For the past week I’ve spent an hour or so every day digging in the garden, preparing a 4-foot by two-foot patch of ground for planting. Ever day, as I pull dozens and dozens of stones from the ground, I develop a new respect for the rugged men and women who tamed Ireland.
For all of us tourists and soft expats who take our regular trips through the countryside and comment, “Oh Deirdre, look at the stone fences. How cute”, we have no clue how much work it took to pry every one of those damn stones from the ground. They didn’t go to the garden shop and buy some rocks because the missus wanted a fence, they bloody well dug the ground and stacked the stones knowing they’d starve if they didn’t get the land ready for planting .
By comparison, we modern expats seem like such candy-asses with our endless Skype calls, and bitching that, “It’s so hard to transfer money internationally”. We have no clue what the original immigrants went through to make Ireland (or anywhere else) habitable. And it’s not as if they had a choice over where to set up shop. This is either where they were from, or the only place they could get to. Necessity is an amazing motivator.
Faced with starvation, slavish masters, crop failures, marauding clans and pillaging Norsemen, those men and women made Ireland what it is today, and I take my hat (and my candy-assed garden gloves) off to them.
It’s not like anybody wants to see the sausage being made, but, as an adult, when you move somewhere new, particularly a completely new culture, it’s hard not to contemplate and compare. You contemplate the strange and alien place you’ve moved to, and you compare it to what you know and where you’ve come from. Over the past three years I’ve become far more conscious of the way countries behave towards each other, and towards their citizens. I’ve also become aware of the signs and symbols around us that remind us where we’ve come from.
That then makes me wonder what will be the legacy of modern expats (in Ireland and elsewhere)? As screwed up as Ireland may be at times, we have a fairly high standard of living, have shucked off any number of colonial masters, and have had, by turns, the most expensive and most devalued real estate on the planet. Though we’re a small and chronically underfunded country, we participate in world peacekeeping efforts and have one of the highest rates of charitable giving in the world. But the foundations of those things were all put in place long before we came along with our iPad cameras and our Celtic whiskey gift boxes.
Ireland’s ever-present stone fences should not just be quaint curiosities, they are standing monuments to the men, women, and children who, quite literally, fought stone-by-stone for the things we now take for granted.
I ask you, what will our stone fences look like?
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
* Renting Abroad, Home Maintenance and Property Management in a Foreign Country