Dandelion Land


The green that creeps from beneath is a steady process. Warming the eyes along with the flawless blue of the sky with its cotton wool clouds. Blue and green, that is spring for me. It is without saying a relief to welcome the colourisation of the country after the death of everything in winter.

I can’t say that I would like spring as much as I did if I didn’t dislike winter. When I was in Korea it was the dry and arid air, the biting cold winds, and the white bright sunlight pitching rays constantly. Winter in Korea is a time when snow storms were a relief from the constant squinting.

For my first winter in Ireland I expected the long days of wind and rain, a grey and lifeless landscape, and the damp that seems to find everywhere. But it was the darkness which caught me off guard. The sun setting at four o’clock in the afternoon swallowed the evening in absolute night, and leaving myself, Herself, and +1 staring at each other at home, expecting something to happen.

Much like Korea, Ireland’s winter swallows up all the visible life. But for the crows hovering overhead, perfectly silhouetted in any weather but more so in the overcast of December and January, little signs of life persist. Waiting for the world to awaken after winter follows a similar pattern in Ireland and Korea. Snowdrops show first, white exaggerated in the damp mud of flowerbeds. Then the shoots of daffodils break through the earth.

In Korea at this time of year you can’t take a step left or right without seeing a cherry blossom tree blooming. Even in the most sun deprived thoroughfare hectic with traffic, a much desiccated looking tree will be blooming as resplendently as its excessively pruned bows will allow. I’ve always thought it to be a bit over the top.

Yet a few weeks ago I was driving into Dublin’s city centre and at Cabra Cross, just by the McDonalds and Tesco the traffic stopped. This is one of Dublin’s less dynamic traffic spots, and it certainly is not an attractive part of the city – but let’s not be too harsh as there are worse place to be stuck in traffic. I looked out the window, and much like those very deprived looking cherry blossoms, at the base of a tree were some frail and gutter mud splattered daffodils, attempting to be as resplendent as their situation allowed.

 

Now the daffodils are slowly dying off, but the trees have gradually been warming our eyes as first the hedges and now the trees start to green with spring. It’s not long after this that the dandelions come out, yellowing in a peppered splay across any grassy patch. A sure sign the warm weather has returned is dandelion seeds tumbling carelessly in the breeze of a sun splashed afternoon.

We call these piss-in-the-beds because if you pick one you will wet the bed, or so we were told as children. But I wonder would the dandelion be as common if it weren’t for children blowing their seeds at every opportunity.

I wake up early most mornings to the new sound of spring, as thousands of different noises come through to my room. Birds singing, mostly, but the leaves rustling in an April gust comes frequently enough. There’s also the silence of morning, something I can’t remember from Korea. Where no noise from the street permeates the walls, and looking out the window all I can do is really imagine the sound.

More so than before I appreciate my new domain in Ireland. The garden, green, and all the other colours it presents, and the breeze and the birds, it’s a long way from my old position watching for glimpses of life on the twentieth floor in Suwon. They are two different places, and nowhere can either be compared. Ask me if I prefer one, I’d probably prefer to not answer that but I would say that I’m happy where I am for now. All I need now is for someone to cut the grass for me…

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Time Decides for Ireland


Punctuality has never been a strong Irish trait. In historical terms Ireland is particularly late to appreciate things. But a bit like many of the buses I spent what seemed like my entire youth waiting for, eventuality it turns up and life continues on amicably and prosperously.

Yesterday saw the unprecedented recognition of Irish soldiers who fought for Britain and died, along with so many other young men from many other countries, at Gallipoli in the First World War. A ceremony to celebrate the centenary of the battle’s commencement took place and saw members of Britain’s royal family, the Turkish president, and significantly the president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins. This form of recognition is a vital step in appreciating a significant link which has existed for centuries between Britain and Ireland, and this is the service of Irish men as soldiers of Crown.

Commonwealth soldiers’ graves overlooking the blue of the Adriatic Sea at Gallipoli (image: wikipedia)

For more there is a worthwhile account here: Gallipoli “Shrapnel burst as frequently as the tick of clock”

Since independence in 1922 a blanket has been thrown over this aspect of Irish history, but is now gradually been drawn back. For many years the contribution of Irish soldiers to the British military has been ignored in official circles, and in many corners considered an embarrassment for people who fought for their rulers.

During British rule of Ireland, military service has featured as an important component in the relationship between the two countries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish troopers were recruited regularly and made up a significant human resource for the then expanding British Empire. They were mostly soldiers, and in that respect cannon fodder. At the same time, service in the Royal Navy was considered a worthwhile punishment for miscreants, be they political or social, before the idea of dispatching them to Australia hatched.

