Getting there

Getting there

Monday, February 14, 2011

It's All Just a Lot of Blarney...

Quick! Riddle me this :When someone says they've just been to Ireland what is the first question you ask? From recent experience the correct answer appears to be "Did you kiss the Blarney Stone?". It seems kissing that iconic stone has become the North American standard for all visits to the Emerald Isle. Funny thing is that I think the entire population of Ireland has kissed the Blarney Stone. Repeatedly. And this is why...

When I first arrived in Ireland I noticed that as a general rule the Irish are very quick-witted. Always armed with a sharp retort, amusing pun, or clever turn of phrase they made me feel a bit dull and slow. Not to blow my own horn but I've always considered myself fairly intelligent and have even been accused of eloquence on occasion. These people, though, ran verbal circles around me. It was actually pretty damn frustrating.  I'd manage to come up with some witty banter - several minutes after it would have been appropriate and after the conversation had already moved on. I truly began to doubt my own cleverness and thought that perhaps I simply wasn't as bright as I'd previously thought. I couldn't keep up with them in conversation - oh, I could talk, but I lacked their charming easy wit. What made it even more astonishing is that they are so generally laid-back and laconic, and yet having a conversation with them is the verbal equivalent of a couple of hours at a high-impact aerobics class.

You can see it in the nicknames they have in Dublin for public attractions. The Museum of Natural History, which hosts exhibits of taxidermied animals, is called "The Dead Zoo", which is perhaps one of the most fitting monikers I've ever heard. The Spire of Dublin on O'Connell Street, which is an enormous shining silver spike (resembling the business end of a hypodermic needle), has several clever nicknames, my favourites being "The Stiletto in the Ghetto", "The Binge Syringe", and, best of all, "The Stiffy at the Liffey" (the Liffey being the river). Even the statue of poor Mollie Malone has not been spared and has been nicknamed "The Tart with the Cart". And no doubt James Joyce, who is immortalized with a statue of him with a walking stick, is rolling in his grave at being deemed "The Prick with a Stick".

Brilliant nicknames aside it just seems these people have an ever-ready arsenal of quips. When the Guinness flows the quips seem to grow even more clever (and occasionally more sharply pointed), which baffled me as most North Americans become decidedly less clever after a few pints. I must admit there were occasions when I was rendered speechless and bewildered, and those who know me know that this is an unusual state of affairs indeed.

On our second day in Ireland we did, in fact, visit Blarney Castle and kiss the stone (as I've mentioned before, 4 stories up, hanging upside down over the outside wall of the castle - they don't want to make this easy, you know). We all kissed it - my half-Irish husband who had already kissed it years ago and frankly never needed to kiss it in the first place (he does blarney just fine, and always has). My eleven year old daughter kissed it, and to be honest she doesn't really need the gift of blarney, either (this is becoming all too clear as she approaches adolescence). I too kissed it, and thought that perhaps it would be the boost I needed to finally achieve the eloquence that seemed to be required to survive a conversation in Ireland.

Funny thing is that after about our fourth day in Ireland I noticed that the witty retort was coming easier to me. I seemed quicker on my feet, more able to follow the twists and turns in the banter and add my own clever remarks. This was two days after kissing the stone. Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe it's just that being around those who engage in such things forces you to think a bit faster and to be ready with a zinger. I seem to have even retained this ability after coming home, managing to fire off a few comments recently that had others almost crowing in delight. It's rather addictive, actually. I began to see why they seem to aproach conversation as a form of verbal guerrilla warfare where the goal is to score points off each other. I've even started to find it amusing when others I am speaking to are clearly struggling to come up with their own clever comeback - I can only imagine how amused the Irish were by my early attempts at the same.

So, does the Blarney Stone really impart the gift of eloquence? I don't think I'd ascribe that ability to the stone - but I firmly believe that spending time with the Irish would hone anyone's conversational skills. My advise when going to Ireland is go to Blarney Castle for it is a wonderfully beautiful spot (perhaps one of the most beautiful I saw while there), and kiss the stone if you wish - but if you really desire the gift then head down to the local pub, order a pint, and start talking to the locals. Pretty soon you'll be doing just fine with the blarney, guaranteed.

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