Birds Through Ireland

Before I returned home for winter break, Maysa—my fellow Belfast Mitchell—bought me a book by Conor O’Brien called Ireland Through Birds. On my flight home, already missing the moody grey-green landscapes, I found solace in O’Brien’s journey to glimpse twelve of the rarest endemic birds in Ireland. His efforts took him into the Wicklows, to rugged, remote islands off the northwest coast, through coastal reserves, and inland to peat bogs. Each chapter and bird is associated with a different geographic region of the island—its history, ecology, and memories. Taking inspiration from O’Brien, I decided to reflect on the most memorable birds I have encountered here.

One of the first birds I saw in September was the fulmar. The fulmar is one of my favorite birds—its deceptively banal, gull-like appearance masks a different lineage, sharing a common ancestor with the great seabirds of the open oceans: albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters. The rugged Irish coast provides optimal nesting habitat for fulmars, and the Bray to Greystones cliffwalk is a good place to spot them. Unfortunately, during the trip my contacts had clouded over, rendering the world around me blurry. Yet, as I squinted overhead, half-blinded by the sun, I miraculously spotted the stiff-winged silhouette of a grey-white bird coasting effortlessly in the wind. “A fulmar!” I shouted to Abby, half-wild with excitement.

I’ve also come to deeply appreciate the diversity of Corvids in Ireland, and the frequency with which you can spot them. Back in the States, I’m only used to seeing crows and the occasional raven, if I’m out of the city. Here, in the heart of Belfast or Dublin, you can see rooks, hooded crows, jackdaws, and magpies all in the same spaces. Corvids are some of the smartest birds—New Caledonian crows are documented tool-users—and you can see the wheels turning as they cock their head side to side, casually walking along the sidewalk next to us while their brains problem-solve issues more complex than we can imagine. I try and remind myself not to take them for granted; each sighting is its own gift.

Along the many waterways, you can also see Eurasian coots and moorhens. Both belong to Rallidae, the rail and crake family, and appear somewhat like wild swamp chickens. My first time biking along the River Lagan, they were a novelty, and I stopped often to observe them paddling happily in the water while the drizzle had forced other birds to seek cover. As Ireland became more familiar, so did the Rallids. Yet, walking around UCD’s wooded campus while visiting Dublin Mitchells, I became stumped by the immature plumage of a juvenile moorhen. That night, “immature Eurasian moorhen” became a clue in our now-staple UCD fishbowl tournament, eliciting great laughter. It’s harder than you think acting out a young moorhen while hunched under a sheet!

There are so many more meaningful bird-and-place associations already—the common eider Meg spotted along the Causeway Coast, the tufted ducks and gulls of St. Stephen’s Green, the buzzards I see soaring over rolling farmland outside of Belfast, or even the elusive red grouses only alluded to on various signs posted throughout the Wicklows. “I have the whole of Ireland laid out in front of me, ready to explore one valley, forest or country road at a time,” O’Brien writes. I, too, am eager to continue exploring, bird by bird.

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Much to look forward to

Low tide at Vico Baths

The coolest person in my creative writing program is called Margaret. Now nearly 60, in her youth she escaped Mugabe’s regime in her home country Zimbabwe through force of will, spiriting herself and her infant children to Ireland. We get to read samples of her upcoming memoir in class. The way she writes takes no prisoners. She never asks the reader for approval; she only ever says exactly what happened, the propulsive nature of actual events being enough to make the chapters fly. The first sentence of one of her best is: “They wore leather jackets and shades and came in a white Peugeot.”

In December, our professor brought in gin to celebrate the last day of class. Margaret was telling me that gin is nicest paired with Irish strawberries when I noticed one of her tattoos: a tri-colored Celtic knot on her wrist. Part of it was green, she said, to represent springtime, her maiden years. The next third, blue, was linked to motherhood. The final third was purple, signifying the final stage of a woman’s life: cronehood. 

Margaret is now a crone, she says, and it’s great. Her children are all grown up. She’s been through much and knows herself well. She is finally coming into her power, she told me, as she comes upon 60 – something she thinks people don’t often realize, instead seeing her as on the downhill slope. My conversation with Margaret reminded me of a Jenny Slate quote about growing older: “As the image of myself becomes sharper in my brain and more precious, I feel less afraid that someone else will erase me by denying me love.”

