The other day, I took my camera into the fire station with me because I had not taken any pictures all year with the guys on “D” watch, but then everybody kept asking me if it was my last day. My response was a quick no, but then I started to realize, though it may not be my last day, our time in Ireland is quickly drawing to a close. Fortunately that time had not come yet! Not only do we have another two months here on the Emerald Isle, but we have had months worth of experiences which I will remember for years to come. I guess I may as well start where I left off at the end of January.
Luckily, after the month of January, most of the snow that had taken this country by surprise had melted away. The temperatures continued to be rather cold, but it was nice to have the country back up and running as it had before the snowfall. Plus, having the sunshine around made for a pleasant atmosphere in my mind.
Once I turned in the remainder of my assignments from the previous semester in January, Heather and I started to plan out the next semester’s plans, goals, etc. Looking over what we had done the last semester, we realized that, for a variety of different reasons, most of our traveling had focused on the west coast of Ireland. We needed to throw in a little bit of variety.
Traveling to the north
That variety first came in the form of the Mitchell’s mid-year retreat to Belfast. Over the course of our time here in Ireland we, of course, had heard a great deal about the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, and the separation of the six counties from the rest of Ireland. We had also heard a great deal about the Troubles, the divisions within the Northern Ireland society, and the divisions that continue to exist today. Certainly coming to Ireland by means of a scholarship named to honor George J. Mitchell, the man who proved instrumental in bring about the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, sparked a great deal of interest in Northern Ireland, but I do not think I was prepared to experience that environment first hand, which I think is best demonstrated by our tour of the murals.
The last day of the weekend in Belfast, we hopped onto a bus for a tour of the city’s many murals. On our second visit to Belfast, Heather made an interesting observation about the murals, commenting that they seemed to be more telling a story and existing feelings of their heros and martyrs than showing progress in the peace process and closure to years of violence. I think in many ways, for me, I would have to agree because of how the murals look within the context of a still divided community.
During our visit to the US Consulate, a Northern Irish man similar in age to us, made the comment that during his teenage years he still had to worry about what part of town he came from; what school uniform he wore; what football team he supported. The country has come a long way from the dark days of the Troubles, much of the tension and emotions seem to remain forged in people’s memories and perspectives. Though it is hard to determine what fueled the act, we experienced our own brush with some of those emotions as some kids decided to egg our couch. Our driver came over the intercom afterwards and, with a somber yet humorous confidence said that twenty years ago, those eggs would have been bricks. Just incredible!
One of the other types of murals that we came across were those memorializing the Troubles. I went ahead and put up a couple of pictures which I thought were interesting.
Our trip was not all exploring the country’s troubled past, and we took time to explore yet another naturally beautiful part of the island. One of the highlights was walking along the cliffs which over look the infamous Giant’s Causeway. These trips do provide a great opportunity for us to develop the bonds of friendship that I think will last many years beyond our time in Ireland. It did start to rain, but at this point, I have become quite used to the sky opening up on us, and we even saw a double rainbow!
I really had a great time in Belfast and learned even more about the area’s history, and the problems that still challenge the peace process.
Traveling out side the country
Though it wasn’t one of the official Mitchell Scholarship retreats, our next trip was one to Brussels. We had the opportunity here to learn about and explore many different organizations and people associated with the European Union. One of the best things about the trip is that Heather was able to come with us! We had a great time and learned a great deal. One of the challenges that I have a much greater appreciation for is the decision making process within the EU. Within a country’s own political process, divides between groups and views always exists. Considering that these types of divisions exist with all countries, one can imagine how difficult it would be make a decision which requires the consent of 27 different sovereign nations.
I would be remiss, and I am sorry that I do not have a photograph, if I did not mention the wonderful McBean family who generously provided a room for us while we were there. We truly enjoyed getting to know and spend time with the family. We even had the great opportunity to teach them the amazingly addictive game of Monopoly Deal!
Closer to home!
Its always humorous when talking to people about their travels and, many times, we forget to explore and learn about the areas right around where we live. For Heather and me, that area was around Maynooth and to Northern Ireland. Certainly we had been to Dublin a countless number of times, but we hadn’t done any touring. So, we decided that we would make traveling around Dublin and the surrounding areas a priority for us.
When we had some family and friends come and visit us, we jumped on the opportunity to explore our neck of the woods even further. We decided to take a walking tour of Dublin, which highlighted some of the many interesting features of Dublin that we had missed in our day to day hustle and bustle. Just look below!
I think, as you can tell from all the above pictures and experiences, the theme for this semester has certainly been traveling the country and immersing ourselves even deeper into Irish culture. We may be almost through with our time in Ireland, but there is still so much more to experience and see!