These last few weeks when I bike or jog through the Botanic Garden I am overwhelmed by the sweet smell of the rose patch. I slow down a bit to appreciate the well-cultivated aisles bursting with tulips, foxglove and foliage. I slip under arches heavy with wisteria and try to absorb the moment. I’m trying to absorb all the little moments I have left in Belfast.
Little moments like weeks of Tuesday quiz. Every Tuesday since February I have spent the evening with a group of friends from my course at the Eglantine Inn’s quiz. We are mostly there for the company but make no mistake, we want to win. Our biggest competition is always a group of guys who collectively boast a few engineering pHds and an awful lot of knowledge. Like any good quiz team, we each have our strengths. Malachy is there for the music round. In less than 5 seconds of intro track Malachy can name the band and usually the song title as well. He is also quite good at sport questions. Larry just knows everything, current affairs, history, cricket statistics- he’ll probably know it. He can also solve an anagram in a split second, sometimes without even seeing it in front of him. Ian is the movie buff, but like Larry and Malachy he really just knows everything. Kerstie is the science side, with a huge working knowledge of Hollywood. If Perez Hilton has mentioned it in the last 2 years she’ll remember. Grace is there for . . .well mostly she’s there for comic relief, which is an important role, but she is also the most competitive member of the group often making intimidating gestures and cat-calls at opposing teams. And Monica and myself are there for the American questions, which we embarrassingly sometimes miss. Others join us from time to time, but for the most part, that has been our team. And while we don’t always win, we almost always celebrate with a kebab from next door (Gilgamesh, the best late-night kebab in Belfast).
But I’ve had big adventures these last few weeks as well. In June, Adam and I, realizing there was an awful lot of Ireland we had left to see, rented a little Nissan Micra, which we affectionately named Harold, and set of for a week of exploration, culminating with a visit to Galway to see Lauren and Jon. We started from Belfast and set out through Wicklow, stopping for the night in Kilkenny. While we hadn’t planned it, we ended up spending most of the next day exploring Kilkenny’s many shops, impressive castle and of course the Smithwicks brewery. Then it was onto the Killarney via the Rock of Cashel. We also managed to hit the entire Ring of Kerry and the Dingle peninsula before we landed in Galway. After two wonderful days with our hosts we headed back to Belfast passing through every small town in Ireland and getting stuck behind over 100 tractors to avoid tolls. And of course, like the true Southerners we are, we stopped at the Hill of Tara and took pictures. It was a great trip and I don’t think I could have made with anyone else. Adam has been my partner in crime in Belfast and abroad and this trip great way to end our time together in Ireland.
Last week, I took one more adventure, this time to Donegal with Larry to take in the striking northern coastline of wide, sandy beaches embraced by rocky hills and towering sand dunes. We visited Glenveagh National Park and Castle where we strolled through various themed gardens (of course my favorite was the vegetable patch). In Donegal I especially wanted to see the sunset over the Atlantic as a way to make a proper goodbye to the island. The first 4 days of the trip clouds obstructed my sunset dreams but on our last evening I noticed an orange glow reflecting off the dunes in front of our cottage and we raced up Horn Head to take in the view. Brilliant rusty oranges, yellow and reds lit up the evening sky, bordered by silvery blues and purples creating the most stunning sunset I’ve ever seen. Standing on the rocky hilltop I said a quiet good-bye to Donegal, to Ireland and to this year.
At the end of this adventure I can’t recall the central argument of my managing the sustainable business class but I can tell you how many times we won the quiz (3!), what the Botanic gardens smelled like in each season and how wide the beach was in Donegal. I can tell you about blues night at the Empire and running the marathon with the Mitchells. I know this is sappy, but this journey has been more than I could ever have imagined. I’ve made friends in Ireland that I hope to keep throughout my life and I’ve made lasting friends in fellow Mitchell scholars who intimately understand this experience. I am so thankful to my family for supporting me, to my professors and my program for their encouragement, to my fellow Mitchell scholars for the explorations, to the friends I’ve made here for welcoming me into their lives, and to the US-Ireland Alliance for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime.