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Craic Culture

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Nothing kicks a blogpost off better than a cute cat picture. Which is why I’m sorry I couldn’t do any better than this very peeved picture of Oliver (our resident furball), being helped to stand and salute his departing master. Oliver’s armpits held by courtesy of my dear big brother.  

So. Here I am, two weeks in Ireland and with one measly blog post to show for it. But then again with anything less than two weeks in the heart of the heart of a country, it’s difficult to find much to say about the experience without reciting the inevitable list of cultural differences and unsurprising similarities. Even so, I might as well knock out a choice few while I’m thinking about it, and so here goes:

Similarities:

  • You can still see at least one McDonalds from your bedroom window
  • America Radio Chart 50 is still the go-to for party, pub, or club
  • Anywhere, anytime, any guy with an acoustic will be crooning away “Wagon Wheel”
  • Even Irish people pronounce “America” as “ ‘Murica”
  • People speak English

 Differences:

  • People don’t speak English. If what we might call the English language is transacted, however, it is either sung or mumbled-mashed into a blend of consonants (Ex: “How are you”= “h’r’ye”)
  • The grass is literally greener
  • Everything car-related is on the wrong side, which is the right side, and so everything is technically right, which I suppose is the way things are back home.
  • Rain (as opposed to not rain, which is what we have in Texas)
  • Evidently there’s something called the metric system
  • Evidently some people don’t charge things in dollars
  • Evidently, people walk
  • Guinness, that tepid brown stuff you might have wretched over back in the States, though still brown here, has managed to acquire a taste, and that taste is perfection.

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LEFT My backyard’s better than your’s

RIGHT An Irish ‘Big Mac’, that is, ‘Big (Bony) Mackerel’

So that’s it, as far as a preliminary list of things go. At least, as far as things that can fit the differences/similarities binary are concerned. One thing does still manage to escape the list, however, and that one thing is ‘craic’ (pronounced “crack”).

Bear in mind, before you get excited and start rattling off all sorts of rude, drug-related jokes, dozens of giddy and immature study-abroaders have already tapped the craic keg long before you. Which then leaves the question: what is craic, if not the fodder for poor punning?

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Shady walkway, Number One: St Stephen’s Green. Ireland has all sorts of mysterious-looking places like this, which is an excuse for saying that you’ll probably be seeing lots of images very much, if not exactly like, this one. Pretty, though.

The craic is everything and anything you want it to be, so long as that any and everything is something nice, fun, exciting, or generally positive. The Irish use craic for a number of salutations: “What’s/How’s/How was the craic?”, “Are ye having the craic?”, “When will we have the craic?” all of which are to be answered with the simple return: “The craic is grand.”

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Doesn’t look too remarkable, but this is (allgedly) Samuel Beckett’s old watering hole. Which is funny, because Beckett wasn’t much of the writer we know him as until he got out of Ireland, more specifically, Dublin. Nice to think of him kicking around in Galway though. 

Mind you, the craic, specifically, the craic’s grandness, is inviolable. It is something beyond the personal, the societal, even the mortal. Deck yourself out for a night of pubbing, only to later slip on the banks of the Galway Corrib and get yourself all covered in freezing mud? The Sperries might be ruined but the craic is untouched. Lose an arm to a passing auto that cut the curb too close? You may bleed to death but as far as the c-word is concerned, you’re a body minus as arm that’s as grand as it’s ever been.

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LEFT Theobald Wolfe Tone, Ireland’s 1798 revolution leader and tragic hero. 

RIGHT Nothing like 10 AM Guinness to start the day off well and proper. The dazed zombie look you see in our faces is product of a sleepless nine hours, not the alcohol.

I don’t really want to venture too far into the philosophy of craic, but there is something to craic that speaks well of Irish culture. People have a tendency when you engage them to jump straight to their complaints: it doesn’t matter if there’s a shining sun and good company, a bad score on an exam or a late night of study worries can make the whole world go belly-up. Ask someone how they’re doing and more often than not you’ll get the whole tirade of tragedies, enough to make any party lose interest, and sometimes enough to bring down their own mood.

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LEFT No, that light you see in my eyes isn’t the camera. Irish Guinness radiates a natural glow when poured correctly. Harness the energy of five correctly poured Guinness and you have enough power to light up Dublin for a week. 

RIGHT “Clockwork Orange” novelist and my Mufasa-in-the-sky mentor Anthony Burgess wrote a novel “Time For a Tiger” during his time in Malaya, referring to this beer here, which you can’t get at any Tom, Dick, or Harry’s pub in the US. This is not relevant to you, but it makes the beer a little famous knowing this. Not recommended, though. 

On the flip side, query the craic and you’re immediately establishing the conversation in a positive light. It doesn’t even matter if you’re labored down by personal problems and stress: the mood has already been struck and the light of a happy decorum takes immediate precedence over an opposing sourpuss. You may still get the same flood of complaints, but there’s at least been an acknowledgment of the worry-free world, and you both may walk away later, feeling just a little bit grander.

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Molly Malone, the tragic subject for a beautiful ballad. Give her a kiss, and hope that you never end up like her. 

And so, here’s to you, dear reader. Get craicing!

 Sláinte agus saibhreas!

PS: I’m beginning to learn the picture system just a bit better. This is a hodgepodge of the first two weeks.

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