Leprechaun Living

Embracing the beauty and chaos of Dublin, Ireland.


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Howth: A Fisherman’s Paradise

For the last two months, I’ve been praying for a sunny Sunday to travel to Howth, a charming fishing village in Dublin Bay.  Today I suffered a rude awakening as the calendar flipped to April, meaning that my Dublin chronicles were reaching the finale.  I looked out the window to a familiar scene: clouds and thrashing tree branches.  Howth trip? It was now or never, so put on three pairs of socks and hopped on the bus.

Howth is conveniently reached through the Dublin Bus in city center, putting both my travel anxiety and my wallet at ease.  The bus ride is a mere thirty minutes, so there is absolutely no excuse not to travel to the quaint area during a stay in Dublin.  

The bus makes several stops throughout Howth Village, ending at Howth Summit where a scenic cliff walk begins.  I took the bus to the Summit with the glorious idea of wandering the coastline for the two hours back into the village, but as always, the wind had other ideas.  I took a few pictures, gasped at the scenery, and decided to take a shortcut through the town to hit Howth Village below. 

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This was the first time I traveled anywhere alone (though it was nowhere far), so I gave myself the challenge of navigating back to Howth Village from Howth Summit without a map.  In a small town on a Bank Holiday Monday, I wasn’t too concerned.  I simply followed the bus stop signs until I saw the ocean, and then let the ocean be my guide.  The walk down was pleasant as I was able to see a different version of Irish neighborhoods.  The yards were larger (I assume land prices are lower away from the city) and many houses were painted in uplifting pastel colors. 

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My first stop in the village was the Howth Market, held every Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday.  There were cute stands with homemade jewelry and scarves, and of course the forever beckoning food stands that tempt customers with “secret recipe” jams and fresh made Nutella crepes. I painfully passed on these goodies and made my way straight to Beshoff Bro.’s Fish and Chips.  Back at school, I asked a few people where the best fish and chips were and Beshoff’s was always the answer. 

Beshoff’s is strictly take-away, so I claimed a vacant bench by the bay, and observed the variety of boats as I ate.  The warm food and scenery quickly distracted by thoughts from any bodily numbness. 

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Soon enough, my food was devoured and I again realized that my toes haven’t had feeling for a couple of hours.  I grabbed a bus back to Dublin, and relaxed on the short ride. I am so thankful that I gave myself a brutal pep talk to get me out of the door this morning.  One more thing is now checked off my Dublin to-do list!


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A Change in the Air

A new air began drifting into my DCU suite two weeks ago, creating a slight chill and gradually gaining momentum.  This can only mean one thing: internship phase.

The Dublin Internship Program at Boston University comprises of two phases: core classes and internship.  During the core classes (part one), all 61 of us plodded to class every day from 10:30AM to about 4:30PM, with the bulk of our time spent in the two main classes of this phase, Irish History and Contemporary Irish Society.   Once a week, we also attended an elective class that still continues, also once a week, during the internship phase.  Right before spring break, we took finals for the two core classes and voilá– half of our classes were completed in a month and a half.

Our group of weary travelers landed back in Dublin for the second week of March, and we were immediately thrown into full-time internships from Monday-Thursday.  With most of our commutes edging on one hour, if not more, everyone rises bright and early to put on a professional face and head to the workplace.

Starting at 5:00pm, everyone starts inching back into the suite.  I feel like I literally inch my way up the stairs, with my small, tired strides.

Everyone still jokes around and laughs as we talk about our day, but I can tell the volume of my voices is a touch lower and sometimes a yawn pops in mid-sentence.  The good thing is that it’s only been two weeks, so the adjustment period is still here.  It’s not only the physical adjustment of waking up earlier and travelling more, but the emotional adjustment of being in a new environment, with co-workers of a different culture.

The challenge is prominent for everyone, but it’s a challenge that everyone seems to embrace.  Even though we’re tired, we’re not unhappy. We’re just adapting, which is what this trip is all about.


