Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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Irish Culture

“St. Patrick’s day is about drinking, duh,” that is the response I got when asking my Irish housemates what this holiday was celebrating. One of their friends chimed in saying that St. Patrick was some guy that helped with some religious stuff. With that detailed description of St. Patrick I stopped my questioning and joined in on the festivities. This holiday was like one I had never experienced before.

The night before the big day was one of celebration. Hundreds of college students were out and about on Shop Street deciding which club or pub to go to. My housemate had warned me that she would be having a party that night, starting at 3am, she had arranged for a DJ and strobe lights to start off the celebration the right way. Obviously everyone was preparing for a big night, with school out the next day there was nothing holding them back.

I returned home at about 3am that night where my housemate met me at the door, saying that we would talk about the house in the morning. I walked in to see the remains of the fire extinguisher all over the kitchen floor, and the party had yet to officially begin. I made my way up to my room assuming that the night was over. About an hour later, the party began. The DJ was spinning his discs and playing music and before I knew it the house was full with over 100 people. This party did get shut down at around 5am, but started up again and did not officially end until about 11am the next morning.

After only getting two hours of sleep I made my way downstairs and found the house in a horrific state, shattered glasses, muddy floors and a hole in the ceiling. It had been a wild night. My housemate and her friends were still extremely inebriated and getting ready for the official St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, claiming that the previous night had been a great way to start off this day.

Later that day I made my way down to Shop Street, sun shining, Cobblestone Street full of people. Looking around I witnessed young children with their faces painted with cloves, street performers dressed as leprechauns, musicians performing traditional Celtic music and those who could openly consume alcohol were doing so. All the pubs were crowded, with very little room to move. Regardless, everyone was having a great time.

This holiday was said to celebrate Irish culture, and walking around Shop Street we saw just that. The Irish were displaying what they felt was part of their culture, drinking, leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day – Ireland in a nutshell. From spending about 4 months here, I have observed that the Irish play into the stereotypes and roles we associate with them. When walking into gift shops majority of the items have drinking paraphernalia. “Drink till yer green,” “Keep Calm and Drink On,” “Ireland Drinking Team,” and “I only drink on days ending in Y” are common quotes found on t-shirts, beer mugs and shot glasses at these stores. Other shirts will have the Guinness logo, sheep or four leaf clovers. These are some of the major things Ireland is known for and because of that these items are found in majority of shops. Obviously all nations have their stereotypes, but the interesting part of finding these items in gift shops is the difference between Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Yes, Northern Ireland definitely had some typical Irish paraphernalia offered in their shops; it was not nearly as much. I was not overwhelmed by the amount of green items in Belfast or Derry. This small difference in gift shops could be an example of how Northern Ireland’s relationship with the United Kingdom affects them. They have more of an identity with the UK and for that reason might have fewer items than Southern Ireland.

Southern Ireland needs these stereotypical gifts as a way to identify themselves. With their music and language dying out, they need these things to keep their Irish character alive. According to a survey from 2011, only 41.4% of the population in the Republic of Ireland speaks Irish, with 4.4% speaking Irish on a daily basis (language). Because the language is dying, the traditional songs and music are losing their meaning.

So what does it mean to be Irish? Michael Donnelly stated that Irishness is a social construct, it will be constructed but you’ll never see. For him, Irishness is a product to be sold, but he claimed to have no idea what it means to be Irish. In his experience, Irish pretend to be American, the music they listen to and the TV they watch is not at all from Ireland. “Being Irish might be important to some, but there are other human values that are far more important. There are multiple claims to your identity and some are more important than others.”

Does Irishness even exist? In Donnelly’s opinion it is not as important as other identifying factors and maybe not important at all. All the Irish people I have asked have either talked about the drinking culture or have been stumped by this question. This got me thinking, is it really that important to be identified and classified? If I were asked what it meant to be an American, I would have no idea what to say. It would be hard not to play into the stereotypes and talk about how America is a land of opportunities, land of the free, home of the brave.

Irish are often criticized about not having a rich culture, while that may be true; it does not affect their day-to-day lives. No one is torn about the fact that they are known for drinking and St. Patrick’s Day, pride in their nation is still present. Identity is important and the Irish have it, even though it might not be the most respected or desired.

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