When I first landed in Dublin last August, I had very little idea what the year had in store. I had not been to Ireland, I knew only the basics of Irish history, and candidly, I had not even been to an Irish Pub more than a few times. I spent the summer wondering how I would mix with the culture at Trinity College, the city’s social life, and the people. This month, I am just beginning to process what I have learned and how my time here has changed me.
My second term has brought friends visiting from America, and with that, the opportunity to really reflect on my experience and to share it with others. On each visit, I have been eager to walk my friends to my favorite park, Merrion Square. I have taken them to the sites of Ireland’s layered history, such as its independence movements. I have shown them the breathtaking views at Howth and along the Wild Atlantic Way. My best friend noted that I was even using Irish phrases. As I enjoyed good craic at my favorite pubs with friends new to Ireland, I was reminded of how special these experiences are.
Of course, each visit has included a good Irish shower. I came to Ireland hating rain. But I have grown fond of traversing the proverbial quiet drizzle on my way to class or a meeting. It makes the sunshine that much sweeter. In some ways, the island’s history, Irish emigration around the world, and the country’s modern political experience is marked by metaphorical rainy days with some clear skies. Perhaps that is what a quote attributed to Y.B. Yeats captures: “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”
At first read, this notion might sound depressing – it did to me. But I have come to find that an appreciation for tragedy is part of the Irish way. From my brief experience, it seems the Irish have a unique way of growing from tragedy while also just sitting with it, making humor of it, and sharing in a common experience.
As I study international politics at Trinity, I have naturally asked myself what this lesson means for global affairs. I think the Irish way is evident in so-called “soft-power” or soft-influence. While it would be hard to capture in a quantitative study, I can say I am personally experiencing it this year. I am getting a better sense of how history and culture shape us and how that carries across communities. In the United States, many see revolution with unabated pride (at least in civics class). Ireland recalls a few more challenging times, but carries on with fortitude, hospitality, and charm.
I, like many others around the world who celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in March, can absorb and be a part of Ireland’s complicated history, culture, and outlook. As several Mitchells welcomed friends to town, this much was clear. Our class has experienced Ireland collectively and we love sharing it together. We enjoy talking about our experiences and giving friends our own piece of the Irish way. Politically, economically, and socially, this exchange is important for the United States and Ireland.
As I think about returning to America, I am beginning to see what I might bring home. I am very privileged, but I will inevitably encounter tragedy. And if I start hoping the grass will be greener, I will remember that it takes some rain – and maybe an escape to a pub with great friends – to get there.