Monday, November 30, 2009

Go raibh maith agat

There are certain foodstuffs that you can't find in Ireland. Most are of the processed or convenience variety but also southern things we Texans take for granted—chipotle peppers, pickle relish, decent bbq sauce, tomatillo salsa, cream corn, and cornbread. The cornbread is key here because I need it to make my mother's cornbread dressing. Thanksgiving cannot happen without the dressing, as everyone knows. Mother usually sends me boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix but we both forgot it this year. No problem, I thought. I knew I'd had it at someone's house once, didn't I? Now all I had to do was find it. I rang a few shops and was rewarded when I tried SuperQuinn. "Oh, yes. We have it….yes, in a square, yes I will hold them for you." So far, so perfect.

It was with this happy cornbread acquisition song in my heart that I arrived at SuperQuinn on Friday morning. In I went to collect the golden ingredient for the Thanksgiving table's best supporting star. It all fell apart when the girl brought out three loaves of multi-seed bread. Not a square, not golden yellow, not cornbread! I tried to remain calm, suggesting maybe she'd brought the wrong bread over to me….surely this wasn't the cornbread that had been put on hold for me. "But that's not cornbread", said I. "Oh, yes it is. This is cornbread" said the Lithuanian bakery girl. Please! Don't argue cornbread with a Texan. I know from cornbread and I will not be fooled.

It was with this that Sofia and I left SuperQuinn. Me practically in tears, she embarrassed by her American mother's stuttered protests to the Lithuanian baker. "It's okay Mommy. What's the big deal about cornbread anyway?" Oh, dear. I have got to get this girl back to Texas and straight away! What's the big deal???!!! Thanksgiving cannot go on! I am ashamed to admit that on the way home in the car, I cried. I gave in, I gave up, I was beaten by the lack of cornbread.

And then I got home and Paul, as usual, talked me off the ledge and I did what I knew I would do. I figured it out. I rang a friend to ask if she knew where I could find it. No. I googled it and found that corn meal or maize is called polenta in Europe. It seems so simple and logical that I can't believe I never realized it before. All this time I had been doing without corn muffins with my chili when all I had to do was go to the health shop, buy some polenta and whip up a batch of golden bread.

On the way home from the health shop I was listening to the radio (I seem to do that a lot don't I?) and had a dose of reality. There were floods in the west of the country, people's homes were ruined, and anymore rain would spell more disaster. This was a genuine problem. Not as easily solved as googling the origin of maize. I felt terrible for being so dramatic about such a small thing in the midst of real suffering. Snapped back to earth, I came home, counted my blessings, and got on with it.

I worked away making it all and it has never been easier or more fluid. By Saturday afternoon when our neighbors arrived to celebrate with us I had it all done, cool as a cucumber. Thanksgiving went on. And what a lot to be thankful for—a warm, dry house, more than enough food, a loving family, terrific neighbors, every day ahead to make the most of and to make cornbread out of polenta. I am thankful to Ireland for all these life lessons.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgivings 3 & 4

One clue that I'm pregnant is that I lose all ability to cook. It's weird but I can't make anything come out right even when I do the same things and follow (kind of) the recipe. This was what happened the Thanksgiving of 2007. I was very newly pregnant with Leo but didn't know it yet. I should have figured it out by the way my food tasted.

We had our neighbors over with their three girls. They'd never had a Thanksgiving dinner before so we wanted to share it with them. They said they enjoyed the food but they are nice. I do know that we all had a great time and everyone came up with something thoughtful to say when we went around the table with what we're thankful for that year. They are like family…they were our first friends here and helped us figure out a lot of the perplexing details in the beginning. I'm still thankful that we shared that day together. It makes it so much nicer to have someone over for the meal…it means that we can sit and linger over the dinner while the kids hop up and watch a Christmas movie.

Since the kids are in school on the day I have made pumpkin popovers for their classes to try. No one eats pumpkin in that way here…it's always savory, usually soup. And of course they don't learn about Thanksgiving at all. It seems important to give our kids an understanding of their American heritage. That year Sofia was in Sr. Infants which would be equivalent to Kindergarten at home. I took the popovers in to her teacher and she asked me to come back and say a few words about the holiday and what it means. I was delighted to do so and hoped not to embarrass my little girl. I printed out some turkeys and a prayer of thanks for them to color in and gave a little talk about Thanksgiving and how it is a celebration of coming together and appreciating our abundance. When I was done I asked them to tell me what they were thankful for. They all raised their hands and said things like, I'm thankful for my lunch and I'm thankful for my little sister. Sofia raised her hand and said, "I'm thankful for you." What more could you ever ask from a Thanksgiving?

