Sunday, 25 January 2015

Connemara: How a French singer made me think it was a county!

If you ask a French tourist what is the place he wants to visit the most in Ireland, he will undoubtedly tell you "The Connemara". 

You might wonder why. After all, there are so many beautiful landscapes and sites to visit in Ireland so why do French people seem to be obsessed with the Connemara? A popular French singer decided, back in the eighties, to write a song about it. It's called "Les lacs du Connemara" (Connemara's lakes). 

Initially, Michel Sardou wanted to sing about Scotland but his co-writer came back with a leaflet about Ireland instead. The singer thought it would be interesting to write about the conflict in Northern Ireland, but his friend refused (too risky probably) and showed him the movie "The quiet man". So they decided to write about an Irish wedding instead.
The song was an instant hit, and is still Sardou's biggest success with 3 millions singles sold by 1988.

I was a child when the song was released, but it was still played in night clubs when I was a teenager. I remember, it was always the last song of the night, and everybody was up on the dancefloor, singing along. It's probably the most famous French song about Ireland.

However, I have a major issue with some of the lyrics. Michel Sardou made me look like a fool when I came to Ireland and claimed that Connemara was a county. After all, that's what he sang: "From Tipperary, Bally-Connelly, And Galway, they arrived in county Connemara"... I was so sure to be right that I felt really stupid when I eventually looked at a map. So, thanks Michel, to make me look like a proper eejit. 

If you want to enjoy and understand the song, you can watch the video and read the English translation. I've always wondered if the lyrics were reflecting some sort of reality, especially the part where Maureen dives naked in one of the lakes or the fact that they have the wedding in Limerick, and guests come from as far as Kerry...

Don't hesitate to tell me what you think about it!


Terre brûlée au vent Land burned by wind
Des landes de pierre Stone heaths
Autour des lacs Around the lakes
C'est pour les vivants It is, for the inhabitants
Un peu d'enfer A little bit of hell
Le Connemara Connemara

Des nuages noirs Black clouds
Qui viennent du nord Coming from the North
Colorent la terre Colour the land
Les lacs, les rivières Lakes and rivers
C'est le décor That's the landscape
Du Connemara. Of Connemara

Au printemps suivant The following spring
Le ciel irlandais The Irish sky
Etait en paix. Was peaceful
Maureen a plongé Maureen dived
Nue dans un lac Naked into a lake
Du Connemara. Of Connemara

Sean Kelly s'est dit Sean Kelly said to himself
"Je suis catholique, "I am Catholic
Maureen aussi" and so is Maureen"
L'église en granit The granite church
De Limerick Of Limerick
Maureen a dit "oui" Maureen said "yes"

De Tiperrary From Tipperary
Bally-Connelly Bally-Connelly
Et de Galway, And Galway
Ils sont arrivés They arrived
Dans le comté In the county
Du Connemara Of Connemara.

Y avait les Connor, There were the Connors
Les O'Conolly, The O'Conollys
Les Flaherty The Flahertys
Du Ring of Kerry From the Ring of Kerry
Et de quoi boire And something to drink
Trois jours et deux nuits For three days and two nights

Là-bas, au Connemara Over there, in Connemara
On sait tout le prix du silence They know the cost of silence
Là-bas, au Connemara Over there, in Connemara
On dit que la vie They say that life
C'est une folie Is madness
Et que la folie And that madness
Ça se danse Dances

Terre brûlée au vent Land burned by wind,
Des landes de pierre Stone heaths
Autour des lacs Around the lakes,
C'est pour les vivants It is, for the inhabitants
Un peu d'enfer A little bit of hell
Le Connemara Connemara

Des nuages noirs Black clouds
Qui viennent du nord Coming from the North
Colorent la terre Colour the land
Les lacs, les rivières Lakes and rivers
C'est le décor That is the landscape
Du Connemara Of Connemara.

On y vit encore There, people still live
Au temps des Gaels In the age of the Gaels
Et de Cromwell, And Cromwell
Au rythme des pluies With the rhythm of the rain
Et du soleil And the sun
Au pas des chevaux And horses hooves

On y croit encore They still believe
Aux monstres des lacs In monsters of the lake
Qu'on voit nager That are seen swimming
Certains soirs d'été Some summer night
Et replonger And dive back in
Pour l'éternité For an eternity

On y voit encore You still see
Des hommes d'ailleurs Men from elsewhere
Venus chercher Come to find
Le repos de l'âme Some rest for their souls
Et pour le cœur And a little more warmth
Un goût de meilleur For their hearts

L'on y croit encore They still believe
Que le jour viendra That the day will come
Il est tout près It's close at hand
Où les Irlandais When the Irish
Feront la paix Will make their peace
Autour de la croix Around the cross

Là-bas, au Connemara, Over there, in Connemara
On sait tout le prix de la guerre They know the cost of war
Là-bas, au Connemara Over there, in Connemara
On n'accepte pas They don't accept
La paix des Gallois The peace of the Welsh
Ni celle des rois d'Angleterre...Nor that of the Kings of England...

