Archive for June, 2010

After the first roadtrip, Bre & I decided to take another one to see everything on the island that we wanted to see before leaving. We’ll call this the Great Bradam Adventure…Bradam, the nickname the Mitchells gave to the dynamic troublemaking duo that is myself & Bre. We rented a car and planned out our route, mostly in Southwest Ireland. This meant though that one of us would have to drive. Lucky me won the chance to test my skills at driving on the wrong side of the road through tiny rural roads…yipee! We spent the extra money to get an automatic (otherwise, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere). Our car, a four door Nissan Micra that we nicknamed Harold, was pretty beat up & lacked rims. The Belfast Budget staff told us it was a Republic car, so they didn’t care what happened to it as along as we didn’t crash. We headed out on Wednesday & I adjusted to driving the car pretty well. We did have one near accident due to confusing diversions (detours) in Newry. I had to pull in to turn around after missing the right exit on a roundabout. Then, this idiot comes in a blocks me & my sight as I’m trying to pull out. Ended up pulling out in front of an oncoming Ulsterbus cause I couldn’t see. Luckily, instincts kicked in & I didn’t hesitate. I just zoomed out quickly saving us from being run over. After that, we had no more problems with near wrecks.

Our first stop was in Glendalough to see the Wicklow Mountains. While the view was gorgeous there, I felt it was overrated compared to the many other mountains in Ireland. From there, we headed to the medieval city of Kilkenny. On the way, we passed what might be the funniest thing I have ever seen driving…an overpass on the motorway for cows to walk between two pastures. It was so hilarious to see cows just crossing a bridge. A day later, we then saw cows literally eating a billboard in their pasture…pretty funny that is was a beer advert & they were munching on the beer glass.

Kilkenny is a wonderful little town. Def in my top 5 places in the Republic. We walked around the town and ended up settling at a bar on the river to take in the sunset over the castle & river. We had originally planned to leave early the next morning, but we were enticed by good shops, a farmer’s market, the castle, & a tour of the Smithwick’s brewery to stick around for half the day. While the farmer’s market was a bust, the castle was interesting to tour. Well preserved with good gardens, plus it was free with our OPW cards thanks to the Mitchell benefits. From there, we did what we do best: hitting the shops. I finally found my green Ireland rugby jersey that I had been so badly wanting, and it was even on sale. From there, we headed to the Smithwick’s brewery for a tour. We found out that they have only starting giving tours very recently since this is their 300th anniversary, so I was pretty excited to see where one of my fav beers is made. Our tour guide was really fantastic at explaining the history of the Smithwick’s family & the importance of the brewery to the city over the past 300 years. We even got to see the original Abbey where brewing started! Of course, we got a pint to taste at the end, which we savored before heading off.

We next headed to see the Rock of Cashel. However, getting there was a painful experience on what may have been the worst rural roads we encountered. The road was narrow (almost to the point of being one lane), the hedges came right onto the road & even hung down, plus much of it was unpaved with giant potholes. It took over an hour to go about 35 miles. It was worth it to see Cashel though. The Rock is the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster (one of Ireland’s 4 historical provinces). The site also has affiliations with St. Patrick as it is here he supposedly converted one of the kings in the 5th century. The current buildings on the site date from the 1100 & 1200s. It is a really imposing site of so much stone work elevated over all its surrounding scenery. Cormac’s Chapel there even still has original wall paintings from 1130s, which in itself is simply amazing. Well worth the visit. From there, we drove on down to Killarney for the night. This would be our starting point for driving the Ring of Kerry. Killarney is surrounded by the beautiful Kerry mountains. We had a nice hostel in the city, but the bed was the hardest bed I have ever slept on. I really might have been better on the floor! We grabbed a good dinner at a local steakhouse, watched the Mexico game in a local pub, and then listened to some trad music at another one. I was pretty pleased to find a Scottish beer there, Innis & Gunn, which I had tried in Edinburgh & is one of the best beers I have ever had with its toffee, vanilla, & oak flavors.

