March 2005 Reflection

In the early part of the 5th century, the Niall of the Nine Hostages kidnapped one Maewyn Succat from his town in Scotland. After years of tending to swine and then a clerical education, he would become to be known as St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland who would go on to convert Ireland to Christianity and even drive all snakes from the island (will not go into the biogeographical inconsistencies of this at present). Yesterday I celebrated the holiday in his honor for the first time in the country of his renown. For years on every March 17th, my primary focus of the day would be advertising my green attire and keeping an eye out for those who failed to honor the garment decorum of the occasion, who would then get pinched. In later years, I came to view this custom as nothing but sheer assault and have for some time worked to educate people about the true nature of the holiday. Celebrating the holiday in Ireland was supposed to be the ultimate experience in commemorating all that for which St. Patrick would want to be celebrated. It was so much fun but really different from what I had expected.

I woke up eager for the day’s holiday celebrations. Adorned with a bright, green shirt and a brown, suede jacket with a breast pocket full of fresh shamrocks, I walked out into the beautiful sunlight to meet a friend to watch Galway’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. The festivities were yet another reminder of the eclectic differences between American and Irish cultures. I was mostly thrown off by the little things: bands of children playing whistles instead of traditional band instruments, political messaging in many of the floats, and a darker sense of humor to the costumes and themes. As an example, the finale of the parade was a float titled “Fallujah Square,” which was satirizing the disorderly state of the construction of Eyre Square in Galway. I appreciated the joke, albeit the ten seconds it took for me to get it, and yet some sort of ingrained proclivity invoked a deliberative hesitation. Something about this did not seem “right.”

This same feeling has been a routine part of my interactions with most, but not all, of my Irish friends. For example, the relationship between my house mates and I has been largely built on them “taking the piss” at me for being too “politically correct.” Whether I am commenting on one of their sporadic racist comments or discussing a particular social justice issue, I am always seen as a “politically correct American,” and never as an individual with a progressive system of values that is constructed to advance equality and undermine prejudice. Living in Ireland has helped me appreciate a more abrasive sense of humor, which is often an amazing tool for grounding people in the day-to-day reality of an issue. However my Irish companions’ failure to realize the broader social implications of their words and actions represents a serious problem I have with the Irish mentality. One of the greatest challenges about living here is facing this and the social hypocrisy of living in a nation embracing liberal European attitudes and yet still struggling with centuries of anger, oppression, and struggle for power and recognition and all of the prejudices that come with that package. As a good friend of mine succinctly put it, “It’s interesting how the Irish love hip hop music but hate black people.” Yet, fair play to Ireland for being more progressive on a wide variety of social issues than Americans and for their propensity for wanting change. For example, according to the Galway Independent, one of the prominent local newspapers, Galway is to become the world’s first anti-racist city. I am not really sure what that exactly means, but the notion is quite exciting even though I guess it insinuates that every other city in the world is either pro-racist or neutral about the issue.

The most surprising part about living for such a long time in a different country, despite a general anti-American political sentiment here, has been how much more patriotic I have become. Interestingly, this feeling culminated watching Superbowl XXXIX with my fellow Mitchell Scholars, where most of whom had come to Galway to celebrate. I remember looking up at the plasma screen seeing alternating frames of Alicia Keys singing, performers marching about, and people in the stands cheering, crying with all their hearts. The sight was so extravagant, diverse, and lively. The grandeur and character of the spectacle represented something that is honestly beyond the possibilities and cultural capital of the Irish psyche. I turned to one of my friends and said, “This is why I love America.”

Outside of the Superbowl extravaganza, I spent an entire weekend with my Mitchell class in Limerick. I had attended a conference in Limerick last June (where I got to carry Dr. Jane Goddall’s luggage: coolest experience of my life), and I was glad to be in the city once again. The gracious Castletroy Park Hotel hosted us, which is where the “big-wigs” at the conference I went to stayed. I felt out of place yet greatly appreciative that now I was staying in such a lucrative locale. I did however almost miss the weekend from a case of tonsillitis that I was still getting over. My tonsillitis also put an onion in the ointment with my performance in a play for DramaSoc in college. Luckily days before our first performance I got my voice back (I had not been able to speak for about three days earlier) and the show went very well. The past few months are actually somewhat void of exciting tales of adventure and delight. I did spend a loving weekend visiting some friends in Oxford, England where I had the most amazing proper tea ever with porcelain dishes and fresh fruit. The most exciting part of my time here I believe is coming up. This week I am leaving for a two week stay in Japan to visit my brother who lives there with a stop over in Dubai. I have never been to Asia or the Middle East, and this trip should drastically alter my preconceptions of that part of the world. I am sad to be approaching the end of my incredible journey here in Europe, but I am excited to bring back the changes and experiences I have had to my home country with a new and exciting outlook on the possibilities of opportunity and the meanings of culture.

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