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Brussels identities from A to Z



First and foremost, Aileen O’Carroll, 28, is proud to say that she is from Cork, Ireland’s second

f... In praise o  Irish Pubs: “I love to go to The

Old Inn at 74 Rue Washington in Ixelles, with a happy hour every Wednesday, and a table quiz every Thursday. Many Irish are there of course, but other nationalities as well. Also, I like the Hairy Canary at 12 Rue Archimède. There are plenty of Irish pubs to choose from here.  Bois de la Cambre: “A beautiful park, with ponds and people strolling by. To stay in shape, I’d rather jog in the parks of Brussels than go to the gym: so boring! I discover Brussels by jogging. If you just use the metro, you won’t get to know the city.” I also like to go hill walking with the Irish Club of Belgium – every nationality is welcome.  “I love the Brussels markets, such as the one on Sunday morning at the Midi Station for vegetables and fruit. I like to buy flowers at the Châtelain market on Wednesday evening and I occasionally like to go to the Flagey Square market at weekends.”

largest city with some 190,000 inhabitants. Secondly, she takes pride in saying that she is an Irishwoman, and thirdly, a European. Aileen, the personal assistant to the Deputy Permanent Representative of Ireland to the EU, enjoys the experience of living and working in Brussels, precisely because it is a sort of “mini Europe”. The Irish of Brussels, she says, are a tightly knit bunch who seem to feel more and more at home here: earlier this year, they unleashed the first ever Saint Patrick Day’s Parade on the capital of Europe.


y first impression of Brussels? How small it was! Cork, where I come from, is really small as well, but I had imagined Brussels to be more like London. I arrived from the airport into the Gare du Midi, almost two years ago, and it struck me that trains in Brussels depart to everywhere in Europe. Brussels really is the junction of Europe; quite different from Cork – I can’t even take a direct flight to there, and have to count two days extra travelling time when going home. In the beginning I had to adapt to the different systems and ways of a new country – especially when it came to sorting out my apartment. Sign the contract, give the meter readings to the gas and electricity company, arrange the security deposit with the landlord, talk with the plumber... As I cannot speak French fluently I thought all of that would be difficult, but as it turned out almost everyone in Brussels speaks English, and people really try to understand you. Even when I was in hospital, all the doctors and nurses, it turned out, could understand English. Quite a relief, because in such circumstances you really want to be able to communicate. I got a lot of help from colleagues as well. That is also typically Irish: our solidarity and warmth. The community here is very close, but not closed. Quite the contrary: you are encouraged to bring new guests to every party. Of course we all go to the Irish pubs in Brussels; there are quite a few of them. My best girl friends in Brussels are an American and a Slovak. I learn a lot from them, especially about the differences and the similarities

between people and cultures, and how all of that is very interesting, but no fundamental problem to our liking each other. There is a lot of exchange within the group of people working for Europe. Brussels really is ‘mini Europe’: here you feel how it works. I would call myself from ‘Ireland’, not ‘Éire’. English is my mother tongue and not many people outside of Ireland would understand it if I said that I was from Éire. The Irish had their first Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Brussels this year and it will only grow from strength to strength. Put together in three months, this was only a first – just a taste of what can, and will, happen next March. This year’s parade was already very inclusive, with many nationalities being Irish for the day and ‘wearing the green’ as is the tradition world wide – like at the infamous Patrick’s Day Parade in New York. All generations were there and enjoyed the music and the joyful experience: face painting for the children, babies in buggies decked out in the Irish colours, young couples, grandparents visiting families, dogs and their owners wearing the tricolour. Most of my friends in Ireland have the idea that Brussels is mostly a business district and boring. But those that have come out to visit me really enjoy it. They want to find out what

“I haven’t fallen in love with Brussels – let’s call it more like a slow-burning like”

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the Belgian people and the rest of the expat community are like – and if they are up for the craic. For me, the real surprise was to find that Brussels has a lively and never ending night life. I can still remember the first time I went to Recyclart, in Bruxelles-Chapelle Station – that’s an original location for a club. In Ireland, the pubs close between 23.00 and 00.30 and then everyone goes home; if you want to party on you can go to a club, but that will close at 2 am. In Brussels, the party only just gets going around this time, and can go on until the early morning. Whenever I tell that to my friends, they look at me in disbelief. Only it’s too bad that the shops close so early here, and aren’t open on Sundays; that can give Brussels a dead feeling. A city should live, non stop! I myself can’t really say that I have fallen in love with Brussels – that would be an

exaggeration. No, let us say it is more like a slow-burning like. In the beginning, I had to adjust quite quickly. I had all my going-away cards spread out in my apartment, and I felt a bit homesick. So far away from family and friends, not even being able just to hop on a plane back, with no direct flights... Even today, I still miss some typically Irish food: breakfast rolls (just impossible to get in Brussels), my Mum’s lamb chops and my Dad’s Sunday roast dinners, and turnips – a root vegetable that you cannot get here. But hey, when you want to go and work abroad, you have to make some sacrifices and I am happy that I got the opportunity to live, work and play here in Brussels.”

Aileen at the Brussels Army Museum: “An interesting museum that I got to know when running in the Brussels 20K. This was where we came to change!”

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Brussels identities from A tot Z: Eire  

First and foremost, Aileen O’Carroll, 28, is proud to say that she is from Cork, Ireland’s secondlargest city with some 190,000 inhabitants....

Brussels identities from A tot Z: Eire  

First and foremost, Aileen O’Carroll, 28, is proud to say that she is from Cork, Ireland’s secondlargest city with some 190,000 inhabitants....