We got up on Friday & hit the road. We drove both the Ring of Kerry & the Dingle Peninsula in one day before making the trek to Galway. Both peninsulas were pretty great scenery with their coastal drives, mountain views, and small villages. However, Dingle def won hands down as the road literally had you right on the coast & you were looking across at the Kerry Mountains, which are so gorgeous and you can’t really see their beauty when you are driving right next to them. We made a stop in Dingle town for lunch enjoying some fresh seafood. More importantly, we found the Dingle ice cream store. We had tried the ice cream in Killarney the previous night. With ice cream flavors ranging from Kerry Cream to sea salt & caramel to Guinness & Bailey’s, the ice cream was just phenomenal. Makes me excited for homemade ice cream in Alabama. Randomly, we ran into a couple we had met on our Smithwick’s tour. They were really nice people from Maryland, who had just randomly decided to do a week-long trip to Ireland. Still can’t believe we saw them twice…shows what a small place Ireland is. From here, we headed to Tralee where we intended to stop & watch the USA-Slovenia match. I must point out that while driving these rural roads are bad enough on their own, meeting & getting behind tractors constantly complicates everything. In this one day of driving in County Kerry, we had to meet over 30 on the road, which means you were always having to pull over for an oversized one or waiting for a (rare) straight away to pass one. It’s not that crazy in Alabama for sure. We made it to Tralee in time for the game & ended up in a strange little pub. It was just us and the owner, an elderly woman of about 70. She told us that she was born in the bar & it had always been in her family. There were just benches to sit on & there was only one bathroom, which comes from when bars only served men. The woman told us how most tourists skip Tralee, which is easy to understand since there is nothing there. It was a great experience for us though. We got frustrated with the USA team & left midway through the 2nd half. We heard on the radio though about our goal & the disallowed one. Still happy that we didn’t lose.

From there, we passed through Limerick & headed to Galway to visit Jon & Lauren Parnell Marino. They have been wanting us to come visit, so I am finally glad we made it happen right before they left. They took us around that night to see the bay & the famous swans. The sunset was especially beautiful this evening, which was nice to see. Galway is a small little town with narrow, winding, & confusing streets, which date back to the city’s founding. They showed us around the town to just get a lay out of everything. We called it an early night in anticipation of Saturday. The next morning, we got up and hit the Galway market. For lunch, I went to McDonaghs which is famous for having the best fish & chips. It did not disappoint, especially considering the fish I chose was catfish! Forgot how much I love catfish…another thing I’ll have to eat back in Alabama next month. From there, Bre & I jumped in the car for a drive to the famous Cliffs of Moher. This was another terrible road made worse by meeting giant tour buses. We passed through The Burren, a rocky and barren landscape, on our way. The Cliffs were really spectacular. Many of the Mitchells give them a bad rap, but I def think they are worth the visit. While not as high as Slieve League, they are more dramatic with their straight drop-offs. It was a great sunny day, so we really enjoyed walking around there & getting out on the edge. I finally caved & bought one of the family history things that all the tourist sites have. I had to get it when I read about the Harbison’s being part of the families that were banished from Scotland but given land in Northern Ireland to be good protestants (the way the English controlled the Irish catholic majority). We then headed back to Galway for Lauren & Jon’s going away party. We had a good evening sitting by the bay, visiting a pub, and ending the night dancing in a crowded club. So sad to go to other’s going away parties as it just reminds me that my own isn’t far off.

