While, in a few days, I will be returning to Ireland to work on my thesis, my time at the University of Limerick has effectively ended. However, I am struggling with thinking through my next steps.
This is odd for me, because I have always been a planner. If I have a problem to solve, I devour all available evidence, I devise a solution, I devise alternate solutions, then I calculate all potential repercussions, and devise solutions for those, too. By the age of fourteen, I had my entire life planned out, and up until now, I have roughly reached every benchmark necessary to fulfill my plan.
Now, I have no idea what comes next. I never anticipated receiving the Mitchell Scholarship — if you told me in the fifth grade this is where I would be, I would have never believed you. Me, studying in Ireland? Me, studying in New York City before I even studied in Ireland? I’ve stuck to my course, but in these past few years, it has shifted. Now, after everything, I’m completely off course, headed for somewhere else entirely.
I will say that the COVID-19 pandemic affected me, too. I realized that no matter what I do, some things will always be out of my control. So, instead of confining myself to one choice, I should seize control of my life wherever and whenever I can, even if that means the end of my grand plan of my life. What comes next, then? The question frightens me.
I will say though, as someone who has always feared change, the uncertainty is exhilarating. Since I don’t know what comes next, I could do anything. I’m still scared I could make the wrong choice, but because of all I’ve learned and all the people I’ve met during my program, I know I have a decent chance at making the right decision. Or at least, the right decision for me.
Since returning home, everybody has asked the same thing: “What are your next steps?” I have avoided answering each time. I have this next month, my last month in Ireland, to myself. I’ll keep thinking through myself and my dreams so that when I get home and see everyone again, I’ll be able to give them an answer that brings a smile to both of our faces.
Before coming to Ireland, I knew I wanted to make 2021-2022 my year of becoming the athlete I had always envisioned myself to be. I’ve spent so many years focusing on my health through nutrition, that it was time to truly hone in on my physical abilities. This year I am saying “Yes!” to everything I want to do regardless if I think I am physically capable of doing it, I might just surprise myself! I saw Dublin as the perfect opportunity to explore all the items on my bucket list, little did I know that I would finish the year with much more than a checked box.
I started the year by joining a sport I’ve always wanted to try: Archery! I joined the TUD Tallaght Archery team for the craic of course but ended up being proficient and even competitive. I won 3rd place for Women’s Barebow at Ireland’s 2022 Indoor Nationals Competition!
Apart from excelling at a new sport, I met some of my dearest and closest friends through Archery. One of whom is currently with me at the airport as we head to find adventure in Switzerland.
I am extremely lucky to call these people my friends.
As this is my year of saying “Yes!” I pursued another sport I’ve admired for years, but never felt I could do: Jiu-Jitsu! I joined the Brazier Jiu-Jitsu Academy and quickly learned not only self-defense, but I found a family. I lack the words to describe what this group of people means to me. From failed takedowns to successful submissions and even sharing the woes of life, these people have supported me, unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
Their encouragement led me to compete in Jiu-Jitsu for the first time, something I never thought I’d do! The day of my first competition was surreal, I was out of this world nervous as I was the smallest one in my category and injured. I did not expect 7 of my closest Jiu-Jitsu friends to come out to support ME. I was the only one from our gym competing that day and the first of the girls to compete. If I wasn’t so nervous to fight, I probably would have cried as I have never had such immense support from non-family members in my entire life. I am without words to describe how grateful I am for them.
I won 2nd place and am currently training for a few more competitions before the end of my Mitchell Year! 🙂
My adventures also lead me to join the Dublin Civil Defense as a volunteer firefighter. Learning the ins and outs of firefighting, and first aid, and connecting with vast people across Dublin’s public service has been an honor. The craic with the lads after a long Monday night training is a super plus of course.
Being a firefighter has been a childhood dream of mine, now actualized. 🙂
This year I’ve been able to go Go-Karting, AirSofting, Yoga, Olympic Weightlifting, Dog sledding, Glacier Exploration, Snowmobiling, and Outdoor Trapeze, and it’s not over yet. Soon I hope to start Muay Thai and Aerial Acrobatics. Who knows, next I may take up sailing, fencing, or learn to play a new instrument!