Since speaking with Margaret, it seems I’ve been meeting cool older women everywhere I go. One named Gina was swimming nude at the Vico Baths, scaling walls of ocean out past all the men in their wetsuits, her pearl braids shining and flipping as she dove. I was scared to get in the water until she showed me how. The waves annihilated my senses upon contact, and then for hours afterward, I could feel them in my arms and legs, on the train, cooking dinner, even as I stood brushing my teeth before bed. 

Earlier this month, I decided to try out jiu jitsu at a gym in the Liberties. I love the neighborhood, with its street markets and Republican murals. I love being an athlete again after four years, and I love learning something new. Plus, the school’s owner has a dachshund puppy named Toby present at every class who always wants to play. 

At my first class, I rolled with a woman called Ness, who seemed about 40 and had the ropiest biceps of anyone on the mat. Never have I felt so safe in someone’s arms, much less someone ostensibly trying to compress my windpipe. Seeing the gorgeous skill and surety with which she grappled was half the reason I decided to go back to the next class, and the next. 

It is now January, which many say is the harshest month in Ireland because all the Christmas decorations that made the cold romantic get put away. But I don’t agree: we have passed the solstice now, and the sun, though its shine is hard and bright as a diamond, is coming up, imperceptibly, earlier, and setting, imperceptibly, later. I am warm and inside, I have endless free time, and nowhere I need to be. Spring is coming, and then the rest of my life, in which I will hopefully be a crone who needs no one’s approval and belongs among the elements and fights with grace. There is much to look forward to.

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ii. peace through love

Three weeks after I submitted my last blog post, the love of my life landed in Dublin. This began our incredible, bicontinental adventure. I have found so much peace from living each moment in love –love for myself, love for the beauty of the sea and rocks around me, and love that transcends words for my partner (Zidane). I was soooo excited for him to visit Ireland and see the home I made for myself in Dublin as well as explore even more of the world with my adventure buddy.

While Zidane was here, I tried to take him to as many of my favorite Dublin spots as possible, including Merrion Square, Hanzel&Gretel, and ~Howth~. He found a particular home in one of several Mitchell’s favorite Dublin brunch spots, Beanhive. He would go for brunch while I was in class, and must have gone at least 5 times by the time we left Ireland. Beanhive is known for their latte art, and during one of his final visits, they drew him on the coffee!!! I thought it was nuts and so cute.

We took two trips within Europe, one to Paris and Amsterdam and another to a small town in southern Germany. I loved exploring these places with him. I felt I was able to do all the things I dreamed about when I was in middle school – kiss at the Eiffel Tower, run through the snow in Germany, cry in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam – all with my best friend. It was both loving him and loving me. It was the peace of the Liffey flowing lazily to the sea.

After stressing about travel due to Omicron, we arrived in Accra, Ghana safely before Christmas and spent the last three weeks of our adventure in Ghana. In a completely new place, on a different continent and in a different climate, I still found myself finding peace and love in the sea and the sun and, of course, rocks.

I am back in Ireland now and Zidane is back in Boston. I missed the Dublin Bay a lot while in Ghana, and really miss the sun and the warmth of Ghana. I am really excited to spend the first half of 2022 in Ireland, swimming in the Irish sea and running along the cliffs.

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Eating My Way Through Ireland: Ice Cream Edition

Ice cream has always been a distant treat for me. One only enjoyed as a reward for a job well done, in celebration of a birthday, or for simply getting through the week. As a pick-me-up, treat, reward, side, dessert, or nightcap, it sure is a beautiful thing. I don’t know if you can tell, but I love ice cream…like seriously. Alas, its creamy, calorie-filled goodness was limited to me growing up and treated simply as a reward and not the food of gods necessary to my survival as I deemed it to be. T’was not easy abstaining from the love of my life for so long. I jest of course. And when I found out people in Ireland eat ice cream too (I know right, who would have thought!?), I knew it was meant to be!

During my time in Ireland, I promised myself I would live life to the fullest, pursue that which brings me joy, and chase after what I love. I am doing just that, in many ways, including testing out as many ice cream/gelato (not the same but similar) shops as I can. 

Ice cream hunting in Ireland has been more to me than meeting my sweet tooth. It has been an opportunity to gather with friends (safely of course), talk about our woes and triumphs, meet for study sessions, explore the city, and simply relax. Ice cream truly brings people together. 

