Gratitude & Goodbyes & Galway

It’s very difficult to believe that my time in Ireland is almost over. In September, I am moving halfway across the world to Juneau, Alaska, where I’ll be working at a nonprofit focused on helping local governments across the state develop affordable housing and take on other infrastructure projects. Though I am immensely excited for this new adventure, Galway very much feels like my home. The gratitude and love I have for the Island and everything I’ve experienced and everyone I’ve met is beyond words. This has been one of the greatest years of learning and living of my life, and I have so many people to thank for that:

  • My cousins, aunts, uncles, parents, and sister, who flew from all over the U.S. to share in this special year with me.
  • The incredible faculty at the University of Galway, who’s intellectual generosity, genuine brilliance, and kind guidance have shown me the transformative promise of law when it is practiced and studied with care, purpose, expertise, creativity, and, above all, hope.
  • All my new friends! The great and good ladies of the Law School, who have held my hand and cheered me on and reminded me that community is at the core of all meaningful work. (And to be brave and have notions!)
  • The bartenders + regulars at the pubs approximately 100 meters and 250 meters from me and Ali’s front door, who quickly learned our drink orders, eventually learned our names, and always looked out for us on rainy nights.
  • The Mitchells and all the adventures they inspired around Galway and beyond.
  • My Mitchell: Alison Marie Watkins. My partner in all of this. Of all the amazing things that have happened to me this year, I am most grateful for (and a little in awe of) our friendship. Call it (as you lovingly have) the lack of perspective inherent to being 23, but I’m pretty sure you’re just about as cool and brilliant and badass as they come. You are as courageous as you are generous, and I am so lucky to have you in my life.

It has been the privilege of a lifetime to spend a year in Galway, Ireland. A little corner of my heart will always be dedicated to this place–this city of joy! I am already counting the days until I get to come back.

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The Key Is In The Lockbox

When I first stumbled on a webpage for the Mitchell Scholarship two years ago, I initially thought I was ineligible; I thought I was past the age bracket to apply. I was warily nearing 30, deep in the throes of professional burnout, reconsidering my career and desperate for a break from New York, where we had all spent two terrifying years at the mercy of the coronavirus.

I would sneak into the application process just barely under the age deadline; one had to be under 30, to apply, and the deadline was two weeks before my birthday. So, in the class rolls, I’m the “old” Mitchell. I’ve been out of college nearly ten years, left an established life in Brooklyn and took an unpaid leave from my hard-earned career to move to a small, seaside village and go back to college. 22-year-old me would be equal parts impressed and horrified. 31-year-old me wrestled hourly with whether I was an idiot. 

It’s difficult for me to grasp how profoundly different life looks now, compared to a year ago. I lived in a Brooklyn studio, surrounded by people but mostly alone. I knew one neighbor in a warehouse apartment complex; I had lived there for five years. My day began before sunrise with Slack messages and ended after sunset, usually the same way. Dating was transactional and soul-crushing. I drank overpriced cocktails at stuffy bars. Outings with friends required weeks of coordination and calendar comparisons. I have warned my younger Mitchells; once you start scheduling catch-ups with your friends via Google calendar, seek help. 

Now, I live in a seaside house that feels like some strange mashup of The Dead Poet’s Society and Gilmore Girls. Neighbors and friends stop by and poke their head into the open window of my office. The door is constantly open. A running cast of Mitchells and their friends come and stay; I never know who might turn up on any given weekend. The frenetic, cynical me of two years ago would curdle at this. It’s turned into one of the greatest joys of my life, to spend time with so many young people.

They’re all amazing, but I will selfishly allow myself a few lines to brag, with all the pride of a big sister, about one specific Mitchell: Abby Barton, my first roommate in a decade, the Rory to my Lorelai, the person who has taught me that Gen Z is capable of both complimenting and roasting a fragile Millennial soul in the same sentence (No, I will not give up my skinny jeans). Unshakably principled and scarily self-sufficient, I see so much of who I want to be, in her. She has unintentionally, gently reminded me that cynicism is a copout. It takes a lot more courage to be hopeful and try. She believes she can make the world a better place, and she has reminded me that task is not tackled in broad platitudes — sometimes changing the world is just finding help for one person, in one place, at one time. She believes she can make a difference. I believe her.

