|| Irish journalist discovers some differences 'near Chicago'
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Editor's note: Eric Timmons covers politics, Rock Island County and Rock Island city for The Dispatch and Rock Island Argus.
Moving from Ireland to America didn't involve a great cultural leap.
After all, we watch the same TV shows, eat the same food and most Americans I meet claim some degree of Irish heritage.
Still there are differences, as I discovered when I left Ireland for America in 2008.
I had never bought food without getting out of my car before I moved here, much less deposited money in the bank without leaving the confines of my vehicle.
Drive-throughs are a rarity back in the old country.
I grew up in a small town on the northwest coast of Ireland called Sligo, not far from the border with Northern Ireland.
The town is perhaps most famous for being the place where the poet William Butler Yeats spent much of his youth and that inspired many of his poems.
In his memory, and more importantly in hopes of attracting visitors, tourism officials have dubbed Sligo "The Land of Heart's Desire," a phrase borrowed from one of his poems.
The poet actually was writing about a mystical land of fairies "where beauty has no ebb, decay no flood.But joy is wisdom, time an endless song."
Most of the time, the reality of the rain-sodden corner of Ireland I come from is not quite as poetic.
Fairies, incidentally, play a much more prominent role in Irish folklore than leprechauns.
Moving to America in 2008 turned out to be a fortuitous time to do so.
Ireland's economy, which had become known as The Celtic Tiger, had been bounding forward at great speed for years.But when an almighty property bubble popped, the economy tanked.
The recession in Ireland was deeper than here, and it sent many young people to Australia, Canada or New Zealand in search of work.
I landed in Illinois because my wife, Kathryn, is from Henry County, and we decided to move closer to her family. Ifound a job as a reporter with The Galesburg Register-Mail.
Galesburg is about the same size as Sligo, and I settled in quickly.
I did need a translator to understand the world of co-pays and deductibles otherwise known as the American health care system.
The cost and complexity of health care in the U.S. was one of the few culture shocks that had me pining for Europe. But health care aside, I found my new home to be hospitable and Midwesterners to be a thoroughly friendly bunch.
I reported on local government in Galesburg and was impressed by how transparent and democratic the system can be.Ireland's political system has fewer elected officials at the local level, and information does not flow as freely to the public.
I should disclose I'm only half Irish, as my mother is French.I spent summers as a child with my grandparents in Paris, and my parents now live there.
In fact none of my immediate family now lives in Ireland. My brother lives in London and my sister on the Isle of Man, which lies between Great Britain and Ireland in the Irish Sea.
In America, after about four years in Galesburg, I left in 2011 to take a job with The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus.
Most of my friends and family overseas had never heard of the Quad-Cities. To explain where I live, I usually start by saying I live near Chicago.
During last year's election season, I reported on campaign stops by President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, which to friends in Ireland made it sound like I'd snagged a big-time reporting job.
Some of the gloss was removed when I explained that because of the quirks of the U.S. electoral system, local journalists in or near a swing state such as Iowa get to see a lot more of the presidential candidates than a reporter in New York or Los Angeles might.
I worked for newspapers in Ireland for a number of years before I emigrated to the U.S. Some of my more interesting positions included an internship with BBC Northern Ireland and a spell as freelancer with the Irish edition of The Sun, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
The question I'm most often asked about Ireland is a rather mundane one: "What's the weather like?"
The answer is equally mundane: Mostly damp and gray with no great heat in the summer and relatively mild winters.
Now that I've got that question answered, I hope anyone who reads this will have something more interesting to ask me about Ireland if our paths cross.
— Location: Western Europe, occupying five-sixths of the island of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Great Britain.
—Population:4,722,028 (July 2012 estimate). No. 119 in the world.
— Languages:English (official, the language generally used); Irish (Gaelic or Gaeilge, spoken mainly in areas along the western coast).
Source: CIA World Factbbook.