iii. hope is the sea and the sun

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.

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Vintage and Thrift Shopping Across Ireland

For as long as I can remember, I have viewed thrift and vintage shops as palaces of exploration. A place where your outfit choices are not limited by season, color, texture, age, gender, or era, and your creativity can simply take over. Limitations set by what big brands deem to be “in style” cease to exist in thrift and/or vintage stores. To me, this is an incredibly liberating feat as I like to change up my style quite often, and as a student, often on a budget. In my quest to find the most intriguing of pieces, I’ve been able to snag some great deals on warm knits, a snowsuit, designer skirts, vintage shirts from the ‘70s, dresses from the ’50s, and an antique hairbrush, comb, and mirror set from the ‘30s. I like to think my style now matches the vibrant and colorful feel of Ireland’s spirit.

Over the past few months, I have been able to dive into Dublin’s thrifting and vintage culture. From attending niche antique fairs to stumbling into whole in-the-wall thrift shops and attending under-advertised pop-up shops, I’ve seen it all! 

Antique Fair in Dún Laoghaire

My top 5 favorite shops in Ireland include:

  1. Nine Crows Thrift / Vintage (Dublin)
  2. Betty Bojangles (Dublin)
  3. Octopus’s Garden (Belfast) 
  4. Public Romance Vintage (Galway)
  5. Dublin Vintage Factory (Dublin)

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Lucy’s Lounge (Dublin)
  2. Pop-Up Shops Across Dublin (Including: Kilogarm and the ones organized by my university)
  3. Charity Shops (Oxfam, Vincents, Irish Cancer Society)

As with most things in Dublin, thrift and vintage shopping is not a solitary event. Throughout my deep dive into the underbelly of Dublin second-hand fashion, I have made friends whose style is just as eclectic as my own evolving aesthetic. We have shared favorite shops, fashion tips, advice, and the occasional selfie. That’s one of my favorite things about Ireland and the Irish people, wherever you go, whatever you are interested in, there will always be a friend to be made. I especially found this out when I visited Edinburgh in October ‘21 and came upon the cute vintage store called “Little Blue Door Vintage,” which just happened to be owned by 2 lovely Irish ladies! Such a small world we live in. We exchanged information and I got some really interesting insider knowledge about what it takes to run a vintage store. 

Little Blue Door Vintage (Edinburgh, Scotland)

I am excited to continue exploring shops across the country (coming for you next Cork!) and even beyond. 

Till next time! 🙂

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I’ve really enjoyed reflecting on my time on this island through the birds I’ve seen, so I’ll continue the theme of my last blog. Since I’ve been back, I’ve seen more birds!

Some of them have been during travels. Black-headed gulls swooping in and out of a beach along the coast of the Baltic Sea at sunset, the sky awash in watercolor pinks and purples. Male mallards paddling along a little river at the base of Luxembourg City, calm and poised.

The most memorable birds I saw, though, were along the Causeway Coast. Last time I visited Giant’s Causeway was in summer of 2019, and there were nesting fulmars—my favorite birds. I walked right up to the grassy edge of the cliff, laid down on my stomach, and peered over the edge of the sheer overhang to watch the seabirds playing about below me. It felt like a great privilege (albeit a little wrong), to be able to look down at a bird as it flies through great heights.

One of my favorite things about seabirds is how free, wild, and unconfined they are. They are equally at home in the sea, sky, and land—dancing through the air in stormy conditions, resting on the open ocean or diving into its depths, and perching on rock and land. I yearn to be as boundless, feral, and powerful—fueled, almost, by inhospitability.

This time, we didn’t see fulmars at Giant’s Causeway, as they have been wintering. And unlike in the summer, the winds were now angry and fierce, sea foam blowing about like a busker’s bubbles. But as we were leaving, I caught sight of (likely) a Great Black-backed Gull, nonchalant and elegant as it swerved, cutting arcs through the viciously gusty sky.

I pointed it out excitedly to Maura. She craned her neck up. “It looks like it’s playing!”

I often birdwatch alone. But there’s a special joy about sharing a bird experience with another, however brief, and feeling your wonder mirrored in them. In that moment, as both of us gazed up at the majestic seabird, I blossomed in fleeting joy.

