Memories of Ireland

The end of a journey is always bittersweet. You’re grateful and happy to have had the experience, but sad and slightly empty for having left a part of yourself in your travels. See when you travel, you face the day with so much hope and possibility, you walk the streets with a sense of adventure and purpose, and you close your eyes to wake up to dreams of tomorrow. It is dizzying, overwhelming and exciting all at the same time. Kinda like how you wish real life could be.

But real life is a composite of our memories, experiences and feelings. It is that first sip of black gold at the Storehouse, it is the whiff of fresh air that kisses your cheek as you stand in awe of the Cliffs of Moher, it is the sun that shines on your face and keeps you warm as you walk around the Liberties in search of a story and the rain that washes your tears away at Glasnevin as you look upon the graves of those who are long gone. We are made of  moments that are frozen in time and memory. This is the reality of life. I know this trip will stay with me and transform me in ways I will probably never understand. It will remain, as do all my travels, the only change I will ever need.

How do you put memories into words? How do you describe a feeling and explain an experience?

You live it. It’s as simple and powerful as that.

Categories: Reminiscence | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Belfast Beat

The day started out nice and early. Wake up before dawn, get on the bus and make our way to Connolly Station on Amiens St. Easy enough. The train ride was a dream, literally and figuratively. I had a very interesting conversation with Sarah, which made the trip enjoyable and easy. I am grateful for people who are gracious about sharing their adventures in life. It’s a gift I will never tire of receiving. Although, I must admit that when there were lulls in the conversation I was going in and out of reality. My thoughts were trying desperately to play catch up with my knackered body. I needed something to wake me up. Belfast did just that and more.


Belfast is a city on the brink of change. As you all know, change is inevitable but not always easy. You will always have opposing forces that push and pull you every which way. The best example of this was a stretch of road in west Belfast called Shankill Road. According to our knowledgeable  guide from our Belfast Hop On Hop Off tour, the Shankill was, on many an occasion in the past, the site of unrest between republican forces and its unionist residents. Even today, as the Union flags fly high and proud on the streets of the Shankill, the undercurrent of conflict is still quite palpable. The murals depict scenes from history, some more poignant than others. It was quite disturbing to see distinctly violent murals, which almost looked like they were glorifying violence. One of the most distressing murals was on Emerson Street off Shankill Road that showed five Ulster Volunteer Force members (known as the Shankill Butchers), their logo and four armed men dressed in black. I often wondered on the trip through the Shankill why these murals still existed. How could there be real peace between the opposing factions when unfortunate images like this persist and are seemingly tolerated by the residents of the area?

The other side of town is a different story. The Falls Road, a predominantly republican part of the city, is separated from the Shankill by Peace Walls. Of all the murals that had a profound effect on me, I was particularly taken by that of  Bobby Sands. Bobby Sands was a Provisional Irish Republican Army volunteer and an MP to the United Kingdom Parliament (a token move since they knew he would never serve his term). He was sentenced to a prison term for possession of firearms; while in prison, he led a hunger strike in jail to regain political status for him and his fellow republican prisoners. A controversial and yet revered figure, Bobby Sands will remain a martyr, not only for republican supporters, but for people all over the world fighting the system of tyranny and oppression. People will always have different opinions about Sands, his ideology and his methods. I would be interested in learning more about him and the resurgence of violence upon his death in May 1981.


The two sides of town are a microcosm for what was and what will be for Belfast. The city and its people have gone through the most trying times, sometimes having very little hope for change. There has been bloodshed, there has been conflict, there has been tragedy. But through the pain, confusion and opposition, the people of Belfast have been resilient, strong and steadfast in the idea that change will come to Northern Ireland and peace shall be the norm for all.

I will be back, Belfast. Keep well till then. See you down the road.

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Dia duit, Ireland!

Dublin’s sights, sounds and weather (Rain, rain go away!) have been quite the surprise. The city has so much to offer in terms of history, culture, libation and people. From the time I left the airport, I felt welcomed and that helped ease me into my Irish adventure.

The first order of business was to get to the Camden Court Hotel on Upper Camden Street without blowing all my euros. This was easy enough (Thank God!) because there were signs everywhere, so finding the stop for the 16 Dublin bus was a breeze. The ride was uneventful as I arrived before dawn. I took advantage of the time on the bus to reflect on the journey I’ve taken to get to this point. My feelings of anxiety and the dreaded thought of not getting work done subsided as excitement took over and a real sense of adventure started to set in. This plus a very nice bus driver, who made a special bus stop announcement for me, made it a morning full of possibilities.

Next stop: the Liberties neighborhood on the southwest side of Dublin. The Liberties is one of the most historic parts of Dublin. It is located between St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Guinness Brewery. As I weave through the streets of this eclectic neighborhood, I am reminded of its intriguing past and its promising future. I wanted to explore every single inch of the neighborhood. From Jack Roche’s Fruit & Veg, Maser’s portrait of Anne Devlin and St. Catherine’s Church on Meath Street to Vicar Street, John’s Lane Augustinian Church and National College of Art and Design on Thomas Street, the list of interesting places to visit is never-ending. Every corner had a gem just waiting to be discovered.