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“Everyone’s Irish on March 17th”

On St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, the streets literally turn green and flood with leprechauns.  Beginning at sunrise, tourists and Irish-folk alike don green tights, tall hats, and costume beards, as they prepare to trek through Dublin searching for gold at the bottom of a Guinness pint.

Although categorized as an Irish tradition, St. Patrick’s Day is quite commercialized and tourism runs rampant over the weekend.  All hostels, hotels, and B&B’S have been booked solid for months, and the streets are filled with too many languages to count.   Still, every culture is dressed in green from head to toe, with clovers and Irish flags painted on their faces.  Just like it’s accurately quoted in the Guinness Factory, “Everyone’s Irish on March 17th.”

St. Patrick’s Day weekend is a four-day festival in Dublin.  From Friday to Monday the city hosts a number of events that promote the Irish heritage, and O’Connell and Grafton Street are home to live performers further spreading the spirit.  Lights in the city are tinted green, and every store is full of costume dress and memorabilia in preparation for the big day.

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(Traditional Irish music in a Dublin pub.)

All events lead up to the parade on Sunday afternoon.  Ireland upheld its reputation by producing snow and hail during the main parade, and then topping that all off with rain.  “Welcome to Ireland” is all I thought as the tourists passed confused glances to the sky and muttered in an unknown language.   As always around here, the weather did not affect any of the festivities.  It’s a type of Irish immunity I’ve grown to respect. The parade went on, and filled the street with live Irish music, dancing, and floats of all shapes and sizes.

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(I tried to capture the snow- the flakes were quarter sized!)Image

Kudos to the cleaning crew, for two hours following the parade, you never would have guessed that anything extraordinary had happened.   The parade only kick started the day’s activities, and most of the crowd continued to wander around to the street vendors or head into a pub to seek shelter.  One thing’s for sure, it’s hard to be bored on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

Festivities run late into the night, and Monday is a bank holiday in Ireland to provide a day to recoup.  It was an experience to witness a Dublin St. Patrick’s Day, and not only see the extreme national pride of the country, but how it’s spread worldwide.

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Lessons from France: Body Language

As a communication student, I’m aware of the leading role that body language plays in any interaction.  It is even said that up to 55% of communication consists of nonverbal cues, which over my spring break trip to France, quickly rocketed to near 100%.  Despite the elementary bonjour or merci, I do not speak French.

Bolded stated on the first page of A Rough Guide to Paris was the notion that Parisians have a distinct national pride which can “verge on arrogance.”  This was not promising for me, and I dreaded having to attempt communication with a population that already felt superior to me, even before learning of my language deficiency.  From research and anecdotes of friends, I was told that English is generally spoken throughout Paris, and also in my second location, Nice.  This information, along with the fact that I’d be with three others in my same position, granted me a slight sigh of relief.

That relief of short-lived, for when I landed in Paris the staff at the airport did not speak more than a few lines of English, a trend that followed throughout my journey in Paris.  My ability to express myself through hand movements and facial expressions was put to the test, and in most cases I surprisingly succeeded. The atmosphere in Paris was in fact a bit arrogant, and it was clear that many service employees wanted nothing to do with me once I exposed that I only spoke English.  Their annoyance was understandable, but off-putting and sometimes left me feeling ashamed.

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Most of my interactions in Paris involved ordering food from bakeries or street stands.  I never used any words, just simple smiles, pointing, and hand movements.  These interactions were painless, and I was always rewarded with a freshly baked baguette or flaky croissant to make it all the better.  After the first couple of days, I became so accustomed to only communicating through nonverbal signals that I rarely even tried to speak.  I always said please and thank you in French, but apart from that I rarely muttered words to the locals.

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After a six hour train ride to Nice, France, I disembarked to an area that spoke little English outside of the touristy restaurant chains.  By this time, I was used to being a silent outsider so I wasn’t bothered.  Although in the same country, the composure of the Nice citizens was much more polite and softer than in the energized streets of Paris.  The shop owners smiled more, mademoiselle was added to the end of most sentences, and I received fewer irritated glances.