I was supposed to go home in September. Instead, I re-upped the lease. Two new Mitchells will move into the spare bedrooms this fall, and we’ll start all over again. I came here for a break from home but I think I may have found a new one.

Twice this week, I took a break from work to go play music in town. It was sunny and warm, buzzing with people, and I set up my treasured Telecaster and played the blues. My friend Aileen walked by, and we stopped to have a coffee. Then came Mia, her husband Cullen and their adorable little boy. Later came Stephen, a friend from the Salthill swim group; we all swim 15 kilometers in the sea every week, and get breakfast together on Sundays. I packed up the guitar and had a beer with my friend Conall, a kindred spirit and fellow jaded journalist. We were standing on Shop Street, saying goodbye, when Abby walked up. Together, we went home and had a last drink at our local pub, where everyone knows our names.

This year — and these kids — have taught me so much. I hope if I’ve taught them anything, it’s this: life is going to be way weirder than you ever think it’s going to be, at 22. When you need an ear or just a place to crash in Galway, the key is in the lockbox.

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A Tree in Dublin, Forever

I am sitting under the campanile, the green is greener in May in front square, and living in Ireland has taught me new ways to be grateful for the sun, its fleeting yet lasting impression, and its ability to mood shift in powerful ways. Classes have come to an end, the days are longer and slower, allowing me to start my second journey in thesis writing while also taking everything in one last time. Campus is transformed by the dwindling number of students and the growing number of visitors, slowly morphing Trinity out of the academic year and into summer. I always wondered what the end of the year would feel like. After all, I set off on this wonderful yearlong adventure knowing exactly when and where it would end, and how medical school would one day come knocking on life’s doors. The expectedness has not lessened the difficulty of the year’s conclusion.

For my thesis research, I traveled across community centers and refugee camps as part of Europe’s REFUGE-ED consortium. I listened to stories and processed reactions, I participated in activities and understood how education and mental health and psychosocial support intersect. I spoke with staff, teachers, and parents to understand project implementation and the long road between planning and manifestation. In spaces amongst fellow Syrians, I reconciled with being perceived as the American, the Trinity researcher. For the first time, I was confronted with how the hyphen between Syrian and American has created an uncomfortable distance. In that same space though, I also found a great deal of responsibility, and a reminder of the duty to leverage the privilege, and the unjust power ascribed to the association.  And once again, I found myself on a long train ride thinking about home, a constant thread throughout the past year, connecting all four of the blogs from this year that have been a source for a great deal of reflection, so there goes the finale.

Much has been written about home, and the diaspora’s search for home – this elusive essence that transcends physical boundaries and embraces the realms of belonging. From the panic at “Where are you from?” to the genuine confusion towards where I can really call home. Yet, to feel at home is to experience sanctuary, a sacred space where the heart finds solace and the soul discovers a sense of rootedness. Though I’ve also grown to think of home as an embodiment of our essence—our ability to love, to be, and to belong. Whether nestled within the walls of a childhood dwelling, a foreign land, or even within the embrace of a community, home is an eternal pursuit—a celebration for a longing that resides deep within our hearts. To leave the first home assigned to us by virtue of geography and generational history, is by design then destined to ignite an eager search for home everywhere, and is inextricably tied to the way we interact with new places. Mourning and nostalgia then, are directly tied to the vulnerability that comes from allowing oneself to feel those extremes. In the search for home, and in daring to imagine a new place as sanctuary, there is a burden of sadness at the chapter’s conclusion.

If in the search for rootedness, we cultivate trees, those trees across every place begin to transcend us and start to inosculate: a natural process where neighboring plants graft in unity seeking nutritional symbiosis, and a biological homonym referring to how blood vessels deal with hypoxia through collateral circulation. In the search for survival, and amidst the darkness, it’s the cultivating of trees that allows roots to lean on each other. As the year is coming to an end, I am learning to honor the sadness, as a symbol of the great joy that has come from this year, and as a sign that a tree has been planted for me in Dublin, forever. To show up somewhere, to love, to dare to dream, to make lifelong friendships and grow alongside a loving family, to talk to strangers, to share moments with those with you and those afar, to learn more from others and about yourself, to suffer loss, to understand boundaries, to immerse yourself in the context, to understand the geopolitical history, to share in the local passions and the globalized relativity of the metropolis, to learn how to say yes and no more thoughtfully – all of those things were Dublin, and I am overjoyed knowing that I will always think of this time fondly and with overwhelming gratitude.

