March 2006 Reflection

At some point in February, I cannot recall exactly when, I woke up and felt like Dublin was home. I knew that although it was bright and sunny at 8am, it would be cloudy by noon. I knew that there was no need to get to class at exactly 9 am because the professor and half the class would not be there until 9:15 am. And I knew that I had better eat my usual breakfast of peanut butter on toast before heading out to class or I would be teased in the elevator by at least one person for being “so American.”

It took longer than I had expected to really feel at home in Ireland. But now that the feeling has come I am quite happy to put aside my international explorations for a few months to experience more of the Emerald Isle outside its capital city. For being a relatively small country, Ireland has an extraordinary amount of interesting sites to see. While recently visiting a fellow Scholar in Cork, I took a daytrip to the port town of Cobh where I found an abundance of maritime history. Not only was Cobh the last port of call for the Titanic and the last sight of Ireland for over 3 million immigrants headed toward Ellis Island, it was also the town that sent dozens of local seamen out to rescue passengers from the Lusitania when it was attacked 26 miles from Cobh’s shores. Another favorite trip I took in Ireland was to hike its tallest mountain, Carrantouhil, in Killarney National Park. It was an invigorating hike with magnificent postcard views of Ireland’s rugged mountains and expansive bogs. The summit proved to be one of the windiest places I have ever been, but the best part was winding up a steep boulder field that also served as a part-time waterfall, referred to as the Devil’s Ladder.

Despite my love for the West of Ireland, classes keep me coming back to Dublin. Fortunately, I was in town for the Dublin riots and was able to watch the garda try to keep the crowd under control while stalking around in full riot gear. It was a great lesson on how group-think takes over and entices people to behave in a manner that would otherwise seem irrational. I was glad to have the up-close experience with a relatively mild riot because it provided perspective on what it is like to be part of the chaos.

Aside from the riots, Dublin has provided many nights of hit-or-miss entertainment. I have found that going out in Dublin is an incredibly unpredictable thing. One night the whole city may decide to close down early and the next night everyone will have come out in search of some good craic and a few pints. Either way, having settled into Irish life, I have found myself part of a ‘crew’ again, this time with its members being many of the Irish girls from my dorm. I am enjoying picking up sayings like ‘good man,’ ‘lads’ and ‘lost the plot.’ It’s good craic anyway =)

Actually, having so much free time this year came as a shock to me because it was something I did not have a lot of in college. When I got to DCU I was concerned that not being busy with course work and classes meant I wasn’t learning much. Instead I have found that it meant I could learn things differently as I took more time to reflect on what I was reading or discussing in class and come to a fuller understanding of it. And after all, isn’t that what getting a master’s degree is – understanding basic concepts at a deeper level that allow you to piece together multiple revelations into the big picture? Additionally, I have found that approaching international security issues and conflicts from a European perspective has added breadth to my way of seeing the world and its news worthy issues. Contrasting European and American perspectives has provided me with plenty to mull over!

But in the end, I must say my loyalties still lie with the U.S. military. So it really came as no shock that I found my niche with the great men and women who work at the U.S. Embassy here in Dublin. Although I cannot spend as much time as I would like in the military attche’s office due to security clearance restrictions, I am enjoying shadowing a variety of Embassy staff and learning about their job responsibilities. At some point in my U.S. Air Force career, I would like to serve abroad as an Embassy military attache, so this has been a great opportunity to gain experience – who knows, maybe I’ll even get to be an Ambassador someday! My sincere thanks to Jon Benton and Michael McClellan for facilitating this opportunity for me!

Although this concludes my ‘reflections’ for my Mitchell year, the year itself is by no means over. I still have two more Mitchell events to attend and plenty of traveling to do, including a bike excursion around the Ring of Kerry and Beara Peninsula, several more self-guided ‘explore Ireland’ trips, a three week trip to SE Asia, a tour of Scotland, a trip out to Kuwait to visit friends stationed there over Easter break, and (assuming I can secure a visa) a trip to Russia – if that doesn’t work there is always the option of getting a rail pass to explore Eastern Europe. Oh yes, and I have to write my dissertation…But no worries there. The recent election of Hamas has given me a great, albeit controversial, comparative conflict research topic on Hamas and the IRA/Sinn Fein (both having militant and political wings and having been considered terrorist groups at some level). This fits nicely with my current classes on: Terrorism, the Arab/Israeli Conflict, Political Islam, and the Northern Ireland Conflict. Using the IRA/Sinn Fein as a historic model, I intend to garner lessons on how Hamas can progress toward becoming a legitimate political actor and keep its militant wing in check.

Many thanks again to Trina and the U.S.-Ireland Alliance for a great year abroad! And now, for the extent of my Irish language education: Pionta Guinness, le do thoil.

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