Family is a big part of most cultures around the world, included Irish culture. This past weekend I spent time with an Irish family that has a little bit of modern and traditional Irish culture mixed together.
One of my friends here at UCC that I met in my Early Start Program has a sister who married an Irish man. She moved here this year from Iowa and is not living in Duress, West Cork, Ireland.
One Friday, a friend of the family drove us to Rob and Amy’s house in West Cork about an hour and a half drive. The exterior of the house was much like other houses I have seen. Cement and cream colored. The windows and doors had wood trim and there were no screens on the windows. In the yard, they had ducks and chickens that were fenced in but seemed to be enjoying the raining, cloudy day. I stepped into the house and was surprised at how open the entrance was. Although this house was originally built as a cottage for visitors, it looked a lot like an American style house.
I walked around to discover that each room had a door that lead into it. There were no open entryways. Each room has a door because of the unique way that an Irish house is heated. A woodstove burned in one room only heats that room not the whole house. This stove also heats the water used to the shower/bathroom. This saves on heating costs but also does not allow each room to be warm. This is very different to an American central heating system that makes each room generally the same temperature.
Another observance about the house is there were only wood and title floors. No carpet unless it was a rug. Modern houses do not have carpets to keep it cleaner but traditional houses in every room except for kitchen and bathroom. Without carpet, the house had a cold feel but eventually rugs will be placed throughout the house.
After settling into Rob and Amy’s house, we visited Mount Gabriel. We drove to the top of a huge hill/mountain and could see out to the Atlantic Ocean and into Dunmanus Bay and Roaringwater Bay. It was a beautiful sight and the sun was shinning which made it easier to see everything around us. We also explored Sheep’s Head and even got to stick my feet into the Atlantic Ocean. My friend even went swimming in the ocean. It was a pretty decent temperature because we had a fairly warm September.
Sunday came very quickly with all the fun things we were doing. Sunday morning I woke up and joined Rob and Amy at there church. They are Christians but not Catholic. They had service and called themselves Nondenominational and Rob descried himself as a bible believer. The service was much different than mass. A member of the church (who is different each week) chose to focus on following what Jesus is telling us to do and nothing more. She brought out songs that were all about that and readings. She quoted bible verses and told stories of her own life. Than the preacher talked about how God works through us all. The service was very interesting and really focused about what the members of the church wanted to get out of it. Being in a different country it is neat to experience new things. Going to a Nondenominational service was just another experience I am glad to have had the opportunity to attend.
When the service was over, we went over to Rob’s family’s house and enjoyed a traditional Irish lunch. Rob’s mother cooked lamb and we had carrots, corn, rutabagas, broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, chips (French fries) salad and of course butter. All this food was delicious and worth not eating breakfast. When we were all served, she kept asking us if we wanted more. I am told this is very “Irish” to do. Many mothers will serve the family and than after the family has eaten, sit down by themselves and eat alone when everyone else has had their fill. Thankfully she ate with us. It was a wonderful meal with such nice company. An interesting thing about the way many Irish families eat is how they put things on their forks. When I eat I have the prongs of my fork turned up right towards the ceiling. I put one or two things on the end and eat it. When Irish families eat, they have the fork prongs facing down and use their knife to put one of each thing on their fork. They almost create a little meal on the fork than eat it. The knife is used to gather everything together. It was funny watching American’s eat next to Irish and see the little differences in how food is consumed.
A ride back to Cork brought was back to reality after a wonderful weekend away. I felt at home in these houses and I am planning on visiting again. They were all very welcoming, giving hugs as a greeting, smiling, laughing and cracking jokes. It was just what I needed as the third week of classes starts. Being away from your own family definitely makes you more appreciative of your own family and the little quirks you love about them. Experiencing a different way of life was amazing and perhaps I will bring some of their traditions home to my own family.
Allyson Bills is studying abroad at University College Cork in Cork, Ireland.