I steady myself against the wind that nearly takes me over the edge of the cliffs into the icy Atlantic. Standing here on this ancient lookout point I try to imagine what it must have been like for the guardians over the ages. It is a quiet location and I am almost convinced that its walls were built as much to protect from the wind as invaders. Unneeded for generations, the walls are little match for the howling winds on the Aran Islands.
I have spent the past few months taking more time to explore Ireland. From a tranquil peace on the Aran Islands to the majestic heights of the Cliffs of Moher I have stood in awe of Ireland’s beauty. And from the Gaelic speaking Connemara to the green roads of the Burren, I find myself contemplating Ireland’s troubled history.
One does not have to go far to see symbols of Ireland’s history impacting today. Centuries ago the British drove Irish farmers west into Connaught to gain access to the best arable land. This is where Galway, my home for the semester, is located. Further west of Galway is Connemara, one of the largest areas where Gaelic is the first language. I am told that many Irish students will spend time here as they grow up, to help preserve the Irish language.
Evidence of the famine is also all around. My university, NUI Galway, is a product of the famine; the main building was a work project started during the famine. Riding through the countryside on my way to the Cliffs of Moher, south of Galway, I wonder what it must have been like for the Irish farmers who were driven here. Despite having the shared crop of potatoes, the land appears a great deal rockier than the farmlands of Idaho where I grew up. I find it difficult to imagine the hardships that must have come with subsistence farming between the sheets of rock.
Relishing the warmth of a bus, I wonder what it was like to face this frigid cold while starving during the years of the famine. Cutting across the landscape of the rocky hills are several green roads. These roads, another work project, seem to lead nowhere and I have been told that is largely accurate. Incomplete, many now serve as scenic hiking trials.
But there is also evidence of peace in Ireland and with that peace a commitment to try to share it with others. The Irish military is almost exclusively involved in peacekeeping missions. The Foreign Minister has joined with many other world leaders to try to broker an agreement in Darfur that will bring real peace and security to the region.
This commitment extends beyond Irish leadership. When I began recruiting people for STAND’s DarfurFast, an annual event to raise money and awareness for the victims, I was told that the date was no good. December 5th would be in the middle of finals for most universities and the Irish Parliament would be debating the budget. Nevertheless, this was the international day, and we did our best to recruit participants.
The response we saw, I think, was part of that grassroots commitment to peace, and it moved me. Leading into the event, a local secondary school staged a demonstration on the responsibility to protect. Six members of the Irish Parliament chose to participate. And on the evening of the fast, we held a candlelight vigil to show our solidarity with the survivors. Despite the rigors of finals, dozens of students joined us to show their support for peace in Sudan’s future. No longer is a community limited by borders, or its sense of responsibility for its neighbors restricted by boundaries.