Despite the obvious threat that military service presented, it was considered a worthwhile service right up until the end of the World War One. Namely because it paid a salary and also a widows pension, a luxury farmers and labouring jobs were never entertained with. Job security was an attractive perk, as was being away from one’s spouse for large periods of time while the soldier was deployed in places foreign. My own great grandfather on my mother’s side was one of these people, and saw action in Sudan, and the Boer War among other conflicts. I think that he may have been too old to fight during the Great War, but he was certainly enlisted at the time.

The First World War saw an unprecedented number of Irish recruits signing up to fight. It was perceived that with good behaviour Ireland would eventually earn the Home Rule it had so desperately strove for. In total almost 50,000 Irish soldiers perished during the war. The effects of the 1916 rising saw this effort may have been a waste of time.

The National War Memorial, Islandbridge, Dublin 8 (Image: Wikipedia)

While Irish recognition of its contribution to World War One has been slow, the service of its people as soldiers has never been in doubt, it’s role in the second World War is something much more in doubt. The state officially took a position of neutrality, but had no qualms about introducing conscription, rationing, and preparations in the event of an invasion. Meanwhile thousands of Irish people took the short journey to British territory and signed up to take the real fight to tyranny in Europe’s battlefields. While nowhere near as many people died as did between 1914 and 1918, the number is close to 10,000 and it is a figure which exceeds many other political causes of death, including the Troubles and War of Independence.

This process of recognition is probably easy for most people, especially when given an opportunity to consider life as it was. A better understanding of history, as well as a stronger understanding of humanity are key to this. Irish people are more comfortable in their relationship with their closest neighbour than they have ever been, and they are also more confident in their own understanding of their own national identity that we can appreciate who we are and what really makes us so. As a more globablised condition exists in Ireland so does a stronger belief in the necessity to understand Ireland’s role in the future, and to do this right, understanding the past is an important component.

A rain soaked Memorial for the Irish who fell in the Korean War

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It is with a slight sense of bragging that I should be reminded that it was on this day two years ago that I took part in one of these processes of recognition. On a wet morning in Yongsan-gu outside the Korean War Memorial I was very fortunate to be offered the opportunity to lay a wreath at the newly laid memorial honouring the Irish who during the Korean War. The Irish contribution, while quite small, was an unofficial contribution as those who fell did so wearing mostly British uniforms. The significance of this was twofold, in that it recognised that while Ireland had not officially supported the war, its people had rallied in defence of Korea’s freedom, and this is something that the people and veterans of that time appreciate.

Also, with respect to yesterday’s ceremony in Turkey, it is another step by Ireland towards understanding our contribution to the history of the twentieth century. Previously it was buried away as a past which spoiled Ireland’s image as a nation which fought for its freedom from Britain.

In Ireland we now look at our past and realise that our connection is stronger than the rules inscribed with the mere signing of a piece of paper. We look to ourselves now for our answers, and we look to the way we can make our country better and stronger. This is always a learning process, but knowing that is a process makes the journey a lot easier.

 

Trying to Appreciate Time and Effort


I frequently look back on everything I’ve written in this blog and think that it has all been a complete waste of time. I can’t count the amount of words I’ve written, I’m sure there are several books worth, but what is it worth when all it does is sit there waiting to come up in a Google search? This isn’t the first time I’ve had this notion, and for the most part I’ve held on to the blog itself mostly because of nostalgia. Deleting from the record over four years of work just doesn’t seem right to me, but then I wonder again.

What concerns me is what the blog has done to me. Granted I haven’t been writing much here, or indeed anywhere of late, but it has stifled my written output elsewhere. It has always been a distraction, something which I have written on and felt that my need to write something has been quenched. So many times I’ve felt guilty for writing on my blog when I could have sat down and wrote something else, something more challenging, something I would perplex over and frustrate myself trying to find someone to publish it. But this blog’s greatest publishing quandary is coming up with more intuitive tags to lure new readers.

I can’t say I’m not proud of my blog here, but there is a bitter cynical streak in my veins which asks that regardless of what you have written, who is reading it? I’m not suggesting that I want some post to go viral, or that I want to be some class of a power blogger, in the Korean sense. I don’t really think that my opinions are any more valid that anyone else who may have a blog, or indeed anyone who may actually be able to think and act for themselves. I think I just always hoped for more to come of it.

