Letter to Ireland, August 2011

Dunboyne
Ireland
16/8/2011

Dear Ireland,

In little more than a week I will be gone. Two months and bit seemed a long time when I had first planned the trip. Fortunately, this letter is nothing to do with nostalgic goodbyes full of clichés about the speed of the weeks and the grass never being as green as anywhere but home. No, none of that, so you can be happy or sad as it makes no odds to the outcome of this letter.

It’s an odd situation having returned after a year and taken the time to really take in the changes. Of course I’ve done it before on plenty of occasions but this time I suppose I have been more analytical. I have had no honeymoon and attached radiant bride to obscure my opinions. I have not returned from England where I did not have a very good living experience. I have not returned to Ireland after a fleeting departure and return.

I came back to Ireland before what planned to be a busy summer working in Dublin and preparing for my brother’s wedding in London this August. There would be plenty of time and, apparently, money to do what we, as in myself and herself, wanted to do.

I had planned to do a little poetry tour of Ireland and herself was aspiring to buy as many things that are unavailable in Korea. In between we would catch up with friends, eat in the best restaurants (lunch menu of course), drink plenty of pints in Brady’s, and hopefully make weekend trips to Dubrovnik, Barcelona and if time allowed, Sicily. Sure, it was a grand plan on the massive salary of 360 euro a week. I think that we did some of this.

I will now give you a brief rundown of why this trip home was not what we expected. For starters, our eyes are bigger than our purse strings, which is old news. Secondly, working five days a week doesn’t really allow for as much travel as was planned, especially to those far off places, and even to nearer locations. Third, as much as we wanted to eat in great restaurants, and we did, this could only happen about twice a fortnight as the purse strings attacked us all too often. Brady’s, while enjoyed, will not have to struggle to remove an arse groove in a bar stool after my return to Korea. I took one Ryanair flight. Sure, it was a grand plan on that massive salary of 360 euro a week, and some of it was achieved.

But, now I suppose I can reflect on Ireland a little differently than before. As I spend more time in Korea I notice the distance between the life I could have lived in Ireland and the life I live floating between the two. Compared with three or four years ago I am in regular touch with Ireland, and especially in terms of reading the news. So, before I came back I was prepared for the doom and gloom of the recession and its effects on Ireland and Irish people.

Unemployment is high in Ireland but I didn’t really experience its effects. Most of my friends and the people I know are all working. Some in contract jobs, some in permanent jobs, and several of these are relatively successful in their pursuits. Of course, two of my brothers are out of work, and I had heard from some people whilst writing a story about Irish emigration that unemployment about the lack of variety in the employment market. Too many graduates seemed to be walking around expecting jobs from courses which were over prescribed for such a small country. Of course, if you had three or four years experience and were willing and able to adapt this wasn’t such a problem. The problem for many is finding experience. I’m not sure if these people were unable to adapt or they were just too stubborn, but they might call it pride.

This is the problem with success, and it is an area where many modern economies seriously struggle, where many young people experience the positive advice and guidance in secondary school and university. They aspire towards their *ahem* ‘dream job’ (this is something I hear many Korean university students talking about), but when they enter the job market they find it saturated and competitive beyond what they had been advised.

Ireland is struggling in two ways from this. Now there are plenty of accountants, solicitors, and engineering graduates without work (not to mention writers), and there are thousands young men with construction trades without work, because they were given what was good advice at the time. It is clear that the tables can change at an unprecedented speed without knowing this. I just hope that people these days are being presented with things known commonly as options.

All that being said, I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m up on a high horse here with the knowledge of, eh, someone knowledgeable. I reckon I’m only in a good position to bark on like this because I failed miserably at understanding and taking advantage of my options when I was in university. I took the first easy option I could find and managed to turn it into something reasonable on paper which impresses some people but honestly has never truly made me feel any better about who or what I am or will be. That option was Korea, which was pretty handy considering I was probably a bit to clueless to consider anything else. Fortunately I did manage to mould some manner of respectability out of it. Credit for this must be given to herself.

On the subject of pulling oneself together I suppose I should get back to the subject of this letter; while far from perfect, Ireland has pulled itself together. No laughing at the back please.

For starters, most of my teenage years were spent on a bus that broke down regularly and spent most of its time driving through roadworks or stuck in traffic because no one knew how to manage the city properly. That is much less the case now. If you were to drive from Dublin to any of the other major cities it would take less than three hours, maximum. On a local level, there is a shiny new and well run secondary and primary school, both of which keep getting bigger and bigger. My fingers are crossed in hope for the fate of the gaelscoil down the road. The streets are clean, the flower pots are full, and most people still say hello in the street. Despite all the doom and gloom on the economic front, the weather is still the number one topic of conversation. And, top of the list has to be that Dunboyne has a train – the fact that its destinations are useless to most people who may be inclined to use it are not up for discussion right now.

It’s hard for me to criticise the country too much when it has never looked better. Sure, bating the developers is easy considering they did drag us into our current economic situation, but they did power the rejuvenation of the country and bring it to its current state. Ireland isn’t a poor and backward country anymore, but a modern and well developed country with as many internal pros and cons as any other in Europe. The problem lies in keeping it in this state.

I cannot credit anyone else other than Irish people for this. They worked hard for ten years only to have it all swept from under their feet from a government which continued to trump how well it managed to take it to its current position right up to its downfall, despite laying seeds of ineptitude throughout their reign.

So, Ireland, that’s what I have to say to you today. You’re looking great on the outside, but on the inside you are in ribbons – and I don’t mean the pretty tie-your-hair-in-a-bow kind.

Time has done Ireland a lot of favours over the past few years and with the right mentality and the understanding of the people who brought it to its current state that they are the only ones who can maintain and take it forward once again. Lessons were learned. Hopefully these will be paid attention to again if the country manages to pull itself out of its current miserable weather discussing status. With this taste of success, next time I hope Ireland will chew it slower and not try to swallow it whole.

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