Last year my mother came and we actually had Thanksgiving on the day. We took the kids out of school for the Thursday and Friday and enjoyed the presence of family.

Leo was a new baby and I was mostly wrecked. Mom and I cooked together and we had a wonderful meal but the best part was simply having her here. She held the baby, played with the big kids, and made me rest. When she left I cried--exhaustion and nursing hormones contributing to make the tears last most of the day. The next week we bought tickets home for Easter.

Tomorrow we have our final Thanksgiving in Ireland. Just finished the pecan cheesecake, dressing, prepping the turkey and green rice…

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Second Thanksgiving

The turkey. I used to always go to my local butchers, owned by Molloy brothers although the name of the butcher is Hayes….see previous posts for how this is common. On our second Thanksgiving I went in the week before to order my turkey. The thing is, the Molloy brothers only sell Irish turkeys and none of the turkeys named O'Grady, Butler or Ahern were fat enough yet. They still had a few weeks to enjoy life before sitting on Christmas tables all over Co. Wicklow.

It was this that sent me to the grocery store to find a fresh turkey, which I suppose came from the UK or somewhere and was not as fat as the Irish Christmas yokes. I got my bird in the end and it was fine if not Irish. The real problem was the ham. And it continues to be a problem for me still. They don't have beautiful spiral sliced HEB cooked hams with their pouch of glaze here. I love those hams. They are my favorite part of the Thanksgiving table and are perfect with green rice (broccoli-cheese rice), sweet potatoes, and ambrosia. I'm not a big fan of turkey so these things are Thanksgiving to me.

Before anyone says, 'wait, we have lovely hams and bacon here' I must tell you that yes, you do but they are just not the same. I don't like having to boil my ham, drain the water, wrap it in foil, cook it in the oven, apply the glaze halfway through and then finish cooking. It isn't spiral cut and it isn't what I think of as a ham.

We stayed here that second year and celebrated the day on Saturday rather than Thursday which has become our custom. Thanksgiving Thursday might be my loneliest day in Ireland. No one knows it's meant to be a special day…it's just a regular old Thursday. The kids go to school, Paul goes to work, I buy up all the potatoes, cream of mushroom soup, canned green beans, and cranberry sauce and no one seems to notice. Saturday is the day we feast. And by feast, I mean we sit at the table for 20 minutes and say what we're thankful for and then go back to watching football and Christmas movies.

It's more the day, the preparations, the atmosphere of celebration and rituals that make Thanksgiving so great. And we have been able to recreate that here on the Saturday after thanks to care packages with cornbread mix, French's fried onions, canned pumpkin, and Cheez-Whiz. We do miss you all, knowing that you're at the mall, going to the movies, and eating turkey, cranberry, and dressing sandwiches on white bread while you watch college football.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Day of Action

Today all Irish public workers were on strike. Although a more positive spin was put on it by calling it a squeaky clean, gung ho, 'day of action'. The issue, as is the case with most of these things, is heated. Those who called for today's picket lines did so because they believe that with all the cutbacks in government due to the recession, their salaries and pensions are carrying more of the burden than others. I am mostly ignorant of the differing views so cannot make any assertions but I can tell you what I heard on the radio and how the day of action affected me.

Public workers here are the same as at home, think postal workers and other government officials who have extreme job security and a nice pension at the end of your duty to your country and government. So far, so good.

From my miniscule knowledge the problems are these: 1) higher level officials of the government are not taking the same pay and pension cuts as the lower level people such as teachers, public health nurses, and the like 2) private workers who are losing their jobs due to the recession, while given huge 'redundancy' packages relative to the US, are not protected or compensated in the way the public workers and so they wonder, why complain??? at least you still have a job 3) is the same argument across the world and time eternal, it is why revolutions happen and it is this: why are the little people having to pay the bill for the 'fat cats' who got us into this mess in the first place (or something to that effect as I've heard ad nausea on both sides of the Atlantic since this whole thing blew up).