One commonality amongst all my adventures holds true, wherever I go, I am met with the kindest, funniest, most supportive people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Whether I’m running late and need a lift to training, or wanting to grab a pint after class, my people are always there for me, and I am there for them.
I started the year wanting to become an athlete and ended the year getting to know people in Ireland from all walks of life. My new Irish family means more to me than anything I could have expected this year abroad to bring.
As I end my Mitchell year, I am reminded of a quote I now understand more than ever:
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” ― Miriam Adeney
Ireland and its people will forever have a piece of my heart, and they’ll hopefully have me for a bit longer. I have found a home, in a far away place I’d never imagined visiting let alone living in. I’ve gained community, friendship, a family, one of the happiest years of my life, and I am incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity.
Wherever I go after my Mitchell Year, I know I will always have a home in Ireland.
A few days before I returned from my Christmas holiday in America, the football team I play with lost 6-0 to a team called “Bakeries.” I know nothing meaningful about the neighborhoods east of Ravenhill, and therefore assumed one of them was simply called “Bakeries.” Upon reentering Belfast, I asked why we had such an issue with “the lads from Bakeries.” The very fast, very republican man who plays next to me explained that “they aren’t from Bakeries.” My eyes narrowed in the timeless tourist’s gesture of confusion; he clarified (existentially): “There is no Bakeries.”
“Your men are bakery men, like.”
Pure happiness crossed my heart, misapprehension supplanted by unambiguous delight.
“So, bakers? Youse have lost six nil to bakers?”
Very rarely does God above grant such ripe, luscious opportunities for puns. Dragonfly-quick I moved from teammate to teammate, seized by a still hunger:
“Right lads – couldn’t rise to the occasion?”
“Next time I’m away, I think youse knead to try a bit harder.”
I was asked to stop; I didn’t.
“6 nothing? They’ve absolutely battered us.”
After I shredded up the next few minutes by accusing these decent gentlemen of “folding,” getting “creamed,” and the like, the pre-practice meeting began. Our coach mentioned that the result last week had been disappointing, and indicated we needed to push harder in practice. The fast republican’s eyeline brushed against mine as he stepped forward to interrupt: “Aye lads we’ll need to be at it this week – 6-nill to Bakeries and we’ve still got the butchers and candlestick makers yet to play!”
Orson Welles once wrote that “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” We lost to Bakeries, yes, but had a lovely season and will be still stronger next year! I suspect my impending return to America will prove a case of addition by subtraction.
I went on holiday to the south of Ireland recently. The odds of my deploying a fake Belfast accent increase with my distance from Belfast; this far south the chances of detection are low. Having greeted the barman with a crisp “how are you keeping?” and extended a few sentences with “so it is,” I was sitting in a pub reading. An American tourist entered, ordered a pint, placed it and a takeaway bag next to a lit candle at the table next to me, and walked to the bathroom. The bag caught fire immediately.
Shaking the bag, beating it on my backpack, and blowing on it put out around 80% of the fire. But embers remained, the entire pub was made of wood, and I was out of ideas.
Returning in nervousness to my normal American Black accent, I called to the barman: “Yo, uh…”
I will end the story there, though all the endings I could write are positive. My time in Ireland will end soon, but it was a wonderful adventure and is, as far as I am concerned, ongoing.
The first is the nature. Green mounds of grass that run along cliffs overlooking bright blue bays. Forests with high trees and wide-open undergrowth. Beaches that you can spend hours on, finding shells and seeing oystercatchers root around for their next meal. The sea up close and from above. The soft mosses in the hills. The sharp nettles of gorse.
