It was late August. I was five weeks into my working holiday and I hadn’t had a single job interview or even a phone call from a potential employer. I was getting discouraged. Having spent the weekend weighing my options, I woke up Monday morning knowing it was absolutely imperative that I spend the entire day on my job search.
Half an hour later, I was on a double-decker bus enjoying charming views of the Irish countryside along the way to Blarney Castle, home of the famous Blarney Stone. To be clear, there were no job opportunities at Blarney Castle. I was choosing, amid my unemployment crisis, to take a carefree day trip to a mystical castle so I could kiss a rock rumoured to have magical powers.
The weather forecast promised it was going to be a nice day and warned that it would rain for the rest of the week, so really, it was a good day to fit in a little tourism. I was also beginning to worry that if I did end up having to cut my Ireland adventure short, I hadn’t really visited any of the classic Irish tourist attractions. So there were those practical reasons. And then also I met up with Shaun who I’d met the week before, and of all the sexy international accents I’d been enjoying, I’d been enjoying his the most. So my response to his question “what are you up to today?” should have been, “I’m searching tirelessly for a job so I can stop wasting money and avoid bringing shame to myself with another employment related failure”. Instead I said, “Nothing…” And so our journey to Blarney was hastily arranged and we caught the next bus going that way.
Blarney Castle is only a short bus ride from Cork. Because I don’t do research and am just generally ill-informed, I always pictured the Blarney Stone as a large boulder in the middle of a field. But it turns out kissing the Blarney Stone is a whole experience.
The castle you have to climb to get to the Blarney Stone is enormous with endless nooks and chambers and twisty stairwells. One chamber is very well-appointed with both a view out over the banquet hall and a “murder hole”. Just a person-sized opening in the floor, the murder hole was an enemy-disposal system so simple and convenient that it could be used while, feet away, your family and friends were seated at a long table anxiously awaiting the roast beast cooking in the giant fireplace for Christmas dinner. I was impressed with the murder hole to the point that I don’t think I would now consider buying a home that didn’t have one.
An unreasonable number of areas throughout the castle were designed to facilitate the throwing of boiling liquids onto approaching enemies. The antics these medieval folks must have gotten up to! I felt a creepy little thrill being in the same space where real people actually walked, talked, plotted and did all manner of Game of Thronesy things.
Everyone who ever trod the halls of the castle felt an uncontrollable urge to carve their names into the walls. My untrained eye couldn’t tell in which century these carvings were done. The initials carved into the stone by young Irish lovers in 1690 before they were murdered by their duelling families are probably right next to the initials of the Abner family from Alabama who took a selfie of themselves defacing the ancient treasure.
I ended up not actually kissing the Blarney Stone. I climbed to the top of the castle, watched others delight in the experience and thought “I’ll pass”. I had recently met a German girl at my hostel and I based my decision on her three-word review of kissing the stone. “It was wet,” was all she said and that’s all I needed to hear. And so I did not contract the gift of the gab or anything else left behind by the sloppy affections of tourists.
The actual Blarney Stone was easily the least impressive aspect of the whole Blarney experience. If you enjoy enchanted forests, unusual gardens, scenic lakes and romantic picnics, I can’t recommend it highly enough. For best results, go with an attractive foreign stranger.
For every fairytale day, there must then be one day depressingly grounded in reality.
It should have been a good day; I finally had a job interview. I had gotten a call from TK Maxx, a discount department store similar to Winners in Canada, and was asked to come in for a group interview.
I have fond memories of TK Maxx from my days living in England. I had gotten a job at Curves, a women’s gym, that December. But the gym didn’t open until January so my boss, Liz, and I spent the month of December handing out flyers in the street to advertise the grand opening of the gym in January. When we couldn’t stand the cold on the extra chilly days we would seek shelter in TK Maxx and I would help her pick out bikinis for her next bodybuilding competition. In my mind, TK Maxx represented a warm haven from cold and boredom.
I arrived for the group interview and met the other three candidates who were all Cork natives. The interviewer was named Eoin. I was delighted that he had an Irish name, one that I’d studied and knew how to pronounce. There are so many traditional Irish names that are completely unfamiliar to me. Whenever I would see someone wearing a name tag with an Irish name, I’d ask them how to say it. By doing this, I’d met an Aoife, a Niamh, and an Aisling. All these names sound very beautiful, but you’d sure never know it by looking at them. For example, the name ‘Caoimhe’ is pronounced ‘Kee – va‘ or ‘Kwee – va‘. If you say so, Ireland.
The interview starts with an aptitude test to see if you’re “a good match” with the company. I’ve done a ton of these tests. They’re basically a way to weed out free-thinkers and shit-disturbers who may ask too many questions or try to start a union. Some actual questions on the test for Superstore include these gems that are to be rated on a scale of “I agree” to “I disagree”: “I believe rules are meant to be broken!” and “I forget to put things back where they belong.” I’m pretty sure students in grade primary have to pass a similar test to move on to grade one.
The comparable test given during interviews at Walmart has about fifty questions, half of which are some variation of “Do you love smoking marijuana?” They’re correct to be paranoid about unusually high numbers of their employees partaking, but it’s a silly question because the company erroneously sees themselves as the victim of marijuana users when, in fact, they’re the cause. For more useful data, they should be asking current employees receiving their 10-year pin, “At what point during your Walmart career did you turn to marijuana use to get through the day?”
The test I took at TK Maxx was pretty much what I expected. When the four of us had completed them, Eoin collected them and went off to mark them. But the results were shocking, to me anyway. Eoin spoke to me privately in his office to let me know I hadn’t passed the aptitude test and wouldn’t be continuing on to the one-on-one interview. I politely asked him to repeat that while I tried to control my urge to yell, “Are you shitting me right now, Eoin?!”
I would have accepted pretty much any other explanation as to why I didn’t get the job. Anything from “I don’t think our customers will understand your stupid accent” to “I just don’t like you” would have been tough but fair. There’s no way I failed their dumb test.
I should have taken the opportunity right then to apply for more jobs while I was all dressed up and had a folder full of resumes. Instead I sat on a bench by the river and pondered life. Then I went to Tesco and bought a chocolate cheesecake and ate most of it. Then I stopped kidding myself and just finished it.
I probably took this rejection unusually hard because it was kind of my last chance to make things work out in Ireland. But all I could do was add TK Maxx to my list of enemies. It’s a pretty short list which includes my former Walmart co-worker Gladys from Housewares who cut holes in my rain boots and Officer Michael from the Canada Border Services Agency who kept bothering me at home and insisting I knew more about my roommates’s drug importing business than I actually did.
Back at the hostel, I told people about my interview and an African man who spoke eleven languages and seemed wise told me they were racist and that it wasn’t surprising they didn’t hire a non-Irish person. It made me feel better but it still marked the beginning of the end of my time in Ireland.