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You’ll have to excuse the tardiness of this post – I have a number of posts I want to write on some of the traveling I’ve done in the past couple weeks and haven’t yet had the chance to actually write them. The rest will come soon, promise.

A couple weekends back, fellow Mitchell scholar Michael and I made the long trip from Galway to Belfast. The trip was organized around the opportunity to see the play The Beauty Queen of Leenane and to meet the show’s star, Geraldine Hughes. The Mitchell gang gathered from all corners of the country for the show, which was just about as devastating (maybe more so) as The New Electric Ballroom, which we’d seen a couple weeks prior. In addition to the play, the Mitchells explored Belfast and had a lovely fall weekend. One of the big highlights was our trip to St. George’s Market, a Victorian-style, indoor market with all the fixins: fresh produce, meat, cheese, fish, crafts, plants, and more. Additionally, a variety of curries, crepes, smoothies, and chocolate was sold throughout for eating on the spot and musicians played throughout the afternoon. We wandered around the market for hours, and all the non-Belfast kids got really jealous that the Belfast people get to experience it every weekend.

belfast spices

just one of many stands in St. George's Market

We spent hours wandering the city of Belfast, and it was interesting to note the subtle differences between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In the North, you rarely see the Irish language, and you definitely never hear it. Very different than Galway, which is in the heart of the Irish language region of the country (called the Gaeltacht region), where Irish is often seen and sometimes heard as well. Additionally, protestant churches are much more visible than in the Republic, as is a more evangelistic ethos. Belfast has a bigger-city feel than I was expecting, and while there were some of the quiet signs of a post-conflict area, it was hard to see much evidence of the Troubles.

One of the legacies of the conflict that is visible, however, is the use of murals throughout the city. Belfast is known for its murals, which signify support for various political groups active in the conflict. We took a walking tour around Belfast and caught a glimpse of some of the murals around town.

basque mural

one of a group of murals dedicated to solidarity with other "underdog" groups, including those in Basque country.

paramilitary mural

mural showing support for a paramilitary group.

The weekend in Belfast came to an end with a night of dancing. A perfect way to complete a weekend exploring a cool city with a group of my newest friends.

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the quad at NUI Galway

the quad at NUI Galway

Jon and I joke around often that we are currently in our junior/senior year of Life. For most of the last 25 years of our lives, we’ve been in school and have used the institution of school to make sense of ourselves and how we fit into the world.

My first year after Northwestern, the first time in a long time that I was no longer a student, was liberating and scary at the same time. No longer any institution looking over my shoulder, no longer any graded assessment, no longer a map of what comes next. I worried at the time that I would never get over my time at Northwestern; that my whole life would be a constant reflection back to my undergraduate days. Luckily, I found out that that wasn’t the case, and I happily proceeded to live a life without Northwestern at its center.

After a year at the Interfaith Youth Core, and a year in Uganda, I was happily a “real person” in the “real world” who had a sense of balance, if not direction.

And then, I became a student again. This year, like the majority of years of my life, school is at the center. However, I’ve been surprised at how much my two years out of school have influenced me. First of all, my desire for balance is pretty high, much higher than it ever was in college. Secondly, I find myself to be much more serious about getting work and reading done. I really value the chance to spend time on academic reading and to think critically again.  And thirdly, I find myself much less adept at actually getting my work and reading done. My time out of school has made me a slower reader and a MUCH slower writer. Thankfully, I really enjoy the material that I get to read about, write about, and discuss in class with my peers. Otherwise, I’d really be struggling!

So, it is with frustration and procrastination that I write this blog on a chilly Thursday morning. I’m sure after a couple more months practice, I will remember how it is I managed student life for all those years. I’ll let you know when I figure it out!

Had lunch today with a few students from my program. We talked for a while about the effects of the recession on Irish culture. Two that wait tables at restaurants in Galway said they’ve noticed that tips have gone up significantly in the last few months. In other words, people are giving away more to their waiters and waitresses at a time when they have less disposable cash generally. Of course my classmates’ research is anecdotal and can’t be generalized. But, even so, I thought this said something about human nature…could it be that people here have an intuitive sense that workers in the service industry could use a little more support in these tough times? I don’t know, but its a nice thought. Maybe there’s hope for this hapless lot called humanity after all…

Just got back from a walk through town to get some basic groceries. On the way back a three piece band (fiddle, guitar, drum) was playing American bluegrass music on Shop Street. Most people kept walking by, since this type of thing happens everyday. But the lyrics of the music caused me to stop for a minute.

“Lord I’ll keep traveling until I reach the place from where I came…And as I go I know that underneath were all the same…”

It felt like they were singing just to me.

Turns out the group was from Pennsylvania…just passing through Galway on a tour through Ireland playing wherever they can.

I can walk down the block for groceries and hear amazing live bluegrass music echoing through the streets. Chicago is my kind of town, but Galway takes my breath away…

This weekend, while Lauren was in Belfast with her Mitchell gang, I travelled into the Burren with my fellow philosophers.