“Tomorrow the future will arrive as the endless application of laws. For now, we can accept only beauty as brute fact.”

– from Apollo’s Baths by Christian Bischoff
The two Oriental Plane trees, Platanus orientalis, in New Square, are now Trinity’s oldest trees, after the collapse of Front Square’s Oregon Maples in 2018. Though just as we cultivate our own personal trees, two new Ginkgo trees have since towered across my window outside the GMB.
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Working with differences to reach the GFA 25 years ago, will Ireland do the same with the little known win-win option for Peatlands?

I have a hunch George Mitchell might agree that second to the difficulty of reaching the Good Friday Agreement, now and resolving a defunct Stormount, is enacting a win-win solution for peatland rewetting in Ireland. Rewetting is, somehow, one of the most political issues in both countries. Thanks to being at UCD through the Mitchell I’ve now found myself under a Horizon Europe project in Ireland, where it’s now up to the intern to try handle that. So, here’s a record of what is turning into a new journey.

QUB’s bust of George Mitchell, unveiled to him by Eamonn Ryan – a regular in unrelenting debates with TD’s on rewetting as Ireland’s Minister for Transport & Environment.

If you were exposed to news in the past two weeks in Ireland, then you probably heard farmers concerned with flooding from adjacent rewetting. This was spurred from debate on voting for the EU Nature Restoration law and goals to rewet, which as-introduced, unexpectedly failed to pass the first vote due to rural community and industry concerns across Europe. Scientific advisement for peatland provisions of the Nature Restoration Law, before the version voted on was introduced, was given in Brussels by colleagues of the UCD WaterLANDS project where I now work. This project is pursuing peatland solutions that work for carbon storage, wilderness, and also people. What we know which is not common knowledge yet in Ireland, is that a non-traditional approach to rewetting exsists intended to simultaeneoulsy benefit rural industry and reduce flood risk

From the outside I’m jumping into a situation that seems like a loss for many, to refigure it as a win-win. Peatlands are an efficient carbon sink if rewetted, where globally they store more carbon than all forests despite covering just 3% of lands. This places peatland rewetting on the front line of fighting climate change. But in Northern Europe, due to draining they’ve not only stopped acting as a carbon sink but are an emission source. In Ireland after being drained decades ago to allow farming, or turf harvest for peat or horticulture, adjacent farms are now experiencing seepage or flooding for the first time in ages from the current rewetting under Bord na Mona’s restoration efforts. This is reportedly affecting crops, and comes after declines in the private horticulture turf industry, and ban of Bord na Mona turf cutting since 2018. Bord na Mona schemes even paid tuition for Irish students from rural communities who worked the bogs, now another lost benefit.

My friend John Coonan explains the land in Portloaise after Phillip Coonan filled me in on Bord na Mona’s horticulture operations at Cul na Mona.

Rewetting is discussed in households across the country as a win-lose or lose-lose situation. If there’s no rewetting, emissions will not be stopped and ecosystem degradation will continue too. If there is rewetting as usual, rural livelihoods are feeling threatened from flooding and still no alternative has been proposed after loss of industry. It’s as if someone must have a problem under the others “solution”. Meanwhile reasonable conservationists would not want farmers to go uncompensated if impacted, and a number of farmers and horticulture industry recognize the climate impacts of drained land but simply do not have an accessible alternative yet.

There’s an apocryphal memory I have, from a slam-poetry session in Danville, Kentucky seven years ago. A mechanic and farmer who was the son of a coal mining family in Appalachia was at the microphone. Loosely rhyming, trailing off at times, he was telling two stories simultaneously- his childhood growing up on a mountain and valley surrounded by nature, and being a father raising his daughter in the same area. When he converged the storylines, the man started to break down but still continued. To send his daughter to college he sold the mountaintop of his childhood to the coal company. He watched her drive off, and he later watched as trees were felled and the mountaintop of his childhood exploded for surface mining. The hope for the future was that his daughter might not ever have to make that choice, after having an education he could not afford. She wanted to study sustainability, and find new purposes for making degraded land regenerative and productive – changing a problem into an opportunity.