Translation credits: GreatFrenchSongs

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Irish breakfast

Growing up, breakfast consisted of baguette, butter, jam, sometimes croissants or pain au chocolat, brioche and black coffee. I didn't imagine eating anything else really, and certainly not hot, savoury food. Sausages, bacon and eggs are for lunch, not breakfast!!
The first time I tried Irish breakfast was in a B&B a few months after I arrived. Fabrice, who had already embraced is newly found culture, forced me to try it. To be honest, after a night out drinking, and being mildly hangover, I was wondering how bacon and sausages would not affect my fragile stomach...
The plate came and I looked at Fabrice, who was already digging in. "OK, I have no choice then, so let's get started!" I  began by a sausage, then I had some scramble eggs, and a bit of bacon. I decided I would give the pudding a go... Next thing you know, my plate was empty. 

It was truly a revelation. Not only I loved almost everything that was on my plate, I actually felt better and my hangover had disappeared. And we were so full we didn't even eat lunch that day... I wonder if that's the reason why Irish people eat a very small lunch compared to the French. Even if they don't have a fry everyday, maybe the tradition of a sandwich at lunch time comes from the massive breakfast they used to have...
There is only one thing I'm not fond of: mushrooms. Eating them in a dish is fine, but on their own I think they have a funny taste.
Every time I go to a hotel or a B&B, I have the full Irish breakfast. And sometimes, Fabrice cooks it at home, especially when we have friends staying over. My French friends often look at me then, and I know what they're thinking: "That's it, we lost her! She's one of them now!"
This is definitely one aspect of Irish culture I didn't think I would appreciate and I was surprised I liked it. I used to be a croissant eater, and now I can stuff my face with bacon, sausages and scrambled eggs...
I've come a long way!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015


Today I had a plan. I was going to write a post about Irish Breakfast for "My Irish Experience" series and I already had a good bit written in my head.

Tonight I have no words. And I certainly don't want to talk about food. I'm not even hungry. I am angry. 

This morning I went to work as usual, and as I was checking Facebook, I realised my news feed was inundated by posts about a terrorist attack in France. Three men entered the head office of the satirical newspaper "Charlie Hebdo" and shot 12 people dead including the editor, journalists, cartoonists and police officers. I was shocked to say the least and I think I spent a good part of my day reading the news. I am still in shock tonight.

We don't have to agree with everything journalists publish in general, but everyone has the right to express themselves, especially in France, a secular country with a history of freedom of speech. So NO, I cannot accept the fact that someone would be killed for drawing, writing and basically expressing an opinion. If it starts like this, where does it end? 

I heard someone on the news tonight that said something that resonated with me: "There are not a lot of countries where all religions are accepted and everyone, regardless of the religious beliefs, can be accepted fully as a citizen. France is one these countries".

I don't know what to say anymore, but what I know is I HAD to write something. I usually don't write about politics or too serious subjects. My blog is light-hearted and should be taken as such (and I  hope I'm not offending any Irish people around!), but today is different. So I've made an exception. It's not my best written piece, but I am still overwhelmed with emotion and thinking of France at the moment.

Let's be all united again extremism.

By David Pope


Monday, 5 January 2015

Dream dinner destination

If you could have or make dinner anywhere in the world, where would it be, and what would you eat?

First of all, I don't think the actual place matters but the people I would be with. Being French, meals are our way of socialising and they are important family time as well. Meals are were important decisions are made, stories are told, memories are shared. A few weeks ago, I was trying to find a solution to a problem at work, and innocently said to my French colleague: "I don't know what to do, but I think I'm going to eat first", to which he replied "That's the French way alright. We always eat when we're stuck for an answer!" So there might be some Gallic attitude left in me after all...

Anyway, back to my point. If I had to choose a place, it would probably be on the seaside. My first thought is Mauritius of course, for the dream aspect of it. Imagine, a big wooden table, in the middle of the beach, at sunset. Fire torches all around would illuminate the place and we would hear the gentle sound of the waves kissing the shore, while we eat, drink and laugh...I know, I can keep dreaming, but this is my "Dream dinner destination", remember?