Now you may be thinking ”……isn’t it cold in Ireland right now?” and you would be right in making such an assessment. Buuuuutttttt, the ice cream is colder sooooooo it balances itself out? Look I don’t make the rules, I just enjoy the creamy goodness and let the world continue spinning on its axis. C’est la vie and all that. Anyways it can’t ever be too cold for ice cream……right? 

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for……..the ice cream/Gelato(s) in question in its many shapes and colors:

Classic Sundae from Supermacs in Dublin with some friends 🙂
Dun Laoghaire Pier
Take-Away Spot near Temple Bar, Dublin. Kinda looks like mashed potatoes tbh.

Little tangent to Mary’s milk bar in Edinburgh, Scotland right below the castle!

Mary’s Milk Bar, Edinburgh

Another pit stop to Zaandam, a city in the Netherlands!

Zaandam, Netherlands

Back to Ireland, we go!

Bray, County Wicklow

As a very experienced, reputable, and professional connoisseur of ice cream, I obviously had to stop by the famous Murphy’s Ice Cream in Galway! It would be blasphemous to visit Ireland and not try Murphys, especially their Dingle Sea Salt ice cream which “comes straight from the Atlantic Ocean…from Dingle sea water [they] collect at Bín Bán beach.” (Murphys)

Murphy’s Ice Cream in Galway!

Oddly enough, one of my favorites so far, if not my favorite overall, has been from a random coffee cart at Kilkenny Castle in county Kilkenny. Perhaps the wind was hitting just right or some magic overtook my senses, but this chocolate and banana/strawberry mix utterly perplexed me. Like it was not supposed to be so good, but it was? There really is wonder, magic, and discovery in every corner of this country, you love to see it.

And last but not least, the excellent and reliable ice cream cones with sprinkles from Gino’s Gelatos. A staple I have at least 3 times a week!

Gino’s Gelato on Henry St. in Dublin. Someone, please give me a gift card to this place I’m begging. 🙂

Eating ice cream across Ireland has been quite an experience. It feels wholly nonjudgmental that I’m eating ice cream in the middle of winter and honestly makes it that much more enjoyable. The smiles of joyful families leaving the shop with handfuls of waffle cones in their hands bring me such a serene feeling. Not just because that means it’s my turn to order, but because it reminds me of the joy ice cream brought me as a child and knowing that it’s giving someone else that feeling. 

And I’m not done yet!! Still have to try out some spots in Northern Ireland, a few more Irish counties, possibly some more European countries (coming for you next Italy). Hope to share some of the other cool things I’ve been doing in Ireland soon. Till then, stay safe and keep eating ice cream, life’s too short to not be enjoying it (I’m looking at you €2 Ice cream Pints at Tesco)!

Volendam, Village in the Netherlands

“When I’m no longer rapping, I want to open up an ice cream parlor and call myself Scoop Dogg.” – Snoop Dog

Same Snoop Dog, same. 

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My upbringing in Oklahoma and college life in New York City taught me a great deal about pseudo-intellectualism. On one hand, there are those who invent facts with which to craft whichever realities best suit their own ideologies. On the other–and this is the hand which I find most dangerous–are those who possess facts but who manipulate them to suit their own goals. These people mask their intentions behind flowery language that the average eye would never think to question. For example, what lies behind the sentence, “In this swift moment, at my true zenith, a symphony of opportunity, both harmonious and cacophonous, stretches before me in an expanse limited only by the line of the horizon”? It is beautiful; it is also wholly unnecessary. It is one jagged path to an idea that can be summed up in three words: “Everything is changing.”

My time in Ireland has taught me one thing–the magic within brevity and the constancy of impermanence.

I initially chose to study English and anthropology because I believed that words could weather the sands of time. Perhaps they would be covered, but coverage is not annihilation. Literature and ideas could always be exhumed and repurposed. So, if I wrote, I would survive, and if I studied how great things were written, I could exceed them and therefore possess more life.

I no longer believe this to be true. Who knows how many tales failed the transition to written language? Furthermore, how many stories were written and destroyed due to the subversity of their content? For so long, literary transmission was relegated only to a privileged few, but even then there are losses. Many books of Homer remain enigmatic, and there still remains the possibility that the ending to the Aeneid is untold. Just like all that remained of Ozymandias’ kingdom was a decaying statue marooned in a desert, so will even the greatest minds become whispers on the wind. Every tomb is a tomb.