The second are the deer. I have been lucky to spend a lot of time with them, watching them grow, shriek with frustration in the forests, and run across flat fields. The deer are reflective and are content to watch the landscape pass by. They listen to the music I play, and can go days without water, and are staunchly Irish. I have heard many insist that they are not called British deer, though they seem to have a great sense of humor about it, nonetheless. The deer I have met in Ireland belong in the Wicklow and Mourne mountains and along the cliffs, sometimes wandering alone for long stretches of time. They traverse all over the island, over to Sligo and up to Ballymoney, and down to the outskirts of Dublin. The Sika variety were once domestic in Powerscourt but broke out of captivity and now have unlimited places to visit and live. You can see that they are resilient, despite being brought to the precipice of extinction throughout the course of history. They are wonderful listeners, quiet and understanding in a way that most people in this world are not. I can sit in silence with them, and still leave with my soul full. I feel grateful when I am in the presence of their pure joy, when they find just the right tree to nibble on or dip their hooves into a river. They are wild, some might even say feral. They are the only deer that they can be. The deer are some of the best friends I have made here and have been constant companions as the months pass by. There is rarely a day that passes that I don’t see the deer, somewhere in Ireland, or even while travelling in other European countries. I want to tell them all my stories, and I want to hear all of theirs. Next year, I will find deer again in the US, feeding in different mountains, but with the same deep love for the ecosystem they live in.
Next is the lavender. The lavender grows where it needs to be but is happy to have company. I always feel honored and content in its presence, the way it lets the wind ripple its leaves, and turns its petals to the sun. The lavender knows how to pull nutrients from the earth, how to expel toxicity, how to extend its roots outward to hold those it grows beside. The lavender’s scent is said to spread a sense of calm, relaxation, and wellness of being. In Ireland, the endemic species is called ‘Western Sea-lavender,’ which I find fitting because when I think of lavender’s crocheted purple flowers I think too of the sea. Lavender oil aids scars in healing. Lavender embodies love; it is drawn to the romantic side of life. That’s why you often see great purple fields of it in romantic comedies. Lavender is versatile. Lavender craves the sun. Lavender is often a perennial plant, meaning it will always rise again, year after year. I am reminded often of lavender, from soap or passing a field or a flash of purple on a book cover. I will plant lavender in the gardens I grow from now on, to spread this love, acceptance, and inner peace, and to always involve it in my life.
Then too are the books I have read here. They often have a dry, witty sense of humor. Their jackets come in bright, stylish covers that always impress me. Sometimes they are quick paced and rapid fire. Other times they take a long time to open and reveal their story, but regardless they always leave me thinking deeply about the world, my time here on the island, and the truths we believe about the earth. What would a perfect world look like? The books are kind, comforting, and most of all honest. There are many sequels yet to be read.
Finally, there are the cities of Ireland. Bright, always moving, and well planned out. There are a million photos to take in the cities, and they are a constant source of good food to enjoy. The cities are direct, their streets provide clear and decided paths, but with soft green patches scattered throughout. Whether it’s Dublin, Belfast, or Galway, there are always cozy places to stay and new people to meet. The cities have a million friends from all over. They are fierce leaders. I will miss the cities here, but I know that in some ways, I will see the cities again—reflected in the urban areas of the US.
These are some things I know now: How to time my weekly grocery trips to fit within the thirty-six-minute laundry cycle I do every Sunday. How often and where the DART runs, and which swim spots along its Southern route are best at high tide and which are best at low tide. Where the LUAS Green and Red lines go, how to get to Heuston and Connolly most reliably, and the way all Ianród Eireann routes radiate out from Dublin. I know where the cars are going to come from at each intersection (the opposite direction as in America), well enough to jaywalk with confidence.
I know a lot more Irish slang now. On the DART the other day, I overheard a girl say to her friend, “Did your one give out to ya?” and I knew what that meant. I know the differentmusicalities of the Irishaccent, and can tell a Cork accent from a Carlow accent from a Belfast accent from a Clare accent. I even know certain Irish radio hosts’ and TV reporters’ names from repeatedly playing Thirty Seconds with my Irish friends.
I know about Irish crises and bubbles and booms and rushes. I know about the Celtic Tiger and the 2008 recession, and that when Irish people talk about those things, they’re talking about memories of their schoolmates suddenly moving abroad to Bahrain or Dubai for their parents’ jobs. I know what different primary schools mean in a Trinity context and about how here, intelligence and appearing intelligent are used as currencies. I understand the European grading scale now. I get what a BNOC is. I think I know how this place works.
But (and this continues the theme of my most recent blog post) the best and most important things I know now, after having spent nine months in Ireland, are these: How to make it through the winter in a shared kitchen, one late night at a time. How to estimate the number of berries and pain au chocolats one should buy for brunch for four girls after a night spent dancing. How to make an adventure out of helping your friend move home, all her things packed in suitcases and carted onto the bus, laughing over rivers and past estates, heading north. All of these things I learned here at Trinity.
