Friday, March 17, 2017

So Your Character is From Ireland ... Featuring Alex (AI) @ Mouthful of Ink + Pierina @ Pierina Reads

Happy St. Patrick's Day! It's time for this month's So Your Character is From Another Country! This is a monthly or bimonthly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's So Your Character is From Papua New Guinea ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

Ireland is one of the many countries I wish to travel to one day. I've known several people who have been and it sounds like a beautiful place. I've also seen Ireland fairly frequently on TV or movies whether it be the Secret of Roan Inish or on BBC. I know a fair amount this country already, but I've always wanted to talk to someone who's lived in the country their whole life. Let's welcome Alex and Pierina!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

Alex (AI) is 19 and from Ireland, and feels really weird talking about herself in the third-person so she’s going to stop that. I’m a book blogger, voracious reader, and sporadic writer. I live in the south-east of Ireland in a country town that’s so small I’m not naming it for fear of someone stalking me. I live with a dog, my best friend and my mother. You can find me at my blog, Twitter, Goodreads, and Tumblr.

Hi, I’m Pierina. You might be thinking: is that an Irish name? No, it isn’t. It is Italian. Let’s just say my family is half Irish and half Italian. I definitely have more Irish genes than Italian such as the pale skin, freckles, and ability to burn instead of tan. Anyway, I live in the countryside of Kildare (the county right beside Dublin) with my parents and three sisters. I am an avid reader, a major dog lover and love doing nothing. I am currently a student at Maynooth University (hopefully graduating this Summer) and work part-time at a fish and chip shop. 

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
Alex: Would it be cheesy to say the literature? I think it’s well-known that for its population, Ireland and Irish writers take up quite a bit more than their fair share of literary renown. And then of course apart from that, we have tonnes of landmarks, some gorgeous one like the memorial to Daniel O'Connell, and some not-so gorgeous (*ahem* the Spire *ahem*). And then just the architecture, in Dublin especially, while not particularly unique, is still absolutely beautiful in my opinion!

Pierina: Each country has something unique. To Irish people, it is the history of colonization and the segregation of Northern Ireland and the Republic. Irish history remains a sore subject especially when it comes to sports and politics. To anyone who isn’t Irish, Ireland is known for its shamrocks, leprechauns and the infamous St. Patrick’s Day (we just call it Paddy’s Day). Ireland is built on stereotypes ingrained in our culture but ones that we can sometimes play into. The Irish landscape for one is magnificent with something in every county you visit. The Burren in County Clare, Macgillycuddy's Reeks in Country Kerry. Ireland’s mountains and terrain have the power to take you from reality to a magical land, you just have to watch out for the changelings.

Macgillycuddy's Reeks in Country Kerry
Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Alex: The question here is, what do you mean by environment? If you mean nature-wise, I love it, and it’s gorgeous. We might not have exciting animals like Australia, or frozen tundras and deserts, but I’ll always take my home’s lush green grass and garden sparrows over that.

The social environment really depends on your age and where you live. I’ve always complained and advocated that in small towns like my home-town there needs to be more to do for kids and teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18. Because once you’re “too old” to play games on the road with your friends, but still too young to travel on your own to different towns or go drinking, there’s nothing to do outside the cities. I’ll share a quick photo of what I got up to at age 15 because of this.

There’s me, age 15 at 5am camping out in the field behind a friend’s house. What can you do apart from getting into trouble at that age if there’s nothing else?

My favourite places have always been the cities. Dublin, Galway, and Waterford especially.


Pierina: Generally, Ireland is a bustling little island. Of course, it depends where you are or where you want to go. Dublin is busy and flooded with people, lights and drunken messes on a Saturday night. The countryside is quiet and tranquil, the only sound is the thundering engines of tractors driving to and fro with their hay bales. There is a division between Dublin and the rest of Ireland. Dublin being more central, every other county rolling its eyes when Dublin win the All Ireland for the millionth time in a row. 

Personally, I tend to stick to the outskirts of the city and even venture to the West from time to time. Last year, my friend and I drove to Achill Island off the coast of County Mayo. The landscape was serene, the sheep baaahing and the battered cod was divine. Because I live in Kildare, I spend a lot of time in Maynooth where I attend Maynooth University, now that is a great town to be in. 

Achill Island
Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Alex: You can’t go wrong with your meat, two veg, and potatoes. Well, yes you can, considering I don’t know anyone under the age of 50 that actually enjoys eating that. If you want to know how to make Irish food, you’re pretty safe with just boiling the life out of every ingredient and adding nothing for seasoning except salt, pepper, and butter. So much butter.