These past few months have helped me reconcile my desire to experience life with my inevitable finality. I used to only want a claim to genius, just like some quest for prestige, believing that it guarantees a good life and moral character. Yet these pursuits only prevent you from noticing those small, discrete details which give our world and existence their richness. Every word possesses paragraphs worth of definition. And therefore every text presents thousands of opportunities for play and interpretation until it reaches its inevitable rest.

When my partner and I flew to visit his family in Ohio earlier this month, as I fell asleep on his shoulders, he squeezed my hand three times, our secret code for “I love you.” He used negative words, so his expression died with his last press against my palm. But this does not mean it was nothingness; its briefness only made it more precious.

Most of my life questions will remain unanswered and any answers I manage to reach will inevitably erode away or become obsolete. But that is okay. This semester I realized that accepting this is liberating.

When you have no expectation of perfection, you have nothing to lose.

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Extending Trust… and Deadlines

I requested exactly two extensions throughout four years of college, one of which I did not receive and one of which I received only after being chastised for asking (five days in advance, I might add). In my experience, students were often hesitant to even ask, worried that their reasoning wasn’t legitimate enough and/or that the professor would presume mal-intent from their request. 

Three days after I submitted my last blog post, I met my dad in Paris for a long weekend. As we walked to find lunch after dropping off our luggage at the hotel, he turned to me and said, “I need to tell you something: Grandpa has cancer.” He explained the rapid succession of events over the previous four days that had inspired concern, all of which had culminated in an MRI scan revealing a 6-centimeter glioblastoma during my dad’s layover in Miami just twelve hours earlier. 

A few days after hearing this news, I was struggling to finish an assignment, and I had to be gently reminded by an Irish classmate that it was perfectly reasonable to request an extension given the circumstances. I emailed the professor the night before the deadline asking for an extra 24 hours, and, within twenty minutes, he gave me his sincere condolences and an extra week. When I informed a different professor that I would be missing the last week of classes to extend a trip to the US to spend Thanksgiving with my grandparents in Wisconsin, she immediately offered me as much extra time as she could give on my final paper—without me bringing it up. I assured her there was no reason to believe he would pass in the next few weeks, and I fully anticipated being able to finish my work on time. She delicately responded, “he doesn’t have to have died for you to be grieving, and nobody can tell you the appropriate timeline for processing loss.”

I was reminded of these acts of kindness while perusing my spring syllabi. I’m taking a class titled Gender, Harm, and Justice, and my professor (Aisling Swaine) included a “note on our wellbeing” on the very first page of her syllabus. She emphasized that the focus of the module is violence, specifically sexual violence, and that the content is complicated, frustrating, and distressing. She then wrote, “I invite you to opt in and out of readings, and in and out of particular classes. You can alert me to this if you like, without any need for explanation.” 

The grace and benefit-of-the-doubt extended to students here is a sharp departure from many of my undergraduate experiences, and I often wonder whether these differences are reflective of the shift from undergraduate to graduate education or American to Irish culture. It’s probably a combination of both, but I imagine the latter shift carries more weight. Asking for help feels very different here—perhaps because, oftentimes, you don’t even need to ask. Everybody feels a bit more human; there’s no expectation that you are constantly consumed by work or that personal struggles be pushed aside in lieu of professional commitments. It seems to me that, at a very fundamental level, there is simply more trust placed in students. I’m grateful to be a beneficiary of that trust this year; it’s adjusted my expectations of myself, encouraged me to ask for help when I need it—without feeling shame or questioning the legitimacy of the request—and, hopefully, primed me to extend that same trust to others who may need it from me in the future.

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Are We Laughing?

It was Northern Ireland which revealed to me the inanity, the raw tedium of the American argument. There are outliers of course, but syntactically speaking, a dispute between two Americans will in the main have only three components: some accusation or criticism (“You always *insert criticism here*”), a vapid restatement of the original charge (“Are you saying I *insert criticism here*?!”), and a blunt, topical refutation (“That’s not true, I…”). The three steps cycle with stultifying regularity until the dispute is resolved through violence, distance, or compromise.

