Archive | December, 2013

Parents & Pubs

11 Dec

Pub crawls are a major part of Irish culture, at least in the eyes of foreigners. When my parents came to visit me during the weekend we signed up for a rural pub crawl of Dublin. It was amazing, the pub crawl took place in the mountains of Dublin county and along with my family and I there was a couple from England, and another family whose son goes to North Eastern University. On the tour we went to three pubs, the first pub was traditional and did not sell food. They had peanut dispensers and they sang old Irish pub songs. The people at the pub told stories and were extremely friendly; they did not hesitate to strike up a conversation with anybody. Also, the couple from England got engaged at the first pub and then an elderly man at the pub serenaded them. It was adorable, and moving forward we went to a more modern pub. At the second pub they served food, and the atmosphere was less cozy, and it felt more like a restaurant with less locals. The second pub had a group of people who performed traditional Irish dancing, which was entertaining. I learned about guiness and specifically I learned that adding black currant to guiness sweetens it, and makes it more palatable. Afterwards, at the third pub there was a plethora of food and locals who were much more willing to talk than the second pub. My parents loved it, and it was an experience that we never thought we would have; at least until I turned twenty one. All together, the irish pub life is amazing, both in Dublin and outside of Dublin.

 

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The “Summit” of Mobile Seminars

11 Dec

When I signed up for mobile seminars in September, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) was not high on my list. It seemed like it could be interesting, but, to be honest, I had no idea what to expect. Even if I had an extensive knowledge of the BAI before choosing it is as a mobile seminar, I would still have not been prepared for what happened.

We met outside of the Irish Film Institute (IFI) in Temple Bar. I found this slightly strange because I was expecting to go to a radio or TV station rather than an eclectic film house. We were seated in a small theater that seated less than 100 people. The first person to present has been a radio personality since the 1960s. He lead us through the basic history of broadcasting in Ireland, as well as his role. The next person was from the BAI. Ironically, his roots in radio were from Pirate Radio during the 1960s and 70s. He explained the BAI’s general business plan as well as its current health. Each presenter was informative and interesting. The mobile seminar could ended there and my expectations would have been surpassed. However, once the two gentlemen were finished speaking, we were told that we would be screening a documentary that the BAI partly funded. The room darkened, the screen came to life, and for 90 minutes, I was captivated.

The Summit tells the true story of the deadliest day on K2, the world’s most treacherous mountain. In 2008, eleven international mountaineers perished while three others were seriously injured. One of the fatalities was Gerard McDonnell, an Irishman. Without giving away the story, The Summit, a winner at Sundance, was a thoroughly captivating, yet sorrowful documentary. After the movie was finished, Nick Ryan, the film’s director, walked into the theater. I was blown away. He discussed the creation of the film and what it takes to make a film in general. At the end we were even able to ask him questions. Though I did not expect it, the BAI mobile seminar has been my favorite so far.

 

Reluctance

11 Dec

How do you feel about jumping in the ice cold Atlantic ocean off the Irish coast just for the fun of it? How in the world I thought the answer to that question was anything but “reluctant” is beyond me. However, at the beginning of the semester, instead I answered, “sounds great!” and signed up to go to the Forty Foot.

The Forty Foot, a beach in Sandycove, has been a place Irish people have been swimming at for hundreds of years. I had an image in my head of a cliff, forty feet high, looking over the Irish Sea. Of course “foot” in the American sense of the word was not what the Forty Foot meant, the phrase probably referring to forty British soldiers stationed there. Nevertheless, I found myself standing in a bathing suit on a cold September day looking at a beach closer to forty feet in width, framed by jagged rocks and oscillating waves. At that point there was no turning back. I didn’t feel the water beforehand – a mistake others made. After staring at the ocean for a few minutes mentally preparing myself (along with everyone else), I took a deep breath, ran along the jetty, and dove in head first. Those few milliseconds that exist between jumping and hitting the water seemed to take longer than normal, either due to the anticipation of the cold or because my brain was taking the time to tell me: “Hey idiot, what the hell are you doing?!” The moment passed, and I was in. I’m not going to lie, it was quite cold at first. But then I surfaced and realized that the cold water was surprisingly bearable. Not only was the swim bearable, it was exhilarating. The cold water numbed my body, but, in a way, enhanced my other senses. I can vividly remember the salty smell and taste of the Irish Sea and the sounds of waves crashing on the rocks- not to mention the sight of my FIE peers wrestling with idea of jumping just as I did, and then making the same icy plunge.

