June 2007 Reflection

Although I still have a month-and-a-half before I depart from Derry, the time has come to compose my final Mitchell Scholar journal. Once again, these past few months have been filled with a combination of study, work, and travel, and have been made all the more interesting by the events of the continuing peace process here in Northern Ireland.

One of the benefits of my academic program is that I have had the freedom to read and write about topics largely of my choice. This semester, I studied (once again) the Arab-Israeli conflict and wrote an essay about why the two-state solution has remained beyond the grasp of Jews and Arabs in Palestine/Israel. I also examined the debate about the right of humanitarian intervention, as well as the utility of recasting this right as a “responsibility to protect.” With coursework complete, my attention returns to the Northern Ireland peace process for my MA thesis. Another privilege of attending Magee College has been the opportunity to attend the Tip O’Neill Lecture Series, convened by Nobel Laureate John Hume. At the start of June, Irish Senator Maurice Hayes reflected on the current status of the peace process in Northern Ireland; last year, I heard Irish President Mary McAleese speak.

,p>This has been a momentous time for a student of peace and conflict to live in Northern Ireland. In early May, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, the most popular of Northern Ireland’s unionist and nationalist parties, respectively, formed a power-sharing executive. Government powers were devolved to an executive led by First Minister Ian Paisley, the octogenarian “Dr. No” who had initially opposed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and long promised never to enter government with Sinn Fein, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator and a former leader of the Provisional IRA. Heralded by some as the final realization of the political arrangements stipulated by the Good Friday Agreement, the new government may both signal and precipitate the “normalization” of politics that so many in Northern Ireland seem to desire.
In my own small way, as a basketball coach through PeacePlayers International (formerly Playing for Peace), I was glad to have had the opportunity this year to help foster positive interactions among kids from Northern Ireland’s diversifying communities. In early May, I attended the end-of-season celebration for the Limavady Lightning girls’club team I coached. I was reminded that here in Northern Ireland, historical rivals (unionists and nationalists) must strive to create communities in which they can live peacefully not just with each other, but also with the growing number of immigrants from Europe and further abroad.

Over the past few months, I have had several opportunities to travel. I returned to the States at the beginning of April to celebrate Passover with my family and to interview (successfully) for the Dorot Fellowship, which will allow me to live, volunteer, and study in Israel next year. It was great to be able to visit with friends and family and helpful to have time at home to explore law school options.

At the end of April, I spent a week at the Irish College in Leuven, Belgium on a trip organized by the University of Ulster. The town of Leuven was charming, with green parks and a large central square lined with bars and cafes with outdoor tables that would fill with university students (including my classmates and me) in the evening. The Irish College arranged for us a series of lectures on the history, structure, and policies of the European Union and day trips to Brussels, the World War I battlefields in Ypres, and the Nazi concentration camp at Breendonk. It proved to be an interesting and informative program and a good opportunity to spend time with my classmates before the academic year drew to a close.

During the last two weeks of May, I traveled around the Republic of Ireland, enjoying one final jaunt with the Mitchell Scholars and the opportunity to see more of the island I have called home since September. Two days with a college friend exploring the rugged beauty of Connemara led to a very full birthday on which I biked and hiked around Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands. Returning to Dublin for the Mitchell Scholar ring ceremony, I was glad to have five more days with my Mitchell Scholar classmates and friends. The craic was good in Dublin and remained that way as we visited Newgrange and Glenstal Abbey, enjoyed amazing live music outside Limerick and in Dingle, and braved the snow to ascend Ireland’s second tallest mountain, Mt. Brandon. Getting to know the Mitchells proved a highlight of the year, and I look forward to seeing them more in the future. After we disbanded, I enjoyed another five days in the scenic County Kerry, hiking the mountains of the Dingle, Iveragh, and Beara Peninsulas and exploring Killarney National Park. My return to Derry took me through Galway, a bustling and colorful city to which I hope to return this summer.

Overall, I have had a very interesting and rewarding nine months on the island of Ireland and look forward to a month-and-a-half more. I have learned a lot about what I came here to study – peace and conflict – as well as the island’s people and their histories, and myself. I thoroughly enjoy traditional Irish music, both for the emotions of joy and sorrow that the fiddle, flute, whistle, pipes, guitar, and bodhran so readily convey, and for the community atmosphere the music fosters among musicians and listeners alike, often blurring the lines between the two. I have enjoyed pushing myself up and down the sides of the island’s hills and mountains, for the chance to test my limits, to contemplate quietly, and to engage in conversation. I have gained a better understanding of the importance of developing, and situating oneself, within a community, and of the challenges faced by people trying to create a life far from home. And I have come to appreciate the courage and persistence of those who, in more and less publicized ways, have worked to foster more peaceful relations within Northern Ireland during decades of conflict and the ensuing peace process. It is only fitting to close by thanking my fellow Mitchell Scholar friends, Trina, Mary Lou, and everyone else at the US-Ireland Alliance, the University of Ulster, and elsewhere who have contributed to making the experiences of this year possible for me.

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