My apartment sits beside a grassy path along the Grand Canal – a slow-moving stretch of water that links Dublin to the River Shannon – where I go to run, bike, or to watch swans congregate and boats pass by on a sunny day. There is a bench along the canal commemorating Patrick Kavanaugh, one of Ireland’s great poets, with a line from his poem, Canal Bank Walk, inscribed on its granite base:
“Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal / Pouring redemption for me, that I do / The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal, / Grow with nature again as before I grew.”
Kavanaugh wrote these words sitting along the canal after recovering from lung cancer – no doubt overcome with hope and a renewed sense of life’s possibilities. I passed by the bench recently and found myself pausing to look at the inscription, reflecting on the restorative theme that in many ways captures how I feel about my time in Ireland.
Setting off for Ireland eight months ago, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. At first, the quiet, slow pace of life was unsettling after frenzied years of college and then work, but I’ve come to value free time and the simplicity of life here. Despite rapid modernization brought on by the Celtic Tiger, Ireland has managed to preserve cultural values that cherish humility, family, and community. Even their notable drinking culture has a communal quality – intergenerational groups of friends and families gathering in local pubs or returning home on weekends to cheer for their local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) team. Living here has reminded me of the importance of these values and the contentment that comes from prioritizing them.
I will return home in two months after a short stint doing research for my thesis adviser at the Higher Education Research Policy Unit. In some ways, returning home means facing reality, commitments, and expectations that can be pushed aside when living on the other side of the Atlantic, but I am rejuvenated with a sense of purpose for how to approach the choices I face upon return. I will leave Ireland satisfied with how I’ve spent my time: a Master’s degree and some quality academic work, numerous adventures around Europe and beyond, and new friends who will remain in my life for years to come. I will leave Ireland with enduring fondness for its warm, lively people and beautiful landscapes. And I will be back someday to reminisce and revisit memories of this special place.