But then again, there is the Spice Bag.

Pierina: Well not to be stereotypical but I love potatoes. Give me a cottage pie and I am happy as a cow chewing on grass. You see Ireland is going through a transition period and once again it depends where you were raised. Fast food is becoming so prominent these days as well as freezer foods. But from my own upbringing, I was raised on potatoes and vegetables. Dad made stews, Mam made casseroles. Nothing like beans on toast for breakfast though, cornflakes if you’re up early for school. Pizza and pasta are becoming favourites as well as curries and kormas. Yet, there is one thing that many Irish turn to, especially on a Saturday night, and that is a good ol’ bag of chips smothered in salt and vinegar. A large Full Irish fry the next morning to cure that hangover. 

Cottage Pie
Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Alex: Oh, there are way too many to list in one post! And also almost all of them are rude or curse words. I think instead I’ll link a video. Actually, this whole YouTube Account is a great reference for Irish culture in general (I can’t tell if I’m being sarcastic or not).

Pierina: There are so many different accents in Ireland that you need a guide. It is very hard to explain. Luckily, this video gives some insight into the many accents. 

What to say about slang… I have no clue where to start. Well for one, where I am from people greet each other with Well, what’s the craic? meaning Hi, what’s the gossip? Another way of greeting is How is she cutting? meaning how are you? There really are no words to describe Irish slang, there are just too many forms. Here are some phrases the majority of Irish use.

One thing I will say though. When non-Irish come to visit and ask for fries with their order, most Irish will roll their eyes and sneer because that is NOT what we refer to fries as. Fries for the Irish are known as chips. This is confusing for non-Irish especially Americans because their equivalent to chips is actually what we call crisps. 

Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
Alex: Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who is 19 years old and unemployed.

Wake up and complain how cold it is >> make tea and complain how cold it is >> head out to buy milk and bread and complain how cold it is >> run into at least 13 people you know because this is a tiny country and listen to them complain about how cold it is >> buy the milk >> exit shop into a downpour of rain that seemed to be waiting for you specifically to come out of the shop >> get wet >> walk halfway home >> realise you forgot the bread >> have the rain stop while you’re back in the shop and then mysteriously start again on your way out >> get more wet >> get home and make more tea >> complain that it’s now cold AND wet.

It’s always cold and wet here.

Pierina: Rain, rain, more rain. Wait, hold on… is that? Oh my god! Mam, the sun is out. Quickly, get your sunglasses before the clouds get it! Oh, wait no. She’s pouring again. 
This is typically how a regular day goes in Ireland. All we do is complain about the weather. Everything is centered around the weather forecast set for that day… and Met Eireann has a bad reputation for being right. 

For one, the weather sets your mood. If it's gloomy, you instantly become gloomy. If the sun is out, you perk up and think about all the productive things you are going to do today. 
Secondly, the weather decides what clothes you are going to wear not the other way around. Raining? You can’t forget your large parka jacket with the fur hood. Sunny? Light hoodie, it is still too cold for your arms to be bear, it gives you goosebumps. 

Thirdly, the weather decides if you stay in or venture out. School and work are the only exceptions to this factor. Rain usually means you stay inside, watch a bit of telly, do some chores, procrastinate to your heart’s content. Sun means you’re out in your best-dressed clothes hitting the shops with the hopes of getting the summer shopping done. 

A ritual for Ireland is the 6 o’clock news on RTE. Never missed. Can’t forget the minute of prayers RTE has set up before the news, which no one pays attention to anymore. It is just background music and snapshots of Dublin. 

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Alex: It is definitely very different. Considering how widespread coverage of the US has been since the presidential campaign started, I learned plenty of things that baffled me. Again, that YouTube Account that made the earlier video I linked does plenty of videos about Irish people watching/trying American things. 

Your country is so much larger than ours and so obviously it’s quite different, but still, some things just confuse me. I remember visiting my Granddad in Alabama and realizing that You Can’t Walk Anywhere? You have to be able to drive? There’s almost no public transport, at least where he lives. Everyone has at least one car and a driver’s license. I get buses and trains EVERYWHERE. Admittedly I can get from the east coast of Ireland to the west coast within 4 or 5 hours by train travel so that should show you how small this place really is.

Pierina: Well, Ireland is a very different country to the States in particular. Neighbours and allies though we may be, we are culturally and politically behind and backward. 

