Bay Stephens and his wife reflect on some of the unique customs in their new-found home in West Cork, as part of a year-long adventure
LET’S cut to the chase. It’s terrifying to be a pedestrian in Ireland.
People drive everywhere like they’re fleeing the law. My wife and I thought it might just be a Dublin thing: busy city, rushing to get to work. We get that. But the same frenzied driving harrowed us on the back roads of Co Kildare and now here on the byways of Skibbereen.
We’re from the States, where plenty of fast driving occurs in cities, but the mark of American rural towns is the slowed pace of life, with cars rolling lazily down country roads. People also stop for pedestrians on the other side of the Atlantic, where folks on foot have the right of way. I take it the laws are a bit different here?!
After many hair-raising close calls with motorists in our sojourn, we understand why everyone wears the high-vis vests while running or biking: You’ll be marmalade if you don’t!
Driving aside, we find West Cork lovely.
My wife and I are here for the year thanks to a work visa your government offers young Americans. We ended up in West Cork through a family here which hosts people in exchange for part-time work. So far, we like the area, and might just stick around.
The Irish seem a wonderfully sociable bunch. We’ve delighted in seeing how many people meet for coffee at Field’s in Skibbereen, even on weekdays. Although we’ve encountered our fair share of ‘you’re-not-from-around-here’ looks, as soon as conversation ignites, people are welcoming and curious.
‘What do you think of Trump?’ or ‘Are you a Democrat or Republican?’ are the questions fired away when most Irish people learn we’re American.
It catches us off guard.
In the US, politics are so divisive these days that people avoid the topic at all costs to maintain social cohesion. Not the case here, apparently, which is refreshing, though we’re still getting used to it.
Irish pubs have been a favourite. Our host family took us to Bushe’s Bar in Baltimore for the Munster-Connacht rugby match, and we enjoyed the humour tossed between patrons and how people just passed their cash through the crowd to acquire their next pint. Once everyone understood we hailed from across the sea, they gladly answered our many rugby questions.
Pubs seem familial, places where folks greet you and your family as a regular, whereas an indecorous reputation attaches itself to frequenters of most American bars. The closest American counterparts to pubs are breweries, but these are often the haunts of yuppies and hipsters with sculpted beards and flannel shirts. The range of ages and community feel of West Cork’s pubs have charmed us.
I’ve also noticed a large contingent of year-round ocean swimmers, a Spartan tradition. Where did this start? The best answer I’ve heard (which has been given about other long-held traditions): ’It’s an Irish thing.’
Maybe after a year here I’ll know what that means.