Dublin, Dublin, Dublin.

It is such a beautiful city.
There’s something about river cities and coastal cities that I find irresistible. I like the water and breeze, I think. And although it’s much busier than the quiet cathedral city of Armagh, it still has this incredibly visible identity.
One of the more remarkable adventures I’ve had while in the city was my tour of the Guinness Storehouse.
Did you know that Arthur Guinness originally signed a 9,000 year lease for the St. James’ Gate property? Now THAT is some serious confidence.
This is the same property where the storehouse still stands, boasting the worlds largest pint-shaped structure. Beyond the architecture and my new title as a ‘Professional Guinness Taster’ -here’s a tip, stand up straighter- I’m amazed at the history and pride that goes into making every pint. Every sign mentions it’s founder Arthur Guinness as the fifth ingredient, and his identity as an Irishman and Guinness’ identity as ‘The Irish Beer’ is evident and proudly displayed.
Nationality is so tightly entwined with everything in this city, and that does make me very happy. It’s beautiful to see a city embrace it’s culture and nationality with such vigor.
It’s also interesting to note the contrast of old and new. The modern way ‘Dubliners’ and the Irish are reclaiming their identity mixes with the city’s old buildings, sights and museums is a testament to cultural evolution. Out of conflict and confusion, Dublin has shifted into a modern city with a heck of a story to tell.
I’m left wanting more from Dublin. I’ve experienced some of the brilliant things this city has to offer, but I so look forward to experiencing more.







Studs and Blossoms.

IMG_6116 IMG_6120 IMG_6127 IMG_6134 IMG_6166 IMG_6239Today I had the incredible opportunity to visit ‘Armagh Cider Company’, a unique bottling operation just down Drumnasoo Rd. in Portadown, Co. Armagh.

The Armagh Cider Co. has been on the same land in 1898, run by the same family, but only just started producing cider (hard and juice-type) in 2006. The entire process ‘from blossoms to bottle’ happens right on their farm, and owner Phillip Troughton -his great-grandfather was the first to run the land- was kind enough to give us a first-hand look at the whole process. They use Bramley apples, unique to this part of the world, to produce a variety of apple juices and hard apple ciders.

What I found fascinating was the sheer number of operations happening on the farm all at once. Not only does the Armagh Cider Co. run on the land, working the whole cider-production process, but they also bottle a number of beers and ciders for local micro-breweries, including Bru and a local elderflower-apple cider which I definitely recommend but unfortunately don’t know the name of. The same family and plot of land also makes a beautiful variety of Rosettes that they supply the local horse industry with, and even harvests sperm from a number of Studs they keep in stables. Add that to the four dogs, children and employees, and Phillip’s plot of land is an incredibly busy place.

I think it’s truly a testament to the Irish people. Northern, Southern, Ulster-men or otherwise, there is an incredible sense of hard-work and survival that seems to come with the territory. Even if it means running three businesses and a zoo on the same plot of land, it is not questioned and is merely done.

There is also a huge sense of growth and adaption. Going forward the Armagh Cider Co. wants to develop into an visitor-friendly agri-tourism hot spot, inviting people to come to a winery-type setting and see the process from blossom to bottle, sampling and purchasing the product on the spot. Current licensing laws and infrastructure don’t allow for it, but I do hope to see it happen one day for Phillip and his family.

And maybe when I come back to Armagh in the future, I can go get a taste of Armagh Cider right from the bottling plant, or even back at home in Canada. In the meantime though, I’ll just get it at Sainsbury’s.

Who, what, when, where. But why?

“Where are you from?”

It’s one of the first questions they ask you when you enter University residences. And from that point on, everyone around you has expectations. If you’re from a big city they expect a certain attitude or knowledge, if you’re from a small-town they expect a certain personality and set of habits.

Your regional identity gives people around you a sense of what to expect from you, a sort of standard, and also gives yourself a sense of who you are. We are the result of our environments, and so to be raised in one city versus another creates unique patterns, likes, dislikes and personality traits that make up who we are.

It also gives us a sense of history. You can’t really know who you are until you know where you’ve come from. It doesn’t mean you’ll act a certain way, but it gives you a sense of where you came from, which can change your attitudes towards a number of things. Coming from the suburbs versus the city can make a huge difference, even if it is only a number of minutes away.

Today I had a chance to speak with Norman Simpson, a 72 year old, self identified ‘Ulster Man’, and a retired private from the UDA (Ulster Defence Regiment) who has lived in Armagh Co., Northern Ireland his whole life. As he told me, he’s an Ulster Man, his father was an Ulster Man, and I’m sure his grandfather and his grandfather’s grandfather were Ulster Men as well. It gives him a sense of belonging, in a country that seems to be so stuck on the idea of belonging, rights and the privileges that come with that belonging. In such a confusing world, how do you know where you fit in if not by following the patters of those who came before you?