This blog grew from itself. It started slow. It started confused. It had a longwinded and unread infancy, but at some stage around its second birthday I suppose it started to get a little popular. The number of readers managed to regularly peak around fifty a day, and for me this was a success. I felt like it was my duty to write for these people, whoever they were. I don’t know what I was writing about, you can check my archive for that, but I do recall that I was having fun.

It was perhaps that writing that was the most exciting aspect. I learned at that time how to really use the keyboard to my advantage, and I think I actually believed in myself as someone who had the skill to craft a beautiful sentence. As my grandfather might say, it takes a lot of them to fill a pint. Yet, there was something about what I was doing. The more I tried to change and grow as a blogger the better reactions I earned.

One time when I was considering quitting the blog writing thing I opened up a 10 Magazine where I had an article written that month, and in it Ifound that my blog was featured as Blog of the Month. It wasn’t really a major accolade by any stretch of the imagination, but it felt good to get a little recognition from a fellow blogger and blog reader.

I think that every time I half considered quitting blog writing some small thing like this happened and I got a little more impetus to continue writing. I can recall regularly panic writing a blog conclusion with five minutes before a class started, and spending the down time in that class adding the tags and uploading photographs in a frenzy as if the very action of writing could not wait until I got home, or at least back to my office. When the post went out I would then sit back and refresh my blog stats waiting for a spike in views. This kind of recognition was kind of a drug.

Since I’ve been back in Ireland I think my posts just haven’t garnered the half-frenzy of attention I thought they got in Korea. I probably haven’t tried hard enough, but that would imply that I’ve tried to make me blog a success in Ireland. For some reason the blog just doesn’t seem to have the same function here. It is still necessary, but I think it has become more of a personal venting space than anything, and who wants to read that? Maybe I could look for something to talk about more, but I struggle to find that new guile required.

I still believe that without my blog I don’t think I could have been as confident a writer as I am now.

Well, that is a little unfair. I could easily have become as confident if not a more confident writer without this function, but my blog successes have encouraged me to continue trying and to persevere and to understand that you cannot expect success to be immediate. I need to remember this lesson more than ever these days.

But I also strongly believe that it has been a mighty distraction which has blinkered me a lot about my understanding of how writing and the world works. I believe that for some reason it has scuppered many opportunities, but if you asked me what opportunities these are I could not list them.

Now that I say all this I think that the problem is not with my blog and blogging itself, it is my own maturity as a writer and an individual looking for a sense of self when I am feeling quite lost at sea. Perhaps, as I look for a conclusion and an understanding here, I could say that maybe the blog has matured me to expect more from myself and to step beyond my comfort zone and accept new challenges. This is perhaps what I should say, and stop looking for ways to blame my blog for doing nothing but help me know myself a little more.

 

*Don’t worry, this is not the end of my blog, just thinking out loud….AGAIN*

Moments I Forgot to Mention


For every second that passes I cannot chart the exact action followed through. There are a lot of seconds, and there are at least as many actions. Granted there are plenty of hesitations and thoughts about action. None of this amounts to much more than whatever it was that came about. Over the last few months its true that this has been the case as much as ever. Allow these images to be a sample of what might have happened in the past few months since my last confession.

(Did I mention I thought I lost my camera but then I found it, not in the last place I looked)

Howth Harbour evening

Tied and dried

City lines

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corkwindow

ADHDoor cork

gaeityfeb15

graftonstreetfeb15 II

Put your foot down

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City of Signs

I remember

Moore Street ar maidin

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Electric Entrance

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Gateway to the sky

Last evening stroll

*fin*

St Patrick’s Day Ten Years On


I was in Ireland for Saint Patrick’s Day for the first time in 11 years. That I was not excited about this lends a lot to my own feelings about Saint Patrick’s Day as a day of Irish celebration, which probably isn’t helped by the whole institution of Saint Patrick’s Day around the world. But having been away from Ireland for such a length of time, I think my understanding of my own Irish identity and Irish identity in general have changed.

When I first went to Korea I was 23. I arrived on March 16, 2005, the last time I was in Ireland for Saint Patrick’s Day I was 22. I suppose I just missed the day, and at the time I knew that this was probably for the best. I was no fan of Saint Patrick’s Day back then.

While before I had never really considered its relevance or its connection to me or my Irish identity, something of a sucker punch came when I went into an alehouse I used to frequent. Shrouded in a darkness, the sunlight streamed through the permanent smokiness and silhouetted the pirouettes of stumbling celebrants enthused by A Nation Once Again shaking the very fibres of much strained PA system. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. It was a dubious WTF moment, and one I always remember and attest to an urgent desire to leave the country, and Korea is where I ended up.