Now to how it altered my day…I can speak freely and from the heart here. My kids were home from school today and thankfully I don't have a job to get to and babysitters to arrange. You should know that it rained non-stop 100% of the day. You should also know that swine flu, or H1N1 as the politically correct US prefers to call it, is on the 'rampage' here at the moment and vaccinations are only being meted out in waves of most necessary first and anyway the public health clinics who do the shots were on strike.

Taking all these things into account you can understand why the following occurred today: the one and only, state-of-the-art, American style shopping mall was jammers. I went there because I couldn't go to the park or the seafront and I didn't want to expose my kids to wall-to-wall swine flu free for all at some play jungle. There are probably five to seven thousand parking spaces underground at this mall. At 12:30 this afternoon the entire red car park was full. The adjoining green car park was practically full but that did not stop us from sitting in an underground, ventilated traffic jam praying for a free space. My first thought was, recession? Someone should tell all these people. But then I realized that everyone was here for the same reasons as me. There was nowhere else to go.

We were all there with our kids in tow, prepared to slog through the mall instead of sit another day inside the four walls of the house while the kids bounced on the sofas and drove us demented. Better to release them onto the public and catch a break for a couple of hours. It was mayhem but the kids loved it. They took a notepad and wrote down their wish lists as we made our way through the enticing Christmas displays. They whinged because they wanted ice cream but for the most part they were actually quite exceptional. We got some family Christmas shopping done, long lists taken down, and killed 3 hours.

On the way home, the radio news told me that they are planning another 'day of action' for next Thursday. The kids are already off next Friday for an inservice day so that makes it a looooong weekend. Pray for better weather, at least no rain, and I can handle it. But I am totally fecked if it is lashing from the heavens and there's nowhere else to go but Dundrum.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that it isn't too commercialized, doesn't include buying gifts, and most of all that it is a day off to think about and appreciate our abundance and blessings. I love cooking all the basics, knowing most of them by heart…the smell of onions cooking away in butter, making cornbread and biscuits just to crumble them up for my mother's delicious dressing, and using more cream of mushroom soup and cheez-whiz than any other time of the year. The traditional sides at our Thanksgiving table are mostly carbs and mostly salty. I never noticed just how salty until we moved here and I stopped using canned soups and processed cheese except for once a year.

But that's getting ahead of myself.

Our first Thanksgiving here we spent in London. The kids were very young so school wasn't an issue as it is now. We flew off to London and saw all the sights--favorites being Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. It was bitter cold and we got caught in a surprise rain shower in the middle of St James Park that sent us running for a black taxi. Sofia stopped traffic in her pink wool coat and Rowan was still at the difficult at restaurants age yet still managed to charm the waitress. Paul and I saw Guys and Dolls with Ewan McGregor as Sky Masterson in the West End on Thanksgiving Day. During intermission we toasted a couple from New York who were enjoying a Thanksgiving away from home as well and gave thanks for a very American production in the heart of London.

Of course when we came home that Saturday we still had to have the feast. I threw together a reasonable meal of turkey, ham and all the accoutrement. We watched Home for the Holidays before the kids got up as is our early morning tradition and I spent about 5 hours in the kitchen and 20 minutes at the table.

Paul suggested I write a post for each Thanksgiving spent here so look for Thanksgiving 2006 next.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Love thy Neighbor

Revenge is sweet. And funny. I know it sounds horrible and may shock some but I get a guilty pleasure when the pendulum swings. God forgive me.

The neighbors from the old house are the main reason we moved to the new house. They were in their mid-20s and had parties that began at 4 am and ended at noon the next day. They would play the same Beth Ditto and Rihanna songs over and over and whoop!; clacking and pounding through the wee hours. We were cool about it at first….glass houses, right? But after a couple of years it got old right along with me and Paul.

It became unbearable and precipitated the move when Leo was born. As you can imagine having a newborn and nightclub neighbors don't mix. I should point out that we tried many things to get it to stop. We asked them nicely, we asked the gardai (cops) to help us, we tried her mother, her uncle, her aunt. Nothing helped. Actually, it only made matters worse to know that nothing we did, none of our pleading, complaining, smartarsed commentary, or logged calls to the gardai station made any difference.

Now to the revenge part. I used to lay awake consoling a whimpering Leo while being driven demented by the incessant base line of pop favorites and say to myself: 'one day she will have a baby and think how could I have done that to that poor woman?!' Well, that day has come and sooner than I would have expected. She's pregnant and the partying days are behind them.