Regardless of whether or not an individual stays in the same place they grew up or came from, one’s regional identity holds a certain permanence. One day I hope to live and work in the U.K. but that won’t ever stop me from saying I’m Canadian, even if my passport says otherwise some day. If anything, it might stand to explain why I talk funny.

Really, regional identity all comes down to identifying yourself and knowing where you fit in -essentially the ultimate question for the human condition.

If you know where you are, you know more about who you are, and you know where to call home.

An Almost Irish Man-Hunt

A potential story idea that kept crossing my path is the story of Martin Corey, an IRA-volunteer in 1973 who was arrested, then released in 1992, and arrested again in recent years. Unfortunately for many reasons, this was not to be. (I do recommend a quick google though, you won’t be disappointed).

And so I find myself circling around an original idea that seems like more of an existential quest:

What does it mean to be Irish today?

It should be noted that I’m asking this question at an interesting point in history, given the looming Scottish vote for Independence. Due to come in September, there are a number of articles arguing the potential effects of the Independence vote on Northern Ireland. Most of these articles are coming from large cities and political centres- Belfast, London, the BBC etc. I’m interested to see what the people of Armagh think of such an issue. Will the Scottish Independence vote change the feelings of the inhabitants of Armagh? Does it make them feel any more or less tied to the United Kingdom? And what does it really mean to be an inhabitant of Northern Ireland today? 

There are specialists and scholars crying for a “crisis in unionism“, saying that an independent Scotland would kickstart the transition “from Great Britain to little Britain“. But I’m curious, does small-town Northern Ireland truly feel those close ties to the U.K? Or would Scotland’s independence just mean a smaller United Kingdom?

10 Things I’ve Learned about (Northern) Ireland So Far:

1. Airports are confusing.
Despite my best efforts, my plane still landed in Terminal 1. Dublin Airport isn’t that confusing, but hauling gigantic bags up escalators on 2 hours of airplane sleep isn’t easy. Granted, with only 2 terminals I was bound to land in the wrong one. I live my life according to Murphy’s law.

2. The Irish are friendly.
The Irish are some of the friendliest people I have had the pleasure of meeting overseas. It probably helps that in a smaller town like Armagh my own accent makes me stick out like a sore thumb and I can’t help but notice. But more than a couple of people stop and say hi, asking me where I’m from, what I’m doing, ask if I’d like any help and are just in general lovely. 

3. Irish Netflix is a thing.
Somewhat unfortunately, my Canadian Netflix did not travel with me, but Princess Diaries 2 is still online so every is A-okay here.

4. The constant association of Ireland with green makes a lot of sense.
Everything here is green, and in the most beautiful way. It is so lush, with beautiful gardens, trees, and parks. There are plants and flowers sprouting out of every brick wall and sidewalk, much to my nature loving delight.

5. Converters may set off intruder alarms in the hostel you are staying in. Be warned.
(This one is pretty self-explanatory).

6. History is everywhere.
Everywhere you step, and almost every person you see has experienced some incredible history. There are so many stories I’ve heard and already my mind is bursting. Some of these buildings are older than my own country, and everywhere I turn I am confronted with another mind-blowing fact. Did you know that Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland? And that it was an ancient pagan ritual site? Mind. Blown. And that’s just the beginning.

7. Dairy tastes better.
Before my departure from the Great White North, I looked up a number of facts about Ireland, and this is a legitimate thing. The dairy here is brilliant because of the way the cows are fed. Based on Ireland’s climate and soil (wet and rainy, and not so fertile respectively) the crop that is most easily grown in abundance as feed is grass. North American feed (usually corn or soy) doesn’t really grow well here. Cows, being ‘ruminant‘ organisms have a unique four-chambered stomach and are happiest when fed grass. Thus, in Ireland, all the grass means happy cows, delicious cheese, and a very happy Clare.

8. My accent (and yours, probably) is funny.
After an incident ordering Fish’n’Chips on my first evening in Ireland, I can confirm that yes, I sound funny. And “we’re not Irish” is not the proper response to any question, especially not “Salt and Vinegar on your chips?” so don’t be surprised when the gentleman behind the counter laughs too hard to repeat himself.

9. Crossing streets is complicated.
There are very few street lights or cross walks. I may be brave when it comes to crossing streets back home, but Armagh is a whole different ball game. Everything is reverse road-wise. Let’s hope I figure it out or I may become Irish road-kill.

10. I belong here.
Maybe it’s the cheese, or the fact that I’m not the only one drinking tea constantly, or eating Scotch eggs, or maybe it’s even the abundance of green, but I have a huge crush on Northern Ireland, and I’m hoping they feel the same.