In an experience like no other I’ve had yet in Ireland, Maura and I went home with our Irish roommates this weekend. For the most part, I’ve written just about the out-trips we’ve taken from Cork on the weekends, but I’ve neglected to mention some of the most enjoyable times we’ve had, where all of these lovely trips have ended- in the kitchen of Apartment 19 with Emma, Fiona and Mairead. Accuse me of not taking full advantage of the night life and legal drinking age, not to mention the off-license (liquor store) down the street that delivers, but I have spent many a night sitting around drinking tea (eating chocolate), and just talking in the kitchen. And I swear I have learned more in my 3 months with them than in any classroom. Maura and I could not have been luckier than to end up with them. I’m not exaggerating, I’m just being cliché- the time spent with the five of us is what I think I will remember and miss the most when I leave in just two months.

            I got to see a different side of them this past weekend, though. The Irish girls took us home to meet their parents. Friday and Saturday we spent in Fermoy, in County Cork, with Fiona where both she and Mairead live. Sunday Fiona’s mum drove us to Waterford, where we spent the day with Emma (home of the crystal- or it was, but the worldwide economic slump has impacted the crystal industry and unfortunately the factory is closed until further notice, but that is another matter entirely and irrelevant to my weekend spent with the girls). All three girls live up to the Irish agricultural tradition and live on family farms. I don’t know what I expected, but their families were absolutely wonderful people- they welcomed us with open arms- literally, both Emma’s and Fiona’s mothers greeted us with hugs. (And although I will get to see my own mum in just a few days when she and my dad come to visit, it was really nice to have a bit of motherly love after 3 months!).

            Fiona took us all around her town and we got to hang out with all her friends, including Mairead, who she grew up with, in town. Friday night? Not that atypical- out to dinner, and then for a drink at the local pub before going home for a cup of tea. It wasn’t that different than what I would do in America, but I found it all really interesting, entertaining- I was just content to sit back and see what her everyday life was like. Saturday, we saw her farm and had dinner with her family (yes, yes there were indeed potatoes served 😉 and went to see one of her friends play the drums for a benefit at a pub in a nearby village. That was another experience altogether- we walked into the pub and instantly it was like everyone’s heads turned and they knew we were outsiders- and not just us, Fiona and her friends from Fermoy didn’t fit in either. I was used to standing out in a crowd here with my Northface jacket and lack of boots and jeggings (jean-leggings, the latest fashion trend), but this really opened my eyes to the regional differences and fierce local loyalty that characterizes Ireland. I live in Northern Virginia- an area where local regional distinctions have been blurred; I couldn’t tell Burke from Springfield from Fairfax- but in the pub in Araglin, just 20 km away, there was definitely a unique character, distinct and unique from that of Fermoy. In such a small country, there is still remarkable diversity. It would be more than a bit ignorant to complete write off Ireland as being uniform, but I still find the regional differences, from the accents to the houses and land

            We got even more of a taste of the diversity of Ireland when we met Emma. We drank tea with her mum and dad and drove all around the county- to Waterford city; to Dunmore, a beachy town; to meet her sister; to a trail in the woods and an old stone tower that offered an amazing view of the five counties that connect to Waterford. I think I’ve seen a lot of Ireland on all the bus trips, but it was really cool to be with Fiona and Emma in a car (oh, how I miss my Ford Taurus!) – I think you see things in a different way when you are whipping along down those narrow country roads- you are just closer to it all. We ended our day back at Emma’s farm (Emma has a dairy farm, with cows for milking, while Fiona’s dad raises cattle to be eaten) and her mum cooked us dinner as well (again, potatoes were served- I told you I had an authentic Irish weekend, didn’t I?). We drove back to Cork with Emma Sunday night and headed right to bed, visions of cattle and Irish countryside dancing through our heads.

(Lack of photos=  Maura took ‘em all, I kept forgetting my camera!)