March 2006 Reflection

As most of the others are thinking as well… Wow, this year is almost over! It’s only mid-March, but my classes will end in a week, final exams will be in May, and then things will be gradually coming to a close. I’m now very much involved with my research project, which will continue through the summer, so the continuity of the experience still exists through July or August. But needless to say, I’m trying to take advantage of every opportunity to live the true Irish experience.

And that true Irish experience seems to lie in the countryside. The first real encounter with this was on a Saturday morning… I go cycling with a local Irish group. We ride out of Cork on a busy highway between the double yellow line which flanks the sides of the road and the grass. The street is nicely paved; we pass big stores, the construction of buildings and apartments, and giant trucks and many cars pass us. A turn later, and we’re on a smaller road, a little bumpy, not too many automobiles. A few cows, a bit greener. One more turn and we’re further into the countryside. We go through Inishannon in about 2 minutes and then take road that runs by the river to Kinsale. There was a tiny (i.e. 6-7 buildings perhaps?) outpost along the river at one point, and each of the few houses was a bright, distinct color – reds, yellows, greens, lavender. Would it not be fantastic if neighborhoods in the States were filled with reds and yellows and blues and greens? The other riders were much faster cyclists, and eventually I told them to go on while I would stop for a snack at an isolated shop. A elderly woman with a typical grandmother-personality was the apparent owner. I bought some homemade cake (delicious, especially when glucose-depleted!), some bananas, and a fruit drink. She didn’t use a cash register but a ledger book. Just a notebook, where she recorded the purchase with a pen, then gave me my change from her notes and coins in the apron pocket. Several people passed in and out of the shop, first curiously glancing at the guy in muddy cycling tights shoveling cake in his mouth, then talked with the owner/baker as good friends. This was the real Ireland. Finally found it. Not to say that Cork, Dublin and the like aren’t Irish. But they are less culturally distinct from what I’m used to, compared with the rural shop that seems to serve most residents on this stretch of the Ballymahane River. After a nice chat with some of the lads in the shop, I got some cake to go, and cycled home.

I’ve enjoyed the relaxed environment in Cork. It has a countryside feel, despite being much bigger of a city than I had originally thought. I buy my bread, eggs, chicken, fruit and a few other things from the local market. Fishermen are always around the River Lee, upstream of the city, and are always up for a chat. Time runs slower in general – though the university operates on much faster pace! The learning is intense at UCC, as is the research, and that’s a good thing. Working in the lab has been great for the research itself, but probably more for the fact that it’s been a great way to get to know Irish and international postgrads very well. Getting to know them all has been the best part of this year’s experience.

I can’t leave a reflection without putting in a plug for a charity for which I’m working to raise money. Go to and please donate if you can afford to do so! I’m running the London Marathon on 23 April for the charity Concern (which now has branches in Ireland, the UK, and the US, but got its start in Dublin in 1968!). Read more on the webpage. Great things are happening with this organization.

from Cork, cheers!

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