I would enjoy that meal with my family of course. Husband, kids, sisters, brothers and parents on both sides of the family and plenty of friends. The ones we never get to see. The ones who are back in France, still in Mauritius or are scattered around the world. It would be a big reunion and that wooden table would have to be massive!

This is probably where my dinner would take place...

What about the menu? When I travel, I always try to eat local and the first time I went to Mauritius, I experienced a very different food culture. I tried food I never thought existed thanks to my husband and family over there. We all speak the same language, but when they start talking créole very fast and use words I don't understand, I can get lost very easily. They use different words for fruits, vegetable and fish. Tomato is not "tomate" like in French, it's "Pomme d'amour" (love apple!), "Curry" is "Cari" and "Octopus" is "Ourite". If I knew that "Tangue" was "hedgehog" (or hérisson in French), I'm not sure I would have tried it...Good thing they told me after. Mind you, it's not very tasty as you have to eat it with a lot of spices and chilli, something I sill haven't got accustomed to.

Back to my menu. I'm salivating, just thinking about it. For starter, a big stuffed lobster like this:

Then, "Bol renversé" (upside down bowl). It's a bit like a stew with rice and an egg on top, but the trick is to put the preparation in a bowl and then unmold the whole thing:

If you're in the mood for seafood, like me, you would be delighted with this alternative main course (I can do what I want, it's my dream dinner!): "Cari Ourite" with farata (Octopus curry with faratas, which is a bit like fajitas)

And for dessert, "Banane flambée" (Flamed banana)

The dinner wouldn't be complete with local alcohol of course:

Phoenix Beer, the best Mauritian beer

Mauritian rhum

If I was in a country where I don't speak the language, I would try to get the menu translated by a local if possible. Even if it's done in a broken English of French, you can still grasp the meaning better than an automated translation, really experience the local culture and more than likely have a big laugh in the process... Sometimes, restaurants or food services websites underestimate the importance of a good translation service. If you don't understand what you're going to eat (like a hedgehog for example!) there's a good chance you'd be left disappointed and frustrated. That's where a translation software company that uses real human beings can be useful. 

Food can really connect people and when you can speak the same language, it's even better.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

A human adventure

It's a bit funny that the first post of the series kind of sums up what my Irish experience has been so far.

When I landed in Dublin airport 12 years ago, I was far from thinking I would still be here after all that time. I had planned to stay for two or three years only, which already seemed quite an ambitious plan for the recruiter who offered me my first job. "The majority of foreigners stay on average one year" he said to me. As it happened, he was right. I'm not even counting the amount of people I met and went back home in the blink of an eye. 

I know I'm saying the past 12 years have been a big adventure, and still is, but I'm not talking about an action-packed or crazy stories type of journey. After all, I didn't go backpacking through the Australian outback or volunteer in Africa. I didn't go on a teaching gig in China or on surf trips to Bali. The culture clash was probably less visible than if I had moved to the other side of the planet.

My adventure is mostly human. Sure I didn't go to all those exotic places, but I have met people from all corners of the globe, and this would have NEVER happened if I stayed home. I have friends all over the world and not only I learned about Irish culture, I discovered many other places.

My husband is from Mauritius. I have Indian and Danish neighbours. I used to work with Hungarian, Polish, Lithuanian and Slovakian people. I have friends from Moldova, Great-Britain, Croatia, Spain and the USA... I learned a lot about other cultures, especially tolerance, respect and differences. I can also manage a few words in each language. Bad words, mostly, but that's usually what we remember, right? And I ate A LOT of good stuff cooked by those people. Traditional dishes and biscuits and cakes... Food can really make people connect, trust me (more of that in an upcoming post!).

Most importantly, I have met wonderful Irish people and discovered a fabulous country. I couldn't thank my host family enough for feeding me (a bit too much) and really helping me out when I was stuck at the beginning. The first few months really shaped the rest of my Irish experience and that particular family is the reason I realised this country was really worth it.

The Irish are very family centred and it takes a bit more work to really have a solid friendship with them, but I think we managed to find a good balance between Irish and foreign friends.

There have been some highs and lows during those 12 years. I sometimes got bored and frustrated, but I never gave up, and I still think I have a better quality of life here than in France. 

When I look back at my time in Ireland, I will think about the wonderful landscapes and the never-ending rainbows, but most importantly, I will remember THE PEOPLE. 

And that's what makes this adventure human.