The Dublin Bus Hop-On Hop-Off tour was a great way to see the city for a newbie like me. I was able to take a quick tour of the city and see sites as far west as Kilmainham Gaol, Heuston Rail Station and Phoenix Park to Trinity College, the National Museum of Ireland and Merrion Square to the east. My favorite stop on the tour was the Guinness Storehouse. It was amazing to be able to see the step-by-step process of making this world-famous beer. The ads through the years, the intricate process of selecting ingredients, models of ships that transported the beer to the rest of the world and the 360-degree view from the Gravity Bar on the top floor made for an amazing experience. True craftsmanship at its best. There was even a bottle of Guinness that survived the 1916 Easter Rising!

I’ve been having the time of my life in Ireland. It’s easy to enjoy life when it is filled with fascinating walks, engaging conversation (with a cabbie who told me about his father’s transition from the IRA to fighting side-by-side with the British during WWII), gracious speakers (Carl O’Brien, @gavinsblog, Storyful) and endless reporting (Liberties community garden story and my freelance piece on the equitable representation of women in the Irish Parliament). There’s still so much to say about this trip. But I’ll let you rest and reserve it for the next time we meet.

See you down the road!

Categories: The Adventure Begins | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Slan go foill, Chicago.

Goodbye Chicago 2

The last four months spent preparing, researching and planning for this trip has led to this day: the start of the great Irish adventure. Going over my notes from the application period in October 2012, I realize how grateful I am for the opportunity to travel and study in another country. Traveling is in itself the best education money can buy. But traveling with a group of like-minded individuals who share the enthusiasm and sheer pleasure of exploring distant lands and documenting adventures is an unparalleled experience I will treasure for life.

I had always imagined Ireland to be a place of majestic valleys, prehistoric formations and romantic folklore. The history and scenery lends itself to such dreams. But reality will be much different. I am looking forward to experiencing both. Discovering The Liberties neighborhood in Dublin will be one of the highlights of this trip. The documentary produced, filmed and directed by Shane Hogan and Tom Burke as part of their scholastic requirements is a triumph in storytelling. The visuals, raw and thoughtful, are complemented by the most interesting stories sometimes tinged with the painful and sad realities of life. The area, its loyal residents and eager newcomers are reminders of Ireland’s fabled past and bright indicators of the promising things to come.

As I stop and think about the things I must accomplish on this trip, I come to terms with a healthy mix of excitement and fearful dread. I am anxious about getting the interviews I need to build my story, I worry about connecting with the right people and whether or not they will have the information to support my piece, but mostly I fear the unknown. I suppose the firsTravel Essentialst step really is the hardest part of any endeavor. Taking the plunge and surrendering to the moment is what can ultimately free us of expectations and relieve us of the pressure to always get things right.

This trip will be what I make of it. It could be defined by an iconic meal of fish and chips from Fishy Fishy Cafe in Kinsale, a harbor town just south of Cork, or the indelible experience of downing a pint of Black Gold from the Storehouse; it could be memorialized by a  cutting edge production from the Druid Theatre Company in Galway or the awe-inspiring rock  formations at The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The next ten days will probably go by in blur. What will remain, though, are the memories made, friendships formed and stories to be shared with family and friends.

Goodbye for now, Chicago. See you down the road.

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Join me as I explore Ireland

For 10 days in January 2013, I will be walking, talking and reporting my way through the streets of Dublin, Ireland. The opportunity to travel is a gift, but the chance to be fully engaged in discovering the country’s colorful past and writing about its transition into the futuAcceptance Letterre is a privilege afforded to me by academia. I am looking forward to being a firsthand witness to the following issues: the effects of the financial crisis in 2007 and how that has shaped the government’s budget for 2013; the debate on legalizing abortion in connection with Savita Hallapanavar’s case and the 1992 Supreme Court rulings; the experience of living and integrating into Irish society, particularly from a refugee or asylum seeker‘s point of view; and the difficulties non-Catholic immigrants and noncitizens face in practicing their faith.

The Independent, The Irish Times and Ireland’s national public broadcaster Raidio Teilifis Eireann (RTE) have been great resources for local and international news. These sites have provided me with a steady stream of inspiration for one of the most challenging and exciting goals of this study program: a news article on a local topic/issue for publication stateside. It could be about anything at all, but with one caveat: there must be a Chicago connection. And here is where my discovery of one former staff writer from The Irish Times (and the Chicago Tribune before that) has helped me most. Enter Mary Maher, a native Chicagoan who had moved to Dublin in 1965 and was a founder member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement (IWLM) in 1970.  Maher’s column, where she reported on American feminist theories and activities  for Irish readers, has motivated me to explore the state of  gender equality, and the influence and evolution of women’s rights groups in Ireland (particularly university-based ones). It would also be interesting to get their take on the much debated issue of abortion in the context of women’s health.Suitcase

Aside from learning and writing about the various social, economic and political issues, the inspired exploration of Ireland’s sights and sounds should keep me busy during my time in the Emerald Isle. High on my list are the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol and Trinity College, where I can also catch a glimpse of the Book of Kells. It would also be a dream to visit Belfast, Northern Ireland, Connemara Peninsula in County Galway and the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.

The anticipation is building as the preparation for this great adventure continues. If you have any suggestions or comments for a story or issue I should tackle or places of interest I should visit, please drop me a line and I will try my best to address it during the trip.

See you down the road!

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