Showcase of Fulbright Artists at The Ark

IMG_0880What a lovely evening. Inter-changes: A Showcase of Fulbright Writers & Performers at The Ark in Dublin was a magnificent evening of stories, readings and performances by Fulbrighters. The Director of The Ark (a former Fulbrighter), Eina McHugh, and Colleen Duby, Executive Director of the Irish Fulbright Commission, welcomed everyone to the event. I was so happy to have my students there with me and for them to have a rare opportunity to meet Irish artists and hear more from Tom Healy. There were nibbles beforehand and the program started with a reflection from Eina McHugh. Here’s the program –

Tom Healy, Chair, J. William Fulbright Scholarship Board

Jimmy Moran O’Brien, Irish Fulbright Scholar, 2007 – 2008

Nell Regan, Irish Fulbright Scholar, 2011 – 2012

Nerys Williams, Irish Fulbright Scholar, 2006 – 2007

Dan Forde, Irish Fulbright Student, 2011 – 2012

Lily Ackerman, US Fulbright Student, 2013 – 2014

Mary McPartlan, Irish Fulbright Scholar, 2012 – 2013

Judith Coe, US Fulbright Scholar, 2006 – 2007

These were beautiful, moving, lovely works. I was honored to be there with all of these people and to talk with them about their Fulbrights and their lives. I made great connections with a few, and know that we’ll be involved in future project.

Colleen made some concluding remarks – Fulbright is such a wonderful program and she reiterated what all of us said – that there is a ‘Fulbright Family’ that deepens and connects, for a lifetime. I sang two of my new songs from my Blasket Island Songbook project about Martin Kearny’s life on the Blaskets and in Springfield, MA, and told a few stories about my Fulbright year in Ireland, all of the work and projects and friendships and collaborations that grew out of that experience, and how I work to keep ‘paying it forward’. It was so great to have all my students there – thanks, guys!

It was so marvelous to hear the Irish Fulbrighters talk about their Fulbright experiences in the US, and great that Lily and I could be there to represent US Fulbrighters!


The Silk Road Café

IMG_0864 2I first learned about The Silk Road Café in September of 2006, when I was a new US Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the University of Limerick. My colleagues – from universities across the US, now living in Ireland for the year and based at Irish universities – and I all convened at the Irish Fulbright Commission for several marvelous days of orientation and introduction. After a tour of the Dublin Castle, we had a group lunch at this gorgeous café. The food is delicious, authentic, simple and hearty – traditional foods from Afghanistan, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Morocco and Palestine (and Ireland) are created with skill, happiness and good cheer by the wonderful owner and Jerusalem-born chef, Abraham Phelan. After this very memorable lunch, my Fulbright colleagues and I were delighted to tour the Chester Beatty Library – an Irish treasure. I loved this day of our beginning work as Fulbright Scholars and I designed this day of Maymester for my students with this memory in mind and heart.

I have vegetable moussaka, beet salad, and Israeli salad with feta – and a delicious flourless chocolate cake with fresh cream for desert. The students are overjoyed at the sheer beauty and loveliness of the food and they are happy and content as we prepare for our Chester Beatty Library tour. I am very excited to see their reactions, especially, to this place – one of my favorites.

St. Stephen’s Green, Grafton Street and Bewley’s Café, and the Hop-On Hop-Off bus

IMG_0620After an amazing visit at the Irish Fulbright Commission this morning, we sauntered back to the city centre, gently winding our way along Baggot Street and past beautiful Georgian town houses with beautifully painted wooden doors – a lovely, slow walk in cool Irish air beneath moody gray skies. Peter takes the lead in helping us chart a path. A long, slow walk and lots of fresh air was just the ticket, after a long travel day for students yesterday. They were enchanted by St. Stephen’s Green – where we stopped for a long wander before heading to Grafton Street and a group lunch at Bewley’s Café. The Green is a lush and beautiful natural oasis in the midst of a bustling city centre full of people (mostly tourists), noise and traffic. They wandered and explored, finding joy in small beauties – the pair of white swans gliding slowly on the glassy pond, the bumpy, leafy trees with built-in foot holds (just perfect for climbing, if one dared), freshly-cut grass and clean, newly-dug beds ready for planting flowers, soon, and the slower rhythm inside this wee bubble just off the busy hub of Grafton Street. We happen upon a multilevel stone enclosure and they are charmed into exploring all the nooks and crannies – investigating the beautiful Henry Moore statue of W.B. Yeats. It is wonderful to see them happy and engaged in this place. I show them where Bewley’s is and they disperse, agreeing to meet a little before 1pm.

