March 2005 Reflection

Since my last report in January posted on the US-Ireland Alliance site, life in Galway has moved on. I wish it hadn’t, but it has, as it must. Or so I was told it must. I’ve wandered through many of the foreign places that I had been hoping to visit, including the Scandinavian/Nordic countries, Spain and Morocco. And my economics classes have progressed, such that I now often find myself behind in work (a position to which I had become accustomed at Princeton).

But I would like to focus my words on a Galway event of epic proportion, the Galway Mitchell Scholar Reunion Event (GMSRE), February 4 – 6, 2005.

The GMSRE was patronized by 11 of the 12 Mitchell Scholars, from every corner of the Irish nation – from the banks of the rolling Shannon, to the rolling cars on the bustling streets of Dublin, to the rolling hills of Derry (I don’t know if there are hills in Derry, but I will take the liberty. I don’t actually know what is in Derry, but I’ll be visiting shortly, so stay tuned).

The first night, a Friday night, brought all the Scholars together under the roofs of Michael and my respective dwellings in Galway. We engaged in insightful social debate, followed by numerous cultural experiences at Galway’s pubs. In point of fact, the very essence of Galway thrives in the pubs along Shop Street, and so I feel justified in categorizing this Friday night as a cultural experience.

Nevertheless, we all survived Friday night, and we all awoke on Saturday, some sooner than others. The group walked around downtown Galway – downtown Galway is not large, so that took only a half hour or so. But the Saturday market was out in full force, so we crowded into the stalls alongside St. Nicholas church, where we bore witness to… a horrible biking accident!!

Actually, it was just a joker pretending to have fallen off his bike, but fellow scholar Cindy screamed and tried to help him, being a good samaritan. From the market, we wandered up Corrib River, and into the massive Cathedral. And from there, to the University, and then back again. It was on this journey that I just kept gawking at the beauty and serenity of the town – though I’ve seen it many times before, you realize how lucky you are to be in such a place when showing it off to other people.

At night, the main event was a trip to the dog tracks, 15 minutes outside the city. Galway Greyhound Racing was a surprisingly sophisticated operation. The actual races are nearly impossible to follow, but everyone bets, and it feels as if some of the spectators spend the better part of their lives at the tracks. Needless to say, I won a negative amount of money, but other scholars were more successful, perhaps owing to insider information on the dogs.

Sunday, we visited the Aran Islands. Four of the scholars took to the minivans for the tour of the island, and four took to the bikes. One of those bikers was David Buckley, who had never ever ridden a bike before in his 22 years. True story. So of course, we did the sensible thing and attempted to teach him how to bike. David was a surprisingly good learner, and within 30 minutes he was ready to hit the Aran Island roads at full speed. David is a tall, lanky character, and while peddling precariously on his bike, his long scarf flapping behind, he looked startlingly like Ichibod Crane. He doesn’t bear physical resemblance normally, but ask him to ride a bike, and you will see what I mean.

So of course, with a brand new biker, we once again did the sensible thing and headed for the most hilly, narrow, death-defying paths that I could find on the Island. David survived these traps with a mixture of fortitude, good spirit, and a willingness to ignore his own injuries. We made it as a group out to Dun Aengus (what I consider the most beautiful natural sight in Ireland), and revelled in the successes of our newly bike-enabled comrade, who then took the minibus back to port.

Sunday night was the Superbowl, and we congregated with approximately five hundred other Americans in a miniscule bar called Fox’s, which was showing the game. This game was primarily notable for our discovery of how many people can fit in such a small area, and/or how a pub changes character when dominated by Americans rather than Irishmen. Not necessarily for better or worse, it’s just different.

In this brief recounting of the Galway Mitchell Scholar Reunion Event, the important point is that we had a great time together. The Scholars came together like old friends, and made the best of a great opportunity to enjoy ourselves and experience some more of what Ireland has to offer. And it gets better, because we meet up again in three days in Limerick (March 11), so the story goes on…

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