Thank you and goodbye for now Ireland…
Ireland, it’s been an amazing two and a half years. I will miss you terribly. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve taken a job in Redmond, WA and am moving on but I’ll get to that in a bit…
My love of Ireland started many years ago when me and my wife came over on vacation and was blown away by your beauty and hospitality. Well, I was speaking at a conference and used airline miles to fly my wife over as well so that we could sneak in a vacation.
It was 8 days in total. We rented a car and drove around most of the Island. We went to Cork followed by Blarney and of course Blarney Castle which is not nearly as camp as you’d think it would be.
Then we spent three days in Doolin which is a small town out in County Clare which is, like a number of small towns in Ireland, a handful pubs, a few B&Bs and a Catholic church. It’s smack dab in the middle between the Cliffs of Moher (pronounced more), and the Burren. This is where I fell in love with Ireland…
The Cliffs of Moher were something that some folks mentioned as “Oh, the cliffs are pretty and you should go see them” but what they fail to mention is that it’s the “Grand Canyon” of Ireland. It’s a majestic view with magnificent views and colours. And then there were cows right there. Yes cows. There was a little cattle farm right up on top of this amazing national treasure.
The Burren is 30 acres of lime stone. There was a Danish poet, whose name I forget at the moment, who said that “There was not enough tree to hang a man or dirt to bury a man”. It’s as close to walking on the moon as I’ll ever get. The crazy part though is that it’s not barren. There’s an amazing amount of life that exists there and no where else. In every crack and crevice, there were flowers, mosses, little bushes, spiders, snails, little rabbits and all kinds of small critters and plants all set with the foreground of the limestone and the backdrop of the Atlantic ocean with the Aran Islands just on the horizon. It’s amazing. We spent days just wandering around losing ourselves in it’s beauty.
In Kinvara, one of the other small towns that we loved, we were in a small shop and started talking to the keeper. He was a fascinating character who told us a lot of great stories. One of my favorites was the story of St. Brigid’s cross.
“A pagan chieftain from the neighbourhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived, the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Brigid sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked, his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Since then, the cross of rushes has existed in Ireland”
Every year on the first of February, folks make the crosses from the reeds. It’s great story with a great tradition and is extremely Irish. According to the keeper, the specific reeds are actually starting to get hard find. We picked up a couple reed crosses and a couple brass crosses.
After Doolin, we went up to Sligo and spend the night in Markree Castle. This was also amazing and we spent a lot of time wondering the grounds.
After that, we drove through Roscommon and back over to Dublin. It was an amazing trip.
Once I had a taste of Ireland, I couldn’t get it out of my head and I started looking at what it would look like to move over and actually live there.
While I was over, I met the local Microsoft Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) team. These were a fantastic group of folks who were among the smartest and most passionate folks I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. As quickly as possible, I arranged another trip over to speak at another conference. This one was a Wordcamp in Kilkenny. Once again, it was amazing. The speakers and the conference attendees were all so much fun. I love it.
After I got home, I got an interesting IM conversation from Martha Rotter, the tech evangelist who had invited me over both times. She was setting out on her own to start her own consulting company which meant that there was an opening on the Ireland DPE team. When I talked to my wife about it, she started packing.
I arranged to come over and meet with Clare, the manager, and interview. We hit it off and arranged for me to move over in early 2011.
Family in Ireland
My entire family is better off for having been graced by your fair shores.
Starting with my oldest at 17, Collin. His final year in school here was the “Transition Year”. This is a great year that I’ve only seen in Ireland. It’s a renaissance year where the students spend the year in 6 week terms each of which they study new topics and expand their minds. They play 2 new sports each time such as bowling and soccer or tennis and darts or rugby and swimming. They also do two weeks of work study where they have to go find a job working for two different companies for a week each. He spent those weeks well working for a college helping them throw a game dev conference and a game dev company helping them test a game that they were launching and learning how to work with Unity (a game development platform).
Next is Sean at 15. He has just exploded into a young man. He would come play soccer with my friends and he’s bigger than most of them. But he’s a gentle giant. He didn’t want to play rugby because he didn’t want to hurt anyone. He also raised the bar in his classes.
Miriam, at 12, was a duck in the water. She was named the top student in her Irish class. Irish is what natives actually call the language Gaelic. It’s a mandatory subject for children who start school in Ireland under the age of 12. Both of the boys opted out because they were too old but Miriam did great. Then she started playing camogie which is an Irish sport similar to hurling. She was fearless. She “got stuck in” and played her heart out. She went from not knowing the game at all to scoring several goals and was named the most improved player. She was in the choir at church has a beautiful singing voice.
Maura, however, was the shining star. She’s 10 but you may or may not know that she has special needs. She’s got cognitive delays and a seizure disorder. My wife blogs a ton about her at http://www.phoebeholmes.com. We found the St. Michael’s House program for her and it was amazing. They were focused on the things that she needed most and helping us get to independence. They helped us potty train her. They helped us teach her things like stranger danger as she used to go up and hug random strangers because she’s too friendly and happy. They did so much for us it was great.