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Piece of the Shannon

Things are starting to get quiet. Classes are winding down, more and more of my days is spent in solitude reading and writing. I’ve taken some trips — Dublin, Sligo, Belfast, Cork — but these are few and far between. My routine is as follows: wake up, go to my favorite coffee shop, afternoon walk, more coffee, dinner, relax, sleep.

I’m a chronic perfectionist, and that’s something that’s taken a long time for me to come to terms with. It’s difficult for me to take things slow. I once told my partner, just three scant weeks into summer break, that it felt strange not working, and I was desperate to get back into school.

But now, that work is nonexistent. I can’t manifest schoolwork. Things are just quiet. And that’s okay. It’s hard for me to come to terms with, but empirically, I know it’s okay.

I’ve been appreciating this time for meditation. Since my schedule is so free, I’ve been able to spend days at a time simply reading for fun, and that’s been so refreshing.

As this year begins to slowly draw to a close, I’m squeezing what I can out of each moment left. Rather than filling my mind with madness and expectations I can never meet, I’m going to relax. Live life slow like folks do back home and here.

My flat faces out toward the Shannon. I always sleep with my windows open, not just to let in the cold air, but to let in the white noise made from the river waves belting the rocks and shore. I’ll try to take in that nature melody instead, something far from cacophony and closer to peaceful, oblivion silence.

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I love my friends

Me putting a paper crown on Maeve’s head

Mostly what I do in Ireland is stay up until 2 a.m. playing board games with my flatmates. I met Ellen, who lives four doors down from me, and Ben, who lives one floor below, on my first day in Dublin, when I ran into Ellen in the hall and she invited me to come with them for a sea swim. We took the DART to Clontarf, where the mist had come so far in from the bay that Ben, who is from Clontarf and paddles there on his kayak often, deemed it too dangerous for a dip. Instead, we walked along a skinny path with water on both sides until the Marian Shrine emerged from the fog, three sea-scoured posts with Jesus’ mom sitting on top. “I like this shrine,” I told Ben. “This is a great shrine!” “Thanks, Gen,” he laughed. 

Later that week, I met the rest of the girls I’d live with throughout the year: Saskia from London, Aisling from Dublin, Ashling from Dalkey, Lily from China. Rachel, who is from Santry, moved into our flat right before the year’s midpoint, and when she moved in, everything that was already going swimmingly started going even better. Rachel, Ellen, and I were the only ones in the flat throughout January. We worked side by side on our respective dissertations and projects. Ellen was writing Tiktok anti-vaccine trends, Rachel about disability in medieval times, and me about an ed-tech behemoth. I’d be flying through the future, with cyberbullies and Russian bots, and then I’d pull my head out of my laptop and there they’d be, next to me, with cups of tea, moving slow and trusting that the work would get done. I found a new peace that month: my work was meaningful, even if I was just doing it in our kitchen, outside of the good it may or may not do for others or the recognition I would like to get for it. 

Ellen and Rachel and I, and sometimes Ben, swam together a lot that month, cried laughing, decorated the flat a bit, and also were often quiet together. Since then, every day of being here I’ve been excited to go home from class each day just to see them. Last week, I spent five days traveling in rural Ireland. After about four days, I wanted to go home, not because I was tired of traveling, but because there was something warm to go home to. For St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, we’re going to Laois, to see the farm where Ellen grew up, and in particular to see the springtime baby lambs. I didn’t know Ellen existed half a year ago, and tomorrow night I’ll sleep on the floor of her childhood bedroom. 

Ellen and Ben on the way to swimming at the Vico Baths

Last autumn, Aisling got accepted to do her master’s and nonchalantly told me the news in the kitchen: “Oh, by the way, Gen, I got into Cambridge…” Of course, I screamed. Then, Ashling got her postgrad contract with one of the most prestigious law firms in Ireland, and I screamed then too, especially happy because she’d asked me to look over her cover letter beforehand and I’d known it was so, so good. Ellen got into the LSE two weeks ago and the whole flat’s mood was sunshine. It’s a privilege to share in the genuine happiness of others like that. Everyone’s getting what they deserve. Rachel was hired by the Trinity Disability Service earlier in the year, and there’s no one better for the role. Even for those who don’t have their next steps as well-defined, I think all will go well. Saskia jokes that she’s going to be a stay-at-home-daughter after Trinity, but I have an inkling she’ll get hired to produce documentaries pretty fast. I’m not sure where Lily will go next, probably home to China to be a teacher, and I know Ben is going to Greece for a few weeks after graduation, but that’s quite fine for him as I think he’s never been the type of person who needs something to do, but rather someone who makes the shape of his life all on his own. I’m not so worried about what’s next for me, personally, either. 