My own story in Korea is one littered with its own confusion, in terms of Irish identity. I stumbled upon an Irish party on the days surrounding March 17, and wasn’t too enthusiastic about celebrating my identity then. I settled in to living and found a group of friends who saw a novelty in my Irishness which I tried not to embellish but soon got it into my head that I was the only Irishman in South Korea.

I used to spend a lot of time in Seoul expressing my distaste at my nationality, its failings, and why I was a better person not to be living there any longer. I knew several friends shared similar feelings back in Ireland, so it wasn’t something I was attempting to appear aloof about, at least not on my own anyway.

I wonder though that the longer you spend away, the longer you feel that you to try to find yourself, as opposed to the idea that you’re missing out on something. Mixing with people from around the world from many different backgrounds who proudly exclaim their nationality while you shyly question what is it that makes you stand out from others would have this effect.

Ireland was a very unfamiliar place in Korea, so there was very little to talk up. As much as I would try to offers faint words of praise towards Ireland, I’d spend an equal amount of time explaining where in fact Ireland was and that, despite its proximity to the United Kingdom it was not in fact a territory of the Queen, or attempting to talk down the hype of Irish drinking habits and love of Riverdancing to the tune of IRA marching songs. It was hard to find a middle ground.

I don’t imagine that this image of Irishness has disappeared, and while there are plenty who shun the whole idea of the image of an Irishman, they will feel the necessity to indulge in the inebriating elements of the celebration. Not that I have a problem with this, I suppose. It’s often a mid-week day off, and what better way to beat the hump than to have few drinks. For your sins, like.

There is a strong trend in Ireland which now sees over-drinking on St Patrick’s Day as something the national image could do without. Doing so robed in green and bedecked in shmarockery in the name of a saint in a increasingly secular society just doesn’t rock the boat seven days of the week. I’d fall into this category of Irish person, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to celebrate the day any longer.

Like it or not, Ireland’s national day is St Patrick’s Day. I often felt that we needed some kind of an independence day or a day that at least allows us to recognise the achievements of those who saw about Ireland’s independence from England. Ireland being Ireland though, some would never see us truly independent seeing as we still have the six counties in the north as part of the UK, while there are plenty of elements who could never stand for approving of the actions of De Valera or Collins camp.

I think that Paddy’s Day has allowed us, more and more in recent years, to celebrate ourselves a little more than any other kind of national celebration would allow. While the parades and bedecking in green seem to be embellished habits from abroad, they certainly have allowed for the new identity of St Patrick’s Day to shine through. The parade in Dublin and the hundreds of thousands of revellers are far removed from the local parades which town after town celebrates in as much fashion as the community can muster.

When I helped out with the St Patrick’s Day festival in Seoul, we saw about doing the same thing, but in a slightly different way. You would always do your best with what you had, and we would regularly muster together as much Irish cultural talent as possible. This would include Irish dancers, US army bands playing Irish ballads and songs, a Korean U2 tribute band, some class of an Irish-Canadian folk rock six piece, and a guitar wielding human juke box from Bray performing across the afternoon, while in the background all forces of paddywhackery were out in force encouraging and inviting new participants into the madness that is Irishness in Korea.

Community was the essential element, even if it meant participating in a field of plastic Paddy inspired mayhem. The more bodies the better was the philosophy of choice, because let’s not forget this was a party we having. It was so much fun and such a success that we didn’t mind the moans from locals and the endless tidy-up come six o’clock.

In Blanchardstown in Dublin where I now live, and in Dunboyne were I spent my formative years there are now community parades. They don’t appear to have much resembling the hype of our Seoul shenanigans, and they pale in comparison to the big one in Dublin. Regardless, the faces throughout are smiling as big as any other parade, and they are faces you could recognise, maybe not now but in a couple of weeks when you’re in the local Supervalu or Spar.

As a parent though, I found it encouraging to see so many kids at the centre of the parade, marching, kicking, dancing, whistling, and chanting. These little things, small as they are and as insignificant as they seem mean a lot to these families who get to see each other having their own little moment as the centre of attention.

This far from a bad thing, because regardless of who we are we always need to feel a little bit important, and to have a sense of place in our community. This community can be a small village in the west of Ireland, a suburb or Dublin, or a shower of foreigners clattered together in one of the largest cities on the planet a mere 8,000 kilometres away from home.