IMG_0604Some of them wander back to the park and others do some window-shopping. I wander into Eason’s bookshop and purchase two of the newest Hot Press magazines (Irish music industry publication) and go early to Bewley’s for a cappuccino and a quiet read –lovely. We all meet up again and have a delicious and convivial lunch – pleased at discussing the morning and what tomorrow will bring. It is a delightful meal and we agree that, after our Hop-On Hop-Off bus ride, we’ll go back to the hotel for rest (or other excursions) and meet in the hotel lobby at 7pm to discuss and reflect on the day, do some cybersleuthing and research in prep for the day tomorrow, and write/edit today’s blog posts.

IMG_0605Austin, I see, has already uploaded the photos he took today into Drop Box and created a folder for each of us, to share – fabulous! I upload some of my photos into the file he’s created for me and take a look at his. It will be great to share different perspectives from a shared experience. The Hop-On Hop-Off was a great introduction to the city and a lovely way for students to begin to map the city and develop a new awareness and understanding of the history and culture of Dublin and a different sense of place and identity – in a new country.



First day of Maymester, navigating public transportation, and the Irish Fulbright Commission

IMG_0578What a wonderful first day! The students all slept well after a long and exhausting travel day, and we met at 7am for our delicious Irish breakfast. They were all famished and I’m pretty sure the hotel is going to lose money on this group at breakfast! They loved (as predicted) Irish rashers (well, really, who doesn’t?!) and seemed very content and eager to start our day. At 8am we left to catch the No. 7 bus towards Loughlinstown (Stop ID: 4725) on Upper O’Connell Street, using our brand new LEAP cards. We were all able to scan our cards and quickly move to the upper deck for a great ride to a beautiful part of Dublin, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. After 10 stops, we got off at Elgin Road (across the street is where the US Embassy is situated), headed southwest on Pembroke (went a bit too far, turned around and righted ourselves), took a left onto Shelbourne Road and arrived at Brooklawn House where the Irish Fulbright Commission is located.

IMG_0583The very nice guard at the front desk let Colleen Duby, the Executive Director, know we were all there, and after a few minutes, she came to collect us. It was great to see Colleen again, and so lovely that she was able to take time to meet with my students and me. We were set up in a lovely conference room, with tea, coffee and biscuits, and my dear friend Sonya Guinness from my Fulbright days stopped in to say hello.

Colleen was brilliant – she gave a marvelous overview of contemporary Irish cultural, economic and political history and presented multiple perspectives – from the days of the Celtic Renaissance in the early 90s through the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger in the late 90s, the crash of 2008, the bail out of 2011 and the current prediction of a Moody’s upgrade to B+ and a new Celtic Phoenix on the rise! She posed the questions about Ireland’s identity as a Republic or a Dominion, a smart or a creative economy, and an export nation or a nation of people and products.

IMG_0579Next, Colleen provided a great overview of and introduction to the Irish Fulbright Commission and the concept of the Fulbright Family – underscoring what I tell students about the importance of this program and how transformative it can be – not only for the Fulbright student or scholar, but for the Irish host institution and friends and colleagues met along the way. These are professional associations and friendships that continue to grow and develop, and last a lifetime.

Students have been very curious about all of the political posters papering the city centre, and Colleen gave us a great overview of the upcoming local elections. Students asked about gender and racial representation, and now have a little bit better understanding of some of the posters they’ve seen and the particular Irish rhetoric and political catch phrases they’ve heard. We all learned about the extraordinary founding of the Irish Fulbright Commission, the only commission that has legal status and funding from both the US and Irish governments. We briefly discussed ‘The Troubles’ and the tensions/dualities that still exist in some sectors between the Republic and Northern Ireland, specifically related at the moment to the recent arrest (and release) of Gerry Adams and what is seen as the likely political rise of Sinn Féin in the upcoming elections. It will be interesting to spend time in Belfast and Derry, given this particular timing of political events.

IMG_0581_2It’s my opinion that Fulbright is needed more than ever in this world – the work that the Irish Fulbright Commission does is extraordinary and crucial in helping humans from across the globe connect, create, collaborate and communicate ideas, projects and research which illuminates and engages the human mind and spirit. I am so proud to be a US Scholar Fulbright alumna (Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick, 2006-2007) and a Fulbright Ambassador emerita (2010-2012). I hope the morning inspired these students to think far beyond traditional American graduate education possibilities and that they can begin to see themselves as cultural ambassadors and citizens of the world. A warm thank you to Colleen, Sonya and everyone in the Irish Fulbright Commission, the IIE/CIES and the US Department of State, and Andy Riess in the Washington, DC office.

Students have all arrived

IMG_0547This is a Protestant church around the corner from our hotel, across the street from the beautiful and somber Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square. It’s being refurbished so I can’t go inside, but it is a lovely building and a beautiful sight on the way to and from the hotel.

All of the students have now arrived and we’ve met for a brief orientation. They’ve all had a long travel day plus – some of them flying from Denver to Chicago to London Heathrow to Dublin, others flying from Denver to Chicago to Toronto to London Heathrow to Dublin! Then, taking a bus from the Dublin airport to a bus stop a few blocks away, and a short walk to the hotel.

A few of them have traveled and/or lived internationally, but most of them have not and this is their first trip abroad. Navigating all that this kind of travel entails is not for the weak of spirit, and they’ve done beautifully on this first leg of our Maymester!

I am re-reading a favorite book on this trip, Frances Mayes’ beautiful travel memoir, A Year in the World: Journey’s of a Passionate Traveller. I adored her inaugural memoir about starting a new life in Tuscany, Under the Tuscan Sun. In this new memoir, with Mayes’ beloved Tuscany as a home base, she travels to Spain, Portugal, France, the British Isles – and to the Mediterranean (Turkey, Greece, the South of Italy, and North Africa) – it is a delectable and beautifully written book. After a particularly harrowing series of travel disasters on one trip (it happens, but you learn to just go with the flow), Mayes’ husband, Ed, says –

“Not for nothing is that etymological connection between travel and travail.”

My friend, Dr. Susan Wheatley, loves to travel but her constant good-natured refrain when discussing the subject is “travel is hard work”. Too, too true. And worth every hardship – every sour bus driver, every lost piece of luggage, every sinus infection, every delayed or cancelled connection, and every would-be (but always foiled) pickpocket.

Mayes and her husband decide to give up their tenured professor positions in the Bay Area of San Francisco (not an easy decision) to travel and explore the world. How lovely. She writes –

“Travel releases spontaneity. You become a godlike creature full of choice, free to visit the stately pleasure domes, make love in the morning, sketch a bell tower, read a history of Byzantium, stare for an hour at the face of Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna dei fusi. You open, as in childhood, and – for a time – receive this world. There’s the visceral aspect, too – the huntress who is free. Free to go, free to return home bringing memories to lay on the hearth.”

I’m so eager to see what these honors students will choose and receive – what they will learn and experience and carry home with them – lessons and treasures to be explored and enjoyed again and again in the years to come.

Tomorrow, our first day, begins with a public bus ride south to the Ballsbridge area of Dublin and a visit to the Irish Fulbright Commission. The wonderful Executive Director, Collen Duby, has arranged a tour of the facilities and a visit with some Irish Fulbright students. This will be a great opportunity for my students to engage with Irish students their own age and exchange ideas about what it means to pursue an education and academic and cultural experiences in the world. Colleen is a good friend from my US Fulbright Scholar year based in Limerick, and I am exited to see her and the Dublin office staff again! They were all so wonderful and helpful during my Fulbright year. I am excited for the students to begin thinking of themselves as practicing cultural ambassadors.

We’ll then walk to the Grafton Street area for a group lunch at the famous and fabulous Bewley’s Café – a personal favorite. We’ll have a lovely place to enjoy a delicious meal and share first impressions. After lunch, we’re all hopping aboard a Hop-On Hop-Off bus to enjoy a restful birds-eye view of the city and get a mapping overview of the layout of the city centre.

After some rest, we’ll all meet back up at the hotel to have a learning/research session where we reflect on the day, discuss what’s been seen and experienced, draw connections and make initial inquiries, do some cybersleuthing and research, contextualize, re-reflect, and write blog posts.

How wonderful does that sound for our first day in Dublin?!