Akron Irish: Working for a Living

By Lisa O’Rourke

On a post pandemic road trip a few years ago, my husband and I found ourselves in a concrete sprawl desert. We plodded down a four-lane road, past one shuttered chain restaurant after another, until we finally found a Denny’s. Opening the door, we saw a restaurant hero, a singular young man slinging menus, eggs, coffee pots and checks, a restaurant hero trying to be it all.

He could only handle a few tables at a time. And this was Denny’s, the always open American diner institution. We didn’t end up staying, but that was a sign of things to come. People en mass were saying take this job and, well you know the rest … and meaning it.

Work from Home
Work is not the same and probably never will be, it is always changing. Part of the pandemic fallout is the fundamental changes in the workplace. Closures due to lack of staff are still happening, maybe not as much, but they still are. The neighbors that we used to see pulling out of the driveway are now visible through the blue computer glow seeping from their windows.

More and more people are asking the existential question “Why am I doing this?” And if they don’t have a good answer, they are gone. My day job, education, is not exempt.

Every day, there are classrooms staffed with substitutes who have been working there for months. Young teachers are walking out in numbers that I have not seen before. And teaching is more than a job, it is a profession. It is, at its best, a vocation, caring about the next generation. If you can’t find meaning in that, then what?

Is our work ethic different? I thought about the Irish work ethic. The Irish brand is all about hard work. Hard work is how they found their place in the world after the Famine cast them around the world.
Once, while driving down a road, my brother-in-law said, “Look over there, see them four fellows?  One of them is working while the other ones are leaning on their shovels talkin’. You always see that.” It is truer more often than not. Maybe the country changed too. Ireland is after all, part of the EU.

Yes, that European Union, the one that has the double-digit holiday time, long lunches, extended family leave etc. It is hard to decide whether to be pea-green with envy at it all or wonder how anything gets done there.

But the EU lifestyle is more of a big city phenomenon. The rural part of the country remains tied to the ups and downs of farming. You can’t tell Daisy that she must calve between one and three so you can have your tea. OK, try, but she won’t care at all.

While city workers get some of the EU perks, it is probably not fair to paint them with the EU brush regarding work ethic. The Irish brand is alive and well there too.

That brand, along with some generous tax incentives, has compelled many international pharmaceutical and tech companies to move to Ireland. Irish employees have a reputation for intelligence, conscientiousness and commitment. In the rural areas, farming places the same demands on the farmer as it does anywhere else in the world. You won’t see the massive green John Deere tractors spraying hundreds of acres with pesticides in Ireland.

Organic Ireland
The Irish were organic and small before it was cool. The cleaner simpler processes result in now international brands like Kerrygold butter, which are increasingly sought after in a world that has become skeptical about agricultural science.

One other difference is the snobbishness in this country about work. The push toward college has resulted not only in a lot of student debt, but also in many of the skilled trades having workers with an average age of sixty. I hope that AI can hang a light.

The culture of Ireland is much less snobbish about professions. They realize that every job has value. Sitting with my sons, I heard their grandfather say to them, “Get your profession first and learn it well. Don’t worry about girls or getting married till then. Be as good as you can at what you do.”

The key is not so much in what you do but how you do it. Sure, many students want to go to college, but if they choose a trade, they are well-trained at it. There are regional schools that have programs that provide years of training, depending on the trade. Class time and apprenticeships ensure that students know what they are doing once they enter the job market.

When a head of hair is cut, or sink is installed or a calf is delivered, it is neighbor helping neighbor. So, be good at what you do. Work hard, be dedicated, know your stuff and treat people fairly, that is the expectation. To defy that in a country as small and social as Ireland will cost you dearly.

Irish Cooking Shows
As much as we don’t like work sometimes, it also defines a part of who we are. The TV show with all the buzz right now is the frenetic restaurant drama, “The Bear.”

Cooking has been very popular the last few years. It is something that only people can do well, it is simple, and who doesn’t value a well-prepared meal?

As I went out on errands yesterday, I was struck by the kind simplicity of the human touch; the lady who adjusted my glasses, the other young lady who trimmed my bangs, the man in the bookstore who gave me a tote bag and the lady at Macy’s who made sure that I got the best price possible. All without charge, just a display of skill and humanity. It is part of who they are.

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*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron with a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. She is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge, and runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She enjoys spending time with her dog, cats and fish. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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