This post is part of a sporadic series about how our life is Dublin is different five years on.

Before we expatriated, I tried to avoid having too many expectations about living in Ireland. I’m sure I thought I’d go to the pub now and again, would eat a lot of cabbage and potatoes, and see sheep from time to time. We wanted to get comfortable but also pay attention. Like how driving a car becomes second nature, but you sometimes feel the thrill of motion and can be amazed at where the car can take you. We do have a dually quotidian and spectacular life.

One thing I did not expect about living in Ireland is that we would know so many Americans.

I remember many times in our first few months, someone would say to me, Oh, you should meet this American person or that American person. This annoyed me. I was particularly uninterested in meeting Americans. I knew lots of Americans. I wanted to meet Irish people. Those quirky, witty, inscrutable Irish people. And I have. We know loads of wonderful Irish people, but when I look around our social circle I find a large percentage of Americans.

My surprise testifies to how little I understood the expat experience and the powerful connection of being “other.”  I remember a year or so in when I began to appreciate my fellow Americans. America is such a huge country, and yet there is something familiar in another American, even if she grew up 2000 miles from me. Of course expats are a self-selecting group and Bill and I have some element of common experience with any other American expat. But we do wonder what exactly makes an American recognizably American. Several times an Irish person has said to me, Oh you know how it is in America, how you have that can-do attitude and feel like anything is possible? Um, not really, I say. One of my friends told me he thinks all Americans are united by the Constitution. I cracked up laughing when he told me this. People barely even know what it says, I told him. I don’t think we see a constitutional glint in each other’s eyes. It may be shared culture–TV, movies, music–more than anything.

Now I understand our American friends don’t take away from our Irish experience, but rather are a key part of it. If we weren’t in Dublin, we likely wouldn’t have found these kindred spirits from as far away as California and Maine. By moving to Ireland, Bill and I changed our orbit. We circle our new emerald world, enthralled, tied to its gravity. But still separate from it. We’re learning that expat truth–as long as we’re here, we’ll always be a bit apart.  Our fellow expats are celestial companions in orbit, as sparkly and beautiful as Saturn’s rings. I’m so thankful for them.

This post is part of a sporadic series on how our daily life is different in Dublin five years on.

Sometimes during church on Sunday I’ll look out the window–they are beautiful Georgian windows just asking to be looked out of–and I’ll see a train go by. Many times it’s the DART commuter train, and that makes me happy. Sometimes it’s a steam train, and that makes me very happy. When it’s the steam train I try to get Bill’s attention, but usually he doesn’t recognize that I’m using a special tap on his leg that means, “Look quickly out the window,” rather than my normal tap when means, “Hey, I need to tell you something,” so frequently he looks at me instead of the window and misses the steam train. There’s not much I can do about it. We’re in church so I have to be subtle.

Seeing trains from the window in church reminds me that we live somewhere different from where we did before. It’s a Dublin Moment. Many urban areas in the United States have commuter trains that run by churches, but I’ve never lived in one of those places. I’m from the land of cars. None of the places I’ve lived have a very advanced public transportation system. Many folks will argue that Dublin doesn’t have an advanced public transportation system, and compared with pretty much any other city in Europe this is true, but compared to say, Birmingham, Alabama and Austin, Texas, Dublin is easily navigable via bus, train and tram.

When we lived in Raheny I took the DART into town for work. Bill would drop me off at the DART station, and I would disembark at Pearse Station. It took me about twenty minutes to walk to my office on Adelaide Road. An Irish person would get there in twelve. Irish people walk very fast. We commuters would exit Pearse station en mass. When we reached Merrion Square I’d be lagging behind a bit, with the old ladies. By Baggot Street the old ladies would have passed me by. Five years later I’m still lagging behind Irish people.

About six months after I started my job I noticed a fella from my office boarding a bus right outside the station. I hopped on. “Does this bus go to our office?” I asked hopefully. “Indeed it does,” he said, and he was right. The bus stopped directly in front of the office. And there ended my routine of walking from the station. Eventually I started taking the bus home too. I had to take two buses, but I always seemed to hit a 20 minute gap in DARTs, so my commuting algebra determined x = y not take the bus?

Now I catch a bus at a stop about five minutes from our house, and it drops me at that same stop outside of my office. During the school year the buses get full during prime going-to-work time. Seeing that bus pass you by is very demoralizing. But the squashed passengers on the bus don’t look too happy either. I have good luck getting a bus around 20 or 15 to 9:00. I’m 30 minutes on the bus, so I get in relatively close to my official start time of 9:00.

Morning commuters are typically quiet, but school girls typically aren’t. I do tend to wind up on the same bus as a man who is frequently on the phone, and who has repeats himself. Repeatedly. “Yeah, that’s against policy. Against policy. That would be against the policy. The policy. The policy. Yeah, That’s against policy. Policy. Policy.” Yesterday morning I sat in front of a young couple planning their weekend. They were thinking about going to the National Gallery. They were very cute and they made me happy. Sometimes there are small children on the bus who are so excited just about being on the bus. We should try to hold on to that child-like enthusiasm.