This is a change: I used to be someone who had the next thing in her pocket, always, a scholarship lined up or money or a visa waiting somewhere. And I used to be someone who always went first, vigilant to leave the party early when everything was still raucous and bright colors, so I wouldn’t be the last one and have to see it in lesser form, dull and with key people missing. I’d gather such momentum, and then the feeling of leaving would sneak up on me, because I never gave myself the space to sit with goodbyes. I didn’t realize, in Australia, that that was the last time I’d come in from a party with my friends and we’d drag every mattress into the living room and sleep in a heap until 4. I didn’t realize, in LA, that that was the last time Bre and Umaima and I would make brownies and watch America’s Next Top Model. Of course, I can always see everyone again, and I love them just the same as I always did, but I can’t travel back in time and have that specific memory twice, and indeed it would be selfish to try. That right there was the last time I’d be with those particular people, in this particular way.

This time around, I’m trying to count it. Here, in Dublin, are some recipes Ellen and Rachel and I tried together: coconut pea mint soup, cauliflower tacos, couscous with roasted veggies and dried apricots. Here are some recipes we failed at together: banana pancakes (I didn’t mash the bananas enough so they cooked unevenly and burned), dhal which came out more as broth instead of curry. I think it is worth naming those who played board games and ate with us, even if their names here are divorced from who they are. Here is a list of house guests that sweetened the mood: Courtney, Clíodnha, Emma, Emma, Katherine, Kate, James, Jared, Shane, Maeve, Aisling Lynch, John, Lucy, Ria, Sinziana, Caoimhin, and all of Saskia’s English friends who seem to travel in a pack and that Ashling lovingly nicknamed “Team GB.”

Dinner party!

Here are some good memories that happened in our flat: when Courtney showed us how her hearing aids were magnetic by sticking a fork to her head; when Ashling, Saskia and I made three different curries and ate the entirety of a two-story box of Butler’s chocolates; when Ben, Ellen, Rachel and I watched Lord of the Rings until we fell asleep. When Rachel and Aisling threw a dinner party and I learned how four balls of mozzarella can disappear into a pot of pasta sauce and have the slightest effect, and Shane came for an hour, in from a date, and then went back out, back onto that same date. For that party, we bought cheap twisty candles the color of peonies, a basil plant for the pasta, and blush-colored napkins which Ellen made into paper crowns.

The basil plant now lives on our window sill, next to the salt crystal lamp which we plug in at night and casts pink light. That’s my favorite time in our flat; the window panes look like ink and it feels like everything outside of this GMB microcosm is a myth. The kitchen becomes a dreamscape of objects we love: my gold lighter, Ellen’s blue mug that Ben broke and re-superglued, the numerous candles we bought each other, Aisling’s Wheetabix box. 

It feels natural to turn to tabulation at the end of things. When my parents separated when I was a teenager, it was a way to temper and get through the loss. Grief could go by the wayside while we figured out who got these forks, who would keep this armchair no one ever sat in anyways, who would keep this bike now too small for me or my brother to use. Listing can give you a system for coming apart. 

But it’s no framework to account for joy. It’s a bit futile to attempt to take stock of daily, sustained happiness. Instead, I just try to hold onto it and have it in full while I can. I’ve lived in enough places by now that I know there’s always so much for me, anywhere, but I still find it curious how easy it is to grow love in close quarters, and how it usually grows in opposite scope to the size of the space you share. I still really marvel at the very simple and precious magic of being taken as your best self and invariably in good faith. I’m not worried about what’s next for me, because all of these objects and memories and people are how I know I can, without fail, make a home. 

