A Journalist’s Guide to Time and Distance in Ireland


Anyone visiting a foreign country will find himself asking the same two questions over and over again: “Where is something?” and “About how long does it take to get there?” Both reasonable things to ask someone while in a foreign land.

What you will find in Ireland is that it’s never that simple. Maybe it’s all the Guinness, but people in Ireland tend not to know exactly where they are in relation to just about anything.

For example: Friday morning, I went to the Sinn Fein headquarters in Dublin, looking for some advice about where I could go to find polling places in order to speak with some Dubliners, Sinn Feiners in particular, about the election that day. The person I asked was someone I had been in regular contact with throughout the week, and someone I trusted. He told me: “Oh, it’s just up the road a bit.” When I explained to him that I had only been in Dublin for about a week and that he would need to be a bit more specific than “up the road,” he gave me detailed instructions and the name of a polling place where a lot of Sin Fein members went to vote.

Question two: “About how long will it take me?” I asked. The man replied: “Oh, about five minutes er so.” The “er so” is what I should have been looking out for.

I left the Sinn Fein brownstone in central Dublin, followed the map my contact had given me and after about “five minutes er so” began growing suspicious of my surroundings. The touristy bars and shops were long gone, and I was now alone, with an $800 camera, a wallet full of euros I still don’t fully understand the value of  and a $300 iPod, in the middle of what was clearly a less reputable part of town.

After about “ten minutes er so,” I started asking people if I was on the right track. Each gave me a different estimation as to when I would arrive at the school that was hosting the polling place, but all made it clear that I was going the right way.

After about “20 minutes er so,” I started to pray. I had no idea where I was. All I knew was that I was in a part of town where even the dogs on the street looked sad. I thought I was near the Guinness factory, but what did I know. So I looked for a cop, which was a hard thing to find considering the utter crappiness of the neighborhood.

With no cop in sight, I asked an old lady, who was the only person on the street I thought I could stand a chance against if things took a nasty turn and I needed to defend myself. Even with Dublin’s elderly women, my chances were probably only 50/50. She was kind enough to tell me “Oh, yeah, you’re on the right track, about five minutes er so up that way.”

I thought I was being punk’d. A five-minute stroll had turned into an hour-long excursion through the seedy section of Dublin. Maybe I had traveled to another dimension where time and distance were no longer relevant. What else could explain this string of miscalculations by people native to the city?

As it turns out, my map was right. After an hour, I made it to the polling place, got some great voices for my story, snuck some photos of a voting booth (which were almost deleted by a Dublin cop I ultimately sweet-talked into letting me keep) and got to see the other side of Dublin.

For anyone looking to make a similar journey through the streets of Dublin, I have devised a formula to accurately gauge how long something will take. You’ll need a calculator, a map, a compass, a pen and paper, a wind sock, a direct link to government satellites and a firm grasp of the following concepts: geo-physics, the tides, gravitational pull and Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Here’s the formula: Ask between 10 and 30 Dubliners how long it takes to walk somewhere, find the average and then just get on a freaking bus.


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