Phoebe, my wife, made some great friends and fit right in. We laughed over how small the parking spots. We loved walking on the Dun Laoghaire (pronounced Done Leary) pier. She had the entire family walking beaches collecting sea glass. She was a critical part of the PTA at Maura’s school. As part of that she ran the school’s participation in the woman’s 10k fund raiser. Her blog took off and she’s well read internationally. She’s got a much bigger presence online than I ever have.
And I had a learned and changed a ton in Ireland. Physically, I’m 35lb lighter than when I landed. I’ve quit smoking. I’m mountain biking. I’ve dropped my golf handicap. I’m going to the gym regularly and I’m training to do an adventure race before I turn 40. It’s a huge turn around from where I was 2 and a half years ago. However, I’ve also learned a lot about myself. I’m able to push myself harder and further than I could before but my priorities are far more in line. One of the things that I learned in a great way is that many times perfect is the enemy of the good. I learned the meaning of the phrase “Ah sure, what’s your hurry?” which both drives me nuts and, once I embraced it, keeps me sane at the same time. And my favorite, “Feck it, sure it’s grand” which some folks say that they don’t say but I’ve heard it enough times to know that folks actually do say it. And what it means is “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine” which applies in pretty much any stressful situation.
Work In Ireland
It was very different working in Ireland than in the US, well most of the US. My buddy Wilbour called it a “relationship based economy” which is an incredibly different economy. People want to know the folks they are working with and will pay more for goods or services to someone that they know rather than work with a stranger. It means that things sometimes move slower but once they do start moving, it’s with trust. It means that before you start working with someone, you first have to get a cup of tea (or coffee) with them and chat for a while. Once that was done, work could start. Michael Meagher, one of my teammates, was the master at this little dance. The first 10-15 minutes of meeting someone was spent figuring out how he was related to that person and invariably there was a less than 2 degree connection.
My favorite thing that I got to do in Ireland was working with the tech startups in Ireland through the BizSpark program. I had the privilege of working with some incredibly bright and passionate people who are doing some world changing things. I got to, conservatively, see a thousand business plans. I got to mentor hundreds of startups and give them free advice, free software, free introductions to people who could help them as partners, customers, mentors, investors or whatever they needed and so on. A lot of these folks were more than just customers of mine and became good friends. I’m sure that I’ll be in touch with many of them over the years on both a personal and a professional basis.
I’ve got a great opportunity in front of me as I’ve joined the Internet Explorer Developer Marketing team. I own our content and our event plan world wide. This is a great opportunity as we’ve got a fantastic product with a poor reputation based on historical reasons rather than current reality and my job is to help bring perception closer to reality. I’m getting to figure out what we need to be talking about to web developers around world to help them create beautiful experiences on the web that work equally well in Internet Explorer as they do in other modern browsers. The team has a laser focus on web standards.
I know that I’ll be back both for business as well as for pleasure.
I’m looking forward to wider parking spots, bigger engines (I already bought a Dodge Durango with a 5.7 liter Hemi), being able to turn on a red light, real Mexican food, carrying less coins around, three musketeers, Amazon Prime shipping to my door for free, and a number of other little things.
Remembering Ireland Fondly
There are so many things that I’ll remember fondly from Ireland.
It’s always as pretty as the postcards. There’s not a time in Ireland where it’s not lush and green. There are times where there’s less foliage on the trees but the grass, and the moss, is always green.
People will always have time for a cup of tea (or coffee). This is an amazing part of the charm.
I’m going to miss your ridiculous number of signs and warnings. There is a sign for everything from open heights (don’t bother putting up a railing, the sign will do the job, especially the one with the flying Saab going over the edge) or
Being able to hop a ferry or a RyanAir flight to the UK or mainland Europe. As much as folks give out about RyanAir, it’s a fantastic thing. You have to have your expectations correct, it’s not a plush first class type of experience but it’s cheap and allows people to get to where they want to go on a budget that lets them do it. I took the entire family (all 6 of us) to Rome for less than a grand worth of flights. I wish I had the change to have taken the ferry down to France at some point but it didn’t happen. Oh well.
The easy access to the beaches. That’s not swimming because the water was balls cold but it was beautiful. I loved walking in the sand and running the dogs.
Black and White puddings. There are many different foods with the name pudding but black pudding is my favorite. It’s kind of like a blood sausage that is served with breakfast.
Guinness. Yes, it’s better in Ireland. I still enjoy the dark and heavy stout that’s served in the US but it’s definitely a different drink than the light and frothy stout served in the best pubs in Ireland just down the street from the factory. And of course, there’s the Guinness Quality Crew which hit every sanctioned pub in Dublin every 21 days to clean the lines, re-pressurize the tanks and the like. And of course, there’s the whiskey. I brought back as much of that as I could get across the border…
So Long, Farewell and See You Soon
Remembering back to where we started here with falling in love with Ireland while wandering around the Burren chatting to random shop keepers, Phoebe and I decided to get his and her tattoos of St. Brigid’s cross as a testament to our fantastic time in Ireland which has left not just a mental and spiritual mark on us but a physical one as well. It’s something that is uniquely Ireland but not the campy shamrock or something else stupid.
I will definitely be back in Ireland again in the near future. Watch this blog (and twitter – http://twitter.com/joshholmes) to find out when and we’ll lift a pint.