I have always loved to learn by doing, and that’s what my first two months in Ireland have been all about. I’m getting a MSc in Sociology (Comparative Social Change) through a new and experimental program offered jointly by Trinity and UCD. My cohort and I have been looking at the cultural, political and economic forces that drive social change. One of the things I appreciate about the program is its emphasis on modern social phenomena in Ireland. What’s even better is seeing and learning about these dynamics firsthand.
This week, for example, I was in County Cork visiting family who live in the small rural village of Boherbue. The strong ties between residents, many of whom have lived there their entire lives, run deep. That sense of community is clear at places like The Corner House, one of only two bars in town. A few nights ago, I was there with my aunt and uncle. Looking around the place, I asked them how many of the other patrons they knew. Every one, they told me, with a look that said of course. Many of their friends and neighbors farmed the land for decades, and their lives changed profoundly when their agrarian community modernized in recent decades.
My aunt lives in the same house where she and her four siblings grew up. It doesn’t have a numerical street address but is instead known as “An Teach Beag,” or “The little house.” Down the road, several new housing developments are under construction. The new homes are something my aunt thinks is likely driven by economic growth in Ireland’s cities. While large employers are bringing new investment and jobs to cities like Dublin, this growth has also put pressure on the housing market. My aunt thinks it’s the reason more people are looking to once-remote places like Boherbue to put down roots and start families.
Back in the classroom at UCD and Trinity, my classmates and I have been looking at the causes and implications of this modernization and growth. One of the most positive outcomes, I think, is Dublin’s vibrant arts scene, where the modern and traditional intermix.
This fall, along with fellow Mitchell Scholars and friends from class, I attended the Dublin Fringe Festival and the Red Line Book Festival, I saw independent films at City Centre’s screening rooms, and lots of local musical performances and comedy shows. They have all been highlights of my time here so far and I can’t wait to explore the work of more contemporary Irish creatives as well as the classics over the coming year.
Most days I walk by a memorial on UCD’s campus to one of its most famous alumni, James Joyce. Inscribed on a bench in a rose garden is a quote from Finnegan’s Wake: “They lived and laughed and loved and left.”
It reminds me not to take a day here for granted, and to soak up all I can about this beautiful and fascinating island.