Toddler waving bus ticket in the air, joyfully exclaiming, my bird is flying! Let's all follow his lead and find birds and let em fly.
Sharon Gunter

If possible I sit upstairs. Many mornings the windows fog up. I’m attuned enough now that I don’t have to wipe a viewing spot to assess the location of the bus. I just wait until the windows on the right side of the bus turn green, and I know I’m at Stephen’s Green, and I’ll need to make my way downstairs in two minutes.

While I do prefer the upper decker, the stairs on the bus are a menace and it is very likely my epitaph will read, “She met her death on the stairs of a Dublin bus.”* You have my permission to write an elegiac song with that title as well.

Public transportation has its share of frustrations–disappearing buses; the elements; drunk people with bloody, bandaged hands–but I genuinely enjoy not driving to work.

And it’s not just that I don’t drive to work. It’s that I don’t drive at all. I should drive. Probably. Bill thinks from time to time that I should. In five years I have driven the car twice for a total of seven minutes.

I do miss driving. And singing while driving.  Driving alone in the car is the one time you can just belt it out and know that no one can hear you.

Driving on wide, open roads is one of the things I love about being back in the U.S.

Watch this video to see what I mean:

Apologies for the lens schmutz and thanks to KGSR for the soundtrack.


*We recently agreed that Bill’s epitaph will say, “He loved him some funky, funky fish sauce. “

Bill and I finally made it to the Pig’s Ear last night, a place we’ve heard about from many people, including my parents. When I ‘checked in’ on Facebook, a few people asked for a report, so here it is:

Pig’s Ear defo gets a recommendation. We both loved our starters. Bill’s salad of roasted beets, sliced raw beets, beet puree, pine nuts, pine nut oil, sliced radishes, baby beet greens, rye crumbs, and St. Tola ash goat cheese was a celebration of the beet and a great mix of textures. I had a Castletownbere crab salad with sliced roasted celeriac and hazelnuts. I’ve never seen celeriac prepared that way. The crab salad was deliciously sweet and a great pairing with the hazelnuts.  Both our starters were generous portions.

The bread is really good too. A rustic sourdough and a brown bread with seeds. I made the mistake of filling up on bread.

The mains are all in the 20 EUR range, but they are also generous portions. Bill’s pork kassler (a cured, smoked pork chop from Crowe’s farm), Jane Russell black pudding, salt baked turnip and barley risotto was a meat-forward main, with the meats simply prepared and allowed to speak for themselves.

I’ve found myself ordering salmon recently, although I tend to avoid it for something more unusual. Last night the salmon with smoked haddock mash called to me. The dish came also with some grilled salsify and broccoli. The salmon was perfect and with the mash hit the comfort food notes of a fish pie. My dish was sprinkled with some brown butter potted shrimp which were a bit lost on the plate, and the broccoli wasn’t anything special, but overall a lovely dish. I couldn’t finish my main because of the aforementioned bread.

I didn’t think I’d have room for dessert, but soldiered on with brown bread ice cream with a preserved clementine. The spices in the preserve were quite tasty and gave a gingerbready flavor to the brown bread ice cream. Bill had buttermilk custard with rhubarb, elderflower, ginger and honeycomb. A refreshing, not overly sweet dessert. The custard was a bit too firm for Bill’s liking, but the slight bitterness of the honeycomb was a great accompaniment to the tartness of the rhubarb.

We’ve recently been following some advice from a wine merchant that was “When faced with a selection of French wines, you can’t go wrong with Côtes du Rhône.”  So far we’ve found that to be true. I don’t remember which particular Côtes du Rhône we ordered, but it was a medium bodied red, somewhat jammy with a little tobacco. Vive la Côtes du Rhône!

Pig’s Ear felt like a slightly fancier Winding Stair with a focus on Irish ingredients. Our starters both were creative but still accessible. Would happily go back.

Darina asked me to get the word out about some special transition year courses they’ve added at Ballymaloe.

The demand for places on our Transition Year Work Experience Program in recent years has been very high, and they are now fully subscribed until September 2014. They have therefore decided to offer a few, One Week Transition Year Cookery Courses before Easter 2013.

The following dates are available:

The courses are held daily from 10am to 5pm and are limited to six students per course. The fee is €500 per student, payable upon booking. Members of Slow Food will receive a 10% discount!

Students will learn a variety of skills and cover a range of topics both in demonstration and Hands-On sessions. In one busy week, students will learn how to make homemade bread, jam, soups, yummy starters, main courses, desserts, biscuits and even a cake or two plus how to make butter and yoghurt from our own Jersey cows’ milk and cream. Students will also be given a guided educational tour around our organic farm, gardens and greenhouse. Each student will receive a Ballymaloe Cookery School apron and a signed cookbook and will be offered first choice on their waiting list for the 2012/13 Transition Year.

To book click the links above or phone the office 021 4646785. Booking will be taken on a first come first served basis.  Full payment will be required on booking.

