Further Afield in Ireland

Not nearly enough of April was spent on schoolwork. This is, perhaps, completely fine. I’m not sure if Mitchell Scholars are supposed to say things like that, but it’s the truth. For the past month, two of my best friends, Mark and Lizzie, made separate journeys to come see me here in Galway. Our goals were to see the somewhat less seen (if no less scenic) parts of Ireland. Everyone’s heard of the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant’s Causeway. Dublin and Galway are handsomely furnished with Celtic Tiger-era tourism offices and easily navigated with the help of a Lonely Planet or Fodor’s. We asked, “What about Clare Island?” How about Rann na Feirste and Gaoth Dobhair? Skibbereen? Portmagee? These are places with sparse guide book entries and even sparser access to public transportation. They are the places to meet the locals and see another side of Ireland.

In Anagaire, the local garda and the local ne’er-do-well sit together at the bar, debating how long it takes to get to the nearest jail. At Skibbereen’s Famine History/Marine Biology Center (an obvious pairing?), you have the choice of two informational videos: one ‘Suffering,’ and the other, ‘Death.’ On Clare Island, you can meet the whole island in the pub, get chased by a herd of sheep, and even find someone to give you a ride back to Westport the next day. Belfast might be home to the only Chinese-Mexican fusion fast-food (Wok-a-Molé, I’ll love you forever) restaurant in this time zone. It turns out, there’s an almost forgotten, 2000 year old Celtic ring fort in the middle of the Burren in County Clare, and the cobbler’s shop in Dingle actually becomes a pub after hours. The point is, Ireland is weird and it’s time we appreciated it as such.

My friends were good sports to indulge me during April. Mark and I did our meager best to keep a turf fire lit for a few cold days in a cottage in Donegal (along with Mitchells Kelly and Cath!). Lizzie was kind enough to tolerate (and even encourage) tableau vivant-style reenactments, throughout Galway City, of 2011’s major motion picture, The Guard. Everyone got either sunburned or soaked on Inis Mór, and I had a close call with a mud pit while searching for St. Brendan’s well on Valentia Island. Mark and I accidentally set off the security alarms at Dunguaire Castle, and Lizzie found out that bog-covered mountains are quite slippery after a fresh rain.

Travelling to the somewhat less-travelled-to places with dear friends is an opportunity to reflect on the past year, on the growth and change that have taken place since graduating last spring. It also sets the scene for having a bit of a think about the future.  As this year in Ireland starts to wind down, I’m left with more questions than I began with.  I imagine that’s the way these things are supposed to work, and I hope to always be asking myself questions, to be thinking critically about the work I’m engaged in, and to be pursuing meaningful long-term goals. But that is the future. Right now, there are few more months to revel in the wacky and wild off-the-map places that make Ireland such a special and memorable experience.

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