Monday, March 11, 2013

Area Studies

As the Day of All Things Irish draws nigh, I have a confession to make: for someone who's planning to move to Ireland in less than six months I don't really know that much about the country. It's not like Guinea, which I had never heard of before I was assigned here; I've certainly been aware of Ireland's existence, I just never thought about it that much. My mother's family is of Irish heritage, of fairly recent vintage, but it never really filtered down to me. I wasn't raised Catholic, I've never eaten corned beef and cabbage in my life, and I know almost nothing about my family history on that side. I think they're from Cork, maybe? Basically, all I know about Ireland is what I've absorbed from American pop culture: Guinness, the Blarney stone, St. Patrick, leprechauns, potatoes, potato famines, that kind of thing. I am in need of an education, lest I get off the plane and start asking people where they keep their Lucky Charms.

For this sort of thing the State Department has Area Studies, several courses designed as an orientation to whatever part of the world an FSO may be going to. Great in theory, but in practice I was less than thrilled with the Subsaharan Africa course I took before coming to Guinea. The scope of the course was so broad that Guinea was mentioned in passing perhaps three times in two weeks, and I don't know that Ireland would get much more attention in the Europe class that covers it. In any case, I don't get any training at all before going to post this time, so I'm putting together my own personal Area Studies class.

So far I have the most recent Lonely Planet, a couple of coffee table books with pretty pictures requisitioned from my sister, and The Story of Ireland: A History of the Irish People, by Neil Hegarty. This was a pretty good introduction I think, though it seemed to assume a slightly more culturally knowledgeable audience than me - maybe a Brit - and was a bit light on the 20th century, which was kind of a big deal for Ireland. I learned a lot though. I've always thought of Ireland as The Old Country, lost in the mists of time, so it was a bit of a surprise to find out how new a country it really is; Ireland didn't win independence until 1922 and didn't leave the Commonwealth until 1949. I also learned some interesting things about Viking invasions and medieval trade flows.

Another class I don't get to take is Irish Gaelic, because FSI doesn't offer it. Tragedy.  I could get by perfectly well in English of course, but if I'm going to live there for two years I'd prefer to get at least the basics down to avoid looking like an idiot. I mean, seriously, "Taoiseach"? How are you supposed to pronounce that? Look at all those vowels! TAY-oy-seech? Tow-EYE-zack? I'm pretty sure neither of those are even close, but in my current state of complete ignorance that's the best I've got. (A quick google says it's TEE-shock, which I would never have guessed.) And then there are the triple-consonant clusters, which I don't even know where to begin with. The BBC has an intro podcast and I hear there's a Rosetta Stone, so I should track those down. I hope that's enough.

Now the question is where to look next for more study materials. Unlike prepping for Guinea, where I was thwarted by a general dearth of information, for Ireland I'm a little overwhelmed by options and don't know what's worth devoting time and money to and what's not. Suggestions welcome.


  1. Mna is woman. Fir is man. Helpful for finding the right restroom. You can get by with only a few dozen Irish words, however, "tea-shuck" should probably be one of them. Also, craic pronounced crack means fun. That one will scare you the first time someone invites you to a party with great craic.

    Good luck! I enjoy reading your blog and I can't wait to see how you do in Dublin.

  2. a bit of a divergent, but reading some irish folk tales might be a nice break from the heavy lifting study materials you're looking at. And you could check out (flashcard site with user created content, there's a few irish offerings). good luck! -rita

  3. We'll just miss you! Planning to visit in July...

  4. For some lighter, but still orienting reading on Ireland, check out The Everywhereist's posts on Ireland. She spends a lot of time on restaurants and museums wherever she goes, and has some rather hilarious entries.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! These posts are getting me even more excited about my upcoming tour!

  5. You will not really need to Irish language that much in Dublin but once you get out into the countryside there are many places where the road signs are all in Irish - especially if you head West.

    It is Thaoi-shock ... and yep. he runs the country so you ned to know that one.

    Either way - wellies, warm sweaters, rain gear and a bike with an unbreakable lock if living in Dublin.

    Have fun - its a great place to be.