In Nice I truly understood how body language worked.  The people I interacted with in Paris failed to interact back with me, which left an incomplete communication.  They would respond to my gestures, but only with actions instead of gestures of their own. Although in Nice, everyone used body language to counter my own, making the communication more complete and even fun.

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Nice has corners of quaint villages and markets.  English is spoken less in these areas, but the shop owners are more willing to communicate.  As I looked through piles of scarves, an employee would smile as she approached me, wrapped a scarf around my neck and guided me towards the mirror or towards more racks of scarves. The same would go for artists, who would point to a painting and then to themselves, with a beaming, proud smile, to show me that they had painted the piece.  It felt as if the communication was equal- like we both had something to share.

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My most memorable encounter occurred in a small boutique in the area of “Old Nice.”   I was intrigued by the art and figurines in the store, and was pleasantly greeted by an older couple who I assume were the owners.  They quickly picked up that I only spoke English, and showed no hostility towards the fact.

The woman gave me space as I wandered about, and would shyly interject to point out the price of an object to me, or guide me to more pieces of the same artist.  We communicated completely through smiles, nods, points, and a variety of facial expressions and hand mannerisms. In the end, she helped me pick out a souvenir for the trip without any words necessary.

She wrapped my little figurine in tissue paper, tied it with a bow, and walked out from behind the counter to hand it to me along with her card, and another smile.  As I left, she muttered a slightly broken and shy “Thank you very much,” to which I responded the equivalent, “Et merci beaucoup” (and thank you very much).  We both shared a friendly laugh, and waved a goodbye as I left the store.  To me, this was nonverbal, intercultural communication at its finest.

After my trip, I am inspired to learn French so that I can one day return with more grace and respect.  I’ve learned the subtle nuances of a smile, but also the menacing power of a furrowed brow and squinted eyes. This acute insight is something that I’ll always carry with me, and be hyper-attuned to in my future interactions with both English and non-English speakers.


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The Social Scene

Stereotypically, Dublin is branded by a lively pub scene and a devotion to Guinness beer and Jameson whiskey.  From my time so far, I can confidently attest that this Irish trademark is often reinforced.  The Irish consume alcohol quite frequently and leisurely, and it’s just as common to be asked to “grab a pint” as it is to “have a cuppa.”

College students worldwide are assumed to have similar social aspirations, but in more ways than one, the typical social atmosphere for Irish college students differs from that of American college students.

Let’s start with a bit of trivia. When do American’s rendezvous with their friends? The weekend.  And the Irish? Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, primarily.  Now that’s culture shock.

Despite the fact that Dublin City University educates over 11,000 students, less than 1,000 of those students live on campus. The already small campus appears to shrink on the weekends, when it’s rare to pass more than a few natives a day. This is due to the fact that the weekends of students are solely devoted to travelling home to pass time with family, high school friends, or significant others.

Consequently, this only leaves the weekdays for college friends to interact with one another before heading their separate ways.  In Ireland, any sort of interacting inevitably implies going to a pub in Dublin city.  Monday nights on campus resemble a Friday night at an American university, and the same trend pursues for the following weekdays. The campus pub holds its promotional drink night on Tuesday’s, and many clubs in the city have college night discounts on Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s.

You’re probably thinking, when do they do their schoolwork?  That’s the first thought that popped into my mind, at least.  Luckily my fellow mug-carriers in Tea Society were able to answer all my cultural questions, as usual. Apparently, the Irish have no problem completing their schoolwork either before heading out for the night or on the weekends. They are so accustomed to their weeknight social life that it rarely cuts across their mind that it may interfere with school.  Kudos to their time management.

The lifestyle difference may seem shocking to some American students, but it’s important to also note the opposite perspective.  The Irish think it’s weird for Americans to stay on campus during the weekend, and the thought of having quiet weekday nights is a rather strange notion for them to understand.

You might be imagining the campus to be full of hung-over zombies during the week, but they all seem immune to any adverse alcohol reactions.  Please don’t get me wrong, Ireland is not a country of eternal drinkers. They just have a different outlook on alcohol consumption, socializing, and the college lifestyle.  It’s these minor distinctions in behavior that remind me I’m not in Boston anymore.


