Saturday, March 28, 2015

On the Line

At the beginning of the month I switched from American Citizen Services to Visas, where I'll be for the rest of my tour. March to May is J1 season, our busiest time for visas. Thousands of Irish college students are getting ready to spend the summer in the States, waiting tables at Irish bars in Boston or Chicago, or renting out beach umbrellas in Ocean City or Santa Barbara. And every last one of them needs a visa to do it.

I did visa interviews as part of my consular year in Conakry, but this is very different. There's the volume for starters: in Conakry I barely did 50 a week, but I'm now hitting around 150 a day. It's so much TALKING. Every day for the first week or so I didn't want to do anything after work but lie quietly in a dark room and decompress. Outside of the J1s Dublin also sees a much greater variety of visa applicants than we got in Conakry, which means you really have to know the whole range of visa regulations front to back.

This was all a little overwhelming at the beginning, but I'm starting to get into the flow now I think. Dozens and dozens of J1 interviews back to back get a little repetitive, but the applicants are all so happy and excited about the great summer they'll be having in America that I can't help but be happy and excited for them too. The fact that I'm planning my own American summer - a few weeks in Texas and an Old South road trip - doesn't hurt. I may even come across an Irish accent or two at the beach in South Carolina, and I'll know I helped get them there.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Paddy's Day

Looking back over my blog posts from last year, I noticed that I had completely failed to write about St. Patrick's Day. Allow me to correct that shocking oversight.

No one loves St. Patrick's Day like Americans
Last year I celebrated like a tourist. I went into town and saw the parade, a nice event but small and subdued compared to what goes on in Chicago and New York, even when augmented by some American marching bands. And I went to Temple Bar. Well, I stood on the very edge of Temple Bar, the cobbles sticky under my feet from a weekend's worth of spilled beer. I surveyed from a distance the teeming mass of intoxicated revellers as a trio of teenage girls staggered past through a puddle of vomit, leaning on each other as they struggled to stay upright at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. I decided that was quite enough of that and headed home. 

This year I'm celebrating like a Dubliner by having nice lie-in, indulging in a relaxed brunch, and staying as far away from the city center as possible. With Paddy's Day on a Tuesday this year a lot of people took Monday off as well and used the opportunity to get out of town, out of the country even, and leave Dublin to the visiting Americans who think drinking 7 euro pints of Guinness in a jam-packed pub is great craic. I'm still in town though, and having a great St. Patrick's Day at the Irish Beer and Whiskey Festival just 10 minutes from my house, blessedly free both of overpriced Guinness and of trashed teenagers.

St. Patrick's Day is a strange holiday, the national day of Ireland but celebrated more intensely elsewhere, in places like America and Australia where Irishness has meant more for being few among many, and where St. Patrick's bringing Christianity to Ireland started to be less about Christianity and more about Ireland. (The thing about banishing the snakes is a myth, since there never were any snakes in Ireland to begin with.) The transition from Catholic holy feast day to secular national holiday was pushed through mostly by emigrant populations overseas; there weren't regular Paddy's Day parades in Ireland until the 1970's, when they were adopted from the celebrations Americans had been holding for a century. St. Patrick's Day was even a dry holiday for decades in Ireland with pubs legally forced to close, as odd as that seems looking at celebrations now.

Nowadays the Irish government regularly spends St. Patrick's Day abroad, using it not as a time to celebrate with their own citizens but to promote Ireland elsewhere as an investment and tourism destination. This is especially true in America, where every year the Taoiseach uses his national day to go to Washington and present the President of the United States with a bowl of shamrock. Here in Dublin a lot of the celebrants are not Irish themselves but come from other places to be Irish for a day, even as the Irish barricade themselves in their houses or hit the road to spend their national day somewhere, anywhere else. Not just the Irish national day, it's the Irish international day, both more and less than you might imagine it to be.

But despite my cosmopolitan veneer (and intolerance for wasted teenagers) I still am a tourist deep down and I love a holiday for any reason, so here's a toast to St. Paddy's Day and Ireland and leprechauns and all that jazz. Sláinte!

Sunday, March 15, 2015


This weekend I went out to Shannon Airport to help out with a CODEL (Congressional Delegation, for those not up on the lingo). It was my first one and it was a good learning experience, especially since I will likely be handling several delegations of various kinds in my next assignment. This was a quick one and it went pretty smoothly so there's not much to say about it. In fact, the most notable thing about this trip was the pit stop halfway there, at the Barack Obama Plaza.

Some background: when Obama was running for President the first time, an enterprising historian did some research and discovered a genealogical link on Obama's mother's side to a family from Moneygall, a village of  all of 300 people in the middle of Ireland previously famed for absolutely nothing. As part of his Ireland tour in 2011 President Obama honored this connection by paying a visit to Moneygall, which was the most exciting thing to happen there pretty much ever and is forever commemorated in the big service station that was opened on the M7 outside the village last year.

In addition to a gas station, a Supermac's, and a Tim Hortons, the plaza features a visitor center with exhibits on Obama's Moneygall ancestors, Irish emigration generally, and the Presidential visit. Best quote: "My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall O'bamas, and I've come home to find the apostrophe that we lost somewhere along the way." There's also a convenience store where you can buy the usual snacks and drinks as well as Irish Obama-themed souvenirs.

Just one more example of the enduring Irish-American connection, popping up even in places you wouldn't expect.