Sheep: these cute, fluffy (arguably much softer in my imagination than in reality), rather nonchalant animals welcomed me to Ireland when I arrived with my family in August to see the sites before I settled into Trinity to begin my year as an MPhil student in Gender and Women’s Studies. On our journey from the Dublin airport toward the southwest of the country, I remembered a comment that a former Mitchell made to me before I left: “You know how everyone says Ireland is green and pretty? It’s true. People aren’t just saying that.” According to Rick Steves’ travel guide, there are more than 40 shades of green in Ireland and I’m pretty sure I saw all of them during my first week in the country. Having lived in cities my whole life, my first impression of Ireland was utter captivation at its natural splendor. I could not get enough of the water, the cliffs, and, especially, the sheep, which dotted the countryside. I recognize that this may sound like overkill (compounded for close friends and family with my subsequent proclamation that I intended to give up the scholarly life next year, become one with the land, and work on a farm), but the juxtaposition of the cliffs at the Ring of Kerry and the waves below them is one of many mental images that I will likely never forget. After about ten days meandering through the tiny streets of seaside Kinsale, absorbing the beauty of Killarney National Park, and braving the winds (and the smallest roads I’ve ever seen) at the Kerry and Dingle peninsulas, I said goodbye to my parents and began the process of making Dublin my new home.
Neither an undergrad nor a native, I quickly realized that I was beginning a new chapter in my life — away from friends, family, and the school I had called home. In this moment of transition, it was wonderful to begin getting to know the other Mitchells. We spent two weekends together in October when we met Ken Feinberg, hiked in gorgeous Glendalough (to family and friends: I told you I’m digging the nature!), had our official welcome at Ambassador Rooney’s house in Phoenix Park, saw a concert, toured Kilmainham Gaol, and enjoyed each other’s company. Following in the tradition of Mitchells before us, many of us journeyed north to a farm cottage in Derry for Halloween weekend (no sheep but many cows). Touring the murals of the city, I encountered the Troubles for the first time beyond my studies in history, and it was especially meaningful to do it with many of the Mitchells who are studying in the North. Without a doubt, the Mitchell group has been the highlight of my experience thus far. They are people with whom I can engage on any topic, who challenge and teach me, who make me laugh, and who seem to accept my dance moves, which hail from the glorious bar and bat-mitzvah era of my life. I must give a special shout-out to my friend Sam who is a constant source of support, amusement, and much-needed-food (I cannot cook) right next door. More than anything, I appreciate everyone’s willingness to discuss his or her dreams and to talk through our collective confusion about the future. In essence, I am grateful for this early openness (thanks especially to Derick, whose prodding questions helped us to get here).
In between the many events and travel, I began my course and have loved it so far. As the sole American in a group of ten, my classmates have taken to educating me about gender-related issues in Ireland both in and out of the classroom. After concentrating in history during my undergrad years and advocating for women’s rights in my extracurricular activities, I am really enjoying the community that I am forming, which traverses the academic and activist worlds. How to bridge these worlds has always been an interest and a concern of mine, and reading the works of theorists such as Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, and Nancy Fraser is helping to shape the directon of my thinking. Together with my classmates, I am grappling with feminist theories and their implications for the work I want to do. Again, I am touched by everyone’s openness as we delve into contentious topics, and I appreciate the group’s acceptance of my constant questioning – an American thing, I’ve been told. I have also had the opportunity to intern at the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), where I am learning and writing memos about ABC v. Ireland, the case that was, in large part, what made me interested in studying in Ireland. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights found that Ireland had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to provide an effective means by which a woman can establish whether she qualifies for a legal abortion under current Irish law. The IFPA is working to get legislation addressing this gray area passed, and it has been fascinating to partake of the process.
Finally, despite my notorious geographical ineptness, I think I can safely say that I now know my way around Dublin. I have a favorite pub, a great late night chipper, and coffee spots around the city. Although I am certainly spoiled by living in city-center, I have started to explore the surrounding areas and plan to make trips to Howth and Maynooth (to see Chelsea in action!) when I return in January. Dublin has also been a great jumping off point to explore Europe, and my trips to London, Edinburgh, and the Highlands of Scotland have been highlights. As I finish this post, I am sitting in a hostel in Lisbon. When trying to find my way back last night, I got lost (fairly typical) and ended up at an Irish pub, packed to the brim. In a city where the temperature is about 20 degrees warmer than it is in Dublin and the sun sets about two hours later, I found myself surrounded by people chatting in Portuguese with Guinness in hand, having the craic, as the Irish would say. Two musicians took the stage and began playing traditional Irish music. Although there was not a sheep in sight, I felt immediately at home and very thankful for the opportunity to spend a year in Ireland.