I was a month into the fall semester, and I still hadn’t met anyone in Dublin besides the other Mitchell boys. I was wading through the murky waters of a depressive episode: here I was thousands of miles from my family, with no social structure available to meet new people and few locations to do so. Ireland had recently reentered a level 5 lockdown, so travel outside a small radius of Trinity’s campus was prohibited. I felt alone, and upset with myself for leaving the security and conviviality of my family life to venture forth into genuine isolation.
There was one thing that offered some hope: the postgraduate reading room on Trinity’s campus remained open, despite the restrictions. That meant that classmates of mine were still travelling to campus to make use of the study space. Starved for social interaction as I was, I would keep an eye out for any of the students in my classes in the hopes that I would finally be able to have an in-person conversation and, dare I say, make a friend. Luckily, my attentiveness paid off. On my way out of the reading room in October, a classmate of mine was walking in, and I (rather intensely) pulled him aside and ushered him into pleasantries. With a sense of urgency, as the conversation dwindled, I asked if he would be interested in grabbing some beers from the local Spar sometime and having a drink by the canal. He agreed; a few days later we sat beside the water and chatted about class work, politics, family, relationships, and anything else. That same student has become a dear friend-we study together in the reading room most days of the week.
I cannot lie, drinking in public is exciting to me. I’m from an Irish family myself, one composed of punks, emos, and general social dissidents. Playfully illicit pastimes, especially with respect to drink, are some of the best memories I have with my siblings. And while drinking in public is legal in Ireland, it still carries a sense of rebellion for an American like myself. I was eager to share a few beers with my classmates since, as I have often been reminded, Irish social life revolves heavily around the pubs. As those are not available to us, cans of Brew Dog and Guinness by the canal is the best we could ask for.
That’s one thing I’ve realized about the United States, and something Kyle Berlin and I have spoken about by that very same canal: there isn’t much free space meant for friendly congregation. Parks and the like don’t allow drinking, which often lubricates the wheels of social interaction, especially with unfamiliar folks. The public sphere is limited to locations that have to be paid for, like bars. In Ireland, though, there seems to be a greater emphasis placed on maintaining interpersonal relationships. Evidence of this is the locales which support a vibrant public sphere-the parks, water features, and other infrastructure which facilitates fellowship in all its forms.