January 2008 Reflection

It is hard to believe that I’m about to begin the second half of my program at UCD. I’ve had a long break and a great opportunity to spend time with my family in Tupper Lake. UCD’s academic schedule closely resembles that of an American university. We had a solid five-week break between our first semester finals and the beginning of the second term. Besides being a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family in the States, the break provides a good chunk of time to begin thinking and planning for my thesis research. I’m trying to figure out the logistics of my research, and I am planning on returning to Swaziland in June to work on that phase of my degree.

While I have spent some time “thinking” about my thesis, I have to admit that most of my trip planning has been for my March break. I’ve never visited continental Europe, so I’m planning to explore Germany, France, and Italy with the help of our generous USIT travel stipend. Aside from a world-class education, having the time to do some European travel, and having the financial assistance to make it possible, are just a few of the many opportunities that the Mitchell scholarship provides.

Thus far, most of my travel has been in Ireland. Recently, a group of Mitchells and myself took a trip down to Limerick to watch a Munster rugby match. This was made possible by the generosity of some program supporters. Munster rugby in Limerick is a very big deal, and even though the match was the day before one of my final exams, I decided to make the trip. Although the lecturer reading that final exam may not agree, the trip was well worth it. The rugby park in Limerick holds about 14000 fans and is sold out every match. In fact, work is underway to nearly double capacity of the stadium. Amazingly, even though the place is an active construction site, the games still go on and still sell-out. Our hosts and many of the people we ran into that weekend were great about explaining the game to the American contingent. Besides the rules, it was very important that we came away with a little knowledge about the history of the Munster side. In 1978 Munster beat the visiting All Blacks, the New Zealand national team. To this day, no other Irish club team, and few other national teams have ever beaten New Zealand. This event is spoken of in the most reverent way and in a manner that would make you think it happened just last week. They weren’t the All Blacks, but we witnessed a close match against a Welsh side (Llanelli), and Munster came away with a win.

After the game, while riding the train back to Dublin, I was struck by how hospitable and generous our hosts had been and what great window into Ireland the whole weekend had been. Besides the game I had a great conversation with one of our hosts who lived in Limerick about the work being done to reinvigorate the economy of that city. He spoke very excitedly of the possibilities to rehabilitate Limerick, a city that is often spoken of with a hint of disdain by Dubliners. In fact, many young Dubliners refer to the rest of Ireland as “beyond the pale”. While Dublin certainly is the most cosmopolitan part of Ireland, places like Cork and Limerick have been incredibly important hubs for the industry that has allowed Dublin to blossom into a financial center.

It’s my impression that the new challenge for a place like Ireland will be justifying its economic success with the inequality that accompanied that success. This is a struggle that we’ve seen in the American context. I grew up in the Adirondack Park in upstate New York, a place that hasn’t exactly ridden the global economy to fabulous wealth. If a Sunday afternoon at a Munster ruby match is any indication, there is still a lot of life in a place like Limerick, and it’ll be interesting to see how Ireland deals with its own rust belts and marginalized regions.

I’m excited to get back to Dublin for the last half of my year. I’m looking forward to going to Belfast in April to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Peace Accord. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had this opportunity, and I am hoping to make the most of it in the coming months.

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