December was a month of pilgrimages for me: one to Rome and two others to Bushmills, Northern Ireland, and Middleton, Cork County.
Before the pilgrimages began, I wrapped up some work at UCD where I am learning more and more about the EU. For the past month, I have been working on a project with Dr. Diana Panke on the structural disadvantages that smaller EU states face in advocating their policy agendas on the wider EU table. Through interviews and case studies, this project has helped me learn more about the problems that smaller EU members are up against, from language barriers to the brain drain in the public sector in their respective ministries, to simply a lack of money to travel to Brussels to assist the permanent representation. While very different from faith-based development in Washington, DC, this project has given me much exposure to the dynamics of European politics. It is community development, in the sense that recognizing and fixing these structural problems will lead to the empowerment of weaker EU States and a more sustainable and fair EU policy.
Not long after finishing the project, I found myself sitting behind the wheel of a 1983 Mercedes Benz with the goal of learning more about the EU from the open road, rather than interview transcripts. I left Dublin on December 17th with two good friends—Adam Tart and Bernie Rausch—with miles of open road ahead of us. Over the course of 10 days, we caught the Rothko exhibit at Tate Modern in London, saw the Cliffs of Dover, drove on the German Autobahn, paid a visit to Mozart’s birthplace, and toured the Schloss Schoenbrunn. While all these sights were worthwhile, the most important part of the trip was our arrival in Rome to attend midnight Mass at the Pantheon and to receive the Christmas blessing at noon later that day from Pope Benedict XVI.
While making the trip to Rome was a pilgrimage of religious sorts for me, another pilgrimage of secondary importance was to the Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland and to the Middleton Jameson Distillery in County Cork. When my high school friend Charlie Swisko bought a ticket to Dublin after Christmas, I knew we needed to make that trip. We are both whisky connoisseurs and hope to one day start our own micro-brewery back in the States. Although Kentucky bourbon is impossible to beat in our book, we do tip our hats to the Bushmills label—founded in 1608 and is the oldest licensed distillery in the world—and to the Middleton’s Jameson distillery, which houses the largest pot in the world.
Belfast is also a great city for Scotch drinking, as Charlie and I found out when Frank McMillan (Mitchell Scholar, Class of ’08)—he himself a sophisticated Scotch drinker—took us to Bittles Bar, where we had a selection of 100 Scotches at our finger tips for only 3.50 pounds a shot. After Frank picked Charlie and I up from the ground,(not from drinking but from the cheap price tag) we went right to the counter to enjoy several Scotches while surrounded by portraits of Ireland’s greatest writers.
The second semester at UCD is starting in a few days. I will be back to our normal routine after weeks of living out of my book bag. Vicki, Ryan, and I will soon be on the move to Birmingham, England, at the end of January to participate in the ToughGuy competition. This is a one-day competition that combines—as Vicki put it—the best of Navy Seal training and Fear Factor. I’m glad I got the Pope’s blessing before signing up for this.