Theorizing Ireland

Unfortunately, I must admit that I am not, by my very nature, an optimist. I am instead the cliché “realist.” I worry too much, plan too much, stress too much and think too much for optimism to settle deep within my bones and bring the sunshine it does for some people. Waking up every morning in Dublin, though, just might make me rethink my general perspective on life. I’m learning to see that good things don’t always come with sunshine — literally.

While pausing for the clever joke about Irish rain, I must insert a qualifier that my friends in West Virginia will no doubt appreciate. To answer the big question, “Does it rain a lot in Ireland?,” my answer is “Yes. Sort of.” While my experience is of eastern Ireland and Dublin, I invite anyone to visit the north-central highlands of West Virginia at just about any time of the year and compare. Students at my undergraduate institution would no doubt gladly swap the torrential and frigid autumn storms they’ve had this year for the friendlier Irish rain I’ve experienced. A wise professor once told me that in Ireland, “it’s either raining, has rained, or is going to,” and that’s pretty much the truth. Here it rains almost every day, but the showers are usually not so bad: it generally doesn’t rain all day, for instance. When it does pour down, however, it can be quite intense. And the wind! My trip to Galway last week, reminded me that my counterparts at NUIG are generally much wetter and colder.

For those of you not interested in my comparative rain analysis, welcome to my greater interests of Appalachian and Irish culture and literature. I’ve been obsessively analyzing everything that I see or read  in search of information. Sometimes my ideas work out, sometimes they don’t, but what I’ve come to understand more than anything is the role that Ireland and its culture is expected to play. As a West Virginian, I’m highly conscious of the stereotypes that accompany my home state, and I’ve heard all the jokes; I’ve been culturally conditioned to listen for them. But as an outsider to the Irish perspective, the most interesting part of my experience has been to learn about the preconceptions about this place, to struggle to identify them, and then to make sure that I’m not also making assumptions. I really became aware of this after researching Patrick Kavanagh for a presentation for my “Theorizing Ireland” course. I came across a small book of criticism that has changed my perspective on my Anglo-Irish Literature program and this new country. In the book, the author urged readers of Irish literature not to force it into a mold, not to make it be something that it may not be. This is a good summary, I think , of the attitude I’ve tried to adopt during these first few months in Dublin—I’m honestly trying to let this experience come as it will, to be open and willing to accept things as they are, and to see Ireland for the place it really is.

Today, like every day that I’ve been in Ireland, has been many things — some good and some not so good. This morning I saw a visiting friend from home off to the airport at a completely ridiculous early hour after her week-long visit. I’m grateful to have friends who are interested in Ireland and in my experience, and I’m happy to show other friends a good time in the Dublin I’m coming to know. Then, this afternoon, my family called to tell me about a tragic accident at home, and I am struggling with the special kind of sorrow that is accompanied by distance. My heart aches for the kind young woman and friend who lost her husband yesterday, and for the family he left behind. And this evening, I began revising (or “studying”)   for my first semester exams at University College Dublin and enjoyed a traditional Polish meal with my brilliant roommate.

Living abroad for the first time is a process that I’m coming to understand, one that mixes two very different versions of home. The fact that I’m a Mitchell Scholar is still a bit surreal — I’m pinching myself every day, much like the day that I got off the plane in Dublin, terribly cranky, extremely nervous, and unsure of what the next few months would bring. So far, this experience has been one of academic and personal challenges, and it’s astonishing to think that the huge marker of first semester finals is here already. In a little more than two weeks I will be packing up and heading home for the holidays, where I will no doubt eat too much food, shovel a lot of snow, read Ulysses, and enjoy some quality time with my family and friends. As I approach this break, I’m trying to take stock — what’s happened, what’s hopefully going to happen, and where I’m going from here.

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