Sunday, Bre & I got up to head back to Belfast. We decided to stop by the Hill of Tara along the way. Being a good Southerner & a fan of Gone With the Wind, I probably couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t see the Irish namesake of the O’Hara’s plantation. Tara is the ancient seat and burial site of the Kings of Ireland. Today, Tara is a series of mounds on a high point that provides unobstructed viewpoints to the Wicklow Mountains in the South & the Mourne Mountains in the North. It is a very intriguing site as work is continually done to understand the circular layout and points that correspond with other surrounding mounds. From here, we had plans to easily bypass the motorway tolls & make it home quickly. However, the roadmap lied and we got lost for over an hour. We finally got back on track, but it wasn’t the route we had planned & took longer. We did avoid the tolls though, which we were happy about. In our being lost, we passed through tons of little villages in County Meath, including Slane which is famous as the most dangerous stretch of road on the island. Ireland likes to put up signs telling you how many people have died on roads for set time periods…just a bit morbid for me. We also surprisingly got to pass the Battle of the Boyne site & saw the tower once erected by the Orange forces to commemorate King Billy’s victory over the catholic James. However, the tower today lies in shambles as the IRA blew it up in the Easter Uprising & staked a Tricolor on top of the pile of stones, which is how it still appears today. We made it back to Belfast unscathed but pretty tired. We had gone over 1600 kilometers (just under 1,000 miles) in 4 days. It was well worth the many miles & the big costs of renting a car and buying petrol (gas). For such a tiny car, it cost about 40 euro ($50) each time we had to fill up (which was 4 times). The trip was a truly amazing adventure for us. We got to see all the sites we had wanted to see but hadn’t gotten to visit yet. I can now say that I have really been all over this island, which only reaffirmed my love for Ireland. I even love it considering the terrible CD set of Irish music that was our trip soundtrack in the car. This is a terrific place full of wonderful people, gorgeous scenery, a tragic history, and brilliant experiences. Chalk this up as another memory of this year that I will never ever forget.

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Roadtrips Part 1

It really has been a hectic month, & here I thought June would be a relaxing month of doing thesis work (neither of which have happened). After getting back from the boys’ weekend in Limerick/Clare, I first had a class night-out on Tuesday to say goodbye to Iona. Iona is the only other non-Irish student in my class. She is from Kenya but has many relatives in the states & loves the US of A! So obviously, we connected over our pro-American views and being the outsiders here. Even though she loves Obama, she even once defended President Bush to our classmates, including all the work he did for Africa. It caused quite a rile with the class, but I relished seeing the confused looks on everyone’s faces. Anyway, we all had a good night on the town dancing away…Iona’s fav. The first person leaving was just another reminder of my time running out here. That Friday, I presented my social farming research to all the key stakeholders in Northern Ireland. They were all very excited by my report and credited me with bringing everyone together to really jumpstart the movement. Several even told me they wished I was staying to continue the work, & I would respond, “Please don’t tempt me anymore than I already am to stay!”

Later that Friday night, my good friend and fellow Truman Scholar, Ingrid Price from Utah, came over for a visit. Ingrid has been working on a Masters in International Relations at Cambridge this year. She hopped over for the weekend in between finishing her thesis and getting ready to go home to attend Stanford Law! Friday was also the kick-off of the World Cup, which I have become obsessed with. We decided to throw a party to welcome Ingrid & all the soccer craziness. In the theme of Mexico playing the first game, we had a fiesta complete with fajitas & Corona. It was a good night of watching the footy (Irish slang for football aka soccer) & catching up. Saturday, we got up to hit the St. George’s Market before taking Ingrid on a bus tour of the city. We found our way onto a special tour that came with live music entertainment that alternated between Van Morrison & trad…very interesting. That night, we went to the US Consulate’s watch party for the big game: USA vs. England. The Consulate knows how to throw a proper party. Hosted at Tony Roma’s, we walked in the door to be greeted with a Coor’s Light & were treated to a meal of baby-back ribs, chicken wings & fingers, all kinds of salad, cole slaw, & fries. It was AMAZING! And to top it off, we were able to draw with England thanks to the slippery fingers of their goalie, Green. I got so excited when we scored that I jumped up, hit a lamp, and spilled a drink. That much excitement is just another sign of my growing into a soccer fan…that & the USA jersey I was wearing (and have worn for every USA game since).

