After living in New York City, Dublin is a refreshing change of pace. To me, it has the amenities without the hassle—a walkable city centre, diverse restaurants, gritty cobblestoned streets contrasted with the high-rises of Silicon Docks, and an absurdly high pub-to-people ratio.
Still, Dubliners will be the first to urge you to spend time outside of the city. Dublin has a relatively thriving economy that drives the rest of Ireland’s, and is home to a disproportionately high number of international residents. As such, one of my goals this semester has been to venture outside of the Dublin bubble and see more of Ireland. Two trips in particular stand out to me—Belfast and Connemara.
Living in Ireland, it is impossible to ignore the history of the Easter Rising, War of Independence, decades-long Troubles in Northern Ireland, and eventual Good Friday Agreement of 1998 led by Senator George Mitchell, for whom this scholarship is named. But as an American living in Dublin, I haven’t experienced the impacts of the conflicts in my day-to-day. During our mid-year Mitchell trip, I could see clearly how years of violence left a tangible mark.
One of the most poignant moments for me was viewing the “Peace Wall” along Shankill Road and Falls Road. The wall is some 20 feet high and separates the Protestant and Catholic areas of West Belfast. We viewed it first from the Protestant side, where messages are scrawled up and down. Then we drove around to the Catholic side and stared up the same wall looking back.
Our guide, Dr. Dominic Bryan of Queen’s University, explained the effects of the walls on the city psyche. People on both sides want to live peacefully, and the walls help them feel safe and secure. Even though my time in Belfast was short, that trip was one of my most meaningful excursions outside Dublin.
Two months later, Lillian and I trekked out to the western coast to run the Connemara half-marathon. The first half of the race went relatively smoothly. Lillian and I kept up with our designated pacer, and our legs were thankfully holding out. Then, as we rounded the corner after mile nine, we began the infamous Hell of the West—a two-mile slow incline up and around a hill that did not seem to end. All I can say is—thank God for my race partner.
We finished the race in in two hours, twenty minutes. In true Irish style, we celebrated with soup and brown bread at the finish.
I am heading back to the states in a few weeks for a summer user experience internship, but I will be back in Dublin in September for one more semester. And I am so happy that I will be, as I know I have only scratched the surface of Ireland.