A few of the flatmates 🙂 From left to right: me, Aisling, Rachel, Ben, Ellen
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Belfast through murals

Belfast graffiti is famous for a reason. Depending on where you go in the sprawling red-brick-house city, you’ll get a different set of opinions. In city center, you’re likely to see colorful, de-politicized murals painted by artists hired by the city. A woman with a hawk, inspiring quotes in cursive, funky abstracts, and the occasional wacky portrait adorn the sides of shops. However, if you wander a few miles south, north, east, or west, you’ll get an entirely different depiction of the city.

I have taken to walking the city on weekends, picking a direction and heading that way until it gets dark or the city drifts away into highway. This has taken me to the neighborhoods up the slopes of Divis mountain, into suburban southern streets, into classic red brick northern boroughs, and deep into the industrial east of the Titanic district. The great thing about these walks is that they never get old—the graffiti changes with the political atmosphere and seasons. Where once a painting on climate change stood, now a Palestinian flag replaces it. Along Shankhill road to the north a more permanent assortment of murals (along the peace wall) stands, and shifts occasionally. However, I’ve found that it’s just as exciting to find a painting hiding around the corner in residential neighborhoods and business districts alike.  

On days when I have less time, I’ll wander the streets of Sandy Row, just a few blocks away from me and a staunchly Loyalist neighborhood. Here you’ll come across two-story portraits of William the Orange, Union Jacks tattered from flying, and images of the Queen. Whether here or in a Nationalist part of the city one thing is consistent—murals depicting those who died in the Troubles. Often there will be lists of people living in the neighborhood who were killed, alongside photos of football clubs or brigade units. Some appear to have been recently touched up or are made permanent with adjacent plaques.

I love that the people of this city use the walls to tell their stories. By sharing their visions, artwork, political views, and messages with passersby, they are also sharing their city and what makes it such a unique place to study and live in.

A few photos of murals below.

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Changed My Mind

Tourism Ireland’s global campaign is entitled “Fill Your Heart with Ireland.” According to the press releases, TI invited “a real married couple from Sweden” and took them around Ireland while covertly monitoring their heartrates. The sites provoking the strongest cardiac responses, or as the commercial puts it, “the moments their hearts chose,” were then featured in the advertising materials.

If you strapped one of these bad boys to my skull, it would principally document my climbing cortisol levels as literally every single one of my tourist adventures is ruthlessly derided by literally every single one of my friends. I provide a few choice selections: “What the [expletive] are you doing in Armagh?” “The only good thing in Newry is the pizza with the chips on” and, sickeningly, “Do you have family in Omagh or are you just a bit stupid?” Worse still, there is a social aspect; pillory loves company.

“You do know they have chips and pizzas both in Belfast,” “Would never have figured such a skinny [expletive] for chip pizzas,” “Jesus that’s special: all the way from America to eat chip pizzas and take pictures of a carpark.” My legs tense. The sweat gathers behind my neck. These, dear reader, were “the moments my heart chose.”

With this in mind, I decided to hide my trip to County Louth. My lies were in fact so thorough they attracted suspicion: “I will not be around this weekend because I am catching up on the econometrics, transcribing thesis data, and enjoying some unstructured free time,” I told a friend unblinkingly.

“Uh, sounds grand”

Largely because I have seen pistachios with superior senses of direction, I generally travel with friends. But secrecy demanded I venture into Louth alone. Having pounded the soil of “The Wee County” for 72 hours, I was starving and needed a way out of the rain. I had planned to eat at the first place I found, but my anxieties complicated matters. I slowed outside a McDonald’s but decided against it. “You can eat that in Virginia,” I thought. 400 meters later I considered “Il Forno Italian Cuisine.” A voice in my head drove me away: “You know what they said the last time you travelled and had pizzas.”

I then saw the restaurant of my dreams. It was a building with shoulders, and as I approached through the colored light which leaked from its central tower, I could appreciate the self-assured squareness of the design. It even had a plausibly rustic name: “Garda.”

“This will show them,” I thought, “little old me dining at Garda!” “Next time they start about the chip pizzas I’ll let this slip,” I thought. I’ll say: “Maybe you haven’t heard of it; it’s a bit of a hidden gem, I figure.”

