My Thesis Passed!

Been meaning to post this, but in case you didn’t hear, my thesis passed. This means I will graduate and receive my Master’s from QUB on Dec 8th. Of course, I’m going back to Belfast for the ceremony.

My thesis was titled, “Rural Brain Drain: Exploring and Comparing the Crisis in Alabama and Northern Ireland.” Of course, given the economic hardships in the Republic of Ireland & numerous stories of young people again fleeing Ireland, it appears this is somewhat timely. Glad this didn’t break while I was writing or it would have probably threw me off course. Regardless, below is the abstract and an excerpt from my final conclusion. If you are interested or need some bedtime reading to help you sleep, you can always read the whole thing!


Objective: To explore the rural brain drain crisis in Alabama and Northern Ireland in order to provide a comparative narrative on the problems faced and solutions proposed by the two areas.

With little prospect of quality career options and a limited range of social services and leisure activities, many young adults have chosen never return to their rural communities after finishing university degrees, which has led to a brain drain crisis. An extensive literature review was carried out to provide a framework of rural brain drain theories and existing research on the problems in the two regions. The researcher employed semi-structured focused interviews in discussions with elected officials, rural policymakers, farming interest groups, and young people that have left rural areas in both Alabama and Northern Ireland to investigate the causes, effects, and proposed solutions for rural brain drain. The presented narratives identified the lack of quality job opportunities as the primary cause of rural brain drain in both Alabama and Northern Ireland. Participants also expressed that the lack of services and entertainment and the insular nature of rural communities were a contributing factor to the problem. In terms of effects, the rural brain drain was believed to cause a further decline in rural areas, including more brain drain, a loss of future community leaders, and a declining number of young farmers. The research illuminated four potential solutions to the rural brain drain crisis: creating more quality rural jobs, the deployment of broadband, youth engagement and outreach, and using partnerships and incentives to encourage local development.


After the review of literature and the completed study, the researcher agrees with the premise that jobs are the key concern when dealing with rural brain drain. In order to create jobs in rural communities, the researcher recommends that both Alabama and Northern Ireland develop schemes that encourage entrepreneurial young people to move into rural communities and create small businesses. Through a programme that provides support and mentoring to these young people and offers financial incentives such as start-up funding, loans, or tax credits, young people would be enticed back into rural areas. As such, a young entrepreneursip proposal could also specifically target areas of potential economic growth such as renewable energy and organic/local farming as discussed in Chapter 2. In addition to creating small businesses, Northern Ireland and Alabama must strive to recruit industries into rural communities. Recruitment efforts could be more successful by following the ideas proposed by Ivey to target high-tech firms in emerging sectors such as biomedical and aerospace while also attempting to better match industry size to community size and capacity. The researcher also recommends broadband deployment as an essential solution in improving the economic competitiveness of rural communities and improving the quality of life for residents. Lastly, the researcher recommends that rural areas must be more innovative in outreach and more inclusive in engaging with rural youth in order to build leaders who will want to reside and play a role in rural communities.

If places like Alabama and Northern Ireland are going to put an end to, or at least slow down, the rural brain drain crisis, they will have to get serious in understanding the need for jobs and the quality of life issues that could entice and retain young people to live in rural areas while also building young leaders who have a strong community bond. Change will have to be driven through the political processes by concerned and committed stakeholders who understand that these policies must be implemented in order to save rural communities. Without a formal recognition of the problem and attempts at aggressive action to solve it, rural areas will continue on a cycle of brain drain as they struggle to survive. 


Example of Social Farming

Now that the thesis is done, I will start trying to wrap up this blog & my year in Northern Ireland.

For now though, check out this video on Growing Connections, one of the social farms located in Bangor, NI that I got to work with in my internship at DARD. They are a great organization run by some really dedicated, quality folks. Plus, there are just some great shots of the gorgeous NI rural landscape and their farm!

Wordle: Rural Brain Drain

Given Senator George Mitchell’s role as the Obama Administration’s Middle East envoy, and given his previous role as the Chairman of the Northern Ireland peace talks, which lead to the Belfast Agreement in 1998, there has been much talk about comparisons between the two conflicts.