My new neighbors are all fabulous, bar one. We live in an estate, which just means it's a neighborhood of houses all connected with only one entrance and exit. It's lovely and there are kids on the road for ours to play with—they ride their bikes and scooters, play ball, invent their own chasing games and generally have a good time. There's just the one old crone who has made it clear that she isn't fond of kids playing in the road. Nor is she a fan of people who rent properties in her estate.

And in the way of karma, she's been served her cold dish. It is in the form of a teenage boy who…wait for it…plays the drums!!! He plays in the garage which shares a wall with her sitting room and every time I hear him I have to smile. And sometimes giggle. I may even buy him a small present.



Thursday, November 19, 2009


Last night's World Cup Qualifying Match between Ireland and France was always going to be close. I listened to radio commentary yesterday prior to the match and everyone said how it would go to extra time, be down to penalty points, be to the wire. These predictions weren't far off but no one would have believed that France would win the coveted place in next summer's World Cup with a contentious goal.

Before you think that I'm some bizarre football fan, which I'm not, I will say that I usually don't give a hill of beans and am very good at tuning out the constant drone of every sport imaginable as Paul sits in front of the idiot box every weekend. I do thoroughly enjoy rugby and tennis but that's the extent of my sports on tele watching. As far as football (soccer) goes, it's my least favorite sport with its young, overly paid thugs and their nightclub parties complete with young women hired to be eye candy.

But I have to say that the drama and excitement of the World Cup draws me in. It may be to do with the fact that we spent our honeymoon in France when it hosted the 1998 tournament. Or the fact that it is something different when you're playing for an allegiance to your nation rather than the club with the highest salaries. And this year with the imminent move to France and my obvious feelings about Ireland, I was even more interested in which of the two countries would be going through than I would be normally. I was strangely torn between them and a part of me has to admit rooting for France just for the excitement of a 'local' team to support from my new home next summer.

So it was with this mild interest that I paid attention to the radio pre-game and switched back and forth from Edward and Twilight to the match. I went to bed at 1-0 for Ireland near the end of the match. When I spoke to Paul this morning, he's been away, I asked about the final score thinking that Ireland had probably pulled it out and were heading to South Africa.

As you probably know, that was not the case. Nor was the win without controversy. Thierry Henry admits to handling the ball while setting it up to his teammate for the winning goal in extra time. There is no instant replay in football and American football fans cannot conceive of a game where a winning touchdown was allowed to stand because the referee wasn't able to see an illegal play. But that's just what happened last night. There is public outcry for a rematch. Politicians are calling it disgraceful and every Irish radio program has devoted air time to the questionable qualifier winning goal.

The Irish don't really like to make a fuss. Nor are they terribly good at standing up for themselves. Ancient history. But it seems that this time they're not going to take it lying down. I wonder what will happen. Up Ireland!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I’ve got a gra for ye

The thing I love about life is that you can always learn something new. New experiences, eye openers, and changes in my world view give me a buzz. While I was away in Geneva this past weekend I learned some things and was reminded of a few too.

I have a gra for travel, for being in new places, for learning new things. Some have a gra for someone, others a gra for chocolate cake, and some a gra for the past. Translated literally, gra means love in Irish. It also encompasses the romantic, ardent and desperate side of love--that of yearning, longing, and fervent desires.

Find your gra and hopefully you can satisfy it, achieve it, marry it.

I also learned about an English 80s band called Imagination. It was a 'one hit wonder' of a band as far as I can tell. The American equivalent being Tommy Tutone's "867-5309/Jenny" or A-Ha "Take On Me". The Imagination song is "Just an Illusion" in case you're interested. The funny thing about it is that the lead singer, Leee John, was spotted by my Geneva friends at a bar in France. We went to the bar ourselves on Saturday night and the Imagination album was on repeat. Sadly, Leee was only there in spirit.

I saw the jet d'eau on Lake Geneva, practiced some French, had the best lunch imaginable, and was impressed by Kirsten and her new life. Being in a new place requires that you see it not just cross it off your list of to dos. That's why you need someone who's living it to guide you and to share a bit of their daily life. Isn't that the point of this blog--to shed some light on the inane and every day?

Note: gra is meant to have a fada or ' over the a but I can't do it here and you pronounce it with a slight w sound, grawh.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Are you married?

