I was born into an Irish family with strong pride for our Irish heritage. I love everything Irish and about Ireland. It was natural that the first time I left America was for the beautiful countryside of Ireland. It was on my bucket list to see everything that my ancestral country had to offer. I recall being so nervous to leave the customs that I am familiar with especially with my deafness. I had no idea what to expect - how the people over there would react to my deafness? How will they talk to me if I didn’t understand them? Will they be more mean? Will I meet deaf people in Ireland and will they be nice?
First of all, the people in Ireland blew me away. They were AMAZINGLY nice! Ireland is very welcoming to its tourists, the Irish people are very helpful. I interacted with people daily and never came across a mean person. It made the whole experience of traveling through Ireland so much easier. It wasn’t hard to approach a local and get information.
One day I went to tour the House of Waterford Crystal in Waterford, Ireland. The admissions desk noticed that I was deaf when I was signing so they told me that there was someone on the factory tour that knew sign language. They said they would check if he was working that day and make sure that we meet. I figured it was just a hearing person who knew some sign to communicate with all the tourists that came through there daily. Boy, was I wrong! This is when I met my first Irish deaf friend, Brendan. It was first time seeing someone signing a whole new language - Irish Sign Language (ISL). Wait, what? Yes, that’s right - just like verbal language there are different sign language in each country. So many people think sign language is universal but it’s not! I was nervous about not understanding ISL and how to respond. Luckily our first interaction went well, it wasn’t hard to understand what he was saying since some signs were similar to American Sign Language. All sign languages are based on visual cues, I was able to pick up on what Brendan was saying to me - he was telling me about his job as Master Cutter and how long his co-workers had been employed at the Waterford Crystal Factory. I was able to learn some information about the Waterford Crystal Factory that I probably wouldn’t have known if not for meeting him. Whenever I go on tours and see hearing people have that accessibility to talk to people behind the scenes, it makes me sad that I don’t have that luxury due to language barriers. I was glad that I finally got that chance with Brendan. It was the highlight of my trip to Waterford Crystal Factory. If you ever make it to Waterford, Ireland - definitely swing by the factory and ask if Brendan is in.
Many people that I interacted with in Ireland were very accommodating when I asked for information. When I was in Kilkenny, Ireland I walked in to the Smithwick’s factory into their gift shop to ask the employee for directions. That chat turned into an hour and half long conversation. I was there well past closing! She didn’t rush, taking the time to google things on the internet and draw up a map with lists of places to see for the rest of the time I was in Ireland. I came across another two women who were like this that drew up a map with written lists or directions for me. The girl from Smithwick’s was very fascinated with my deafness, the chat was filled of questions regarding that along with my questions about the general culture in Ireland. She was college aged and told me that she never met a deaf person. I was surprised by this reply!
I got the impression that many people in Ireland aren’t as exposed to the deaf community/culture. The Irish population is the same size as Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, but with much more space. The life in Ireland is very rural, I would imagine it would be hard to interact with deaf people unless you were in the metropolitan city like Dublin, Cork, or Waterford. I stayed at several homes all over Ireland , some of the hosts were very curious about my deafness. Almost every interaction ended with people asking me how to sign a word (or few). I felt like I was treated as royalty just because of my deafness.
My deafness also helped me to overcome communication issues that happened in Ireland. There are some Irish (mostly in Northern) that spoke the Gaelic language. I was at a restaurant in County Cork when I came across an Irish male that spoke heavy Gaelic. Speaking English wasn’t successful so I was able to gesture with him. The gesturing was the most successful method for our communication. It was funny to be in this kind situation because usually I’m struggling to be understood!
The airport security was another story. I flew out of Dublin Airport every time. During one of my return trip back home to America, the Dublin Airport Security (DAS) were asking people in line security questions. When I approached them, they pulled me aside. They wanted to ask me the questions directly and have me to answer them directly. I was literally shaking in my boots! The officer went off to talk to his supervisor and came back with a laminated copy of questions. He pointed to the question one at a time and looked at me to have me to shake my head “yes” or “no”. There was only one question where I had to expand my reply so I verbally answered with gesturing which went smoothly. I got pulled aside at United States customs once because there was an outstanding warrant for someone with same name as me (lucky me!). During this questioning ordeal, they allowed my traveling partner to interpret. Looking back at these experience, I was clearly most comfortable having someone to interpret but I have to say that Dublin Airport Security did the right thing. They looked at me as an independent individual which is how most deaf people want to be treated. DAS wasn’t nervous at all to attempt the communication. I was impressed in the end with what they did despite the nervousness I felt in the moment.
It wasn’t a difficult experience traveling all over Ireland with my deafness because of the kindness there. The Irish are very welcoming to the tourists and they definitely had a lot pride for their home country. I hope that when I return to Ireland that I will meet more Irish deaf people to find out more about the community and culture in Ireland. I’m very curious to learn more about Irish deaf culture!