This sort of intellectual sloth, this cognitive slovenliness simply would not survive contact with the glimmering, abstract arguments of the six counties. Northern Ireland is a safe and happy place, but not for those without banter. One example should suffice, though I must confess my ear for the dialect is imperfect and some dialogue may therefore be rendered imperfectly:

I went recently with a few friends to Enniskillen, a big town with smiling people and at least 3.5 quality castles. On our way out, two of our eight started on each other ever so subtly. In fact, the initial accusation (“Think you know what I’d say to her”) and the response (“Aye, and I’d say to you”) landed so softly that I mistook the brewing contretemps for a heart-to-heart. One made fun of the other for having a huge wallet (it truly is jumbo) but no money; all tittered. The economical, remorseless retort was “aye, and you dress like marmalade” (he tends to wear a lot of orange). What seemed to be comedy continued at pace, but I began to realize that all my other friends were gradually taking steps back from the two locked in discussion, that every laugh seemed to end with a question mark. The, outrageously non-threatening, final sentence was “Have you over for dinner; bring a wee bottle, then?” At this point, I realized entirely too late that I was sandwiched between two lads set to tussle. I am told I looked like a “cat caught between sofa cushions,” but I did achieve the necessary separation and things wound down.

Back in Belfast, I had a chance to try out my own material only twenty-nine or so hours later. Trotting home in a cozy Ohio State sweatshirt near Unity Walk, I turned a corner and collided with a man accompanied by two women. He said something profane (though unthreatening) and I, fresh from the previous day’s events, replied with the cheeky “Easy big man; those are the steroids talking then?” I thought this a clever reference to his almost comically developed, potentially pharmaceutical musculature, and was ready to saunter away when one of the women devastated me with “Should be upset with Michigan, not us.” She was quite elegantly referencing OSU’s humiliating loss one week prior; my jaw dropped visibly. As they walked away, I heard the other woman laugh: “The coupon [that is, “face”] on him!”

Kiran’s six counties banter record: 0-1

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Ode to the Sea

The Irish Sea is the most complete form of emptiness I have ever witnessed. On the coast, the line between loneliness and solitude is thin and can shift quickly, like the tide. Everywhere I go, the sea is there, brushing the coasts of Belfast’s downtown, winding its way past my house camouflaged as the Lagan River. Sweeping up against the northern beaches of Derry and pushing the entire city of Dublin deeper into the Island. You can never travel more than a day, in a car or train, without finding it again.

The sea perforates the land, carving veins into the beating heart of Ireland. The River Shannon runs silver through Limerick toward the north. Just a few hours away, the River Liffey snakes its way through downtown Dublin. But the sea draws no lines between my Northern Irish home and the rest of the island. Instead, it is a thick, flat expanse on which the EU erects an invisible boundary, keeping the island whole for a little longer.

From Belfast, the sea is only an hour walk away or a 20-minute train ride. It reminds me of Lake Superior, the lake I grew up on in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. As the largest freshwater lake in the world, Superior often behaves somewhat like an ocean. My peninsula home is surrounded by water on three sides, and I feel safer, knowing the Irish isle is cradled by the sea, independent yet cared for.

Just like at home, the Northern Irish locals have built hobbies and honed crafts reliant on the water. A woman I met sells sea glass jewelry, exactly like the kind my sister makes. At Saint George’s Market, I see lines of fresh caught fish and I recall the scent of smoked fish along the Michigan harbors. A great tiled fish adorns the bank of Belfast’s River, and I am reminded of the decorated fish that pop up around town each year at the Marquette Art festival. It is heartwarming, to see how the sea connects my new community, just as it did for the one I grew up in.

Early one morning, I was able to explore the Cliffs of Moher on the western coast. Even in the depths of December, the grass was alive and warm in the setting sun. I wanted to bottle the air. Save it up and drink in great gulps of it. We hiked until we ran out of cliffs, until the land bled softly into the water in slow mounds of rolling green. These cliffs do not deal in the currency of hours and minutes, or even days. They barter eons and centuries, a constant war of wind and sun.

The sea draws us all in, at one time or another. I hear stories of saving a seal during the tide, kayaking on bumpy rivers, the Welsh side of the channel, rivers running in the meadow just outside the window, and the sea birds that will come to the island in April. The sea asks no questions, but gives us all so many answers.