 

A Sobering Experience

11 Dec

Our second, and final, group trip was to Northern Ireland, the northeastern portion of the Emerald Isle that is technically a province of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland, characterized by political and social upheaval since its creation in 1921, was perhaps one of the most interesting places I have ever visited; a place where Ireland and its former ruler coexist despite vastly different religious and political identities.

We arrived in Belfast Friday afternoon. It was only apparent that we were in a different country because of the currency change to the British pound. Besides that, Belfast could have been been another city in Ireland; a city with its own character, but similar aesthetics to Dublin. The culture, however, is unlike any other place in the world. A rigid dichotomy exists not only in Belfast, but in all of Northern Ireland. On one side: Catholics who identify themselves as Irish. On the other: Protestants who identify with their British roots. Though the conflict has little to do with actual faith-based religious differences, the terms Catholic and Protestant are synonymous with Irish and British. Falls road, separating the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, is paralleled by a peace wall. We toured both sides of the wall lead by a corresponding ex-member of the paramilitary groups so closely associated with the violence during the Troubles. It quickly became apparent to me that this trip was very unlike Western Ireland. Where, in Western Ireland, the purpose of the trip was to show us the beauty and rural culture of the West, this trip was intended to expose us to the intense cultural conflict that has existed in Northern Ireland for centuries. It was a sobering experience hearing ex-paramilitary (and ex-prisoners) discuss their political views and personal history so candidly.

In just one weekend, we were exposed to the intense divide that still exists in Northern Ireland. Though it may not have been a cheerful subject, witnessing the peace wall and actually talking to the people involved in the Troubles is an experience that goes much deeper than any sort of “sightseeing” and one that I will never forget.

 

Twentieth

11 Dec

For our first trip as a group, we traversed the twentieth largest island on Earth. Travelling from our (temporary) home on the east coast to the wild and wonderful western coast of Ireland took us approximately three hours by bus (what I considered to be a surprisingly short time period considering the island made the Earth’s top twenty). But what the weekend long trip lacked in distance, it more than made up for in sights, sounds, tastes, and overall experience.

We arrived in Galway Friday afternoon. When I first entered the city center, I was immediately struck by its size. Having heard about the city of Galway for the past few weeks, I expected the place to be larger. That being said, the cobblestone streets, traditional style pubs, and music heard throughout the city, made Galway’s atmosphere utterly enticing. I couldn’t help but be drawn to a place where I could eat fresh oysters (which I did), listen to traditional Irish music (which I did), and drink a Guinness (which I did), all simultaneously. Though Galway’s charm was certainly attractive, it was Saturday’s day trip that stuck with me the most.

The Aran Islands can be seen from Galway’s harbour. On Friday, I got a view of them and wasn’t impressed. “They look just like the rest of Ireland, just with water around them” was my first thought. This disappointed me because I had been excitedly anticipating their visit since my arrival in Ireland. On Saturday morning, the ferry taking us to the biggest island, Inis Mor, took almost two hours. After finally arriving at Dun Aonghasa, the ancient fort on top of the Atlantic-facing cliffs, my mouth dropped. My presumption made from the Galway Harbour could not have been more incorrect.  The sheer beauty that awaits you is indescribable (but I’ll try). Towering cliffs face the Atlantic ocean where, hundreds of miles out, it seamlessly transforms into the bright blue sky. Waves pound the shore far below our feet, the soft sound of each crash barely distinguishable from the last. The ferry could have taken two days; it would still have been worth it.

With apologies to Galway, our day on Inis Mor was my favorite part of the Western Ireland trip. The trip overall will stick with me for years to come. I hope to return to the western Irish coast at some point, sooner rather than later.

 

Identity

11 Dec

On Wednesday we had a guest speaker in our Irish Life and Cultures class. Being something to do with school, I was expecting someone who would come and teach us something I could learn from a book, maybe with a dash of experience, but I was not anticipating what I got instead.