I was halfway up the steps when I realized I was at the police station. My retreat was noticed by those gathered outside. “Changed your mind?” asked some local adolescents. “Thought better of it,” I replied.  

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Dublin, Blue & Yellow

I first sent an email to the Russian embassy in Dublin two months ago. I’ve always wanted to visit Russia, and in January, it seemed like the perfect time to start planning a trip. Obviously, things are a bit different now.
Let me rewind a bit. At Baylor, I majored in Russian language, and during my first semester, I met a classmate named Evan, who would become one of my best college friends. (For privacy purposes, Evan is not his real name.) Evan ended up moving to Russia after we graduated last May, and when I found out I had received the Mitchell Scholarship, he and I began making plans for me to come visit him in St. Petersburg while I was on the other side of the Atlantic. Last semester, one of my classmates at UCD was from St. Petersburg, and during one conversation I had with her, she mentioned that it’s only a 6-hour flight to St. Petersburg if you can find one direct. A perfect opportunity, I thought.
Given that Ireland has historically retained a policy of neutrality as it concerns relations between Russia and the West, it’s relatively easy for Irish citizens to procure an e-visa to visit Russia. For an American citizen like myself, it’s not quite as simple. The process involves acquiring a letter of invitation from someone who lives in Russia (which they submit to their local police authority), submitting fingerprint scans to the Russian government for identity tracking purposes, and sending in your passport to a Russian embassy for up to month or two. Before Russia sent soldiers into Ukraine, I had begun gathering the necessary documentation to get a visa approved, and the email I sent to the Russian embassy was to clarify some questions I had about the process.
Needless to say, I’ve put that process on hold for a while. Both the American and Irish governments are urging citizens to leave Russia. Most travel between Europe and Russia has been suspended. And Evan is no longer in St. Petersburg—he left for Kyrgyzstan last week.
Yet it’s impossible to be too disappointed. One of the few bright spots of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is that it’s generated huge excitement and attention about a Slavic country even older than Russia. An RTE journalist went viral recently for grilling the Russian ambassador in Ireland on his morally bankrupt defence of the invasion. Crowds have repeatedly gathered outside the Russian embassy in Dublin to protest Putin’s aggression. Classmates at UCD have organised rallies on campus to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Ukrainian and Russian students—including my friend from last semester—have come together to challenge the invasion and celebrate the bravery of the Ukrainian people. My church recently welcomed a family who fled from Kharkiv two weeks ago.
Things are different now, yes. But if the blue and yellow lights lighting up Dublin’s city centre are any indication, I don’t have to go to Russia to experience the best of Slavic culture.

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A Trip with Irish Friends

Edinburgh has been on my bucket list of Mitchell-year travel destinations for a while, and I realized a few weeks ago that a three-day gap I had during the first week of UCD’s spring break would be the perfect opportunity to visit. Mitchell friends and pre-Mitchell-year friends who happen to be in Europe this year were unavailable, and I decided to ask some friends in my master’s program if they wanted to go with me. Our friendship had thus far consisted of an active What’s App group-chat and semi-frequent gatherings, but we had never spent an extended amount of time together, so I was excited when they accepted. We all arrived in Edinburgh with no firm plans (very unlike my normal travel style), and I quickly threw together a Google Doc with a robust list of recommendations from the internet in an effort to make the most of our 2.5 days. It quickly became clear, though, that nobody else shared my expectation that we’d be able to see everything in our short visit. Our time was instead spent fitting in what we could and completing activities without the pressure of a ticking clock, enjoying each other’s company over drinks and very long and delicious meals, and learning and joking about all of the similarities and differences between American and Irish (and Scottish!) culture. It was really special to explore and observe a city with history so relevant to Ireland, because I absorbed far more context from concomitant discussions with my Irish friends than I would have otherwise. 

