As classes end and summer nears, I have had to face the harsh reality that my Mitchell year will soon come to an end. With this as motivation, I have spent the past few months hastily accomplishing everything I said I would do when in Ireland – from visiting some of Dublin’s most magnificent museums to trying new restaurants in Cork and, yes, even kissing the Blarney Stone.
As I’ve been checking off items on my Ireland bucket list, I’ve begun to reflect on what all these memories of Ireland will mean to me and what I will remember about Ireland when I return to the US.
Before I arrived in Ireland, I thought my Mitchell year would be like travelling to a foreign planet. I would marvel at the foreign customs and traditions for a year, and once I’d return home, I would tell my “real world” friends and colleagues just how different it was. Indeed, at first, I was enamored by the differences. I learned a few Irish words, tried the blood sausage, and counted the number of sentences my professors would end with the word “like”.
But over the course of the year, I discovered that Ireland isn’t some foreign land to visit and then leave behind – Ireland is everywhere! Ireland is central to global commerce, innovation, arts, culture, and academia. Of course, there are well-known examples of Irish influence – like Guinness beer and friendly pubs. But spending a year here has shown me just how much more pervasive Irish influence is. Irish trad music formed the basis of American folk and country music. Gargantuan businesses such as Google and Facebook have their EMEA Headquarters in Ireland (in fact, Apple and Pfizer’s EMEA Headquarters are in Cork!). Halloween can be traced back to a Gaelic harvest festival. Ireland led the way in social health by introducing comprehensive workplace smoking bans. Irish academics like George Boole developed the theories that guide the digital and information age (and he did it just minutes from my accommodation!).
When my mother and brother visited me in Ireland, we spent an inspiring afternoon in Dublin’s EPIC Irish Emigration Museum which houses dozens of exhibits depicting how profound and pervasive Irish culture is. The Irish gave us labor unions, boycotts, and whiskey. Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw, C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, Frank McCourt, and Edna O’Brien are all Irish. Ireland was the first country to legalize same-sex marriage via popular vote. Flute, fiddle and harp music came from Ireland, as did U2, the Pogues, Van Morrison and Enya. In the US, 11 signers of the declaration of Independence were Irish and more than half of the Union army was of Irish descent. Irish immigrants built the railroads and the Brooklyn bridge. Perhaps Barack Obama said it best when describing Irish influence on the US: “Never has a nation so small inspired so much in another… There’s always been a little green behind the red, white, and blue.” And he should know…since he too is of Irish descent.
Indeed, it seems to me that Ireland is the world and the world is Irish. So many of my favorite things in life would not be if not for the Irish. The Mitchell year did not expose me to Irish culture; instead, it opened my eyes to the Irish culture that had surrounded me my entire life. I hope that, upon returning to the US, I won’t “remember” Ireland as much as I will recognize and appreciate Irish influence wherever I am. I won’t need to board a plane to “return” to Ireland, nor will I need to swipe through old pictures to reminisce. I will be in Ireland every time I read a study from an Irish university or enjoy a night of camaraderie at an Irish pub – even if that pub is technically located in Boston. Heck, if I’m ever really missing Ireland, I might even bend over backwards and kiss a rock.
I’ll be seeing you, Ireland. Everywhere I look – there you’ll be.