Ireland for Dummies
The crucial thing here is the "round" system, in which each
participant takes turns to "shout" an order. To the outsider, this
may appear casual; you will not necessarily be
told it's your round and other participants may appear only too
happy to substitute for you. But make no mistake, your failure to
"put your hand in your pocket" will be noticed.
People will mention it the moment you leave the room. The
reputation will follow you to the grave, where after it will attach
to your offspring and possibly theirs as well. In
some cases, it may become permanently enshrined in a family nickname.
Ireland produces vast quantities of woollen knitwear and, under a
US/Irish trade agreement, American visitors may not return to the
States without a minimum of two sweaters, of
which one at least must be predominantly green. Airline staff may
check that you have the required documentation before you are
allowed to disembark. Note: under no
circumstances will you see an Irish person wearing a woollen jumper.
These jumpers are worn solely by Americans to identify them to
muggers, thieves and knackers.
Irish people and the weather
It is often said that the Irish are a Mediterranean people who only
come into their own when the sun shines on consecutive days (which it
last did around the time of St Patrick).
For this reason, Irish people dress for conditions in Palermo rather
than Dublin; and it is not unusual in March to see young people
sipping cool beer outside city pubs and cafes,
enjoying the air and the soft caress of hailstones on their skin.
The Irish attitude to weather is the ultimate triumph of optimism
over experience: Every time it rains, we look up at the sky and are
shocked and betrayed.
Then we go out and buy a new umbrella.
Ireland has two time-zones
(1) Greenwich Mean Time and (2) "local" time. Local time can be
anything between ten minutes and three days behind GMT, depending on
the position of the earth and the
whereabouts of the man with the keys to the hall. Again, the Irish
concept of time has been influenced by the thinking
of 20th century physicists, who hold that it can only be measured by
reference to another body and can even be affected by factors like
For instance, a policeman entering a licensed premises in rural
Ireland late at night is a good example of another body from whom it
can be reliably inferred that it is fact
closing time. When this happens, acceleration is the advised option.
Shockingly, the relativity argument is still not accepted as a valid
defence in the Irish courts.
There are two main kinds of Irish dancing: (1) Riverdance, which is
now simultaneously running in every major city in the world except
Ulan Bator and which some economists
believe is responsible for the Irish economic boom; and (2) real
Irish dancing, in which men do not wear frilly blouses and you still
may not express yourself, except in a written
note to the adjudicators.
The wearing of the green
Strangely enough, Irish people tend to wear everything except
green, which is associated with too many national tragedies,
including 1798, the Famine and the current Irish
soccer team. It's possible that green just doesn't suit the Irish
skin colour, which is generally pale blue (see Weather).
St Patrick's Day brings the climax of the club championships in
Gaelic games, which combine elements of the American sports of
gridiron and baseball but are played with an
intensity more associated with Mafia turf wars. The two main games
are "football" and "hurling", the chief difference being that in
football, the fights are unarmed. There is
also "camogie," which is like hurling, except that in fights the
hair may be pulled as well.
St Patrick's Day also brings the finals in schools rugby, a game
based around the skills of wrestling, kicking, gouging, ear-biting,
and assaults on other vulnerable body parts.
The game is much prized in Ireland's better schools, where it's
seen as an ideal grounding for careers in business and the law.
It is well-known that St Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland.
Less publicised is that he also banished kangaroos, polar bears and
Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, all of which
were regarded as nuisances by the early Irish Christians.
In most countries, road signs are used to help motorists get from
one place to another. In Ireland, it's not so simple. Signposting
here is heavily influenced by Einstein's
theories (either that or the other way round) of space/time, and
works on the basis that there is no fixed reference point in the
universe, or not west of Mullingar anyway.
Instead, location and distance may be different for every observer
and, frequently, for neighbouring road-signs. The good news is
Language. Ireland is
officially bilingual, a fact which is reflected in the road-signs.
This allows you to get lost in both Irish and English.
Visitors to Ireland in mid-March often ask:
What clothes should I bring? The answer is: All of them!
Ireland remains a deeply religious country, with the two main
denominations being "us" and "them". In the unlikely event you are
asked which group you belong to, the correct
answer is: "I'm an atheist, thank God". Then change the subject