Counter to instinct, sometimes within the source of the “problem” inherited there may be a win-win solution. In this case – that would entail a solution where a completely different approach to rewetting could rejuvenate the rural horticulture industry, peatland employment, allow carbon sink restoration, and reduce flood risk. That missing solution exists for Ireland, and is Sphagnum moss farming. It’s one new form of farming on wet peatland, which Ireland is permitted under EU regulation to enact and expand. Taking a crack at the design of the policy support package for it, and attempting to present that to stakeholders and government, has somehow become my work. Sphagum farming has existed in Europe since the 1990’s after various international developments, even in Wisconsin as early as the 1800’s. With win-win solutions in mind after the Agreement 25 conference, I hopped over to Bremen, Germany. The next day I met with stakeholders who created world’s first Sphagnum farm, and largest one in Rastede. They gave key insights for an ideal approach to introduce Sphagnum farming in Ireland and supports needed, including as a peat substitute in the horticulture industry.

Touring a 20 acre German Sphagnum site w developers and a Finnish horticulture business rep.

After gaining insights I was tentatively offered a job in Galway, so now I’m trusting the process that will happen and plan to stay another year. Hopefully, if the process prevails, if phones are answered, Ireland can realize there’s something in this for everyone. Hopefully, it might grow as an example to follow back in the U.S.

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Balancing Accessibility and Integrity: Ethical, Legal, and Practical Considerations For Scientific Research

Ethical and practical challenges present barriers to result communication in science. Effectively conveying research outcomes among scientists and the broader public is critical to scientific advancement and societal advancement. 

Scientific journals and conferences are the current principal means of disseminating scientific research products. These traditional forms of result communications are advantageous because they impose a peer review process aimed to ensure reliable, quality, and unbiased research. However, the efficacy of information dissemination from these traditional forms of scientific communication is severely hindered by restricted access to these channels of information. Paywalls, subscriptions, and fees associated with accessing these traditional means of scientific communication effectively restrict information access to individuals with institutional affiliations, thereby excluding general public access. 

Open source science aims to overcome traditional restrictions on information access by ensuring publicly available research publication and offering numerous avenues of publication with a range of fees to ensure publication fees do not limit information access. The broad access of open source science promotes broader collaboration and increases speed of scientific advancement via the immediate and transparent access to information.

Although open source publication is highly appealing because it increases information accessibility, legal concerns including but not limited to author ownership, intellectual property, and data privacy, present meaningful complexity in the practical application of open source science models. The greater accessibility of open source science possesses a two-fold nature because the advantages of creativity facilitated through increased accessibility also create difficulty with appropriately accrediting and protecting individual researcher contributions, which could decrease scientists’ motivation to publish with open source platforms. Further, the open nature of these publishing methods risks compromising individual participants’ privacy, which presents significant ethical concerns and undermines societal trust in future research.

These ethical, legal, and practical considerations warrant careful evaluation as I prepare for publishing the research findings of my master’s thesis. Ultimately, I aim to communicate my research findings through channels that facilitate the greatest public impact while maintaining research integrity. To reach the most effective research communication, I continue to evaluate all available options and am even considering a hybrid approach that utilizes dual publication in both private and open access models to reap the individual benefits from each.

My research at Trinity was deeply rewarding and I take great pride in sharing the products with the broader scientific community and general public. The products of my research at Trinity will advance neuroscience scholarship and keep me connected to Ireland through the ongoing academic advancements tied to research in my field.I look forward to my continued contributions to interdisciplinary scholarship in Ireland and globally as I embark on the next steps of my academic journey.

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On Writing (Hi)stories

There’s a real mystique to the Royal Opera House — a gravitas lent by the red velvet cushions, ornately carved balconies, and frescoes. Yet when I found myself there one chilly Thursday night, the grandeur of the theater was sharply juxtaposed by the intimate story of Martin Lynch’s “The History of the Troubles (According to my Da)” with its cast of merely three powerhouse actors and a minimalist set. In typical Northern Ireland fashion, the play is darkly humorous and fueled by crisp, unexpected dialogue. And viewing this small, powerful play within this sprawling operatic setting somehow created a kind of electricity through contradiction that left the audience — or, at least, just me — buzzing as we left our seats that evening.

I shuffled out of the theater to the lobby, where I paused on my way out to ask the playwright to sign my copy of the script. He glanced up at me, taking in my age and American accent, as he scrawled his name for probably the fiftieth time that night.

“How old are you?” he asked me.

“I’m twenty five,” I said.

“So this is all just a history lesson to you, I guess?”