Our speaker was Craig Cooney, the minister at St Catherine’s Church. As a native of Northern Ireland by birth, but a citizen of the Republic of Ireland by passport, he had a lot to say about identity and I certainly had a lot to learn. He told us of the very Protestant family and lifestyle he grew up with, where it was more of a way of life than a religious belief. He told us of his family tradition, going back generations, of joining the Orange Order. And he told us of his difficult decision to forge his own path, defy his family’s expectations and form his own identity through not joining this order, moving to Dublin and eventually becoming a citizen of the Republic of Ireland. His story was incredible and strong, but what truly resonated with me was what he learned from it and what he had to teach us from it.

Never let something or someone identify you. No matter what, be your own person, make your own decisions and learn to evolve from your experiences. Everything we do in life changes us, whether we see it or not. He used us as an example, saying that, even though it isn’t noticeable now, when we return to the US our friends and family will note that we have changed. We may have matured, become more independent, less cautious or all of the above. Something inevitably will be different; I see it as my time here in Dublin becoming part of my identity.

I have learned so much about Ireland’s history and culture and I think that that has rubbed off on me significantly. It’s easy for identities to get in the way; I’ve seen the effects of that in Ireland’s past. This talk, though, helped me realize that identity is just a way of labeling people, categorizing them and filing them away. If people weren’t so caught up in labeling each other for what they are instead of whom, things may have progressed a little bit differently. So what if someone is Protestant or Catholic, does it make their kindheartedness any less genuine? I didn’t think so. I still find it amazing the way Craig forged his own path against the one made for him and refused to settle to be identified for something he wasn’t. I believe it takes real courage to defy something like that, but it clearly was worth it. 

The more people I talk to here in Ireland, the more perspective I gain on the Northern Ireland troubles. This person helped me realize how much of an impact labels and stereotypes had on them. It wasn’t about religious beliefs so much as it was about who’s what and particularly, who’s different. Just because people had different views, other needed to exert power to prove their identity and power. They let their identities as Catholics and Protestants define them when at the end of the day, weren’t they all Christian?

A Wonderful Opportunity to visit the Irish Times

11 Dec

            As someone that is greatly interested in pursuing a career in the field of journalism, visiting the Irish Times headquarters was a great experience. During our tour, we were granted the opportunity to sit in on an editorial meeting to view how the editorial process occurs and meet with a journalist who discussed with us the challenges of a changing industry.

            The editorial meeting itself was a great experience due to both timing of our trip and the opportunity meet the administration of the publication. Though we were granted a great chance to see breaking political news in action, it is sad to say that the night before our visit South African political leader Nelson Mandela had passed. While it was quite sad to hear of his passing, as he was an incredible man who defined a generation, the opportunity to discuss the impact of such breaking news was priceless. The night before it was said that upon hearing of Mandela’s death the Irish Times spent the majority of the night reforming the paper to center around such important news. In fact, one of the editors had explained that this change in editing occurred virtually hours before the mass printing and distribution took place. If the Irish Times had failed to report on Mandela they could have faced negative consequences such as loss of reputation. Another great aspect of the meeting was that because some of the other editors were late we got too talk with some of the head editors. Too much of my embarrassment, I accidently asked Kevin O’Sullivan, the editor of the Irish Times, what his position was. I believe Mr. O’Sullivan found my question humorous, as he probably has not been asked that in a very long time but nevertheless he answered my seemingly silly question in a very polite manner. Regardless, the opportunity to talk with the head editor of such a prestigious publication was invaluable resource for an aspiring journalist.

            In the second part of our tour, we were given the opportunity to discuss the editorial industry with one of the journalists. As I am aware, the industry is currently going through a major shift where print media is decreasing at fast rates. This decrease coincides with an increase in online viewership and thus, the Irish Times, along with other publications, are slowly digitalizing their content. I was quite curious to discuss the necessary skills modern journalists would need which includes knowledge of content management systems such as WordPress. Obviously the Irish Times does not use WordPress but they most likely use a more advanced version of software. Either way, knowledge of such programs is considered a necessity in the modern media industry.

            In conclusion, I must say that my experience at the Irish Times was great as I was given the opportunity to visit one of the major news agencies in the world and learn from acclaimed journalists. If anything this visit furthered my interest in a career in journalism. Hopefully this summer I will be able to intern at a major media company, using my experience from the Irish Times as reference point to how things are done in the profession.