In 2008, the US-Ireland Alliance marked the tenth anniversary of the Belfast Agreement with a symposium in Northern Ireland which brought together the major players to discuss their achievement, tens years later.   The entire symposium was recorded and if you’d like to see and hear what they had to say, click on this link.


Participants in the symposium were:

Davy Adams
Gerry Adams
Bertie Ahern
John Alderdice
David Andrews
John de Chastelain
Mark Durkan
Sir Reg Empey
John Hume
Monica McWilliams
George Mitchell
Paul Murphy
Liz O’Donnell
Dawn Purvis

Final Mitchell Reflection

Well, my final reflection for the Mitchell Scholarship is posted below. As always, you can check out my classmates thoughts here as well.

Adam, you are transforming into a full-blooded Irishman. To me this Facebook message from my friend, Barry, meant one thing: success. My goal for this year was to really absorb as much of Ireland & its culture as possible. With family roots in Northern Ireland, I wanted to leave feeling connected as a part of this magnificent place. As I reflect back on my time here, I know that my goal has been accomplished. As further proof, I get really gloomy and have a difficult time fathoming what it will be like to leave this wonderful island that I have called home for the last year.

It is hard to summarize my time here as I have had terrific experiences meeting so many fabulous people, traveling to take in new sights, and learning more than I could have ever expected. Looking back over the last month alone is enough to blow one’s mind. After finishing exams, Bre, Christina, Alec, Neil & I took a real European holiday to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. A week later, I returned to Ireland very tan and ready for Mitchell commencement in Dublin. After some kind words from President Mary McAleese, we received our class rings, which serve to remind us of our connection to Ireland and to one another. A night out in Dublin was the proper way for us to ring out the year before people began to depart.

After a trip to Writer’s Week & Glin Castle, I then headed to Limerick to meet my friends, Thomas & Daniel. Here I got to see the Ireland International Rugby team play a match in Thomond Park, one of the largest and more historic stadiums in the country. From here, Daniel & I got to attend a birthday party at a beach home in rural County Clare. Highlights included gorgeous scenery in Clare, once again being stereotyped and entertaining people with Sweet Home Alabama, and witnessing the reactions of my “Nordie” friend Daniel in his first trip that far south into the Republic. Then, it was back to Belfast where I presented my research on social farming to stakeholders from around Northern Ireland. I did not expect that my work for DARD would result in people thanking me for bringing attention to the topic and really galvanizing a movement here.

After this, I ended up on two roadtrips. The first took Bre, Christina, myself & a visiting friend up the Causeway Coast and into Donegal to gaze at the striking majesty of Slieve League. On the way, we managed to stop for coasteering: a new adventure sport that puts you in a wetsuit and sends you climbing over rocky cliffs to jump into the ocean! After this trip, Bre & I were inspired to adventure into the southwest of Ireland to see everything we could. Travelling almost 1,000 miles in 5 days, we crossed the Wicklow Mountains, drank Smithwick’s at the brewery in Kilkenny, successfully drove both the Ring of Kerry & the Dingle Peninsula, gazed at the legendary Cliffs of Moher, paid homage to our Southern roots and Gone with the Wind at the Hill of Tara, and visited with the Parnell Marinos in Galway before they left for the states. To top it off, I’m back in Belfast continuing work on my thesis on rural brain drain, where I was even lucky enough to get to meet with Michelle Gildernew, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, to get her comments on the topic.

All of this has taken place in the last month alone, and that’s not even including the farewell parties and my new found obsession with football (soccer) as I try my best not to miss a World Cup match. Nor does it include my getting involved with the political process here in seeing Prime Minister David Cameron come to Northern Ireland just before the election or getting to ask a question at the nationally televised leaders’ debate on BBC. I am now less than three weeks away from leaving myself, and while I am excited to see family and friends at home, I am filled with dread about parting with the life I have created for myself in Northern Ireland. I still am astonished at how I have become completely immersed in this place in such a short time. My life has been completely changed by this experience. When I came here, I worried about surviving outside of the US without my family, my friends, Crimson Tide football, politics, and sweet tea. I leave here worrying about how I will adjust to live back stateside and how I’ll survive without my brilliant Irish friends, rugby & soccer, my daily dose of sectarian politics, and Irish staples like Harp, kebabs, and shortbread biscuits.