I’ve seen four plays since I arrived on the island, each of which has imparted a history lesson in some way. In “Joyce’s Women,” I saw the life and death of James Joyce through the eyes of the reviled and revered women behind his storied career. In “Propaganda: The Musical,” I went on a strange, dark journey through 1940s Berlin. In “History of the Troubles (According to my Da),” I saw ordinary lives torn apart by the Troubles. And in “Agreement,” I witnessed the peace process that ended the conflict.

After my brief interaction with Martin Lynch, I found myself thinking back to each of the plays I’d seen and thinking further about the nature of portraying history through narrative. There’s a profound power, and even danger, to the fact that most people’s understanding of history is shaped first and foremost by stories, rather than by dissertative historical texts or data. The historiography at work in playwriting and all creative work is foundational to how we come to understand conflicts.

As someone fascinated by how we communicate about conflicts and public policy — much of my professional work has centered around combating misinformation, which too has its roots in the darker sides of the narrativization of history — I found myself trying to put myself in Lynch’s shoes during that little snippet of a conversation. He likely wrote his play with an understanding that it would be performed within and viewed by a community that had lived this history in real-time or, at least, seen the immediate after-effects of it. Whereas for me, I was viewing it as a student, an outsider to this community, hoping to immerse myself within it and learn as much as I can.

In this sense, his play did indeed hold a kind of dual purpose — part storytelling, part history lesson. Yet the effect it had on me — and the effect all of these wonderful theatrical productions have had on me when paired with my coursework this semester — has been a lesson in how we tell history, in understanding the importance of creative forms in constructing our understanding of conflicts and of how the lines between history books and playbills are often more diffuse than we immediately realize.

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Tomorrow, I go back to the U.S. for the first time since moving to Ireland. I will be back to Dublin shortly but this is a reminder that my time as a Mitchell is quickly coming to an end. These past few major transitions in life (college graduation, end of last summer, etc. ), I have found myself nostalgic for moments before I have even left them. Here are a few things that I wish to carry with me though the nostalgia of leaving Dublin. 

Enjoying the journey as much as the destination has been advice we have all heard but I don’t think we truly implement. This year has made me see that even more clearly since I first heard those words from my high school advisor. To truly enjoy the journey, I have to slow down. From breaking up with my GCal to learning to walk painfully slow amongst the tourists on Grafton street. Only once I have physically slowed down do I have appreciation for the things that my perception glosses over. It also has allowed me to make space to reflect. Just more actively being in touch with how I am feeling, what I am experiencing, and what I am thinking. It happens when you allow time and space to wander both physically and mentally. What has allowed me to shift from my ultra efficient, type A, northeastern self is the realization that too much time spent on thinking about what comes next comes at the expense of what is happening now. 

Growth comes from change. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. There is a concept in human development called the learning trap. As children we learn through exploration: I think of my younger cousin’s fascination with a coffee stirrer or my advisor’s daughter’s questions about the various birds at the UCD pond. Over time we go from forming new neural connections through exploring to primarily exploiting which strengthens existing pathways. This year I exploited coding, becoming more efficient and optimized. I also exploited the pathways that get me on the 39a bus into city centre. I just don’t think about it anymore. But I find far too often, we are pushed to exploit even more. Optimize your morning routine, meal prep your sustenance, streamline your workflow. And while this exploitation is great, and exploration does still happen even as we get older, our default state shifts from one of exploration to one of exploitation. I want to push back and keep the learner mindset I had as a kid. We can keep exploring mentally but facilitate this mind state through experiences. From meeting new people with fresh ideas and perspectives to visiting new places with new traditions and habits, I try to push against the dogma that seeped into my life. Keeping this growth and mindset as I move to other stages of life will have its challenges but can be achieved. It will take more than one year to rewrite the habits, beliefs, and views of the past 23 years but this is the start. 

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So, this is the end?

Only 66 days left on the island and the coursework is finished (will my essays ever be marked?), my internship is over (over 1,000 objects were sorted and listed in the Lynda Walker archive at the Linen Hall Library by me), and campus is quiet (everyone has gone home except for the lonely post grads who are procrastinating their dissertations… like me.) 