Above: a photo of heathered grass and waves hundreds of feet below at the Cliffs of Moher
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St. Kevin’s Real Life Fairy Tale

The first time I saw Glendalough, it was in a YouTube video. At the time, I had no idea what I was looking at or where it was located; all I saw were two European travel bloggers pointing cameras at old stone buildings. But when I finally caught the bus to Glendalough in November, those old buildings—and the gorgeous valley in which they are located—felt like they had jumped out of a fairy tale into real life.
It shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did to visit Glendalough. The quaintly named “Valley of the Two Lakes” is only an hour and a half away from University College Dublin campus on the 181 bus, so a visit there is a very manageable day trip. Unfortunately (and somewhat embarrassingly for someone who already had lived at UCD for almost three months at the time), the first weekend I intended to visit Glendalough, I ended up missing the bus. To be clear, I left my dorm room with plenty of time to get to the bus stop but….I second guessed myself on which bus stop that was. As I ran between stops, frantically retyping my route into Google Maps while doing so, I looked up to see not one but two 181 buses whizz past on their way to Glendalough.
Now, I’m half convinced an extra week of anticipation made my Glendalough experience even better. There are several wonderful hikes at Glendalough, but the white route is, for good reason, the most popular. Climbing onto a ridge overlooking the Upper Lake gives spectacular views of the valley—ones which are earned from a steep ascent by the Poulanass Waterfall. After three separate visits to Glendalough, I still haven’t figured out the right attire for the hike – I always end up shedding layers as I scale the sunny, southeastern face of the ridge, then quickly redonning them as I get up onto the crest and feel the wind in its full force. As someone who has lived over 6000 feet above sea level for most of my life, I can’t bring myself to call Glendalough mountainous—but all the same, the gusts of wind do sometimes remind me of hikes I’ve done back in New Mexico.
One thing I don’t have back home is a 1000-year-old monastery built by a monk named Kevin. Many of the structures at Glendalough are named after said monk, such as St. Kevin’s Kitchen, the ruins of a small church with a chimney-shaped bell tower, and St. Kevin’s Bed, a rocky ledge where (as I recently learned) the saint purportedly rebuffed the advances of a woman by throwing her into the lake below.
If I had to recommend one place in Ireland to visit, it would almost certainly be Glendalough, with its unique combination of history, mysticism, natural beauty, and (possibly?) leprechauns. If you need evidence of the last one, all I can say is I’ve seen a rainbow every time I’ve gone to Glendalough.

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Ireland on foot

One of the things I’ve loved most about my time in Ireland has been experiencing the island’s incredible landscapes and natural areas. Living in Dublin, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the east coast, with its dramatic cliffs and views of the Irish Sea. Howth, Bray to Greystones, and the Wicklow Mountains have become some of my favorite places to explore after class or on the weekend. The wind-whipped coastline, the blue-green water, and the undulating rocky paths of County Dublin are harsh and gorgeous. 

Ever since the year began, it has struck me how much the look and layout of Dublin reminds me of my hometown of Boston, MA. Both are port cities, relatively flat, oriented around rivers that flow east toward the ocean. The similarities between the two cities’ urban cores struck me right away, and the similarities continue when I venture out into the more remote natural areas surrounding the cities. I’ve found it really interesting how both cities came to be primarily because of their proximity to the ocean, and the importance of their shipping and fishing industries, and today, that same proximity to the ocean makes them both especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Back home in Boston, I did a lot of work around coastal climate resilience and urban sustainability, and that’s something I hope to learn more about in Dublin in the coming semester as well. 

I’ve also gotten a chance to hike further south, in Counties Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, where I’ve explored some more mountainous terrain, including sections of the Ring of Kerry and seen amazing views from the tops of Mt. Strickeen and Cruach Mhór. On the west coast, near Galway, I hiked around Rosscahill Lake and the Ross Woods. The unique beauty of the Irish landscape never gets old and I’m so glad that I have the chance to explore more of it this year. At the top of my list for the springtime is Carrauntoohil, the highest peak in Ireland (I tried and failed to make it to the top when I was around 13 years old, and I’ve always wanted to try again!)

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Walking in the Footsteps of Giants

What started as a light breeze and pleasant sprinkle quickly transformed into 100 miles per hour winds as I attempted to walk across the octagonal rocks of the Giant’s Causeway. Unlike the mythical giants who built the Causeway to meet (or rather fight with) each other, I could barely hold my own against the thick Irish breeze; standing at only 5 feet and 10 inches, I was quite small when compared to a giant of any size and hardly stood a chance, to begin with. Like kids playing hopscotch, my group traversed the rocks of the Causeway one by one as we headed into the depths of the Irish Sea. Slow walking and carefully placed footing was essential in our endeavor, as the waves water of the Irish Sea had moistened the rocks of the Causeway

