by Sheila Connolly
By now I should be v...e...r...y m...e...l...l...o...w. After all, I've just come back from a wonderful vacation, touring the ruined homes of my Irish forefathers (and mothers), wallowing in views of field and sea, talking to various sheep (who delight in strolling across the lane in front of your rental car) and cattle. Jet lag? Piffle--we're too hung up on time anyway.
That was the way I opened the draft blog post I neatly scripted before I left. Uh, small problem: the mellow part didn't quite happen because I managed to trip over a step that I didn't see and broke my ankle in two places (all sympathy gratefully accepted, as well as instructions on how to use those bleeping crutches). So I spent three days learning the intimate details of Irish health care. To be fair, the hospital staff was delightful and supportive, the place was scrupulously clean. The problem was: too few hospitals (the one I was in serves a substantial portion of the southwest part of the country), and too few beds in those. The largest bottleneck was waiting for a bed--any bed, anywhere--to open up so we could move forward with treatment.
But this was a working vacation, not a sightseeing jaunt, and nothing was wasted. As I may have mentioned, I'll be writing a new Irish-based series, whose first book will appear in 2012. My reason for making this trip was to listen to people--both how they talk, and what they say. I hadn't been here for over ten years--time for the Celtic Tiger to be born and die. Over here (yes, I'm still here, for the next 36 hours or so), it's as though they took all the financial issues that have beset the US and compressed them into a much shorter time period, except the Irish banks wer in much worse shape.
So sitting in waiting rooms (note: at least on a weekday, the emergency room was notably free of gore, violence and barfing), or parked on a gurney in the hallway, or in the six-person ward I finally ended up in, I could listen, and I could talk to people. I met a nice couple who live in a Gaelteacht, where Irish is the predominant language; I listened to a lovely grandmother talk about her football favorites. Once I broke out (basically I said, put a cast on it and I'll deal with it all later), I talked to people in pubs and restaurants--a cast (or "plaster" as they call it here) is a great conversation-starter. It fascinated one small girl, who looked exactly like you'd want a small Irish girl to look, including the lovely red hair. I was gifted with a free night at the wonderful cottage we rented, which sits high atop a hill with wonderful views on all sides--and the land on which it sits once belonged to a Connolly--and iit was barely a mile from where my grandfather was born.
No way was I going to let a little thing like a broken ankle send me home.
Would my readers know if I never spent any time here? I hope so. As a writer you're supposed to notice details--the ones that capture the spirit of a thing or a place, and let you communicate it with the fewest possible words and still snag the imagination of your reader. If I slapped together some stereotypes and called it "Irish," I'd be insulting the people here and shortchanging my readers. This isn't Disneyworld East with shamrocks (although the Disney family did originate in Ireland), this is a place populated by real people, who happen to be very welcoming. Plus you keep stumbling over Neolithic stone circles and ruined medieval castles.
Don't worry--once I make it back I'll give you all the pretty pictures and such. And I've already got in mind a short story set in the emergency room...