Integrating into Ireland

Week 5 and the integration process continues. So my plan was simple. Spend the first few weeks getting settled in, take care of administrivia things like actually getting approval to stay long term (more on that in a later blog), ensure transportation arrangements were in place which would include being fully licensed and insured to drive said transportation (more in a later blog as well), and finally to start the socialization process. Out of all those, we’ve pretty much taken care of, or are in the process, of settling in and the administrivia stuff.

Now the hard part and what I would consider to be the most important part, socialization. Not that the Irish aren’t friendly, they are! The challenge is to forge relationships with people as the outsiders. Thus our plan was to integrate ourselves via local clubs and the church. One of the reasons we decided on the Dungarvan area was the availability of clubs to join like the Lions Club for me and the Garden Club for Kathy, similar to clubs we were members of in St Pete. An added bonus was a club called the Men’s Shed (more on that coming up). So the plan was to join these clubs and develop friendships in the area while we volunteer and help out in the community. So far, so good.

As mentioned, there is a club in Dungarvan called the Men’s Shed which is also available in most fairly large communities across Ireland. So what is it you may ask? First off, it is a place for guys to hang out outside the typical pub scene. It is open M-F from 10-1 and consists of a series of small buildings with a variety of uses located right next to an adult education center. The main hub of the club is a room with a small kitchenette with a dining table and chairs. There is a computer in the corner that some of the guys use to play games, etc. The main reason for this room is to sit around and shoot the breeze with the guys, drink tea and eat cookies and cakes. I will admit that a lot of the members are older gents that are retired and looking for a place to spend some time (out of their wives hair no doubt). But there are a few younger guys who may be down on their luck or still in school who frequent the place. The club is a non-profit that helps the community with small furniture repairs or woodworking projects. Additionally, they sometimes build tables or chairs for local festivals. There are a number of tools spread throughout the buildings for woodworking and much to my excitement, wood turning equipment. Most of the equipment has been donated or bought with funds donated by project recipients.

In addition to the wood working projects, some of the guys do gardening on the grounds or do artwork in one of the other buildings (let’s call them sheds shall we? It makes more sense when you think about it). One of the other sheds has a small pool table that looks like a small snooker table with only 2 colors of balls. All in all, a pretty cool place to hang out. I was in there last week when a couple from Hong Kong with Irish roots came in to visit and donate some funds to the club (they were in town on a business trip – a very nice couple, one of which was an American). It was quite the large group that day and we even had one of the more senior members of the shed singing some old Irish shanties. It was really nice and the older guy, who lives in a senior facility in town, really enjoyed himself. I have to say he sounded pretty darn good and the songs had a story to tell. A lot of these guys have been around for quite a few years so I’m definitely getting a good history lesson on the area and meeting some really nice people in the process. Next week begins lessons on turning wood bowls and even some art lessons from one of the local budding artists who wants me to build him a website in exchange for lessons. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Next stop – the Lions Club. Before Kathy and I got here one of the things we did to get a feel for the area was to read one of the local papers on line. It was a good source of information for the goings on in the area plus gave us a feel for what we could do once we got here in reference to our socialization requirements. Every week there was an article on what the Men’s Shed was up to as well as the Lions Club. I’m figuring how I can go wrong here if I get involved with these clubs. And so far, at least as far as the Men’s Shed goes, it’s working out great. One thing I forgot to mention reference the Shed was the treasurer is an American expat like ourselves. They came over 2 years ago and basically did the same thing we did. His wife is also a dual citizen and they decided that Dungarvan seemed a good spot to live and apparently decided it was a good decision since they’re still hear. He was a great resource for information since he went through all the things we went through and still have to come. What he misses the most – good Mexican food. Good thing Kathy has some great Mexican recipes and the best salsa this side of the ocean.

I digress…so the Lions Club was my next step in the socialization process. A little more challenging to get into since they only meet once a month and seem to be a little more selective in their admission requirements. I did finally sit down with 2 of the members last week so they could tell me about the club and find out how I thought I could contribute or what I would like to get involved in. Turns out they need someone with some IT skills so I may fill an immediate need for them. One thing I have to say is these guys keep really busy. They have things going year round with the biggest events being their Christmas fund drives and an event called Jigs and Reels which is like a local Dancing with the Stars. The Jigs and Reels show was one of the first things we did in town and was pretty entertaining to boot. One of the responsibilities of the Lion president is that he has to be a participant in the show. Needless to say, I won’t be taking on that role. Everyone did seem to enjoy the event and it was a packed house. Most importantly, it was a good fundraising event for them.

One things to note here about the Irish. There is not a charity they won’t support. Everywhere you turn people are donating for this or that. One of the events we went to a couple weeks back was a discussion on the help the local community is providing to the Syrian refugees. The Irish government has an entire hotel being used to house some of the refugees when they first arrive. The idea is to give them 3-4 months of initial orientation to their new country and once completed, get settled in other areas of Ireland. As I said, the Irish are extremely nice and would give you the shirt off their back.

One of the other benefits of being a Lions Club member is to participate in the polar bear swim at Christmas. Yep, yours truly will be going for a swim in the chilly Atlantic, the Celtic Sea actually, on a cold winter’s day. Anyone care to join? Believe it or not, there are quite a few of the locals that swim in the sea all year round, some with wet suits, others (the crazy ones) without. Now I’m all for physical fitness and all, but this is taking it to the extreme. Let’s just say there will be plenty of liquid antifreeze in me before I take the plunge this December.

So to wrap this one up as I’m nearing my self-induced 2 page rule. The socialization process is going well so far for us. Kathy has been doing the daily dog walks and as most of you dog walkers know, acquaintances are easily formed. The funny thing is most dog walkers know all the names of the other dogs but have a hard time remembering the names of their owners. And while Kathy gets the scoop on the goings on in the neighborhood via this means, I get it at the Shed from the boys over tea. Can you say tea time??

So to finish off my blog for this week I will leave you with a little Irish to start your day.

Ba mhaith liom cupan tae. See if you can figure it out.