The Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border is not a far distance from Dublin. It’s so close that were Dublin and Newry in the United States the distance between them would seem a lengthy but tolerable commute. It’s quite likely that many people in my hometown, a suburb of Atlanta, commute a farther distance just to work in the city. There is something that is just pleasant about living in a small country where things are but a day trip away. It allows one to get familiar with even the most minor topographical features and the name of places in a way that isn’t possible in the dynamic urban sprawl of many American cities. One of my favorite things is to take a big map of Ireland and daydream about all the places I haven’t been to which were waiting to be explored. Even Wexford.
The border between the Republic and the North is practically non-existent as a physical boundary. However crossing the border does lead one into a different sort of Ireland, with a varied and diverging history and, of course, its own set of splendid vistas and natural wonders such as the Giant’s Causeway.
During our mid-year retreat I learned more about Northern Ireland such as what it was like to live through the Troubles, how to live in and manage a post-conflict situation, the practical realities of working in a political system dominated overtly by sectarianism rather than policy, what it is like to live on the border between the North and South, and even what sort of shenanigans the remnants of the aristocracy of Ireland get up to in the 21st century.
One of my favorite experiences on this island this year has been an early morning walk along the Antrim coast. The snow on the ground had fallen the night before covering everything in a white coat. Not knowing quite where I was going, I followed ever narrowing roads and paths to the sea. As I walked toward the water I rather unexpectedly stumbled upon the ruins of Dunseverick Castle perched precariously over the sea. In the early morning that moment of discovery was shared between just me and the sheep in the farmland. I enjoyed in silence the snow, the ruins, and the sea.
Spring has arrived in Dublin and I am now in the midst of making as much progress on my thesis as possible. I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of the island, learning more about its people and history, and stumbling upon more surprises.