Being back in Ireland after a year, the same curiosities still amaze us.
Firstly the houses - which are either small, old and quaint, or large, opulent and brash. The small, old cottages may be linked together in terraces in the towns, or stand alone in the country. Mostly they are the shape of Monopoly houses. Inside they are very modest, with tiny rooms and low ceilings, with people spending most of the time in the kitchen with a smoky, open fire.
All the houses, which have been built during the boom times [Celtic Tiger] in the past 15 years, are large and modern. It seems as if the architects all over Ireland work from about 5 basic plans, with a few minor variations. Nearly all houses follow rectangular shapes with high pitch roofs and dormer windows. One seldom sees curves, pillars or balconies. There is an Irish saying: “The Irish used to have 12 children and lived in 2-roomed houses; now they have 2 children and live in 12-roomed houses.”
We have hardly ever seen a vegetable garden or flower garden in any of these modern houses. According to some of the Caredoc drivers, the Irish are lazy gardeners. They seem to prefer gravel or concrete around the house, with sometimes a lawn or a few ornamental, spruce trees. We seldom, if ever, see trees growing near a house. Some do however have large swathes of daffodils fanning the driveways or lawns during spring.
We wonder whether the fondness for stone in the frontage of most houses represents an attempt to cherish the Irish heritage of building houses in local granite. There may be just a trim of stone around the door, or corner flagstones, or a full frontage of stone. A few houses are built entirely of stone and would then have a brick trim around the windows and doors.
Sadly, signs of the current financial crisis are everywhere to be seen, with 360 000 houses reported as empty, all around the country.
It is interesting that the styles of architecture, stone-work and paint-work are the same throughout Ireland - grey, grey, and more grey. There seem to be no regional characteristics or variations, ,except perhaps in Co Clare, which had more houses that were painted in muted or bright colours.
The other thing that never ceases to amaze us, is the state of the roads everywhere. Mostly the roads are narrow and winding, with little or no shoulder to lean into when heavy trucks approach [which is frequent!]. Last week David had to scoot so far to the left, to avoid a truck passing in the opposite direction, that the side mirror was whacked, which was quite scary for Sandi, as she sits on that side.
It certainly is a danger to pedestrians and walkers, as side-walks are rare. It is sad to see elderly people trying to get out for some exercise along the roads, being forced into hedgerows or ditches by passing cars.
Potholes are everywhere and difficult to see and avoid, especially if filled with water. Some of the roads have been repeatedly patched or thinly resurfaced, only to fall to pieces again during the recent long spell of icy weather. All quite treacherous in fact, and quite reminiscent of some of the crazy Transkei roads at home.
Unlike the British and the French "services" where one can stop to refresh, eat and use the loo, there is nothing in Ireland along the major routes. We had to develop "camel bladders", use hedgerows or the bucket in the van, as toilets are very hard to find! The same applies to shops and shopping centres, so unless one is prepared to stop for food or drink, which is expensive, it's "knyp, knyp, nip, nip" until reaching home turf.
Dotted around the country, along the sides of the roads, are some eclectic steel sculptures such as these.
Some of the Irish expressions never fail to amuse: “now” is used for everything, “I am busy in the minute”, “Bye-bye—bye—bye—bye”, “slippy roads”, “scaldy urine”, and “will” instead of “shall”. "After" is a word often thrown in to sentences e.g. "I'm after getting a sore throat" or "I'm after going up the hill now". Some more delicious Irish names, which tickle: Eabha [pron Ava], Meadhbh [pron Maeve], Tadhg [pron Tige(r)] and Sadhbh [pron Syve].
“Kil” is the Celtic word for church, but in Co Clare alone we counted 18 out of about 30 villages beginning with Kil-. Kilrush, Kilkee, Kilmurry, Kilfearagh, Kilbaha, Killimer, Kilmihil, Kilmaley, Killadysert, Kilmutty, Kilshany, Kilnamana, Kilkichen, Kilbeacanly, Kilartan, Kilcolgan, Kilnefora and Killaloe. In Co Kildare and Co Waterford, one finds the mother-of-all: a town called Kill.