Twelve years ago we left Johannesburg or Egoli-the City of Gold; population : 3,226,055 (2001 figures, there are over 4 million people living there now, or over 10 million if you include the greater metropolitan area). According to the latest Irish census results 4 million is nearly equivalent to the entire population of Ireland. A year later we settled in Glynn, Wexford; population : 354 (records of 2002) by 2006 this figure had more than doubled to 815, according to the Enniscorthy Guardian. I know that us having four kids is a little above the national average of 1.4 kids per family (isn’t that surprising – for Ireland?!), but evidently we were not the only ones enamoured with an Irish countryside lifestyle. Things are a little different here in Glynn to Johannesburg and this is what I’ve noticed:
- Once you have learned the names of Mary (May/Mai/Marie/Maria), Bríd (Bridgit), Margaret (Mag/Mags), Carmel, Catherine (Kit/Kate/Catriona), Mick (Michael), John and Patrick (Pat/Paddy/Padraig) you could just about greet anyone in the village. Best you do remember them too as people will use your name in most sentences. Actual conversation I overheard recently:
“Lovely evening isn’t it, Bríd”.
“Yes Bríd, fine weather we are having”.
- Which brings me to the second topic, if you can talk about the weather you can comfortably talk to anyone and in fact you will have to talk about the weather first before you talk about anything else. Most often you will be wondering when the rain will stop. In South Africa people usually ask about each other’s families first and then you will be wondering when the rain will fall ever again.
- Your local postman is a genius for names, he has to be because rural addresses hardly ever have house numbers. He will stand and chat on your doorstep about the weather as if he has all the time in the world even though he was up at dawn sorting all the mail he has to deliver that day. You can also be imaginative when you address letters and the clever postman will still ensure it arrives at the correct door. We once received a letter addressed to us in The Little Yellow Cottage on the Corner, Glynn. Lately postcodes have been introduced to Ireland but postmen don’t use or need them.
- If your kids attend the local village school, they will automatically attend mass at the local Catholic church (90% of primary schools are under their patronage). If you are a ‘Protestant’ (not a political distinction here in the South) you may find your best friend from school in South Africa has married your new best friend in Wexford’s best school friend’s cousin. True story.
- If you go to Paddy’s, your local shop, to buy a sliced pan, roosters and nuts you will come out with a loaf of bread, potatoes and dog food. Things have different names here, especially potatoes. Potatoes really do play a central role in meals and whether you have roast potatoes or chips you will have mash potatoes too.They are affectionately called by name, apart from Roosters you could also eat Kerrs Pinks, Whites or Maris Pipers. (Arbitrary fact, Maris Piper was the name I chose for a fictional character in a book my siblings and I tried to write a long time ago). Dinner in the evening is often around 5 or 5:530 which means if you want to invite people over for pre-dinner drinks you’d need to forfeit your afternoon tea.People may define themselves by either a). which pub they drink in or b). which club they play Gaelic Games for (hurling, camogie or gaelic football). Amazingly enough, our village is one of the only ones in Ireland without it’s own pub but we have two just up the road. They, however, are not called by the name above the door but by the name of the man who owns the it. Our nearest town, Wexford has over 90 pubs so we’d never go thirsty. We may not have our own pub now but apparently Glynn does have one of the best equipped GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) clubs in the county, mm-hm!
- Your neighbours and in fact ALL the people in your road will be related by blood or marriage – really! My neighbour was a bit of a rebel and married someone from from far away, he’s from the next parish, across the river. Therefore, if there is a funeral in the village, everyone will be there as everyone will know the deceased. The graveyard will testify to this as surnames are quite specific to each area and there’s not a whole lot of variety in our own.
- When you leave a village the speed sign will tell you to speed up to 80 km/hr again no matter what the road looks like. We have a sign outside our house that encourages you to drive as fast as you can into a 90% corner. Cars have ended up in the ditch or the forest across the road at all times of the day or night. Fortunately our local policewoman is also a personal friend of mine so it’s all very sociable in the road.
- If you love tractors, tractor runs (about 50 tractors all trundling along together), combine harvesters, cows, chickens and horses, you’ve come to the right place. Traffic jams involve livestock rather than cars here and we don’t have any traffic lights. In fact the lights 10km away in town seem to be terribly confusing to some. I’ve been caught more than once behind somebody who, while turning at the lights will drive across the intersection and then stop in front of the light which is showing red for the traffic waiting to go straight from the opposite side. It’s one of the oddest and most frustrating things I’ve seen on the road and I’ve noticed it doesn’t speed things up at all when I hoot and yell. Actually I think the Irish are some of the most polite drivers in the world as a queue of cars will patiently wait behind you while you chat to Carmel through your open window for 5 minutes about the weather and her chickens during peak traffic time, which is at 3pm, end of school.
- If you hear strange screams in the night, it won’t be your own as you cower under the covers listening to gunfire outside (autobiographical fact). It’s more likely to be the eerie calls of a fox in the forest. Johannesburg is home to the largest man-made forest in the world and I miss the beauty of it and the wonderful diversity of people, culture and foods but I have to confess I prefer the sounds I hear in the one across the road here in Glynn.