I would like to say something profound with my last Mitchell blog, but I’ve been building Sim houses instead of writing this (and my dissertation), and now the deadline is here. I feel complicated about endings— I actually like change most of the time and find it encouraging. I love imagining the future. There was a time when all I could daydream about was what my life would be like here. And now I’m here with just a little bit of time left, anticipating the inevitable longing I will feel for this place when I am where I am daydreaming about now… So what now? What have I learned? What am I going to carry with me? I’ll try to keep this short:

Belfast has taught me how community is not only a value, but a necessity. Much of my culture shock and difficulty adjusting to life in Belfast, I think, stemmed from leaving such a strong home community where I understood my identity through my roles and positionality in my community and coming to a place where not only did I have no connection to the community, its cultural ethos, or its problems, but I also couldn’t pretend to be apart of it even if I tried. Each time I’ve spent abroad, I’ve always written about how exhausting and uncomfortable it feels to be aware of how “other” I am in every space, including in my home context. I have not reconciled this, and I don’t know if I ever will. But Belfast has reminded me of all the things I love about my home. My messy, complicated, fighting-for-its-soul Deep South. It has been challenging to watch my community from so far away and to be, again, an outsider. I will return home for one week before moving across the country to what will be my home for the next six years. I grieve for the place I’ve bittersweetly called home, especially recognizing that I will never go home in the same way I used to again. But I know it calls me back, and I’m grateful for how clear this call is now. 

The truth is: my life here is slow. And I like it like this. My life in the States was bloated and busy, and totally unsustainable. It has been an important lesson to know that an alternative is not only possible but necessary. Living slower has helped me invest even deeper in the real priority of this year: the phenomenal people I get to call my friends. From grad school late-night dinner hangouts to learning how to lift weights (thanks, Gil) and swim (thanks, Ellie) to intense second-hand embarrassment of Matty Healy and the most joyous day of my life when Sarah, Gil, Ellie, and I went climbing, slipping, sliding, and jumping off of 20-foot tall inflatables in wetsuits over an extremely cold lake— these are the moments that have really mattered.

I have felt most fulfilled being with friends and following my heart on things that were really and truly just for me. Like, signing up for poetry workshops to reignite my love for writing and running my first marathon just to prove to myself that I could follow through on my self-promises. Who knew that losing a whole toenail could be such a point of pride? This is where my real advice is for the me of the past and the Mitchells of the future. Find your people and lose your toenail. 🙂

Future Belfast Mitchies, if you want my recommendations and/or my total rotten tomatoes, I’ll be happy to give you my rawest scoop. (If there is one that I want the world to remember it is Bank Square Brasserie— you MUST go if you are visiting Belfast.) For now, though, I’ll leave you with the poem I wrote for my last workshop today, and that I hope to include some version of in a collection about twenty-year-old-girl things titled, “Girl Shit!” one day. Please don’t steal that…

The folks in my workshop had a laugh, so I’ll take it.
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Simple observations

There are few times during my young adulthood when I’ve been able to step away from capital and corporate pressures, choosing instead to live moment to moment, appreciating the small wonders of life. This past year at Trinity has been one of them.

That’s not to say that everything has been swimmingly rosy. But that I’ve tried to spend this past year thoughtfully, with an ease and appreciation, and curiosity that has anchored me always, to the present.

Here are some of the tender intricacies and simple observations over the past few weeks.

School’s out. The grass is green. Dublin is as beautiful as ever. Grey Hoodie switches out of the daily rotation for Blue Shirt Jacket. I still keep the grey pants though. The only thing left is to start writing my thesis. It’s a good problem to have. 

Last week I went to Dublin 6 for a stroll in the urban oasis. I stop by for a coffee, pet some dogs, and crack open a book. I never make it past the first page because I’m too busy thinking about where to go for brunch. Brother Hubbard? Alma? Goose on the Loose? Something about this outing feels all too familiar. Like that of a certain bustling metropolis across the pond. 

Feeling immersed in history is an incredible feeling, one that you don’t quite get in the suburbs of New Jersey. I walk the streets, which have quickly become familiar but still, on occasion reveal their obscured past. Who else laid eyes on this imposing English oak? Who smelled the rich smells of coffee in these local cafes? Whose intuition led them left, then right, to stumble upon this quaint alleyway? What a treat living at Trinity has been.