Environmentally… we have the Tidy Towns contest every year which picks the cleanest town in Ireland. Because Ireland was ruled by the Catholic Church for a long time, its laws are only beginning to straighten themselves out and becoming more open-minded. The States in particular deals with large issues such as race and gun control, Ireland is now only facing a referendum on abortion rights. This is what I mean when I say that Ireland is very behind. The LGBTQ community only received rights for same-sex marriage three years ago. In terms of political bodies, Ireland is similar to the UK. We are governed by a political party (Fianna Gael) with the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) acting as the face of the country. Our President does not usually have a say in political matters but is important in appearances. 

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
Alex: Ireland has such a rich history. I think it’s something that we tend to be really proud of. This article describes some of the pivotal moments much better than I’ll ever be able to, but I’ll still talk about a few.

There were, of course, the Plantations in the 16th and 17th Centuries when Britain slowly took over Irish land. Then the famine came in 1845, ending in 1849, when a potato blight decimated the country’s population by around 2 million people, 1 million dying of starvation and disease, and another million emigrating to Britain, Australia, and the US! Guess why people in Boston and New York kinda still sound like us? And then in more recent history, you have the 1916 Rising which started off the fight to establish ourselves as an Independent Republic instead of being part of the British Commonwealth, and the Troubles that went on in Northern Ireland in the 1960’s, 70’s.

Can you tell I did History in my Leaving Cert (Ireland’s final school exams)?

Pierina: Forever and always, 1916 Easter Rising. It is so important in Irish history and culture. Drilled into us from a young age, Irish children are raised knowing that their country was divided and conquered and could never be whole again. 

Leo Varadker appointed as Taoiseach. Varadker is the first gay Taoiseach we have ever had. His sexuality does cause concerns amongst the Irish population mainly because Ireland is still living under the Catholic Church in some areas, especially amongst elderly people. This is a step toward Ireland opening their eyes to more than just regulation and constrictions. We are more than what we are told to be. 

Mary Robinson winning the Presidential elections. As the first female President of Ireland, Robinson, followed by Mary McAlese, proved that women can and do have the power and knowledge to be more than second class citizens. 

What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Alex: Oh, the worst thing has to be people trying to imitate our accents. It never works. Never ever. And the stereotypes that we’re all drunks isn’t fair either, although my English teacher once said we have a “culture of drinking” which is true. We don’t all walk around blind drunk all the time, but alcohol has a central part of our culture. Where do you go after a Christening? The pub. Birthdays? The pub. Funerals? The pub.

(Can I quickly mention that I once saw a train-station worker pour vodka into his orange juice at around 9am? Well, you’ve gotta get your five-a-day somehow)

I think another video is in order! This one is Irish people rating “Irish” accents in Hollywood.

Pierina: Ask any Irish person this question and they will rant. Leprechauns; the luck of the Iris; pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; red hair; “top of the mornin’ to ya”; Irish characters usually play the bad people in tv shows and movies. 

There are so many stereotypes I could write you a list longer than Santas nice and naughty list. These stereotypes are mainly portrayed in American TV shows and movies. Whether it is the fake and very unrealistic accents American actors use.

What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Alex: The media you want to watch when it concerns Ireland, is Irish media! And often British media, the BBC especially, does really well too, but they are our neighbours after all. Also, watch anything with Brendan Gleeson in it. Always good.

Pierina: Books and movies tend to portray Ireland well. Yet, it is mainly books and movies set in an Irish setting that achieves this. It is hard to really nail Irishness, you can’t really unless you are Irish or have spent most of your life living in Ireland. Sorry to tell you. 

Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
Alex: For books, it would have to be Darren Shan in The Darren Shan Saga by, em, Darren Shan. Artemis from Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer is also brilliant.

For TV? Dustin the Turkey, no doubt about it.

We sent him to Eurovision for God’s sake! If that’s not a definitive statement about our country then I don’t know what would be.

Pierina: I don’t actually know…. I haven’t read a lot of books with fictional characters native to Ireland. OH WAIT! Mrs. Brown from Mrs. Brown’s Boys; Father Ted from Father Ted; and all of the characters Pat Shortt plays in Killinaskully. Maybe I am looking in the wrong places but there definitely needs to be more known Irish fictional characters across all mediums.

Thank you, Alex and Pierina, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back on the 21st for So Your Character is From the Midwest United ... Featuring Eliana Reickard!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Slots for Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, New Zealand, the Philippines, Liberia, Algeria, Thailand, Peru, China, Slovakia, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Finland, Papua New Guinea, and Ireland have been filled, but if you are from any other country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com.

Do you have any Irish characters? Did this inspire you to write an Irish character or set a book in Ireland? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Alex and Pierina? Be sure to thank them!

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