Adam, you are transforming into a full-blooded Irishman. To me this Facebook message from my friend, Barry, meant one thing: success. My goal for this year was to really absorb as much of Ireland & its culture as possible. With family roots in Northern Ireland, I wanted to leave feeling connected as a part of this magnificent place. As I reflect back on my time here, I know that my goal has been accomplished. As further proof, I get really gloomy and have a difficult time fathoming what it will be like to leave this wonderful island that I have called home for the last year.
It is hard to summarize my time here as I have had terrific experiences meeting so many fabulous people, traveling to take in new sights, and learning more than I could have ever expected. Looking back over the last month alone is enough to blow one’s mind. After finishing exams, Bre, Christina, Alec, Neil & I took a real European holiday to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. A week later, I returned to Ireland very tan and ready for Mitchell commencement in Dublin. After some kind words from President Mary McAleese, we received our class rings, which serve to remind us of our connection to Ireland and to one another. A night out in Dublin was the proper way for us to ring out the year before people began to depart.
After a trip to Writer’s Week & Glin Castle, I then headed to Limerick to meet my friends, Thomas & Daniel. Here I got to see the Ireland International Rugby team play a match in Thomond Park, one of the largest and more historic stadiums in the country. From here, Daniel & I got to attend a birthday party at a beach home in rural County Clare. Highlights included gorgeous scenery in Clare, once again being stereotyped and entertaining people with Sweet Home Alabama, and witnessing the reactions of my “Nordie” friend Daniel in his first trip that far south into the Republic. Then, it was back to Belfast where I presented my research on social farming to stakeholders from around Northern Ireland. I did not expect that my work for DARD would result in people thanking me for bringing attention to the topic and really galvanizing a movement here.
After this, I ended up on two roadtrips. The first took Bre, Christina, myself & a visiting friend up the Causeway Coast and into Donegal to gaze at the striking majesty of Slieve League. On the way, we managed to stop for coasteering: a new adventure sport that puts you in a wetsuit and sends you climbing over rocky cliffs to jump into the ocean! After this trip, Bre & I were inspired to adventure into the southwest of Ireland to see everything we could. Travelling almost 1,000 miles in 5 days, we crossed the Wicklow Mountains, drank Smithwick’s at the brewery in Kilkenny, successfully drove both the Ring of Kerry & the Dingle Peninsula, gazed at the legendary Cliffs of Moher, paid homage to our Southern roots and Gone with the Wind at the Hill of Tara, and visited with the Parnell Marinos in Galway before they left for the states. To top it off, I’m back in Belfast continuing work on my thesis on rural brain drain, where I was even lucky enough to get to meet with Michelle Gildernew, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, to get her comments on the topic.
All of this has taken place in the last month alone, and that’s not even including the farewell parties and my new found obsession with football (soccer) as I try my best not to miss a World Cup match. Nor does it include my getting involved with the political process here in seeing Prime Minister David Cameron come to Northern Ireland just before the election or getting to ask a question at the nationally televised leaders’ debate on BBC. I am now less than three weeks away from leaving myself, and while I am excited to see family and friends at home, I am filled with dread about parting with the life I have created for myself in Northern Ireland. I still am astonished at how I have become completely immersed in this place in such a short time. My life has been completely changed by this experience. When I came here, I worried about surviving outside of the US without my family, my friends, Crimson Tide football, politics, and sweet tea. I leave here worrying about how I will adjust to live back stateside and how I’ll survive without my brilliant Irish friends, rugby & soccer, my daily dose of sectarian politics, and Irish staples like Harp, kebabs, and shortbread biscuits.
I consider myself the luckiest person in the world and feel humbled for this opportunity that was given to me. For that, I must thank Trina, Jennie, Mary Lou, and all the supporters of the US-Ireland Alliance. I have been blessed by the chance to study at a terrific university in Queen’s and live in the one of the most interesting cities and countries in the world. I must also thank Jude Stephens and the staff of the Gibson Institute for sharing their knowledge of rural development and giving me the support I need to successfully learn. I also need to thank Zita Murphy and the staff at DARD for giving me a meaningful internship that was more than I could have asked for in providing me with real life practical experience. My time here would not have been so fulfilling without wonderful friends. I consider all of my fellow classmates and fellow rural champions as my friends and colleagues now. I appreciate them taking me under their wings and dealing with my incessant questions about the litany of things I did not understand when I first came here. Special thanks to Barry McCarron, Daniel McDowell, and Thomas Kelleher for everything…you lads are the best! Lastly, I must thank my fellow Mitchell Scholars who I have bonded with over the past year. You all have enriched my experience here, and for that, I am grateful. However, I am especially thankful that I had a partner-in-crime here in Belfast. Bre, I’m so glad I had you as a friend to keep me company in watching American TV, eating tons of Nando’s, travelling, and being ridiculous as often as humanly possible.
Well, as they say here, that’s me sorted. It’s time to go home and get back to work in America. While I wanted to become part of the culture here, I never expected that I would so fully embrace it to the point that I do not want to let go. The good news is that I won’t have to let go. From now on, I will identify myself with Ireland while proudly claiming my Ulster heritage. I plan to be back here as often as possible to visit friends and to get my fill of the banter and accents, the stunning landscapes, and the tragic history of this place and its effects moving forward. So Ireland, thanks for memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Slán go fóill!