On our last night, we returned to our AirBnb to grab our bags before heading back into city center for a guided Edinburgh Vaults ghost tour. We were already running a bit late and realized we had missed the bus that would have given us a bit more wiggle room for the 6pm tour. I checked to see when the next bus was coming and began frantically doing the mental math: wait time for the bus + time on the bus + walking distance from the bus stop to our destination. I expressed with concern and some mild panic that we were going to be late (the tour cost €17 and I didn’t want to miss its departure!). Luckily, my maps app had only showed one bus option and another arrived earlier than expected, but I could tell my Irish friends were a bit perplexed and put off by my (unnecessary) alarm. We caught the bus, walked fast, made it to the tour spot at 6:01pm, and enjoyed the next 75 minutes spent underground (for those interested: the ghost portion was extremely cheesy, but it was still cool to see the remains of the old city). 

Despite my effort to, for lack of a more formal phrase, chill out about things like this during my Mitchell year, I clearly have some work to do. While my limited experience is far from a robust or representative sample, the Irish seem to rarely get worked up over things like this. I’m not sure if this is due to a trust in things working out or an understanding that it will be okay even if they don’t—or perhaps a bit of both—but the experience served as a good reminder to try and adopt the same mindset for the next several months, and hopefully in the time after I leave this island as well.

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

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Exploring the role of sport in historic Irish identity and modern community life

This month I started work on my master’s thesis. I am studying the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and its impact on towns in Ireland. Specifically, I’m looking at the degree to which non-Irish immigrants find that GAA clubs increase their sense of belonging in Irish towns. 

The GAA is an amateur sporting and cultural organization that promotes indigenous Gaelic sports, music, dance, and language. Established in 1884, the GAA has long been associated with Irish national identity and anti-colonialism, and it played an interesting role during the War of Independence. In the 138 years since its founding, the GAA has meant a lot to Irish communities, with some 2,000 local clubs throughout 32 counties. The clubs and stadiums themselves often double as event spaces and community centers. Many clubs are also home to onsite preschools and adult learning centers. Communities often invest heavily in the construction of new stadiums, in the hopes that it will promote sustainable economic revitalization in their areas. 

Something I find super interesting is that while GAA clubs have historically played a significant role in solidifying a sense of national Irish identity in response to colonialism, today they also play an important role as places for non-Irish immigrants to build community and gain acceptance in their new homes. This has been especially true since 2008. The economic crisis caused populations in many rural Irish towns, and membership in their GAA clubs, to dwindle. At the same time, soaring numbers of refugees and immigrants from Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe have found themselves trying to build new lives in small Irish towns. Many clubs are recruiting migrant youth and adults to keep clubs and traditions alive. In turn, many migrants are finding that their participation in GAA helps them acclimate and access important employment, social, and educational opportunities. 

Over the next six months, I will be traveling to GAA clubs throughout Ireland and interviewing athletes, coaches, and volunteers, as well as those impacted by GAA beyond the stadium walls: business owners in the surrounding areas, community organizers, politicians, and especially members of migrant communities to find out whether or not GAA clubs have opened doors for them. I also joined a women’s team at my local club, the Ranelagh Gaels, and have Gaelic football training every Friday. Already, I’ve learned a lot about the role the clubs play in day-to-day community life (especially for newcomers like me).

I am excited to learn much more about this fascinating institution, and to become more familiar with Irish community. When I complete this project, I should have a much deeper understanding of what strengthens neighborhoods, improves people’s quality of life, and opens doors for migrants and vulnerable populations. My hope is that this experience will make me a stronger advocate for valuable community programs in my life and career.

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Irish Theater and the Recurring Theme of Identity

Too often I have found myself too occupied with my own coursework or social advocacy that I’ve been unable to fully explore the arts, creating an experience throughout my high school and undergraduate tenures that seemed to be all-encompassed by long nights studying or planning events. However, throughout my time in Dublin, Ireland I have attempted to go outside the bounds of what is normal or comfortable for me and to meaningfully engage with the artistic culture of the city, listening to the many stories and shared historical understandings about what it means to be Irish through the lens of plays.