I consider myself the luckiest person in the world and feel humbled for this opportunity that was given to me. For that, I must thank Trina, Jennie, Mary Lou, and all the supporters of the US-Ireland Alliance. I have been blessed by the chance to study at a terrific university in Queen’s and live in the one of the most interesting cities and countries in the world. I must also thank Jude Stephens and the staff of the Gibson Institute for sharing their knowledge of rural development and giving me the support I need to successfully learn. I also need to thank Zita Murphy and the staff at DARD for giving me a meaningful internship that was more than I could have asked for in providing me with real life practical experience. My time here would not have been so fulfilling without wonderful friends. I consider all of my fellow classmates and fellow rural champions as my friends and colleagues now. I appreciate them taking me under their wings and dealing with my incessant questions about the litany of things I did not understand when I first came here. Special thanks to Barry McCarron, Daniel McDowell, and Thomas Kelleher for everything…you lads are the best! Lastly, I must thank my fellow Mitchell Scholars who I have bonded with over the past year. You all have enriched my experience here, and for that, I am grateful. However, I am especially thankful that I had a partner-in-crime here in Belfast. Bre, I’m so glad I had you as a friend to keep me company in watching American TV, eating tons of Nando’s, travelling, and being ridiculous as often as humanly possible.

Well, as they say here, that’s me sorted. It’s time to go home and get back to work in America. While I wanted to become part of the culture here, I never expected that I would so fully embrace it to the point that I do not want to let go. The good news is that I won’t have to let go. From now on, I will identify myself with Ireland while proudly claiming my Ulster heritage. I plan to be back here as often as possible to visit friends and to get my fill of the banter and accents, the stunning landscapes, and the tragic history of this place and its effects moving forward. So Ireland, thanks for memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Slán go fóill!

The Proof…

…of how nasty I was after 4 days at a music festival!

Greasy hair...be glad there's no smell demo here

The clothes don’t look that bad since I did change into a clean set for the travel home. Never has a shower felt so good. In fact, I’ve been obsessed with feeling clean since returning taking 2 showers a day for a total of 7 since Monday night! Now, for the mood evidence (which is still in the process of cleaning)…

My lifesavers...the boots!

T in the Park

I successfully survived my first ever music festival & have recovered from the experience. I have to say that it is one of the most fun things that I have ever done. It all started on Thurs when I got up early to catch the 7 am ferry to Scotland. My friend Daniel that I was going with had to reschedule his boat til Friday, so I was meeting the rest of the crew for the first time at the terminal. They were a great bunch of people from Northern Ireland…all from the Protestant side of things here. I was especially pleased to have them be so welcoming to a random Alabamian to keep me entertained and from getting lost/confused until Daniel showed up the next day. Of course, they took a liking to my accent, and most of the first day (and a good bit of the whole weekend) was spent playing the let’s get Adam to pronounce different words game. When they were asking me if it was annoying me, I realized that this was one of the things that I would really miss. I have to say that I do enjoy the attention that I get for being a unique Southern among all the Irish of the island. After a couple of bus rides, we ended up at the site and made our way through the line to get into the festival. It was quite a line…30,000 people come early to camp on the Thurs night & the total festival attracts around 90,000 for the weekend! We just spent the evening hanging around our campsite after we got all the tents set up. We used the Northern Ireland flag to mark our spot, which became quite controversial in Scotland thanks to all the Catholic-Protestant troubles. Didn’t expect it to carry over to Scottish people though. Also prob didn’t help that this was the weekend for the Orange Marches when tensions are higher…and of course, the ones I were with singing Unionist songs.

