The best of both worlds

By Nick O'Malley

Blackrock Castle Observatory, built in the 16th Century, sits just a couple kilometers outside of the city of Cork. Constructed in an effort to ward off pirates, the structure is one of many area landmarks that has survived for hundreds of years.

Visitors to the castle can witness the observatory, the rich history of the castle and, at least on Saturday, Bruce Willis going to a space opera and Chris Tucker wearing a dress.

For those of you unfamiliar with “The Fifth Element,” I should probably explain that the Blackrock Castle Observatory was featuring a showing of the 1997 sci-fi action adventure movie in which Gary Oldman takes orders from a mysterious glowing rock of evil that is somehow capable of bank transactions.

While the prospect of watching a movie in a castle is ludicrously awesome in its own right, it’s strikingly indicative of an overlying theme that’s present in modern day Ireland and especially in the city’s urban areas.

Ireland is a country that is steeped in tradition and believes heavily in keeping the tradition alive. But at the same time, it’s not backwards either. As such, the end result is an odd symbiosis between the old and new in the cities, where the shops and offices break for lunch and close at 5 p.m., except for Tesco Supermarket, which is open until 10 p.m.

It’s strange, seeing the old and new side-by-side and seeing it work. Sure, I buy my bread and cereal at Tesco, but I get my cold cuts and vegetables at the nearby English Market, where dozens of butchers, grocers, and peddlers of all kinds cluster in an area which is oddly reminiscent of Diagon Alley.

The system itself is a change of pace compared to what we’re used to back in the United States, where in most cases the newest, most-efficient model thrives while the old ways curl up and die. Not so much on this side of the pond. In Ireland, for every nuance that comes from globalization, there’s a tick, an old trend that refuses the go away, or simply an American concept that was never picked up.

Supermarkets are similar, but bags aren’t free. Be prepared to spend 22 cents per grocery bag if you weren’t smart enough to bring a backpack or some reusable bags (and be prepared to do your own bagging).

Pubs go in a few directions. First, there are places like An Brog, Old Oak and ­­a personal favorite – Mulligans, that are what one would expect from a pub in Ireland. On the other hand, there’s Fred Zeppelins (home to Jäger Thursdays) and Captain America’s.

When it comes to politics, sexual orientation or pop culture, the Irish are often on the same wavelength as Americans, contrary to some belief. But when it comes to religion, watch out. The Irish are Catholic, end of story. A piece of advice: never call someone an Irish Protestant. According to my roommate, your friends will want to fight you for calling someone such a thing.

Of course, this mixture of globalization and tradition often leaves me completely lost, especially by my Ireland-born-and-raised roommates. When a topic comes up, I have to take a stab at whether it’s something I’m familiar with, something foreign, or something I probably should’ve figured (drinking). In most cases, though, I’m dead wrong, leaving me looking stupid while getting a “what the hell’s wrong with you” look.

Do they have soap operas in Ireland? Yeah. Dominos? Yup. Lady Gaga everywhere? Absolutely. But I make one peanut butter and Fluff sandwich, and all of a sudden I’m the crazy Yankee with the wacky marshmallow spread. Sure, I had to get the Fluff shipped to me from back home (thanks Mom), but I’m not the one who considered blood pudding part of a “full breakfast.”

Such a dichotomy often leads to interesting choices. Sure, Subway’s awesome and delicious, but the place next door sells Nutella crepes, and it always has something new on the table. At the same time, though, you might be better off grabbing some Doritos instead of the corn-based monstrosities that are Hula Hoops.

Transitioning from living in the States is an on-and-off process. There’s little culture shock. It’s more of a nudge you get while walking down the frighteningly narrow streets. At a glance, Cork is not much different from Boston, and in some cases – Northampton. But every day, there’s a flash of hundreds of years of tradition that refuses to curl up and rot away.

Like ordering a pint in a country that uses the metric system.

Nick O’Malley is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]