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The Parting Glass

“Of all the money that e’er I had
I have spent it in good company
Oh and all the harm I’ve ever done
Alas, it was to none but me

And all I’ve done for want of wit
To memory now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be to you all

So fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate’er befalls
Then gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all”

– “The Parting Glass” by the High Kings

Dear Reader:

Given that this is the last blog post, it is also the one you are most likely to have come across. It’s also more likely that you are someone I don’t know, whether that means you’re an alumni checking to see how the program is doing or a prospective applicant trying to gain perspective into whether the Mitchell is right for you.

To best serve you, I’ve structured this entry to answer the two generalized questions I’ve been asked the most about this experience: How the Mitchell has benefitted me, and what I recommend people do if they find themselves in Belfast.

Why the Mitchell Matters

Ireland is a small country. Geographically, it is roughly the size of Indiana with an economy roughly the size of Michigan’s. The advantages and limitations of these realities have been on the minds of Irish leaders since the rising and continue to shape virtually every aspect of Ireland’s international relations. Where Ireland lacks hard power, their soft power remains arguably unrivaled in the United States. It is difficult to think of another country of comparable size that enjoys such disproportionate investment and positive sentiment within the United States.

This makes Ireland an ideal place for a young American to spend a year abroad. The ongoing relevance of economic ties between our countries, the historical connections between them, and the raft of enduring policy challenges facing us offer an avenue for any thoughtful student to establish a new point of reference during their time here that will inevitably have professional and intellectual benefits for years to come.

Despite this, there are good arguments to be made that Ireland is declining in importance for American voters and policymakers just as Ireland’s economic dependence on the United States nears an inflection point. This presents a challenge for the Irish, and while the Mitchell scholarship is not a silver bullet for any of the trends referenced above, it remains a smart investment for all parties involved.

It may seem that 12 American students who come to the island every year cannot feasibly produce a significant long-term effect. I would argue (as is elaborated in more detail in this report) that for better or worse, American policy change is ultimately driven largely by small groups of well-connected and highly motivated actors. When it comes to Irish issues, the importance of the “Irish vote” has likely been exaggerated, while the importance of current politicians like Rep. Richard Neale and Rep. Brendan Boyle are comparatively understated.

With that in mind, it is in Ireland’s interest to cultivate ties early on with new generations of Americans who could very well wind up in positions of influence in science, the arts, business, and policy. For the students the Mitchell scholarship selects, we get the chance to actually make a difference via these ties. There are plenty of countries whose size or strategic importance make similar programs less cost effective. For example, the UK has long since overcome its lack of diaspora politics in the US, and will continue to be among America’s most important relationships regardless of any foreseeable circumstance. These conditions are not givens in the US-Ireland relationship, and the Mitchell allows scholars the opportunity to make an outsized impact during their time on the island as well as when they come home as a result.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the interpersonal benefits of the program. Throughout my time here, two of my fellow Mitchells (Sarah and Asha) and an almost-honorary Mitchell (Ellie) have all become invaluable friends who I likely would not have crossed paths with outside of this program. Higher education remains one of the most common ways that young Americans encounter people with fundamentally different backgrounds and beliefs from them. Placing us all in a foreign country helps to lower some of the defenses we build up at home, and I will be lucky to leave the island with life-long friends as a result.

With those musings out of the way, I hope I’ve convinced you to give the Mitchell (or just Ireland) a shot. If you wind up in Belfast, here’s a quick list of what I recommend:

Food & Drink

  • Sakura is a sushi stop that has seen me at my highest and my lowest (usually my lowest) during my time here, and has a conveyor belt system that makes for great casual dining.
  • Holohan’s Pantry is creative Irish cuisine served in a comfortable and local atmosphere.
  • Madam Pho is a lifesaver during cold winter nights.
  • Shu is good for a fancier night out.
  • Flame is unbeatable for weekend people watching (bring a friend and ask for a seat by the window).
  • Bert’s Jazz Bar is where I go when I am at my lowest and Sakura isn’t enough to bring me back up.
  • Margot’s is a speakeasy with a creative cocktail list that usually flies under the radar for visitors.


  • The Ulster Museum is a short walk from Queen’s campus and makes for a good afternoon out (I’m sorry Asha)
  • Let’s Go Hydro is a hybrid waterpark/obstacle course that is hilarious to do with your less coordinated friends (I’m sorry Ellie)
  • Tribe Boxing is a good workout if you’re willing to sacrifice your commitment to nonviolence at the altar of cardiovascular gains (I’m sorry Sarah)
  • Mick Cage at Belfast Blackworks is an incredible tattoo artist who can transform even the tackiest study abroad tattoo ideas into layered and complex works of art in case you decide to spend part of your stipend this way (I’m sorry Trina)

That’s all from me folks. Goodnight, and joy be to you all.