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A Day in Bray

Without fail, every Irish native I speak with asks me if I’ve seen the “real Ireland.”   To the natives, the true nature of Ireland is not found in the hustle and bustle of Dublin, but in the quiet villages that make up the southern and western regions of the island.  I’m urged to travel to these regions to breathe in the fresh country air, and meet a few sheep along the way.

Since Ireland is such a small country, hoping a train or bus from one end to the other is a quick and easy day trip.  The transportation stations are accessible throughout the city, and typically it only takes one straight ride to arrive at your chosen destination.

This weekend, my longing to see the other side of Ireland brought me to Bray, a coastal town renowned for its scenic cliffwalk.  The train ride was just under an hour, and directly along the coast. The constant ocean view held a tranquility of its own, and set the scene for the area I was approaching.

The walk begins in Greystones, and ends two and a half hours later in Bray.  Like any worthy journey, it started off with good food.  My friends and I stopped at a local, organic eatery seeking carbs and caffeine before hitting the trail. The toasty fireplace in the café proved difficult to part from, especially since the snowflakes outside seemed to be gaining volume by the minute.  Luckily, the ocean was in view to beckon us on, along with this quote painted on the fireplace molding.

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The cliffwalk itself was gorgeous, of course.  The coastal view remained consistently stunning, and the path honestly wasn’t overly difficult.  It would be suitable for anyone who is adequately able to trudge up a couple steep hills.  There aren’t any pit stops along the way, just wholesome, unadulterated, rocks, rolling hills, and ocean breeze.  It felt like a complete break from society for over two hours, and ironically, my watch battery died halfway through. Time literally stopped.

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Although an hour south of Dublin, the temperamental weather of Ireland still remained and brought sleet and snow for the duration. But hey, it’s better than rain! Reaching the town of Bray made me feel rather accomplished, so I rewarded myself with yet another café stop before a bit of wandering.

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The day reminded me of the power of simplicity.  Now I understand why the “real Ireland” holds so much of the national pride, and I can’t wait to see more.


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A Note on Obesity and Perspective.

The United States notoriously gained recognition as the international hub of fast food, trans-fat, and supersizes. That title, alongside the obesity rates, is not exactly a cultural tidbit that urges me to break out in the chorus of “I’m Proud to be an American.”  I plead guilty to channeling hatred towards the eating habits of my country, but I’ve come to learn that Americans aren’t the only ones who allegedly worship Ronald McDonald.

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Over the last month, I’ve stopped violently pinpointing the United States as the solitary obese nation.  I see just as many fast food eateries in Dublin as in Boston, and the only offerings in the university vending machines are chips and chocolate bars.  As a health and nutrition nerd, I naturally and gladly delved into the Irish obesity epidemic as a topic for my final paper in Contemporary Irish Society. Yes, my final papers are due already (yikes), and yes, Ireland has an obesity epidemic. A big one (no pun intended).

In Ireland, 61% of adults and 22% of children are overweight or obese.  Comparatively, the United States approximates that two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are over overweight or obese.  It appears as if we aren’t so different after all!  On a positive note, Ireland took notice of its upward obesity trend and recently responded with a push towards proper nutritional labeling and education.  The emerging public health campaigns, based on awareness and increased exercise, much reflect those of the United States.  Even if the average American still is bit larger, it actually brings me a sense of pride that we initiated the public campaigning strategies that other countries adopted.

This all goes to show that it truly does pay to take a step back from your surroundings, and realize the nature of both the country and the world you live in.  The power of real-life comparison is immeasurable, and I think I’ve gathered a clearer perspective on the United States culture over the last four weeks than I have in the last twenty years.

Quickly returning to obesity, I’m ashamed of my prior ignorance and finger-pointing at the United States. They don’t call it a worldwide epidemic just because it has a nice ring to it, and it took Ireland to make me realize that.  In a strange way, I feel even more inspired to change the nutritional landscape in the future, given the hold obesity has not just on my country, but the world.