Ireland, as a common North American ideal: the place foreseen as the magic dream where fairies frolic in the meadows, the rolling hills capture mists and the edges of rainbows, and the people are charming and perfectly gorgeous. Ireland, as a real functioning modern country: a country with all the flaws and fierceness of any other, fully capable of being complex and progressive.
There is an awkward clash of these two Ireland’s. Here is what happened when I, a Celtic mythology nerd, discovered that Ireland now has moved beyond the medieval lore that is written in 8th century manuscripts. Ireland has moved beyond the restrictions of the ancient world of their stories and mythologies. The creatures are real, the people are real, and I have yet to stumble upon any hidden passageway into the otherworld. Ireland is not the same as the mythological description, and I’m a little bummed about that.
I shouldn’t be disappointed. I, and others, wrongfully project a false ideal onto Ireland, which somewhat denounces Ireland for how it exists as a modern country. The real Ireland has flaws and conflicts that don’t always get solved by an ancient King or war hero. There isn’t any High King of Tara drinking Mead out of a bronze chalice. But, there is a reality here that makes it better than a fleeting fairy tale.
Aside from my medieval belief on what Ireland was, I heard a more popular version painted by people who I talked to before I made my way to the University of Limerick for the semester. I was confronted with the ever so common Canadian version of Ireland back to my favorite coffeeshop in my home university’s town. Here I was sat with a perfect latte on a chilly Canadian December, where an acquaintance spotted me and said “Rachel, you’re going on exchange next semester, right? Where are you going?”
“I’m going to Ireland.”
Cue her squeal. Cue the jealousy swelling in her as bright and as green as she knew Irish shamrocks would be. She began preaching about how much she wanted to go to Ireland in order to “find her husband there.”
That was not the first time I heard a statement like this. My dentist even boasted about her dream to book a one way ticket to Ireland to find her perfect man. She pointed to the map of Ireland hanging in her office- “See! I look at it every day and daydream about what it would be like to live there.”
The fantasy of the Irish man in North America is of a handsome mystery as they stand majestically on the Cliffs of Moher and the wind engulfs his perfect form (probably blowing his dark, unkempt hair). He would be tall, strapping, with piercing green eyes. He would be the personification of charm and, most importantly, his accent would be heart stopping.
Recently, my friend travelled to visit me in Ireland from Canada. She was so excited to go and meet the Irish people and to hear their exotic accents. After spending a night out and meeting a few people she came to an upsetting realization: they’re not different. They’re not wind blown, they’re not wearing knit sweaters and reciting old Irish poetry. They are regular people.
So, now I’m up to two realizations: the nation of Ireland is a modern and changing place, and Irish people are regular people.
Of course, in retrospect, it would seem that these realizations shouldn’t be realizations at all. It should be expected that a new place would be different than what it seemed before hand. More importantly, it should be different than how it is presented in the mythologies. I would like to point out that these differences make Ireland so much better in reality; because it is alive and dynamic. Frankly, I’m glad I haven’t met the Mr. Ireland and that the modern world of mythology remains illuminated between manuscript pages. Ireland is more than those things because it is real, and the real Ireland is worth boasting about.
So what have I found in Ireland? It is surreal in the way that it contains years of age. The old world rings true within the castles that dot the countryside. The people here will tell you like it is, there is not hesitation towards honesty, and they are the truest most immediate friends on earth (as far as I have seen). Sheep frolick in the meadows with their baby lambs, daffodils grow in February, and the accent is still fairly charming. Maybe there is magic here afterall.
By University of Limerick International Student Rachel Revoy