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The Yellow Flowers

With the arrival of the spring season, the Irish landscape bursts forth with tiny yellow flowers. Some call them “gorse,” from the German gerste (“barley”), others name them “furze,” perhaps from the Old English fȳr (“fire”). Botanists will know them by the genus Ulex. Whatever their name, these blooms paint every inch of the island gold from the forested walking paths of Glendalough Valley and the Bray Cliffs in the south to the coastal walk of the Giant’s Causeway to the North.

A chat with any naturalist quickly reveals the vast reputation of this plant. Ulex is a popular hedgerow, given its flexible growing conditions and spiny morphology, with endless fields in the countryside outlined in neat lines of the shrub. Additionally, many of the thatched roofs of the houses dotting the Wild Atlantic Way maintain the pre-Industrial method of using Ulex as the roof’s base layer. However, the high oil content of the shrub also makes it highly flammable, sometimes mitigated by the rainy climate, but sometimes also leading to hundreds of wildfires across the island in the span of just a few days.

The beauty of furze is that asking ten people will yield ten different stories about the plant—each more passionate than the previous. The plant’s prodigious mythology ranges from those who have claimed to see rare purple furze scattered in the outskirts of the southern counties to those who claim the plant smells of coconut (never in my experience, unfortunately).

I suspect the twenty-five years of this program’s run have yielded a similar repository of unique stories and memories from every person who has made it to the other side of their year. Now nearing the other side of my own year here, I have realized just how much has come of my time on the island. And while there will be so much to look back on, I think I will remember the gorse most of all.

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Full Hollywood

There are always at least two reasons to do or not do something. For example, I rarely discuss my favorite local spots in Ireland or Los Angeles for 1) personal security reasons and 2) I don’t want them to get crowded. However, the secret salon of Dublin is now busy enough that I feel comfortable un-keeping the gate. If you see me nibbling chocolate to recover from a post-wax faint in the waiting room of Late Nite Beauty Salon, no, you didn’t. 

It was spring. It was 6 weeks out from the Irish Summer, which exists for 3 hours in the afternoon of each June day, roughly. I got a traumatizing wax at a student rate in September, at a “salon” found in a jet-lag haze, so for the summer trim I wanted an actual recommendation. On the floor below me at Trinity live two girls from a posh area, so I figured they would know.

The first girl said she didn’t know of any good local spots, she’s too broke for a wax herself. This checks out, as she’s training to be a social worker, like myself. 

The second girl said she didn’t know of any good local spots because she’s never needed a wax, personally, but her friends like Late Nite Beauty Salon off Temple Bar. This also checked out: this girl is very fair, fairly hairless, and also suffers from what my Northside cousins call “D2 syndrome”, which we don’t have room to discuss here. 

The Salon was almost impossible to find as I wandered around Temple Bar, which I knew meant it would be very good. The best wax place in Los Angeles is the unadvertised back room of my childhood nail salon. Late Nite Beauty Salon has a similar, comforting aura of gossip, sanitizer, bravery, lavender oil. As a ginger rights activist and noted fainter, I give the Salon 5 out of 5 red stars. The intelligent and beautiful waxing lady was compassionate, encouraging. At one point, as I clutched my evil eye necklace (Jewish rosary) for strength with my other arm flung over my forehead, I swore to the waxing lady that I could probably just do that last part at home? And she replied: Rhiannon, it’s just a few seconds. Breathe out. 

And it was! Let that be the lesson for all prospective graduate students, and people whose genetic heritage prepared them for deep winters more than sunshine. Whatever’s happening, there is an end to it. Also, you might be allergic to the liquid wax, so take an antihistamine and exfoliate a bit beforehand. When it’s all actually over, and you’ve wept to friends, family, medical professionals, academic advisors, God, strangers, various birds, children’s films, and the sea, you’ll have a thesis and really smooth legs. Remember to breathe in, and then out. Eat what you can, when you can. Sleep, or at least put yourself in bed. Fresh air, filtered water. Sunshine, in the morning and evening. Good luck! Don’t forget to tip!

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