Accommodation is not available at the cookery school for this course, although accommodation is available locally; a list of local B&Bs and Guesthouses available at

In October we reached the five year mark of our time in Ireland. This is the first of a few posts on how our daily life is different in Dublin five years on.

A recent conversation at Gunternation Central:

Bill: Do you want a stout or red ale?

Sharon: I like stout better.

Bill: That’s why I married you. You like stout.

Sharon: But you didn’t know that when you married me.

Bill: Neither did you.

True, I had no idea. I didn’t consider myself a beer drinker for most of my life. I played at beer drinking (Rolling Rock, anyone?) for a while in my early 20s, but then abandoned it. Who needs beer when you can have a Gin & Tonic? Moving back to Texas, I found Shiner Bock to be pretty agreeable. I avoided yellow beers, the ones that unfortunately resemble  you-know-what*, with exceptions for Weissbier.

My first taste of Guinness was at an Irish pub at Downtown Disney circa 2005. After moving to Dublin, we agreed that the Guinness really is better here. At first I was more likely to order a Bulmers cider, but then, pint by pint, that stout starting tasting very familiar to me, smooth and creamy, barleyrific. Now I’m happy to sit in an auld man pub on a Thursday night after work, keeping company with a few pints of the black. Women are supposed to drink their Guinness by the glass (half pint), possibly spiked by some black-currant flavored Ribena, or not all all, but I like the full Imperial, unadulterated, and based on statistics and observation, paid for by my friends (yeah, I’m down a few rounds** I’m afraid).

Two of my favorite things

And while I do genuinely like Guinness, Guinness has also been a gateway beer. Once I knew I liked the black stuff, I was open to trying other stouts on offer from the Irish craft breweries that have burst onto the scene–both a product of the recession and a balm for it***. So, I tried Dungarvan Brewing Company‘s Black Rock Irish Stout and their seasonal Coffee and Oatmeal stout, which our local off license hid behind the counter for us. I’ve had Eight Degrees Brewing‘s Knockmealdown Porter (and brownies made with same) and Trouble Brewing‘s Dark Arts. O’Hara’s Leann Folláin is a revelation, a top shelf stout. Once I was exposed to these breweries, I tried their other beers, and found some faves with food: Trouble Or and Eight Degrees Howling Gale (terrific with cinnamon cake). Another favorite, and not just because of the opportunity for double entendre, is the refreshing Galway Hooker****.

Me enjoying a Trouble Or.

More and more pubs are embracing craft beer. Some like L. Mulligan Grocer have chosen not to even invite Guinness to the party, to give the newer voices more space to sing. Pubs like Against the Grain and Brew Dock have huge selections of Irish craft beer, and I’ve quaffed a craftie at traditional establishments like the Cobblestone and The Long Hall.

Me enjoying a Galway Hooker

In September we attended the Irish Craft Beerfest at the RDS. This lovely, chilled festival featured over 20 brewers and provided the opportunity to try some rare brews on cask. I was reacquainted with my love of Weissbier through some great Irish versions: Metalman Brewing‘s seasonal Alternator and Franciscan Well Brewery’s Friar Weisse. Eight degrees was serving a very tasty Ochtoberfest Marzen Style, which comes with a little extra alcohol kick. We had a few pints a few weeks later at The Bull and Castle, and then climbed the belfry at Christchurch*****.

The Craft Beer Fest had too much flavor to fit into one day. We attended Saturday and Sunday.

West Kerry Brewery, the smallest brewery in Ireland, was at the fest. We found their Carraig Dubh stout to be immensely evocative, and swear that it smells of sheep, in a good way, and begs to be consumed before a peat fire. It tastes like Ireland.

The sun split the stones for Day 1 of the Beer Fest

Would I naturally have turned into a beer drinker in my fifth decade if I hadn’t moved to Dublin? It’s impossible to separate these threads of our nature and nurture.  All I know is I am one now.

We have recently purchased a second fridge for items such as these.

* Piss

** Rounds. A huge part of Irish drinking, which is fantastically convivial and generous while at the same time being a bit mad and stressful (for blow ins), and encourages overindulgence. It’s very bad form not to stand your round, but also a bit of competition to take the round. As a result, I perpetually owe people drinks.

*** Balm. A little double meaning here. Alcohol does ease the pain, but the emergence and success of these craft breweries is a shot of enthusiasm into the Irish food and drinks economy.

**** A Galway Hooker is a boat. And a beer. And a West coast woman of the night.

***** Belfry. This was part of Dublin Culture Night. Christchurch was offering trips to the belfry to meet the bell ringers. As expected, the belfry is reached by twisty steps and progressively smaller doors and even, our guide told us, a portal through which spending hours ringing bells makes perfect sense. Turns out the style of ringing at Christchurch is more interested in the mathematical progression through the permutations of bell combinations rather than melody. Not surprising if you’ve ever heard the Christchurch bells. Really fascinating visit. Do it if you ever have the chance.

13 January 2013 Update

I recently came across this photo from our first trip to Dublin in 2006. I’m not 100% sure, but it may be the moment that everything changed.

I think I can see my pupil dilating.

I think I can see my pupil dilating.