ireland I know” he said. And so it continued through the trip. Meeting his friends who were all well educated and had been part of the Celtic Tiger rising when studying their chosen professions at University, now struggling to pay for half pints of beer and opting to have a relaxed take away meal rather than heading to a restaurant. It was very sad, lawyers, architects and economists discussing which country they were hoping to head to whilst saving madly for the fare to get there. A feeling of gluttony set in as I thought of the money I had spent on clothes and dinners and champagne since we had departed Australia and I found myself censoring my conversations so as not to appear spoilt. Time and time again we were reminded of the devastation that a recession can bring to a population. Even as we drove towards the airport to head to Paris, the news over the radio announced that 500,000 pets had been handed in to the RSPCA as many couldn’t afford to keep them. Worse again were the scenes at the airport; husbands kissing wives and children goodbye as they boarded planes to head to other countries where they had found work and were leaving teary women and kids behind in order to pay the bills and feed all mouths. It was truly heart wrenching.

Where does this sad tale fit in to St Kilda? Well, I thought that regaling you with the reality of where so many Irish are coming from may help with your patience and understanding. It has certainly helped my short temper and sense of entitlement (nasty little traits I consistently battle to control) when I happen upon a situation that annoys me. Next time you see a large group of rowdy backpackers filling our bars and making a nuisance of themselves, remember this: They are celebrating tonight. They are celebrating the fact that they have jobs who pay them more than they have been able to get anywhere in their own country. They are celebrating because they actually have some ‘disposable income’ after paying for food and board. They are celebrating the fact that life may not be struggle city forever… when they have the opportunity to come to our wonderful country and like the Italians, Greeks, Chinese and British before them, make a good and fulfilling life here. Isn’t that what Australia is all about?

See You In The Village.

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