I recently missed my train to Mallow, running up to the gate just as it pulled away. Without a word, one of the gate attendants took my ticket, signed his name on the back, and told me I could board the next train at no extra fee. He smiled and said, “Now you can relax, have a cup of tea, and we’ll see you at eleven.” He said it like what a treat it is to have an excuse to sit and relax, with nothing else to do for the next two hours but enjoy some tea and watching the people come and go at Heuston Station. It was a small thing, but it was significant in that it helped me notice and reconsider my rather American tendency to prioritize efficiency above all. I’m grateful to him for that.
Go raibh maith agat, Irish for thank you, literally translates to may you have goodness. I liken it to channeling good will into good deeds, and it reminds me to be present enough to notice more reasons to be grateful.
The women on my Gaelic football team seem to embody this. They find so much joy in the sport, and in having something bring us together every Friday evening. The laughter and the encouragement flow as freely as the drinks after our matches. These same women, most of whom are very busy with their own lives and careers and families, have organized programs to make Ukrainian refugees feel welcome in the community and teach Ukrainian children how to play the game. The GAA was founded in large part to provide a sense of belonging and national identity for the Irish people, and now many GAA members are taking it upon themselves to make newcomers in need of support feel welcomed too (a phenomenon that is a focus of my master’s thesis).
This year I’ve thought a lot about how the struggle to endure colonialism, to survive the great Hunger, to gain independence, and to cultivate and defend peace, have informed modern Irish culture and social norms. I asked an Irish friend about this, and she said “I think we just understand when to let people off the hook. It seems a shame to give people a hard time for things that are beyond their control.” I’ve noticed a strong sense of solidarity amongst working people, and respect and empathy for people facing persecution, in Ireland and across the globe. And at a national level, there seems to be a commitment to recognizing people’s humanity, and using what resources are available to try and treat people with dignity.
There’s a pub in Dublin with the following written in white letters on a black door: There is a good time coming, be it ever so far away. I almost laughed when I first saw it, because I thought it so perfectly encapsulates the simultaneous melancholy and serenity of the Irish psyche. Now, it’s one of my favorite landmarks, and it reminds me of how deeply resilience, gratitude, and being present are all connected.
On a recent trip in Dalkey, my friends and fellow Mitchell Scholars Meg and Gen and I marveled at the natural beauty of Killiney Hill and Dublin Bay, and the remarkable vibrancy of the flowers, the sweetness of the mist, and the songs of the birds looking down at us from the tree canopy. I can’t say that a year ago this time I would have been present and grateful enough to notice all these things, or to notice how lucky I was to spend such a special day with good friends. I think this is largely Ireland’s effect on me.
So to my friends and colleagues who supported me in seeking out this opportunity, to the US-Ireland Alliance who made it possible, to those of my fellow Mitchell Scholars who embody the ideals of public service, to the Sociology departments at both UCD and Trinity, to my new friends, classmates, and coworkers, and to the people of Ireland who have taught me so much this year and continue to do so: go raibh maith agat.