Ireland has had absolutely beautiful weather for the last week. Bright sunshine, no cloud to be found, a light breeze and 75 degrees…this sort of weather makes me want to stay. If only, it was like this year round.
Not only have I had great weather, but I got to spend the last few days with my Mitchell class. We started off on Wednesday in Dublin with a great reception where we received our class rings, a silver band with symbols depicting Irish history. The next few days were spent enjoying last bits of Irish culture. Some of the highlights were a chat with John Minihan and a look at one of his exhibits, a cooking class with Rory O’Connell and a lovely dinner in Kinsale, the food capital of the country. (Ireland has an emerging food culture with a big emphasis on locally produced foods. Kinsale is at the heart of this revival and I recommend any visitor to Ireland stopping there. I wish I had gotten there sooner!)
So after all the excitement of the past few days, I’m now sitting in a bare dorm room with two huge suitcases blocking my door. Packing up has been harder than expected, and I don’t mean because my suitcases weigh more than I do. Not that I haven’t enjoyed Ireland and my course, but there is no denying that I was homesick. My deep love for Mississippi proved a harder habit to break than I had ever imagined. For the past two months, as I began to wrap everything up, I thought that I would be itching to leave. I had an idea that it had been a good year, a good learning experience, but it was time to bring it to an end. Even just a few weeks ago I thought I was ready to pack up and head back South (a very different “south” than the Irish south). But I have been surprisingly emotional the past few days.
I came to Ireland thinking it would be an extension of my study abroad experiences in college. I would drink a lot of beer, take some cool pictures, meet some new people, and extend my carefree college experience for another year. I also thought it was a reputable enough thing to do post-college, reputable enough that nobody would realize that I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life!
While I did drink some beer (not really that much) and take some pictures, I grew up more this year than I ever expected. I learned things about myself that I didn’t even know could be learned, and I made some friendships that will last a lifetime. While I might have complained to a few of you about the slow mail or the constant use of potatoes, those surface-level frustrations can never compare to what I really experienced this year. While I have always said that my love for Mississippi can be a complicated one, I think it is safe to say I have similarly complicated feelings for Ireland.
So while I am happy to be getting back home to Mississippi cooking, a nice big shower, the ability to drive again, and cheap Bud light … there are things about Ireland that I will always miss. There is struggle in Ireland for identity that no doubt extends to 1916 and before. That translates into a modern Ireland that is quick to assert itself culturally, and incredibly proud of its history. But this quick and dominate assertion of a national image of “Irishness” doesn’t include everyone. Identity is complicated, and getting the opportunity to watch the complexity of being Irish unfold has taught me more about being a Mississippian than I ever could have imagined. I have some good friends with kind souls to thank for letting me into their lives and giving me a real understanding of what it means to be Irish. I also have some American friends with incredibly thoughtful natures, who have taught me about the complexity of being “American” and just how much our place shapes us. Those lessons and those friends will always be with me.
Now I’m heading back home to Mississippi to teach U.S. history, and I’ll bring with me into my rural Mississippi classroom the lessons of Ireland. Ireland, you and your people will be missed, but you will always have a place in Mississippi! Stay green and I hope to see you soon!