All the endings lately, the graduations, the moving out: it’s so wonderful that life is forging onward. And there will be so many people to visit next year, in their master’s programs abroad in which they’ve so brilliantly earned spots or their new jobs in countries they’ve never been to before. For me and my best friends here in Dublin, April and May were crazy months. We got final coffees with people leaving early. We stayed up all night in the GMB. We swam in the lake at Glendalough. We went to house parties and out for many drinks. We swam at Balscadden. We took a trip to Ellen’s hometown in Laois to watch the Eurovision.
Ellen and I moved into our new home in Goldsmith Hall. Ellen, as a Scholar, was supposed to move to Goldsmith no matter what, but I had the choice to stay in the GMB, where I was. Of course, I chose to go with her. I couldn’t be in the building anymore without the same people there. Now, my new room is full of things people heading home left behind for me to use, IKEA lamps and pretty vases they couldn’t keep, and an air mattress for Rachel and Katherine and anyone else to sleep on whenever they like. All the cups and pots and utensils are in new drawers. I’m a bit slower making breakfast each morning than I was before because I forget where we put them all. I’m re-learning how to be, I joke to Ellen.
When I’m not cooking or writing or doing jiu jitsu or attempting to build routine, I’m going out with the friends who are still here. There’s this quote that has stayed with me from an essay I read in 2015 by the author Ada Calhoun. Writing in The New York Times, she said, “As a teenage girl in the 1990s East Village, every door was open to me and my friends. There was no party we could not crash, no person we could not make out with, and no intoxicant we would not be offered. The city was ours.” That’s maybe a bit hyperbolic to describe the way Ellen, Rachel, Katherine, and I are feeling each weekend now, but the sentiment is the same. “I remember what it felt like getting ready to make something exciting happen, to feel a sense of the city and time radiating out in all directions, like the spokes of a wheel, with me and that night at the center,” Calhoun wrote. Yes. Everything is at our fingertips. We are lately wanting to be menaces, to get up to no good. Daylight in Dublin lately stretches until 11 p.m. Love, or at least good craic as they say, feels easy to come by.
“I don’t know what it is, but every time I walk across Front Square with you guys, I feel like I’m living in the Rooney-verse,” Katherine said the other day, referring to Trinity’s most recent famous alum’s work. I agree with her. And it’s not just Front Square when I get that feeling. When I walk across the Sky Bridge from Goldsmith onto campus at sunset, and the clouds are pink over Pearse Station, I feel like that. Meeting friends for lunch in the sun, I feel like that. At The George the other night, when seabirds flew by and their white bellies were lit up by the club’s red light, I felt like that.
The other day at the Rugby Pitch, Ellen and I were watching cricket, without a clue as to what the rules of the game were. A pair of magpies, their wings painted like kites, landed nearby. “Oh good,” Ellen said, “two for joy.” I learned another Irish phrase then. “One for sorrow,” – and you’re supposed to salute any singular magpie you see, apparently – “two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy …” And sticky sweet as it is to say it, at that moment, we did indeed have so much joy.
Ellen and Katherine and I were recently discussing whether or not “Trinity” is a genre of books. Certainly, all Rooney books fit in that genre. So does Exciting Times by another recent Trinity grad, Naoise Dolan. I would say the features of ‘modern Trinity’ as a genre include criticizing but also ultimately venerating the university as an institution, and Irish ingenues who bear a unique, weary sadness despite their youth. But most of all, the hypothetical genre would be about romanticizing the lives of young people in Dublin.
I am a young person in Dublin. And, like many writers, I am extremely given to romanticizing. But here is the thing: Dublin is a very romantic city. There are Georgian brick buildings with doors topped with frosted glass fans. And lately, I find myself to be very in love with my life. There’s a sentence in Normal People which describes Connell and Marianne at the end of their relationship after they’ve grown with and through each other. “He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile, his life opens out before him in all directions at once.”