The others within my group, scared that they may never be heard from again as they were blown away like Mary Poppins or fell into the Irish Sea, turned back towards shore. I, nevertheless, the stinging sensation of the cold on the tips of my ear and my cheeks had inspired me to go on. I was determined to reach the edge. As such, I struggled for some 10 to 15 minutes until I reached the halfway mark of the rock cluster that was foremost into the Irish Sea. Just the end to the cluster was in sight, an employee of the National Trust informed me that I would have to turn around because there was now a wind advisory. My struggle to reach the end of the furthermost cluster and peer out into the Irish Sea like the Giant Fionn were dashed away in an instant and I headed back to the shore of Northern Ireland in utter defeat. 

Despite my inability to follow in the Giants’ footsteps, I could certainly see how the Giant’s Causeway was heralded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since coming to Ireland, and my last blog post, I have had the opportunity to travel around Ireland with family and friends to see the beauty of the island I now call home. From the Hill of Tara, Loughcrew Passage Tomb, Trim Castle, and Fore Abbey in the Celtic Boyne Valley to Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, I has been able to see the rolling hills and the Celtic heritage of the emerald island I heard about so much growing up. On my most recent trip, to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, I was even able to find a rival to the wind speeds of the Giant’s Causeway. While the historical and natural beauty of Ireland have been a highlight of my time here, I have also come to find amazing Irish friends who I spent the holiday season with and come to enjoy journeying to the Abbey Theatre to see plays (such as Faith Healer and the Long Christmas Dinner). I can wait to see what else in Ireland I can explore!

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Irish weather

Something I have noticed (and very much liked, as a Northern Californian through and through): Irish people will get in the water even when it’s freezing. A few weeks ago, I walked to the Poolbeg Lighthouse, where I met a group of friendly elderly men who were part of the Half Moon Swimming and Water Polo Club, playing in the icy sea. Another day, I took the DART out to Killiney. The train flew along the coast, suspended above an ocean so vibrant and perfect. I looked out and saw surfers, slick and black like seals, in the weak green light. I climbed up Killiney Hill as night was falling down between the trees and borrowed a strangers’ binoculars to see if I could still spot them paddling into the bight. 

This DART ride reminded me very much of something I did often in my last year in Los Angeles: take the bus out to Malibu for an hour and a half, trundling along PCH, seeing truckloads of surfers bobbing in the waves as the sun came up. Actually, many things in Ireland remind me of Malibu, Los Angeles, California in general, despite the fact that the two landscapes are so fundamentally different. It’s not really that the two places look like each other, surfer example aside. Los Angeles is this big polluting city, situated in one of the most gorgeous places on the planet, in reach of the mountains and desert and the water all at once. Ireland, on the other hand, is a monotone fresh and green. Perhaps LA and Ireland’s only similarities are their extreme weather patterns (rain and wind, to me, is an extreme weather pattern, as are wildfires, of course). 

View out the DART window during the trip out to Killiney. 

Mainly, both places make me feel overwhelmed that they are so beautiful, and strange that they may be gone soon, and grateful I got to be alive to see them. In my poetry, I’ve been writing a lot about climate change and how it feels very mystic. One of my Irish friends told me about the disappearing beach on Achill Island. One day all the sand went away and then years later it came back all at once. Another Irish friend talked about how the Irish government is banning the burning of natural fuels such as peat; her grandparents have lived on a peat bog for years, drawing life from it, preserving food in it, bodies, harnessing its magics. I went to a Hist Debate called “This House Would Leave Space to the Aliens” and heard arguments about how we should not treat Earth as a back-up planet and should instead re-invest in it instead of flying Jeff Bezos into the stratosphere. At all these points, I was reminded of Los Angeles and having to have an evacuation bag packed, and seeing plumes of smoke in Malibu and helicopters carrying great gourds of water to them from a nearby lake, and hearing about my friend’s parents, who are veterinarians in the Central Valley, having to lead their horses into the trailer one by one, slowly and calmly, as fires were bearing down upon them. 

I feel that these Dublin/LA experiences are somehow connected, but I’m not quite sure how yet. What I can come up with right now is that I am encountering new kinds of weather to deal with, imagining new ways we might treat the Earth. Ireland is doing this work for me, as did Los Angeles, because they are both so heartbreakingly, brutally pretty. 

Photo of a wildfire that I took out the plane window during my flight from California to Dublin.

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