First Impressions

It’s now a bit more than a month and a half since I set foot in Ireland, and what a roller-coaster ride so far. With multiple trips outside the country, a part-time job with an organization in DC, a local internship, and a fairly rigorous academic program, I could benefit from a bit of a break. My reading week seems to have arrived at just the right time.

Despite this, in those moments that I have had time to relax and enjoy my surroundings, I have been delighted by my experiences in Dublin. The Irish people seem to constantly exhibit genuine warmth and cheerfulness — something I find particularly surprising given the challenging economic situation in the country. Surprisingly, some of my favorite moments have been in taxis. Many of the Irish cab drivers I’ve encountered have been eager to share their take on Irish history with me, and one even began reciting poetry that his deceased father, a journalist, had written. Almost everyone I’ve met here seems to have an unconditional love of literature, art, and music, and it gives this city a cultural vibrancy.

I have also been very pleasantly surprised by the food. Though the national dishes don’t exhibit the kind of diversity one might encounter elsewhere, the painstaking attention that restaurants pay to their ingredients and their suppliers is impressive. The Irish boxty — a thick, fried potato pancake wrapped around a meat of choice – is a particular favorite, and one of my major projects in the coming months will be to master Irish recipes like Guinness and steak pie. As a beer enthusiast, I’ve enjoyed exploring the emerging Irish craft beer culture. It remains small – there are no more than 12 to 15 breweries on the island – but I’ve enjoyed finding diversity, beyond the omnipresent Guinness, Murphy’s, and Smithwick’s.

One of the things that has struck me most about Dublin is the fact that one can still see many of sites that symbolize the great divisions in Irish society over the centuries: Christchurch, the Anglican church that serves as a solemn reminder of the lack of religious freedom in Ireland under much of British rule; Kilmanhaim Jail, where countless political prisoners fighting for Irish freedom were held and sometimes killed; the General Post Office, where the 1916 Rising occurred; the Four Courts, where Irishmen turned guns on each other in 1921, starting a brutal nine-month civil war. And so much more.

I’ve rarely been to a city that seems so set on remembering the past, on reliving the painful memories that have plagued its existence. It feels as though the city itself serves as a constant reminder to its inhabitants of how far Ireland has come and how much Irish citizens ought to be thankful for the independence and freedoms that their ancestors fought for.

I’m very much looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of Irish history, and seeing its impact on different parts of the island – especially Northern Ireland – in the coming months.

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