Exactly twenty-four years ago to the day, my mother went through the pain that only mothers know, swearing never again. Satisfied with my brother and I, she gave everything to make sure we turned out all right. As I write this, I am sitting on the top floor of the library at the National University of Ireland, Galway looking out the water speckled window into another storming day in the west of Ireland with all of the treasures that my mother could have dreamed for me: a healthy heart and mind, moderate good looks, and opportunities that “your mother can’t keep up with.” This day, my 24th birthday, I cannot say that everything is stress-free or sensible, but I can say that life is good.
My recent times in Ireland have been important ones of reflection, fun, and meaning. Winter in Ireland, especially in the west, is full of cold rain, hot whiskeys, and times of quiet. I spent my first Christmas away from home with a wonderful Irish family, the Normans, in what was a wonderful time of communion, friendship, and celebration. Our times together in front of the hearth were quiet reminders of what family means and a provocative lens into the intricacies of Irish life. The succession of what seemed endless courses of food, the drink cup that was never allowed to be empty, and the sharing of stories were things I cherish in the hospitality traditions of the South and Appalachia, but there was something really giving and unique about the flare of sincerity that this family, who barely knew me at all, had in opening their home to me. It was simply wonderful.
These past months have seen relatively little traveling for me. I have made some trips to Dublin, a particularly memorable one to set up a research internship with Fergus O’Dowd, who is a member of the Irish parliament and the lead opposition to the government on environmental issues. The position involves researching environmental and development policy issues. This addition to my routine is probably the most exciting part of my program here in Ireland and is a perfect compliment to my thesis research work. My MSc. project has finally materialized into a great project looking at protected areas designation policy in Ireland and its appeals process as an indicator of policy effectiveness. This work will give me some great opportunities to travel around Ireland and to work with interesting Irish government officials and environmentalists. The combination of my internship and research project should provide an extremely comprehensive picture of Irish environmental policy, an understanding that could no doubt be imperative in my understanding of environmental law and seriously shape my approaches to conservation work.
Just living in Ireland has shaped my attitudes towards environmentalism and conservation. One of the stronger reasons for my desire to study in Ireland was the region’s relatively progressive attitude towards environmental, animal welfare, and social causes. Having lived here this long has changed my understanding of exactly how attuned Ireland is to progressive values on these issues, in both positive and negative ways. The Irish are committed to environmentalism in the sense of its social context and the pressure it gets from the rest of the European community, which is increasingly leaning green. When a bag tax was implemented for plastic shop bags, there was a 95% drop in the number of bags consumed, and I have never lived in a community this deeply committed to organic and sustainable foods. Even McDonald’s insistence on using 100% Irish beef is a reflection of the country’s commitment to their own environment and livelihoods. This however only goes as far as it does not significantly impede Ireland’s newfound affinity for economic growth and development. The nation is lagging with its Kyoto Protocol commitments for reducing greenhouse gases and has, in general, planned poorly for making the development of infrastructure sustainable. Just try driving through the chaotic mess that is Dublin’s roadways (I have personally only experienced it on a bus, but based on several news programs and conversations in Fair City episodes, I would say it is a national example or “poor planning.”). Even in college you see unsustainable practices, most notoriously the printing out of single sheet receipts from the printers in the computer suites every time you print something. No offense to anyone involved, but it is the most egregious waste of paper I have ever seen, and I pray that the newly elected environmental awareness officer for the Student’s Union will work on this. I have a draft email waiting to be sent once they are elected.
The New Year was another day of great company and quiet fellowship. I counted down the seconds in The Crane, a traditional Irish pub, with my good friend Monica Bell, a fellow Mitchell Scholar. This year is not coming with any what I would call “resolutions,” but I see the next several months as a significant point of change. My lifestyle here has become much more serious (having regular office hours and learning to cook serious recipes) and I am now at a turning point that many “fellowship kids” find themselves. One tragic day, my time as an active Mitchell Scholar will end and I will need to move on. Where I will be and what I will be doing is now a blank page. If anyone reading this has a good idea, feel free to send suggestions along. Until that decision must be made, I will calmly enjoy the rest of my days here: this the 24th year of my story.