The Place to Start

I am a diarist. I have a habit of writing down images that catch my eye and phrases that catch my ear. I enjoy telling stories and reflecting on outings, so I expected to write this post easily. Instead, I sat for an hour, writing and re-writing first sentences. Where to start? The cliffwalk in Howth my first weekend here, falling in love with the landscape? The trip the twelve Mitchell scholars (plus two) took around the Ring of Kerry, growing into lasting friendships? Sitting with fellow geography students, reading each other’s thesis proposals and coming to terms with the self-discipline needed for this degree?

The cliffwalk at Howth, 6 days after arrival


Fort Staigue in County Kerry – 2000 years old!

I realize now I struggled with this blog because I could start with any day of the last two months. Each day has challenged me as a student and a person. Each day has been a chance to get to know Ireland and myself a little better. The sheer amount of opportunity crammed into the last two months is the most remarkable thing I can imagine.

Still, I shouldn’t waste this chance to tell a story with a little more detail. Two weeks ago, I stood on uneven cobblestones in an alleyway surrounded by boarded-up windows, graffiti, trash, and questionable liquids. It was drizzling. I was there for my class “Reimagining Dublin,” which asks us to see the potential for accessibility, safety, and playfulness everywhere in the city. Our teacher for the week, an architect working with the Dublin City Council, was explaining how the alleyway used to supply homes and businesses before the spread of cars. He believed simple changes would allow the alleyway to connect people and their city again. Speaking with spirit and swiping his hands, he turned the empty alleyway into a fairy forest: smoothed pavement here, lighting here, painted trees decorating the length. An ode to Irish tradition and the Irish future in one.

This is a different alleyway on a different day, but the idea is the same. Easy to overlook, possible to love.

Now, trying to articulate what living here means to me, I keep going back to the love of place our teacher showed that day. It is a love common to all the people I have met here. At Howth I met an Irish man taking photographs “just because.” When I told a woman from County Kerry about our trip to the Ring, she rattled off four extra places to stop. Every other student in my program has advised me on things to see.

I also keep going back to the memory of an evening spent with a friend early in undergrad. We had both recently moved to Michigan, me from Minnesota and she from Illinois. As we sat discussing the move away from home, she said, “loving two places means that part of your heart is always where you are not.” Part of my heart is in Minnesota. Part of my heart is in Michigan. And with the love of place felt here, part of my heart will always be in Ireland. If I continue to see each day as the start of a story, that love will only grow.

View of the ocean from the James Joyce Tower during an impromptu adventure to Dún Laoghaire.

About Celia Hallan | University College Dublin

Pursuing an MA in Geography at University College Dublin
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