Sally Rooney, for all the valid critiques, I think, gets this feeling very right. I do feel like my friends here – Ellen, Rachel, Katherine, Ben, so many others – brought me goodness like a gift, for a very long, sustained period of time. One day last winter I think I just looked up and saw my life and I was happy, and then I turned around and campus was covered in daffodils, and I lived in a flat where I was all but guaranteed to laugh at least once per day if not much more. And now we have the summer, and it feels so earned after the winter, and I’m still happy, and it doesn’t feel breakable at all. With real sweetness and sincerity, there’s no other place I’d rather be.
In a bit, it will be September, and then all my friends’ lives will spread out before them in all directions at once. Mine too. It will be so good. But I’ll have to say goodbye, and it never gets easier, any place I leave. I’m already scared, which, when you think about, it is such a lucky thing.
To keep my mind busy, I made a map of all the places in Dublin that made up the fabric of my life here. Maybe future Mitchells would like to look at it to get some ideas for where to get good coffee or even just where to buy their groceries:
I also made a list of ten things I wish I’d known/did at the beginning of this year, with ten things for Mitchells in general and ten for Trinity Mitchells, specifically. I’ve attached it as a PDF:
But if future Mitchells don’t look at it, that’s more than okay. It’s advice I probably wouldn’t have taken anyways if it had been given to me. Half the fun is figuring out how to be on your own, of course.
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.
It feels like just yesterday I was standing by the rental car desks at terminal 1 of Dublin airport, waiting three hours for my bus to take me to UCD campus for the very first time. That day wasn’t exactly the smoothest—when I got to UCD, it took me almost an hour to actually find my accommodation, as I wandered around a construction-filled campus with three suitcases in tow.
Eight months later, that construction is still here, and I still can’t even say I know my way around perfectly (as I found out yesterday riding the 17 bus, when I accidentally ended up going to Blackrock instead of Dundrum). Yet despite my navigational difficulties, it’s amazing how much Dublin has come to feel like home. There’s no way I can describe all the wonderful moments from this last year in a 500-word blog post, but I can at least mention some of them:
Walking back from IKEA with Amelia and my Dutch flatmate Marjolein carrying bags full of supplies strung between our shoulders.
Sampling a Black Forest donut from a shop by the corner of Grafton Street and St. Stephen’s Green.
Attending choral evensong at Christ Church Cathedral (yes, that may have been the only way to see the cathedral for free, but it was still lovely…)
Unexpectedly going Irish dancing outside the Titanic Museum with some random Belfasters (thanks for the tour, Maysa!)
Getting three bullseyes in a row at my third UCD archery club meeting.
Not getting craned away from the table after having my fourth plate of mashed taters on Thanksgiving.
Seeing a beautiful winter landscape at Glendalough while hiking the red loop (yes, it snows in Ireland, despite what some of this year’s Mitchell scholars may say…)
Kissing the Blarney stone…. On two separate occasions.
Fighting 80 mph bursts of wind while walking atop the Cliffs of Moher with my family in a yellow weather advisory. (for the record, not my idea)
Making my first cottage pie!
Winning €8.64 in my first ever bet at the Leopardstown horse races. (Technically, this means I have an 100% success rate!)
Seeing Foil Arms & Hog live in downtown Dublin after watching their YouTube videos for over four years.
Accidentally stumbling across the Ski Club of Ireland while doing a 22-mile hike in the Dublin mountains.
Finally figuring out that it’s not spelled “crack.”
Learning pro-Ukraine chants at a student rally outside the UCD James Joyce library. “Yanukovicha v zhopu, Ukrainu v Evropu!” (Yanukovich, go to hell; Ukraine, go to Europe!)
Trying and failing to find the butterfly house at Malahide Castle (to be honest, I’m not convinced it actually exists)
Going to an Ed Sheeran concert at Croke Park…and finding out about half of my Instagram friends are Maisie Peters fans.
Attending my firstIrish formal!
Roasting sausages over a campfire at 4:30 AM at a friend’s birthday party in Glendalough.
Dublin’s been a great place to call home. I’m glad I don’t have to say my official goodbye for another couple months.
I wrote in my first blog post that “Goodbye is so far off, but it already feels just about impossible.” That goodbye is now only a week and a half away, and I’m left wondering where the year has gone.
