After becoming accustomed to lush green grass laying beneath bare trees in the winter, it was a surprise to experience snow in Ireland. Not once, but twice, in both parts of the island.
The winter weather I returned to on the eastern coast of Ireland after Christmas reminded me of the 6-inch “blizzard” that shutdown my hometown in March. Most of the native Southerners didn’t leave their homes for days. One of my roommates called me at the beginning of the snowstorm because there an inch had accumulated on the ground and she didn’t think she could make it home. She was in our neighborhood. Needless to say, Irish are much like Southerners when it comes to snow; we’re never prepared and are completely unsure of what to do. A friend from South Dakota laughed when I sent him news reports of bus services shutting down in Dublin and surrounds after our 5 centimeters. However, without salt, grit, and plows, there isn’t much of a choice.
I disembarked the plane in Dublin after it took 90 minutes to unfreeze the jetway. Then I boarded a Dublin Bus to the city so that I could transfer and return home to Maynooth. The weather conditions resulted in constantly changing bus routes, but eventually I made it home. Sitting on a double decker bus as it climbed icy, snowy roads, sliding back and forth in the gentlest breeze of wind, is not an experience I’ll willingly repeat.
The silence that snow brings to a crisp morning is what I enjoy the most. For almost two weeks the temperatures didn’t rise above 0?C. During the mornings when snow still blanketed the ground, the normal sounds I hear while walking through Maynooth’s gardens were muffled and replaced with laughter of children and the occasional confused bird. It created a serene atmosphere that put me in a good mood despite my looming finals.
I was overjoyed to see a massive snowball fight being started in the quad outside St. Patrick’s College. Further inspection brought a bigger smile to my face, as the participants were all priests. Snowmen were everywhere, one whole family of them cropped up overnight on the rugby pitch outside my window. I was also amused to see our town’s street sweeper employed to “sweep” snow of the street. It was quite effective in clogging all the drains and creating icy hills on top of sidewalks.
The snow has now melted, and it’s so warm that birds are singing like it is springtime. I have traveled to places that have unpredictable weather, but it’s more pronounced in Ireland. I don’t ever check the weather anymore, it’s not very reliable or it tells you something that you already knew, like that there’s a chance of rain today.
As the semester came to a close and the days got shorter and shorter, there was much merriment and reasons to celebrate on the Island. Most of the Mitchells met up for a potluck Thanksgiving dinner, complete with delicious sweet potato casserole, yummy cucumbers, and molten chocolate cupcakes. I was very grateful for all the opportunities of the past year, the exciting adventures to come, and most importantly, my new Mitchell family that I could celebrate the holiday with.
Christmas celebration and decorations were in full swing mid- November, but the intensity ramped up in December. Santa hats and elf costumes were not an unusual sight around campus. We tried to focus on studies, but because NUI Maynooth doesn’t hold them until January, it was easy to rationalize a Christmas party here and there. After discovering mince meat wasn’t actually made of cows and it wouldn’t violate my (not-so-strict) vegetarianism, I indulged in a few. Mince Pies and mulled wine are the definition of Christmas in Ireland, and I was able to bring a little slice of the Island back to the States for my family and friends.
Much of the past two months has been spent devoted to my courses, but I’ve enjoyed study breaks in the form of friends, travel, and food. One of my friends is currently living and working in Belgium on a Fulbright Scholarship. She came to visit with two other Fulbrighters, one of whom is a James Joyce fan, so much of our sightseeing revolved around famous landmarks and settings from his books. It was wonderful to have a visitor to share experiences with, and I am looking forward to many more friends that will trek across the Atlantic to experience my take on Ireland (I’m still figuring it out, of course).
I also traveled to Belfast (again) right before I left, to see Belfast Blues and introduce one of my friend’s, a native of County Kildare, to Northern Ireland for the first time. Bre and I shopped and ate to our heart’s and stomach’s delight in Belfast’s Christmas market. Then the morning before I was to leave, I went downstairs to put the kettle on for some tea while I finished my Christmas letters. Much to my delight, the street outside was covered in a blanket of white and the streets were empty. We enjoyed the winter weather by making snow angels in the National Garden and sharing drinks at Belfast Castle overlooking the city.
With a third of the year over, it makes me want to slow the world down so I can savor the experiences and people in Ireland. It’ll be over before I realize; I’m sure of it. Sometimes it still feels like I have an American flag tattooed across my forehead, but my conversations with friends no longer revolve around comparing the U.S. to Ireland. Perhaps by next report I’ll have all the words to “Waxies Dargle” memorized and lecturers won’t constantly identify me as the non-Irish. One can hope.