Sunday morning, the four Trumans (myself, Ingrid, Bre & Christina) headed off on a mini-adventure. We rented a car & Christina drove us up the Causeway Coast. Our first stop was the small harbor town of Ballintoy where we were signed up to go Coasteering. I was signed up to go not knowing what I was getting myself into. The website simply said it involved walking, scrambling, jumping, swimming and sometimes crawling over cliffs in a wetsuit! I was a bit nervous about jumping off cliffs…and putting on a wetsuit. I am glad to report that coasteering was an unbelievable experience. Thanks to Christina for sort of forcing me into it. Such a rush to swim out to rocky islands & jump off them. Plus, wearing a wetsuit was neat & I was quite impressed at how warm it kept me. I will say coasteering is not for people overly concerned about safety as it is unregulated which means there is no real qualifications for a guide & we never had to sign any waivers! After getting our adrenaline fill, we headed up to the Causeway & Bushmills…two of my fav places in Northern Ireland considering I have been there so many times. It was a beautiful, sunny day, so I relished the chance to get some more good photographs of the scenery.

From there, we drove northward to County Londerderry making a stop at the Mussenden Temple, which sits on a cliff. Very gorgeous sight with the round temple, a castle with a Antebellum home facade, and a flowing field that reminded me of the scenes in the film, Gladiator. From there, we crossed the border into County Donegal & after some confusion found our hostel in Letterkenny. Monday, we got up & headed to Slieve League, Europe’s highest sea cliffs. Note: the roads in rural Donegal are TERRIBLE! First time, I have gotten car sick in quite a while & I was soooo close to losing in on the drive but made a recovery with a break & some AC. Finally making it to the cliffs was worth it though. They are really stunning. So high that even on a great day, they were still partially covered by clouds. We had a picnic on the edge & hiked around taking in all their daring & majestic height. From there, we headed back to Belfast to send Ingrid back to England. It was a great trip though & I’m glad she got to visit us. Photos below…credit to Ingrid for some I borrowed off her blog.

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Three weeks ago tonight, I was at Farmleigh, the Irish State Guest House once owned by the Guinness family. I was there to “graduate” as a Mitchell Scholar. Our commencement ceremony was headlined by the Irish President Mary McAleese. About 150 guests, including Mitchell Scholars, our friends from our respective universities, university officials, politicians, and other friends of the US-Ireland Alliance, all came together to commemorate the end of my class’s time as Mitchell Scholars here in Ireland. President McAleese gave a brilliant speech on the importance of the scholarship for establishing Irish ties and proclaimed that we are all part of the extended Ireland family now. She also talked about our role to go away and be good public servants in our respective fields. She is really an impressive lady, both in her intellect, her grace, and her height (with heels, she was taller than me). After her speech, we were presented with our class rings…a silver band engraved with the proper symbols of Irish education. It is a beautiful keepsake that I will continually wear to remind me of the fantastic year I had on the Emerald Isle.

The evening was both a celebration and a bittersweet moment. First of all, it was a time to celebrate as a class and with our friends. I was very happy to have my good friend Barry join me for the reception and the night-out in Dublin that followed. We all had a good time taking in the town and checking out the pubs together. However, this was the last time that we would all be together. The next morning, Alec was the first scholar to leave us. From Dublin, we headed South to Glin Castle & Writer’s Week in Listowel. We made a stop at Glenstall Abbey along the way where we were toured around the ancient monastery and their amazing forest made up of trees collected from all over the world. From there, we stopped by the O’Suilleabhain’s home for a BBQ and music. Dinner was fantastic and the music was great. The father, Micheal, is a famous pianist who has started some of the top music programs at Irish universities. His two sons are a recording duo called size2shoes, and they are quite good in their own right (so check them out). From there, we settled into our rooms at Glin Castle. You just never get used to staying in a castle! That night before heading off to bed, we voted on our Mitchell superlatives, and I was voted most likely to hold public office.