In the past week I have been flirted with by two men—both Irish and both well into their 70s. As I stood in line at the grocery store with Leo in his perpetual perch in the buggy, the man behind me decided to chat me up. He was about 75, big and burly with a reddish, whiskery face and bushy eyebrows. His first question was "Are you married?" That's one way to start a conversation. Next was, "where in the States are you from?", rapidly followed by "deep in the heart of Texas". People have notions about things. Ireland is all sheep, Guinness, and rain. Texas is all snakes, tequila, and desert. Of course neither are more than generalizations of places that are many things plus those.

Back to Mr. Whiskers—he laughed and told me how he was supposed to play in a pub in Dallas once but didn't go; he remembered the name of the pub, McSomething's. As I paid and struggled to cram my purchases in the bottom of my buggy while Leo howled I thought, "Oh, yea, I'm one appealing mama." Right.

My other flirty septuagenarian is someone I've seen daily for the past 4 years. He never smiled or acknowledged me or the kids until about 6 months ago. This coincided with the sporting of a bright new button up shirt he wears with a tie, suit jacket and brown trousers. He walks somewhere every morning with a carrier bag and huffs his way along at a brisk pace.

So, he started saying good morning. That turned into a regular thing and in the past few weeks I've gotten the brightest, fullest smile you've ever seen. It really cheers me right up because it is so genuine.

And then on Sunday as I passed him on the way back home with my newspaper, we engaged in the regular greeting/weather commentary. Something like: Good morning. Good morning. Lovely mornin'. Yes it is. We're right to get out and enjoy it while we can. And then, the ultimate. One of the sweetest things any 'stranger' has ever said to me….."It's always a lovely morning when I see you", accompanied by his bright, boyish smile. Seriously. It almost made me cry. I guess it's not really flirty in the true sense, more like kind and innocently lovely.




An update on my post The King. Our local paper shared the news that he's won an award for best entertainer in Ireland. Congratulations!

Plus, I got my email update from yesterday and the topic was "becoming a young American". It was about teaching citizenship, social consciousness, and civic duty. I couldn't help thinking of my post about how the kids are Americans but with Irish experiences and how that's shaped them. I think we can be patriotic from afar, almost more so because the distance makes you idealize things. The land of conveniences and plenty looks pretty good when you're paying 20 euro for an organic chicken and hoofing it through sideways rain to go to the bank or post office.

In fairness, the grass is always greener.

We sing the National Anthem and America, the Beautiful at the top of our lungs in the car and always change the original God Save the Queen when watching football games. (sorry to any British I'm offending) Someone asked Rowan if he were to play rugby would he play for Ireland, America, or France. His immediate answer was America. That's a good place to start.




Friday, November 6, 2009

Me Lads and Lass

My kids are Americans but they have learned to be Irish. They were one and three when we moved here so it's to be expected. We talk about America, we visit and family visit us, and we get special packages of Cheetos, candy corn, Target dollar spot goodies, and Cap'n Crunch. These things are reminders of where they're from but what's real is where they are.

They use words like torch, jumper, biscuits, and jelly. That's flashlight, sweater, cookies, and Jell-O to you and me. They make fun of me for the way I talk. The long aaaaaas and one syllable words made into two…..bayundstayund and hayund. You'd think I stepped off the set of True Blood when in reality my accent is much more subtle since being here.

The other day Rowan came into the kitchen and said, "What's for dinner, so?" and he told Sofia to "cop onto herself". They also speak Irish. Real Irish, as far as I can tell, although I wouldn't know. There's a poem about a cat chasing a mouse and they know how to ask to go to the toilet, very cute but not very useful anywhere but here and only useful here for SAT equivalents. Sofia does a great impression of anyone speaking with an Irish accent. "I went to the shops wit' me ma." And we all say 'h' with a pronounced 'hah', haych. One of our favorite expressions is Janey Mac or Janey Maccers!!! It's like saying, "Holy Cow!!"

They go to public school which is Catholic so they pray to Holy God and Rowan thinks heaven is a pub. They also know more about Mary than I ever did. Sofia was Mary in her school Christmas play and Rowan was Joseph in his. It's funny because Leo was born here but he will be the least Irish of the three. We'll leave before he learns all the Irish ways. Although he did the bum shuffle instead of crawling so my friends joke that he's learning how to be Irish already.

They don't go through drive thrus, they play football not soccer, they skip not jump rope, and they walk to school in the rain. I would not change a thing. I hope that even if they can't remember most of these experiences when they're older they'll have an open mind and be curious about the world. Of course it could all go pear shaped and they could refuse to travel ever again. They'll probably want to come back here.




Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shepherd’s Pie

500 g mince lamb (ground lamb)

A couple of carrots, chopped

One onion, chopped

tomato paste

1 tin chopped tomatoes

Salt & pepper

Shhhh secret ingredient-- 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Frozen peas

Potatoes, mashed with butter and cream

Cheddar cheese, grated

Brown mince and drain excess grease. Remove from pan and cook carrots and onion until soft. Add cooked mince back to pan and squirt in one tablespoon of tomato paste. Season with salt & pepper and add cinnamon. Stir to combine and then add chopped tomatoes. Simmer away until you're nearly ready. While all this is happening you should be boiling your potatoes and then mashing them into creamy deliciousness with butter (preferable Kerrygold, buy it at Central Market) and cream. Throw in frozen peas at the end until they're bright green without the frozen look. Put it all in an ovenproof dish and cover with the potatoes and grated cheddar cheese.

Bake for 25 or so minutes at 350F, 190C, GM6. Cheese should be bubbly and brown.

Serve immediately with brown bread and butter, green salad, and Guinness or a red.

Note: if you use beef rather than lamb it's not shepherd's pie anymore, it's cottage pie. Cows used to live in cottages with their owners and sheep need shepherds.

Monday, November 2, 2009

In Hot Water, Revisited---Happy St Patrick's Day

The American/Irish comedian Des Bishop cannot be bested in his explanation of both the immersion tank and hot press. I will not attempt to compete and suggest anyone interested in living in Ireland have a look at his routine.

I will though tell you my own view of this strangest bit of Irish domestic life.

When we moved here in July of 2005 our lovely relocation agent met us at the house we'd rented and gave us a quick tour. She showed us the boiler and clucked about how good it was that we had a tumble dryer in the shed, made sure there was a clothes line, and above all showed us the: da, da, dum….Immersion Tank. 

It was in a cabinet or 'press' in the bathroom just over the tub and resembled an ancient piece of moonshine equipment wrapped in yellow insulation. It had two switches attached to it. 

One said 'SINK', the other 'BATH'. 
She went through a quick and mostly incomprehensible explanation about how you turn it to 'BATH' an hour or so before you want to bathe or shower and then you have to remember to turn it off again after.

And if you want hot water to wash dishes or clothes you have to turn it to 'SINK' but be sure not to leave it too long because it just wastes heat. Okay. Turn it on before, off after, halfway during….what?!

American hot water heaters are in a broom closet and you really never see them unless they break, the pilot light goes out, or you want to sweep. 

We don't turn them off and on and we certainly don't have conversations about how we need to get home because tonight is bath night and we have to get the immersion tank turned on. 

You want a bath, you turn on the faucet and the bath fills up…..with hot water.

The press that the immersion tank resides in is called the hot press. Hot enough to finish drying the clothes that won't dry on the line in the damp Irish weather. A friend dries the clothes on the line, finishes them in the dryer, folds them and puts them in the hot press and then puts them away in drawers. 
The hot press is valuable space in any Irish home. In an ignorant act of blasphemy, I just threw all our towels and extra razors and soap up there along with the scale and other detritus I didn't want laying around. I have to say the towels were always nice and warm after being in there even if they were crunchy from hanging on the line.

A very ingenious way around this whole immersion tank minefield is the electric shower. 

Electricity and water might not sound ingenious to you but somehow, very carefully I'm sure, it works. There is a switch in the ceiling with a cord that you pull, very similar to the 'emergency somebody help me nurse alert' in hospital bathrooms. 
When you pull it, on comes the electricity in this little hairdryer looking box inside the shower (again, I know) with on/off switches and temperature and water pressure controls.

I can't imagine going for anything less than 'high' for pressure as it is more of an American low but nonetheless, the choice is yours. Once you get it going, you have hot water for days. Stick the kids in there and you've conquered an hour of playtime and they come out pruney and squeaky clean.

Sadly, baths are not good. I have not managed to fill up the bath at either of my Irish houses because the hot water runs out before it gets even a quarter of the way full. Last night I tried to make up the difference with the electric shower but it took forever and wasn't really hot enough. I even added two kettles full of water and achieved a bit above tepid. Really. 

What a waste of heat and water; two of the ten Irish commandments broken in one single act.