March 2009 Reflection

Taking Ryan’s advice in Journal # 2, I’ve started doing some more walking in an effort to find all the cul-de-sacs of University College Dublin (UCD). Health-benefits aside, being a peripatetic student can lead to some interesting discoveries.

One such walk has actually inspired me to write a paper. On a walk throughout UCD’s Arts Block, I found an interesting department tucked aside, called the Irish Folklore Collection. Upon opening the door, I walked into a sociologist’s dream: shelves and shelves of transcripts, audiotapes, and records documenting Ireland’s richest cultural traditions. The Irish Folklore Collection was the work of Seán Ó Súilleabháin in the early 20th century. With the support of the Irish Government, Ó Súilleabháin went out to the far reaches of Ireland to create a ‘treasure-house of fact and fancy, of ritual and observance, custom and belief’ of the Irish (in A Handbook of Irish Folklore). I needed to write a paper for my Qualitative Research Methods course so I began digging out the transcripts.

Travis Green challenged us all in his Journal #1 to encounter something new while in Ireland. Be that a new region of the world, a different culture, or a fresh standpoint. I never have done research in gender and feminist studies and thought that maybe this would be a good chance to try something different. After listening to a few tapes and reading some articles, I picked a paper topic exploring the socialization of girls into Catholic mothers and the pleasures and pains of growing up into such a powerful—yet restrictive—role in early 20th century Ireland.

Another such walk led me by accident into a lecture by Nobel-laureate Desmond Tutu. His lively talk touched upon some of the most pressing problems of our day, including the tug-of-wars between Hamas and Israeli, Iran and the United States, and Mugabe and Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe. When asked what was needed to end these conflicts, Tutu said that the answer was simple: ‘there is no future without forgiveness.’

A few weeks later, I met Senator George J. Mitchell for the first time. He talked to us at length on his work towards the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and emphasized that what will lead to a lasting peace in Northern Ireland is not simply dried ink on a peace treaty, but peoples’ willingness to forgive each other despite the years of hate and bloodshed. The future of Northern Ireland depends on forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a tough concept for many people these days. My weekly Lenten reflections on Tutu and Mitchell’s lives have given me ample time to reflect on such a simple, yet difficult, concept. Despite the recent murders of British soldiers in Northern Ireland, it is moving to see religious leaders of both the Catholic and Protestant churches speak of peace and reconciliation in a time of great anger and fear. I’ve always believed that it is better to live a sermon than listen to one, and the life of Derry’s Richard Moore—founder of the non-profit Children in the Crossfire—is a case-in-point. Blinded by a rubber bullet at age 12 during the Troubles, Richard recently met with the soldier who shot him to say he had no more hatred towards him and has since started a meaningful friendship with the retired officer. His example of forgiveness is a tough one to match, but one that we all—and especially Mitchell Scholars—must attempt to live out in our own ways so that tomorrow is a bit more peaceful than it is today.

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