The next morning, we headed to the Writer’s Week festivities. I caught a play and a film. Both were good, but I mostly spent the day chatting with other scholars and finishing my thesis proposal. The next day, I departed to meet my friends Thomas & Daniel in Limerick. I said farewell to all my other Mitchell classmates as it was the last time I would see most of them. I got into Limerick & headed to Thomas’s house to wait for Daniel to show up after his drive from Northern Ireland. We were all in Limerick to catch the Ireland Rugby match against the Barbarian at Thormond Park. Most interesting is that this was Daniel’s first time to the South other than a trip to Dublin. The divisions in this island always amaze me! Before the match, Thomas roped us into selling tickets to a soccer match for a charity. The charity is a fund in memory of Thomas’s cousin that was an innocent bystander killed by the violent drug crime that is too common in Limerick. The fund seeks to use sports to provide kids with activities that keep them away from the crime and drugs. While Thomas did quite well selling tickets, Daniel and I struggled heavily. We managed to sell one ticket, and we learned that people in the South just don’t trust buying anything from boys with a Northern Ireland & an American accent. We then headed to the match. The atmosphere was awesome with 30,000 people cheering on the lads in green. They made a comeback at the end of the game to keep it close, but the Barbarians were just too much to overcome. We all had a terrific time though. Afterwards, Thomas showed us a night on the town to his favorite places, and of course, I was thrilled to get a return visit to Bobby Byrne’s, the local pub by Thomas’s house that I visited on my last trip to Limerick and this is one of my favorites on this island.

Saturday, we got up and headed to County Clare for one of Thomas’s cousins 30th birthday. The three of us loaded up in the car with Thomas’s brother & sister and another friend to head to Quilty, a beachside village in rural Clare. There were about 15 of us there for the party. We cooked out and sat out in the beautiful weather with some drinks for the whole afternoon. There was even a bit of soccer and rugby played, and I was coaxed into trying my hand at both. I definitely felt inadequate playing with people who had played both sports all their lives, but I had a fun time trying and demonstrating my strange ability to only kick the rugby ball straight into the air (it should go forward). That night, we headed into Miltown Malbay, a small town on the coast, to go to a pub that was having a trad session. A trad session is the proper name for the playing of traditional Irish music. After a couple of hours, we returned to the house to continue the party. We headed to bed around 3, but my air mattress had gone flat. Since Thomas forgot to tell me that the pump was outside our door, I blew up a full size air mattress with my own set of lungs. Everyone in the house could hear me huffing and puffing away, so I definitely got slagged the next morning for that.

Sunday, we had a nice breakfast and anticipated leaving shortly after. I decided to walk down to the coast and check out the beach. Clare really is a gorgeous county. It is quite rural and picturesque in the way that you think Ireland should be. The weather was so lovely that the drinks were brought back out, and we sat around soaking up the sun until almost 5 pm. I relished the chance to continue building my tan, but I also got a good laugh at how quickly Irish people turn red. Thomas was sitting with only one side in the sun, and he turned into a two-faced pink and white person before our eyes. Luckily, he got to even out and just turn pink all over. From there, we headed back to Limerick. Daniel and I said our goodbyes and headed back to Northern Ireland. We drove the whole way to Belfast without stopping…all 5 1/2 hours. Leaving Limerick at 7pm, I finally got in my bed at half past midnight. I really enjoyed the weekend with two of my good friends, plus all of the new people who I met while there. Being the random American, I always get into the most random discussions from politics to sports to GLEE to racism and even to Forrest Gump being the image that people have of Alabama. I even humored them and quoted lines from the movie in my best Southern accent.

The combination of commencement and the trip with friends made me realize how short my time left here will be. I was really sad about this but knew that I just had to make the most of what I had left. My other realization was that I feel really honored to have made such great friends here. I am especially proud of having made three Irish friendships that I hope I will keep for the rest of my life, people that I will want to stay in touch with and exchange visits with in the many years to come. Just chalk this entire week as another one of these experiences that I will cherish & never forget.