The Burren-which means the rocky place- is a rugged, rural part of western Ireland known for its natural limestone formations and the unique plant life that find a way to live there. Our university, NUI Galway, owns a beautiful small retreat center and research facility in the Burren that is predominantly used by natural scientists conducting field research.

On Friday afternoon the 12 students in my program and one of our professors, Heike Schmidt-Felzmann, drove caravan style for an hour from Galway to the Burren site. The primary purpose of the retreat was to work on the service-learning component of our master’s program. Basically, we will each be doing at least 100 hours of work with a community organization around Galway. The work will in some way be tied to the philosophical and ethical issues explored in our courses and dissertation work. Service-learning is a particular type of pedagogy that is very new for NUIG and the students here haven’t had much experience with it. So, the retreat was designed to introduce the idea and give us a chance to brainstorm potential project and placement ideas. Having worked on the coordination side of service-learning for two years in Chicago, returning to the receiving end as a student is fun. And, combining deep discussions about the role of service and ideas about democracy with a weekend in a beautiful remote place was particularly enjoyable.

On Saturday evening a handful of us ventured out into the wilderness for a walk and ended up in a pub named Cassidy’s that literally felt like it was in the middle of nowhere. Somehow, however, the parking lot was full. Inside we found something special and quickly learned why so many people had flocked to this remote rural pub. A 13-piece traditional music group that included 2 fiddles, 1 banjo, 3 Irish button accordians, 2 guitars, a tin whistle, a flute, two bodhrans (Irish drumb), and a beautiful Irish harp was playing. We learned that a local resident was hosting some friends from Germany and had organized a special group to play for the night to show his visitors the best example of traditional Irish music.

I wish so much that I could bottle up the hour or so we spent in that pub and share it with everyone I know. The experience of basic, authentic community felt among the people there was inexplicable. Every person knew all the words to every song played. Most people–except us and the Germans–seemed to know each other. The owner handed out free snacks a few times, as if we were guests in his house. Several times older men sitting at the bar would just start singing a known standard, and the band would start playing the melody along with him. When the harpist played a solo ballad, people started off in to the distance with smiles. Some closed their eyes. A few teared up.

In this global world of ours where technology and complexity rule, the basic coming-together of neighbors seems to happen less and less. But the Irish surely haven’t forgotten the value of the local community and the meaning of tradition.

This afternoon, along with a friendly mix of NUI Galway students and staff, Jon and I left the confines of the city of Galway to visit the lovely St. Brigit’s Garden, a 30-minute drive away.

The garden showcased native Irish plants and landscapes and introduced us to some ancient Celtic seasons and celebrations. Additionally, an expert gardener gave us a tour of herbs used for various healing remedies. I’m especially excited to try feverfew, a plant which purportedly keeps migraine headaches away!

The visit gave me a chance to spend some much needed time with my camera. Here a couple of my favorite shots from the afternoon.

yellow flowers

flower & bumblebee

purple flowers

The garden was also home to a wishing tree. We found a number of sweet and poignant wishes fluttering in the wind

wish 1

wish 2

wish 3

The garden had a number of these beautiful woven swings. So much fun!

swings

Finally, two tree shots.

birch tree wood detail

To check out other photos from the trip (and some other adventures), click on the link to the right that says “Our Photos.”

Last weekend, I finally got to do something I’ve been looking forward to for almost a year: spend time with my fellow Mitchell scholars.

Adam, Sarang, Shane, Jon, and Michael

After months and months of preparation, emails, and waiting, we finally got to just hang out and get to know one another better. Well, that, and hear from a variety of speakers on topics relating to contemporary Irish life, experience a couple of Dublin tourist must-dos, and spend some time in the American Ambassador’s residence in lovely Phoenix Park. We were busy!

Let me start with the obvious highlight: the other scholars. Mostly, I’m just impressed with how complex, intelligent, and kind I found everyone in the group to be. I discovered that I’m not the only one with an interesting family background. And everyone seems to be so well-rounded and active! I’m excited for what the year will bring in terms of what I can learn from these 11 amazing people…

The weekend was scheduled to the brim. We started it all off with a visit to the American Ambassador’s residence in Phoenix Park for a reception. This building is widely known amongst the Irish – many say it is even nicer than the Irish president’s residence! Indeed, the building proved to be an architectural gem inside.

During the following two days, we met with Irish experts in the fields of journalism, theater, and economics. We visited Kilmainham Gaol and learned about the Irish struggle for independence from the British. We saw a devastating, occasionally funny play by Irish playwright Enda Walsh called The New Electric Ballroom. And we got to visit one of the most incredible museum exhibits I’ve ever seen – an exhibit on W.B. Yeats at the National Library of Ireland. If you’re interested, check out their website which basically recreates the museum online – really incredible use of technology!

By the time Sunday morning rolled around, I was happy but exhausted. If every weekend was this full, I’d be blessed indeed. And REALLY behind on my homework.

Mitchells learning about life in Kilmainham Gaol.

Mitchells learning about life in Kilmainham Gaol.

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Welcome to our blog! Follow along with us as we travel and experience life as a couple of 20-somethings - with all its ups and downs. We hope to post photos, short videos, stories about our daily life and not-so-daily adventures, and thoughts on what’s going on in the world.

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