CURRENT ISSUE:  OCTOBER 2023

An Eejit Abroad: Barcelona Vs. My Ancestral Home

An Eejit Abroad:

Barcelona Vs. My

Ancestral Home

By Conor Makem

A cousin recently returned from holidays in Barcelona, Spain with her family, raving about the sun and culture and it brought to mind my own treks through the European hotspot. It also started me thinking about the benefits of Barcelona, over her own hometown in Northern Ireland. She lives in Derrynoose, a “suburb” of Keady, Co. Armagh, so I decided to see how Barcelona stacks up against our ancestral home, a place my father referred to as the “hub of the universe.”

Ryan Air flies direct between Dublin and Barcelona, the trip only taking a bit over two hours and a cursory check on barebones prices shows roundtrip tickets at $164 for middle of the week travel.

One won’t find that kind of price from the States. A trip at the same time of year from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Barcelona will run you $1,152 for a nonstop flight of over eight hours (Direct to Dublin was $668 at the time of this writing).

Comparing these two vastly different destinations is no easy task, but you’ll receive nothing but 110 percent from iIrish columnists. Let’s jump in, shall we?

I’ll start with the caveat that the great Spanish city indeed sees more sun, so I’ll give that one to Barcelona, but seeing as how my entire family goes from pale white straight to cancer, I’m fine with them having that particular title.

Sun
Advantage Barcelona

How do the populations compare, you ask? Well, here Keady has a slight advantage with a smidgen over 3,000 people, compared to Barcelona’s 1.6 million. I’ve done a quick calculation based on numbers I’m just making up, and if you stacked Barcelona’s vehicles across the entire town of Keady, you’d have a scrap of metal that reaches to the moon.

Additionally, Barcelona is jam-packed with tourists. The only tourists I’ve ever seen in Keady were ones traveling with me.

Population
Advantage Keady

Barcelona boasts more tourist sites than does Keady, so we’ll need to select a couple to compare. For Spain, I have chosen La Sagrada Família, an ostentatious church that isn’t even finished after 141 years. I think that says as much about the Spanish work ethic as anything else. Designed by Antoni Gaudí, it’s a wonderful example of the marriage of Gothic and Art Nouveau, with an impressive number of spires and probably even more pews inside.

By comparison, the monument in the center of Keady (literally the hub of the hub of the universe) has a very catchy song written about it:

Is the monument where it used to be?
Are the boys all there?
Do the girls go skipping around the ground, where it’s nice and fair?
Is the market house where it used to be?
Sure, is everything all right?
What would I give to be with you
In Keady town tonight?

Let’s see Gaudí top that!

The monument also boasts several spires and was erected by the residents in 1871 (so even older than the Spanish church) in honor of William Kirk, who brought the linen industry to the area.

This was a tough decision, so I’m going to call this one a draw, with both monuments about equal when considered in comparison to the vastness of the universe.

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Tourist Sites
Draw

Unique Advantages
One of my favorite television characters was Manuel, from Fawlty Towers. He was from Barcelona. Advantage Barcelona; The Tommy Makem Arts and Community Centre resides in Keady. To my knowledge, Barcelona has nothing named after my father. Advantage Keady. Likewise, my cousin, Eddie, owned a butcher shop in Keady. He never owned one anywhere in Spain. Advantage: Keady.

Speaking of Eddie, he and other family members rebuilt an old cow barn on ancestral land and turned it into arguably the best Irish session house in the world, labeling it Tossie’s. Gaudí erected Casa Milá (or La Padrera) from scratch and the architecture is world-renowned.

It admittedly has more going for it visually than Tossie’s, but everyone I know who has been to Tossie’s has said they had the time of their lives. Casa Milá is just really incredible.

Casa Milá, top, has a slight visual advantage, but I dare you to spend a few hours in my cousins’ former cow barn, current session house, below, and not have a better time.

New/Rebuilt Structures
Advantage Keady (Derrynoose).

One area of contention in this great comparison is found at midday. While the people of Northern Ireland are drudging through another workday, dreaming of the time they can head home to the telly and frozen pizza, the residents of Spain are catching up on a little rest.

Yes, the siesta is a real thing. Expect, even in large cities like Barcelona, to find shops and restaurants closed for a few hours so workers can recharge their batteries, so to speak.

Both Irish and Spanish cultures seem to savor nighttime, mornings not so much. The dinner crowds in both countries (I’m combining Ireland and Northern Ireland for simplicity) don’t even really start appearing until seven p.m. When I was younger, I couldn’t imagine a different way of life. Nowadays, my mind is a fog any time after eight p.m.

I’ll admit that sometimes I’m jealous of those who can still remain alert into the wee hours. It’s always something I try to muscle through when visiting new places.

So as far as siestas, I suppose I’d say I’m a fan. If nothing else, it’s a wonderful example of the breadth of experiences you can have in different cultures. It’s why we travel, isn’t it?

Sleeping in the Middle of the Day
Advantage Barcelona

Well, I think I’ve proven that Keady and Barcelona are far more equal than it would appear at first glance. And for the record, you now know why I don’t have a job that anyone would consider “important.”

*Conor Makem spent 22 years traveling and honing petty gripes as an Irish musician, and enjoyed a further 13 years of people not returning his calls as a journalist. He is fluent in English, American and old Kerry farmer. More of his photos are on Instagram under cb.makem. Visit cbmakem.com or email [email protected].



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