Since coming to Ireland in August of 2021, I have attended 8 plays on topics ranging from remembering the Troubles in Northern Ireland and modern renditions of Samuel Becket’s Endgame to stories on familial loss and Jack the Ripper. Although the majority of the plays I’ve seen have been at the Abbey Theatre (the national theatre of Ireland), I’ve also had the opportunity to see plays at the Gate Theatre and the SmockAlley Theatre. Irish theatre, from my experience, attempts to answer fundamental questions about Irish identity and the ways in which Irish people collectively remember their history. Irish theatre asks questions such as: Who are we and how do we choose to represent ourselves? Put simply, Irish theatre tends to deal with the themes of how the Irish are defined externally and they define themselves or their experiences internally; more generally, Irish theatre also tends to deal with how society views individual groups or ideas. To those ends, Irish theatre provides meaningful insights into Irish culture and the ideas or values that are prevalent in the continuous process of creating and disseminating “Irish identity.”

The most impactful theatrical performances I have seen in Ireland have been plays such as “Mustn’t Forget High, Christine, Twinkletoes,” which aims to continue remembering the Troubles and the impact they had on individual lives through a series of three monologues. In addition to the beautiful scenes throughout the play and the brilliantly executed performances by the three actors, the play used humor and dramatic storytelling to historically place Irish identity and experiences within the Troubles. Coupled with my current studies in Race, Ethnicity, Conflict at Trinity and my multiple visits to Belfast, the play masterful showed how far-reaching the Troubles were on the composition of Irish society, family, culture, and history; its impacts were so strong, cathartic, and salient that it continues to resonate in the minds of many Irishmen and is a continual theme of Irish playwriting.

My engagement with Irish theatre has allowed me to engage with some central themes of Irish art, namely the construction and deconstruction of Irish identity, and to enhance my academic studies into conflict resolution based on differences based on identity; for the cathartic nature and memory of Troubles is something that cannot be captured in a textbook or tour but can be, ever so slightly glimpsed, through the artistic lens of Irish theatre.

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Hey Joy! Who are you?

Happy 2022 to everyone! The end of 2021 was absolutely revolutionary for me as a student as well as in my artistry. On November 8, I started classes in my MFA program at the Lir, and we really hit the ground running. In my course, I am taking four classes five days a week, as well as two 2-3 hour rehearsals each week. All of these hours of in person work in addition to readings and writings in homework has made for a very hectic schedule over the last couple of months.

Amidst this busyness, I’ve felt an unfaltering sense of inspiration and self-assurance because of my classmates and the art that I’ve seen on Irish soil. My classmates are voracious in asking the question “why?” of everything we encounter. I feel that I’ve been pushed to realize that in art, nothing is coincidence. Choices are continuously and meticulously made. For this reason, I feel that my art has been pushed to a standard that leaves no detail unexplored. My thought processes are being teased out, my choices are becoming more definite, and I’m becoming even more willing to speak out about what I believe in an artistic context than I’ve ever been able to before. 

Rehearsal from one of my scenes from Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats

On the first day of my Directing Workshop, Annabelle Comyn, the head of the Directing Program, asked my classmates and I a simple question:

“What type of theatre excites and engages you?” 

At first, this question was very simple. I was quick to scribble down things like “theatre that engages with an audience in a real way” and “theatre that plays with preconceived notions from the audience.” When I told Annabelle my answers, she responded with “what do you mean?” I was immediately caught off guard. She had asked me to describe the ineffable magic of my ideal type of theatre. All I could come up with was titles of plays that I had read and seen that inspired me. After she had stumped the entire class, she asked us all to go home and write a manifesto describing what it is that we make and how we make it. She told us to avoid preambles and apologies and to just speak freely about ourselves as artists. At the time, I found this impossible, but I soon learned otherwise. 

One of my favorite parts of my program has been that the teaching is focused on asking us to explain ourselves as artists. At first, this was extremely stressful. I had never been asked to state my artistic actions and intentions, instead, I have continuously been asked to explain what I think of another artist’s actions and intentions. Harvard had given me the tools to think about art, but not necessarily to talk about my own. However, over the last couple of months, I’ve started to actually take steps to unapologetically state what it is that I do and how exactly I do it, and that has been extremely freeing. 

Throughout my program, I’ve been listening to music a lot as a study aide as well as a way to center myself through all of this meaningful work. Here’s a playlist of songs that have inspired me most recently: 

I’m deeply looking forward to the next several months of my course, as I can already tell it’s going to mature me from the artist I know to the artist that I’ve always hoped to be! Sending good energy and blessings to all! 

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