June 2007 Reflection

It feels like ages since I wrote my last Mitchell entry. I’ve changed my thesis topic, spent weeks driving around the Irish countryside, flown to Pittsburgh, back to Dublin, gone out to Limerick, driven up the west coast, and back to Dublin and now Belfast.

I suppose the most important piece of new information is that I’m spending the summer working for the BBC in Northern Ireland, a job I’m very excited about and already enjoying immensely. I’m working at the Broadcasting House in downtown Belfast and I’m splitting the summer between the Politics Unit and the Online Production team. I started work on Tuesday, and I’ve been doing a mix of tasks helping out with live programs, pre-recorded interviews, and packaged films. Tuesday was my first day of work and I was at the Legislative Assembly until 8pm working on a radio show for that night’s broadcast. I’ve already learned a ton about broadcasting and am looking forward to the rest of the summer.

Apart from the BBC, the biggest thing going on in my life right now is my thesis. After a bit of negotiation with my thesis adviser, I was able to change my old topic to a radio documentary about Irish moonshine. The topic is somewhat ironic because although I do have an occasional beer or glass of wine, I’m a very, very light drinker. The subject is fascinating though and is tied up with notions of Irish country life, Irish relations with the British, the place of alcohol in society, and the effects of wealth on Ireland.

Moonshine in Ireland is called poitín (PU-cheen) and has been illegal for more than three hundred years. Of course, that hasn’t stopped people from producing it, and in the early 1800’s, ¾ of all alcohol produced in Ireland was poitín, with country farmers brewing and distilling it in bogs and on islands. In recent years, however, the production of poitín has nearly died out because people have moved to the cities and become wealthier, hence able to buy commercial spirits. I spent weeks traveling around Ireland interviewing people who used to make poitín. I interviewed a police officer, a forensics analyst (who tests poitín when it gets confiscated), a restaurant chef who uses it, and a country doctor who has seen the effect it’s had on people’s health. I’ve got the majority of my interviews done and need to edit it down and start weaving them together.

My second semester of classes was just as interesting as the first and although I found myself pressed to the wall at the end of it, I enjoyed them a lot. For my publications course, I produced six-sample pages of a current affairs magazine, a project I spent a full week doing. For my features course, I did a final article on discrimination against women in the construction industry. In Media Law, I learned about the efforts to reform Ireland’s legal profession and wrote a 10-page paper on the battles that are being waged over those reforms.

I’ve learned so much in a short time, about Ireland and about journalism. Now I’m in Northern Ireland and learning about broadcast skills and about the politics and the history here. I can’t imagine the year having gone better and for that I’m grateful to a host of people. Most of all I want to thank the US-Ireland Alliance and all its benefactors, including the Irish and US Governments, Derek and Siobhan Quinlan, Pat and Teresa Mooney, Cross-Atlantic Capital Partners, and John Morrissey. (I should say I finally met many of these people at our end-of-year reception and really enjoyed getting to know them.) I also want to thank all of the professors and staff at DCU who encouraged and supported me throughout the year, especially John O’Sullivan, Colum Kenny, Eoin Campbell and Damien Hickey. Finally, I want to thank Trina Vargo, Mary Lou, and all of the Mitchell Scholars from whom I learned so much and whose friendship I know will last for many years.

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