Some things I will miss: the long winding trails around UCD, which have carried me through many happy and sad moments this year; walking through St. Stephen’s Green Park, watching in awe as the seasons change; pausing to listen to the live music on Grafton Street, feeling momentarily bonded with the group of strangers listening around me; the AirCoach journey back to Dublin 4, giving me a mini tour through the county each time I land back at Dublin Airport and reminding me that I am home; the Irish friends who have shown me such kindness and taught me so much. And, I will miss my Mitchell cohort; I so cherish these relationships and always will.
I can’t take any of these things with me (except for those in my cohort who will, thankfully, be nearby in the coming years!), but I’m hoping pieces of their significance to me this year, and the lessons I’ve learned, will continue to hold meaning in my life.
Regrets seem worth mentioning, in case future scholars can benefit from them: I wish I’d stuck with my initial goal of keeping a journal for the year (not my first failed attempt at journaling, admittedly); I wish I’d made my travel bucket list—both within and outside of Ireland—earlier in the year to better structure those plans; and I wish I’d spread my trips out more evenly between the trimesters. To future cohorts: I wish you beautiful sunsets and sunny skies, many moments of reflection, limited mandatory costly European Covid tests for travel, and anything and everything else you require out of your year on this magical island. I have frequently paused to reflect on the fact that everyone in our cohort came into the year with very different goals, and approached their time here with equally as much variety. There really is no right or wrong way to do this year; it depends so much on the person, and so I hope you get exactly what you need out of your time here (keeping in mind that, as the old lyrics from The Rolling Stones remind us, that isn’t always what you want). It’s a choose-your-own-adventure, of sorts, and I think that’s one of the most special aspects of this opportunity.
I have seen a lot this year and feel lucky to have checked many items off my Mitchell year bucket list. But I also had to accept pretty early on that there’s no way to see everything. That acceptance felt a lot more palatable when I was reminded by my stepmom that this is a good thing, because it means there are always reasons to go back to places you love and keep exploring.
I was on a ferry in the Amalfi Coast last week and, completely by coincidence, sat next to two older women from Dublin. They asked about my studies and travels, and we discussed our favorite parts of Ireland. Running into them, and getting the chance to share stories about the place I feel fortunate to have called home for the last nine months, was a nice reminder that the Irish are everywhere—a joke I’ve heard from them many times this year, but hadn’t really experienced myself until that boat ride. As I got up toward the end of the journey to go meet my brother downstairs, one of the women said to me, “Listen, Amelia: come back to Ireland, okay?”
Obviously. And good thing, because I suck at goodbyes.
As my Mitchell year comes to a close and my classes end, I’ve had the opportunity to travel a bit more often throughout the island and to continue going to plays. From Galway, and Limerick to Cork, Blarney and Kinsale, I have spent time aimlessly walking around the Irish coast and getting lost in the beauty of various parts of Ireland. My favorite amongst my recent trips has easily been my trip to Blarney Castle.
Growing up, I heard endless stories (likely like every Irish-American person) about the beauty of Blarney Castle and the great fortune or luck I would receive from kissing the Blarney Stone. Blarney Castle, located next to a quaint town, is in the center of a magnificent set of gardens and wildlife reserves for guests to walk around. The castle itself, like the gardens that surround it, is a marvelous site that has been relatively well preserved, and I made it a point to actively explore every nook and cranny within it. After exploring the grounds and taking pictures of the castle from virtually every angle to send home to my family, I casually waited for 1.5 to enter the castle and climb to the top of the keep.
Although the wait was long, once at the top of the castle I was able to see the Blarney Stone and give it a big kiss. Looking back on it, it may not have been the best idea to kiss a stone that is hundreds of years old that has been kissed by millions of people. The attendants at the top of the castle did, however, give the stone a nice wipe with cleaning spray after every kiss. Nevertheless, let’s hope an aspect of the luck associated with the Blarney stone is not getting sick from it. After leaving the castle I meandered around the castle grounds for hours before leaving.