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Bloody Sunday

Today marks a historic day in Northern Ireland as Lord Saville’s investigative report on Bloody Sunday is released. According to Wikipedia for those who are not familiar with this:

Bloody Sunday was an incident on 30 January 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, in Northern Ireland. Twenty-seven civil rights protesters were shot by the British Army Parachute Regiment during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march. Thirteen men, seven of whom were teenagers, died immediately, while the death of another man 4½ months later has been attributed to the injuries he received on the day. Two protesters were injured when they were run down by army vehicles. Many witnesses, including bystanders and journalists, testify that all those shot were unarmed. Five of those wounded were shot in the back. The Provisional Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) campaign against the partition of Ireland had begun in the two years prior to Bloody Sunday, but perceptions of the day boosted the status of and recruitment into the organisation enormously. Bloody Sunday remains among the most significant events in the Troubles of Northern Ireland, chiefly because it was carried out by the army and not paramilitaries, and in full public and press view.

Today’s report released by the British government blamed the entire incident on the British Army that was station in Derry. Key points from the report include:

  • No warning had been given to any civilians before the soldiers opened fire
  • None of the soldiers fired in response to attacks by petrol bombers or stone throwers
  • Some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to help those injured or dying
  • None of the casualties was posing a threat or doing anything that would justify their shooting
  • There was no point in trying to soften or equivocate – the events of Bloody Sunday were not justified
  • Many of the soldiers lied about their actions
  • What happened should never, ever have happened
  • Some members of the British armed forces acted wrongly
  • On behalf of the government and the country, Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “deeply sorry”
  • The events of Bloody Sunday were not premeditated, as some people believed that the events were part of a government conspiracy against the Catholic/Nationalist community
  • Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein, was present at the time of the violence and “probably armed with a submachine gun” but did not engage in “any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”

This report closes the book on one of the deadliest acts of violence from the Troubles and answers questions that many family members of victims have been asking for a long time. David Cameron took ownership of the issue offering a heartfelt apology calling the tragedy unjustified and unjustifiable. He rebuked the Army and did not offer any attempt to defend their terrible and shameful actions. Hopefully, with this report now released, more people will be able to move on from the Troubled sectarian past in Northern Ireland. Families can now take comfort in having the innocence of these victims vindicated. However, I know there is a fine line between vindication and outrage. My hope is that the dissident Republican paramilitary groups will not use this to incite retaliatory violence in Northern Ireland. Bloody Sunday was used by the P-IRA to recruit more volunteers, and I hope that this report will not allow them to do the same thing. The truth is now known by all, and it is time for Northern Ireland to keep moving forward by stepping away from the violent conflict of the past.

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While I have been back from the Canary Islands for well over a week now, I still have not gotten over my beach bum mood. Tenerife was a gorgeous island that is part tropical beach and part mountainous rocky desert, which is all completed by a giant volcano. While I was tempted to go exploring, I decided at the end of the day that I deserved a vacation of strictly lounging around by the pool for 4 days as a reward for getting all of my end of the term work and exams finished. The car that our party rented didn’t help to cajole me away from the hotel though, since it was literally a tin can on wheels. We did take it to the beach one day, but that was enough for me. The beach had strange black volcanic sand, which was interesting to see but it stuck to you worse than any sand I have encountered. This beach was also unique as there was a McDonald’s literally on the beach 200 ft from the water. Other than this excursion, Bre and I stayed by the pool soaking up the rays, reading books, and drinking sangria at the 2 for 1 happy hour. We left the exploring in the tiny car to Alec, Neil, & Christina. My decision paid off though as I am proud to report that I am no longer pale. I have my color back thanks to a summer tan that is really noticeable compared to my Irish counterparts here. Thank goodness that I won’t look like a ghost to people in Alabama when I come home soon.

As all my friends here said, it was my real European holiday. In Europe, people take a true holiday, or vacation, every summer usually to some islands like the Canaries or Ibiza in Spain or go South to Italy and the Mediterranean. Needless to say, our hotel was covered up by mostly British families on their holidays. Laying out by the pool, we were def the youngest adults there (Am I really an adult now?!?!). Overall, it was a nice relaxing trip. I hope to keep this idea of an annual holiday when I go back home, and I really want to be able to come back to Europe for future vacations in the future! Check out the photos below and you will understand why!

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The answer: Bagpipes!

Filmed on location in Edinburgh, Scotland with my iPod. And people wonder why I don’t like to see these at Relays…point and case made 🙂

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