Garth-esque Anticipation for an Irish 2023

As I start this blog I’m in the Nashville airport headed back to Dublin by way of Toronto. It was an enjoyable time with family during winter break to recharge, and return once again to this terminal. It seems that each time I am here around 1 in 7 people on this flight are wearing cowboy hats. It was around that ratio, if not more, in Dublin when Garth Brooks appeared for his tour last semester. I’m not a major Garth Brooks fan and prefer Alan Jackson – but in this moment as I return to Ireland, I feel something similar to Garth when he finally set foot on stage in Dublin. His tour was cancelled in 2014 due to a Dublin city code violation, and when he arrived in 2022 he was supposedly weeping as he told the Irish crowd he had finally arrived “to raise hell”.

I don’t expect any similarity to that moment whatsoever when I step off my plane – no weeping, hell will stay asunder, and I will probably take a nap as soon as I can which I fear might delay this blog. But in the same spirit of Garth’s return, cowboy hat aside I have a Garth-esque anticipation for the new missions I hope to accomplish in Ireland this semester and in the New Year. I’ve also learned it’s important to keep an open mind and value the journey regardless of where it goes and what is accomplished. Regardless of the destination I reach in research and academics, I am looking forward to growing connections with friends and new experiences. Now that I have camping gear loaded to the motorbike, that will include some multi-day backpacking in Wicklow and Ring of Kerry. I also hope to grow my skills enough to play fiddle in the Cobblestone, which I think I may attempt first through the Christian Student Union at UCD. It is good to start some things in an atmosphere of forgiveness.

The last semester was about getting my bearings for the Mitchell journey (in one case actually checking bearings with Swati), growing deeper in new friendships out of the shared experience of finding a new Ireland, and making new connections – from Bray to Buncranna.

A candid shot in Buncranna of Ali & Dolapo.

New connections have brought new opportunities for the New Year. That has included growing closer with those in the Public Policy program at UCD, all of whom embody good craic. Their craic collectively built up to a new pinnacle at the MPP Christmas Party.

The Craic of Christmas at UCD.

As for the nobility in this photograph – I was not familiar with the Christmas cracker tradition. They are like two-sided party poppers where one person is left with a prize, in this case a paper crown. It’s like a vegan alternative to a turkey wishbone, but with a better prize. Once crowned the Irish nobility declared an unofficial afterparty elsewhere in city center. It lasted past 5am – I simply could not keep up and went home early. That said, there are opportunities in the New Year where Ireland and America would benefit from keeping up with each other.

I have felt that being a Mitchell Scholar can bring an opportunity to serve as a miniature ambassador of sorts for exchanging ideas that would foster mutual benefit to the US and Ireland. A chance for that presented itself when I was able to reach an agreement with a sustainable bio/agri-tech startup in Kentucky to find potential candidates for their technology in Ireland, which I am excited to continue attempting through the New Year. Instead of feeding spent grain wastes from the whiskey and brewing industry to Ireland’s dairy industry which results in methane emission, this technology originally developed for similar bourbon industry wastes can upcycle spent grain into marketable sugar and activated carbon products along with a higher protein source for livestock. The key application is this would add revenue to the front end of renewable biogas production which is now being invested in due to the energy crisis, and would also have promise of being a feasible way to “reduce the herd” in Ireland by allowing new market benefits and managing the spent grain waste that would be left from herd reduction. Implementing this solution in Ireland would require collaboration from multiple industries willing to have a mindset of cooperative and intersecting sustainability, which is worth promoting. In 2022 the potential of this tech led to my first “whiskey mission” and will hopefully lead to more in 2023. Thanks to a mutual connection, Chris Armstrong, Aadi joined the trip and we met the President of the Craft Irish Whiskey Association, Stuart McNamara, at Sean’s bar of Athlone- the oldest pub in Ireland. Stuart is an Irish peacekeeping forces veteran from the signal corps, and was a sailor. His Captain first introduced him to the craft of whiskey. Ironically, our train was an hour late due to signal failure – so our focus gradually became more about making the connection instead of soliciting interests and ironing out details to transfer the startup tech to Ireland.

Sean’s bar in Athlone – built circa 900 AD. Lights circa 2023 AD. (Photo cred to Aadi).

Through the door of Sean’s bar, we made a valuable connection with the door to the craft whiskey industry. We soaked in stories ranging from the best whiskies to try, good and bad methods to start and finance a distillery in Ireland, and the interesting legal battle involving the USPTO that created the craft association separate from global brands. Eventually we learned about Stuart’s own Portmagee whiskey brand, named after a sailor who used Skellig island for smuggling. Skellig was once a sight for dumping cargo on the beach, paying only a portion of British taxes in port near Dingle, then retrieving the rest of the haul later on the way to Portmagee. I wonder if the monks had still been there if they would have said anything – if it were whiskey cargo that may have been unlikely. At the end of our meeting the manager, Timmy, joined us and provided great historical oratory which will soon be available in a Netflix documentary on the story of whiskey in the world. The documentary will include the story of how Athlone and Sean’s bar is at the birthplace of whiskey on the Shannon which goes back to the monks of Lough Ree. After discovering fast drunkedness from high-proof alcohol, the monks thought whiskey was holy water which they called “uisce beatha” in Galeige. It is said others gradually shortened and misinterpreted this to “whiskey”. Perhaps there will be a new chapter of sustainability in the story of uisce beatha that could be said to have started at the same place on the Shannon.

Ireland could not be a land of whiskey if not first a land of water. It is a land of wetlands, which leads to my other mission for the New Year that I will end with. Towards the end of the semester as a Mitchell Scholar I was granted affiliation as an environmental policy researcher with a group known as WaterLANDS – a major EU Commission funded group leading peatland restoration efforts across Europe and serving as one member of a larger advisory group under the Green Deal to Brussels. Their affiliated researchers in Germany have commercially developed a method of moss farming (Sphagnum paludiculture) which would have promise in Ireland to accomplish rewetting goals while allowing a portion of Ireland’s lost labor and market from peatlands to return in a new sustainable ways. Ireland has not yet built the capacity to lead and innovate in this area despite major potential benefit for the midlands, inclusion of paludiculture in the next Common Agriculture Policy, and budgetary capacity to afford expandable pilot projects. I’m now in charge of trying to find a policy solution that would create those projects and a strategy to expand the practice in Ireland. To do it, I’ve partnered with former mayor of Galway and Seanad member Niall O’Brolchain which may become a journey of its own. For length and peat’s sake, I’ll save more on that for the next post. With a Garth-esque anxt I now begin a sprint down new paths for sustainability, just transition, and personal growth from Ireland to German moss farms. With an open mind I look forward to these new paths, new connections, and new craic 2023 will hold.

Sheep in the Special Conservation Area near Mullaghcleevun, Wicklow waiting for me to return on a moto-camping adventure.
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