Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Living in Ireland: the good and the bad

In what is a surprise to no one, I live in Ireland - in the north-east, to be moderately precise. I've posted about annoying things tourists do here, but I don't think I've written about what it's actually like to live here. So get ready for a bucketload of my opinions.

File:Flag of Ireland.svg

Education

Education is obviously a pretty important issue to me because I'm currently in secondary school, so I'll start with that. I think the Irish education system is pretty decent -- our standards aren't as high as some Asian countries or even England, especially with the Maths course having been made easier, but all in all it's grand. We study a lot of subjects for Junior and Leaving Cert, far more than they do in English A-Levels; I'm undecided on whether that's good or bad, so tell me what you think in the comments. I do often wish I could just study sciences, but the variety can be nice too. 

The Irish education system really wins on cost. Going to university in America costs tens of thousands, whereas it's about €3000 here for registration (plus accommodation). We're not as good as Germany or some Scandinavian countries (free), but just think about the poor Americans. It's also pretty expensive in England, although I hear you only have to pay back the loans if you're at a certain income level. 

The issue of Catholic schools is quite interesting. I'm in one, an all-girls uniform-required school, and I love it despite the Catholicism. We're supposed to say weekly prayers at assembly (although I just bow my head and wait for it to be over), do the Christmas carol service and little else. The Catholicism really isn't much of a burden. I don't know if it's the same in other Catholic schools, but the quality of education and care in my school is great. One complaint: stop making it compulsory to study Christianity for Junior Cert. 

Size

Ireland is pretty notable for its relative prominence in the world and the size of the diaspora despite its tiny size, both geographically and by population. I find America's preoccupation with us hilarious - just imagine if American tourists constantly swarmed Sudan or somewhere. Why did they choose us? Probably because the Irish population there is so big. 

There are upsides and downsides to Ireland's size. The main upside is how handy it is, in that I can travel across the country sideways in three hours and lengthwise in six or seven - by car. I hear that Americans actually fly across their country (why am I mentioning America so much?). Then again, America is huge. Texas is about four times the size of Ireland, it's ridiculous. The small size is great for competitions, in that you can say you're a "national champion" or "national finalist" after competing with a relatively small pool of applicants. It sounds less impressive to say "state champion". For example, I was a National Finalist in the International Junior Science Olympiad and European Union version (so many capitals) after getting in the top 100 out of 59,000 students. In another country, you might have to compete against millions of students to get a national prize like that.

The main downside of Ireland's small size is that it lacks resources. We don't have the space or funds to have the very best scientific equipment in most areas, so if we want to see the headquarters of a space agency we have to go to America, Russia or continental Europe. We're not a dominant power in the world economy, so other countries don't really have to care about screwing us over. Probably other downsides too, so let me know in the comments.

Law & Order

We're pretty laid-back as a country, I think. We're fairly unique in some ways - for example, the marriage equality referendum. All the big global newspapers reported that as the first country to allow marriage equality by popular vote, and just recently the right was granted for trans people to more easily change their name. There's pressure on now (backed by Amnesty International) to repeal the 8th Amendment, which - to my knowledge - makes abortion illegal. Not sure how I feel about that so I won't say any more just yet.

I love that we're neutral. For a long time we just helped England in whatever conquest they happened to be involved in, but now if another country attacks us we'll be defended. I'm so glad we don't have a proper army because I really don't like the military.

Our police are pretty great (in general - I've met some awful ones). To go back to America, their police are essentially soldiers, carrying guns and looking imposing. Ours are unarmed, and meant to be friendly and helpful, signing passports and all that stuff. It's good to know they can't go killing defenseless black teenagers willy-nilly. 


Source

Economy

I don't know anything about the economy, other than that we're coming out of a big recession and that people hate Irish Water very loudly. Seems pretty alright. People need to stop moaning about immigrants and remember that the Irish are world leaders in migration. 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths)

Much has been said of the technology scene in Ireland, and it's pretty good (especially considering our size). The BT Young Scientist is one of the best science fairs in the world, and has been running for more than 50 years; companies including Google and Facebook have headquarters in Dublin's Silicon Docks; there's a plentiful supply, we're told, of local talent; our universities are highly ranked. Maybe the corporations are here because we're a tax haven, but let's hope not. There are tons of pharma companies here too, e.g. Genzyme, and organisations like Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland encourage innovation.

The Irish government is absolutely obsessed with painting us as a techy, innovative country, but it suits me so I won't complain.

Weather

Just putting this in because Lucien @revolucienary specifically asked me not to. The Irish weather is notoriously rainy, which I don't mind. It's manageable weather, nothing too extreme. Imagine living in monsoons or extreme heat. There is an interesting phenomenon, though, that - until this year - occurred annually without fail, and that is the Leaving Cert summer. The idea is that the whole of Ireland experiences heat waves and unrelenting sun from the first Wednesday in June (when the state exams start). 

Culture 

I'm not entirely sure what Irish culture is. Negative portrayals focus on the drinking problem and a conservative Catholic society, while positive ones say Ireland is the land of "céad míle fáilte" (a hundred thousand welcomes), where the craic is to be had (retching writing this). I think it's a mix of the two, but with everything mentioned above very diluted. I think Irish culture is characterized by a laid-back attitude, or "it'll be grand". There's been a lot of suffering in Irish history, so I suppose there's also a sense of enduring hardship and waiting it out.

Outside Dublin, the population density is just too low to have all the hectic bustle of Hong Kong or New York. The pace of life is necessarily slower. The land isn't quite as agricultural as other countries think, but lots of Irish people are still very rural. I've gone down many roads with grass growing in the middle instead of a painted white line.


Library in Trinity College.
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I do of course have to mention Irish literature and entertainment. I think Irish people have won several Nobel Prizes for literature, e.g. W.B. Yeats, and authors like James Joyce, Eoin Colfer and Derek Landy are very famous. Some famous actors include Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson and Saoirse Ronan.

Gaeilge

The Irish language has been fading from use since the Plantations in the (trying to think back to Junior Cert history here) 15th and 16th centuries. Cromwell was particularly insistent people didn't speak Irish, and he expressed that insistence with lots of murder. Fun! 

Despite its very low usage, Gaeltacht lobby groups still make sure all street signs and signs in many public buildings are in both English and Irish. I consider this a waste of ink, but I have lots of opposition. 

My opinion on the Irish language can be summarised as follows: people have a right to speak it, but it shouldn't be compulsory for Leaving Cert and we need to stop pretending it's relevant in this day and age and treat it as a special piece of art and a link to Irish history. 

Miscellaneous

The internet here is alright, although it's probably bad in the West of Ireland where population density is very low. Better than in America, anyway. I find Irish nationalism strange, and sometimes I wonder what the point was in becoming a republic. I like it now, but all the war seems a bit much.

Conclusion

All in all, I enjoy living in Ireland. There are probably better places for each individual point on this list, but Ireland holds a nice relaxed balance so I'm happy here.

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