… From there I got away my spirits never failin’
Landed on the quay as the ship was sailin’
Captain at me roared, said that no room had he
When I jumped aboard, a cabin found for Paddy
Down among the pigs, I played some funny rigs
Danced some hearty jigs, the water round me bubblin’
When off Holyhead, I wished myself was dead
Or better far instead on the rocky road to Dublin
– “The Rocky Road to Dublin” by The Dubliners
The stanza above is meaningful to me for two reasons. First, it played a part in sparking my curiosity in Ireland nearly a decade ago. “The Rocky Road to Dublin” tells the story of a hapless Irish emigrant who leaves his rustic hometown in the west of Ireland to travel to England in search of work. Throughout his journey, he is beset by a series of maladies that are nevertheless unable to deter him from reaching his destination. The song foreshadowed a lifelong fascination with Ireland and immigration, twin interests that have led me to pursue a master’s in Global Security and Borders at Queen’s University Belfast in the present day.
Second, after some unfortunate visa issues of my own I came to both empathize with and envy the narrator of the song as I would have gladly taken up a spot as a stowaway in dire travel conditions if it meant getting to Belfast. This proved to be unnecessary as thanks to the help of the US-Ireland Alliance and friends in the Northern Ireland Office the way was quickly cleared for the road to Belfast.
The start of my semester in Belfast also marked a return to Northern Ireland after last studying here in 2018 under the guidance of Nigel Glenny at Ulster University. I spent the first few weeks catching up with old friends I dearly missed: My partner in crime Mál met me at the airport with a homemade welcome sign and an understandably skeptical attitude about my ability to haul the luggage I had brought with me up two flights of stairs, while my former internship supervisor Maureen hosted me at her home in Coleraine and took me to see a reading of selections from “As if I Cared” by Irish poet Damian Gorman in Derry.
I have been equally grateful for the time spent with new friends. A Halloween trip to Derry this past weekend with fellow Mitchells Asha and Swati and fellow QUB post-grad student Ellie proved to be the highlight of the fall. Somewhere in the torrential downpours that stole our umbrellas, the late nights spent watching horror movies in the hotel room, Asha’s fearless confrontations with masked figures in the town square, Ellie’s terrified reactions to actors in the haunted house, and Swati’s relentless enthusiasm for everything eerie, it finally settled in that much like the narrator in the opening song, I had finally reached my destination.