Friday, we got up and were eventually joined by Daniel & one of the boy’s friends from Glasgow. He had jumped on our bus without a ticket at the last minute and managed to find a cheap ticket that night and eventually find us by only looking for the flag! Rain started on Friday, which quickly turned everything into a muddy mess. It also meant that we jammed 9 people into one tent when we were hanging out before the music started. The first show we caught was Florence + The Machine…the one I most wanted to see. She really is a phenomenal singer. Her album is called Lungs & it is a good title cause she really can belt it out. Best song was her new one Heavy in Your Arms, which is featured on the Twilight Eclipse soundtrack. After that, the group split and I went to see the Black Eyed Peas. They were amazing as well. Good show mixing up their songs with Fergie and will.I.am’s solo stuff.

Saturday was by far the best day in terms of music. Heavier rain that am really turned everything to a mucky mess…thank goodness for my rainproof cowboy boots! We saw tons of great music including Paolo Nutini, The Coral, Stereophonics, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Mumford & Sons, and Eminem. All were great! I was surprised by Rodrigo y Gabriela, a Mexican guitar duo that I hadn’t heard of before. Both of them, but especially Gabriela, plays a guitar like nothing I have ever seen before. Mumford & Sons was the highlight of the weekend for sure. Their show was mind-blowingly good, and we were right at the front of the stage. Check out my fav song of theirs to hear how good they are. Only downside to their show was this Scottish girl who tricked me into letting her wear my hat & putting her on my shoulders for part of the show. When it was over, she ran off with my Alabama hat! I was not very happy, but at least I spread around Crimson Tide-ness. After Mumford, we caught the end of Eminem, which was his most popular songs. He was good, but I’m not really a fan. I much prefered the folk sounds of Mumford. I like them before their show, but I have been obsessed since seeing them…listened to the whole album 3 or 4 times since getting back home on Mon.

Sunday was the craziest day of the festival as we tried to just fit in as much as possible for the last night. Bands we saw included: Babyshambles, The Cribs, Jay-Z, Bombay Bicycle Club, and Kasabian. These were spread all across the site, so we were constantly running around, whereas Saturday everything had been in two venues right beside each other. We jammed out all night and had a great time regardless of the fact that by this point we were quite disgusting and smelly. It was a terrific party night and a great way to close out my festival experience.

Monday, we got up and packed to leave. We had intentions of bringing out tent back, but in the end (like most people who camp at T) couldn’t be bothered to do it and just left it there. We then started the long journey back to Belfast, which included laying on the concrete at the Glasgow bus station for 4 hours! We literally looked and smelled like homeless people. I did learn some interesting things about festivals. First, the bathrooms are horrid/putrid. Honestly worse than the nastiest things I have seen on the farm! Smell was so bad that I couldnt even enter or walk by without gagging. Thank goodness they got cleaned once a day and thats when I learned to always go for a visit! Secondly, there is so much music that you can’t squeeze it all in! I had intentions to see other bands, but they would be scheduled at the same time and far apart. Plus, it’s always good to see some new stuff, so I still feel like I got the best possible experience. Lastly, you get pretty nasty not showering for 4 days! I changed clothes a couple of times and would wipe off with baby wipes. Between the mud, people throwing cups of drink & worse at shows, and just general dirt, I was a sight & smell to behold by the time I got home. Bre said I literally looked homeless, rated my stench on a scale of 1-10 as a 9, and said she could smell me 6 foot before I got to her. Feel sorry now for all those people who had to sit by me on the way home and understand why we were all getting stared at on Monday!

I did miss out on the Orange craziness in Belfast, but I am confident that I made the better choice. T in the Park is a memory I will never ever forget! Plus, the riots happening here in the aftermath of the 12th also makes me feel better! Tomorrow is my going away party, and I am already packed up to move out on Friday. Staying with Daniel that night and he is taking me to the airport Saturday, which I am very grateful for with all the stuff I have to lug! Will update on the going away festivities and the trek home, plus some wrap up posts over the next few weeks.