As I have traveled, I have been, to say the least, continually amazed by the traditional beauty of Irish cities, the friendliness of virtually everyone I meet, and the magnificently green rural landscape of the nation I get to see every time I bored a bus or train out of Dublin. I’m going to miss, possibly most of all, the natural beauty and tranquility that the Irish countryside offers those willing to explore it and the outgoing nature of this island’s cities.
for the first half of my Mitchell year, I worked really hard to find peace. during the second half, especially in the midst of unprecedented climate change, a global pandemic that our governments have decided to let vulnerable bear the burden of, and violence and displacement across the world – hope for the future has felt impossible. hope for my future has felt intangible. so since landing back in Dublin from Ghana, I have spent each day trying to cultivate hope.
hope is the sea and the sun
shinning sapphire reflected in the Irish sea
smiling flame whispering through the clouds
as my body burns in the cold of the water.
hope is the Dublin Bay at sunset
a soft pink and purple that hugs the Poolbeg smokestacks
a fearless orange that hikes the Dublin mountains
while my feet follow the sea in the sand.
hope is the persistence of the seagulls
that sit on my windowsill each morning
knocking to wake me up, just like Mom and Dad used to
yelling to their friends about the joys of goldfish.
hope is warm love from friends, new and old
on days where the cold grey seeps through the window
locking my body in the bed –
hope is purple and yellow flowers
stretching their stiff yet finally rested bodies towards the sun
hope is the grey turning green burning locks as spring lights my hearth.
My MFA program has been very busy, yet incredibly fulfilling. We have just started Term 2 and the transition has been very helpful. In Term 1, we spent a lot of time focusing on text. We started with directing scenes from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Prior to this program, I had spent a lot of time directing Shakespeare plays without spending much time with the iambic pentameter or exploring why the imagery is necessary in characters’ speech. Through my experience, I’ve learned how to better use the rhythmic qualities of Shakespearean language to my directorial advantage. I’m most proud of my direction of the scene between Portia and Brutus in the style of The Dick Van Dyke Show. By using the rhythm and intentions of each line in the scene, I was able to turn Julius Caesar into a conventional retro sitcom.
Now that we are in Term 2, our focus will be on making visual choices that deepen the drama of a theatrical piece. We’re currently working a lot on exploring innovative approaches to blocking as well as props. We will also be creating devised theatrical performances by the end of May, in which each director and a group of actors will work together to create a completely new piece of theatre that speaks to our personal experiences. I’m super excited to get started on that!
I also had my directorial debut in Dublin in February. My classmate, Maku Sisakova, and I co-directed a new play called Canonical for the 2022 Scene + Heard Festival at the historic Smock Alley Theatre. Canonical was written by Scout Black about the victims of Jack the Ripper. This feminist piece was especially timely and poignant in light of the senseless murder of Ashling Murphy. The proceeds from this production went towards the Dublin Rape Crises Center, and it ended up being especially fulfilling to create work that explored the societal indicators that perpetuate violence against women.
Aside from my academic and theatrical work, I have been able to explore Ireland a little further during my weekends. In January, some of my friends and I were able to attend Saint Anne’s Park between Raheny and Clontarf. We were able to explore a weekend market and buy some new Irish cheeses! I really loved this park and will definitely be going back as soon as possible.
In February, alongside the other Mitchell scholars, my trip to Belfast was especially eye opening. I had never been to the North of Ireland and was really surprised by the difference in dialogue around identity in Belfast as compared to Dublin. I am very interested in the idea that Irish identity in Dublin is currently in the process of evolving to reflect the histories of the Troubles while also forging a new identity. By comparison, I felt that Belfast was still in the process of dealing with the Troubles as a main part of Belfast identity. I would really like to explore this further and return to Belfast to see how this affects Northern Irish art and theatre.
Early this month, I was able to visit Cork for the first time, which was probably my favorite trip I’ve had in Ireland. Cork is a city filled with character, and just by walking around the city, I was enamored with the go-with-the-flow attitude as well as the very different accent. I will certainly be returning to Cork as soon as I can to explore the arts scene further and get some good vibes again.
Finally, I was able to celebrate my first St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin! What a rush! I was able to go to the parade and celebrate with a proper Guinness. There were so many people out and I even got to listen to some trad music and do a little bit of dancing in celebration.
Excited to see what my spring and summer in Ireland looks like!