Last Day of Maymester and Final Projects – Day 19

IMG_2295Friday, June 6 was our last day of Maymester class – it seemed impossible to all of us that the class was nearly over. Where had the last three weeks gone?! This class was an intense experience but an amazing opportunity to learn in situ and in context– to experience the beauty of these incredible countries (the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland), their unique histories and fabulous people. Every day brought new, wondrous, exciting, and sometimes challenging learning and cultural experiences – those that had been planned and those that were serendipitous discoveries and in context individual and group happenings.

IMG_2301Perhaps you’ve read the student blogs and their powerful intellectual and emotional responses and reactions to some of these in context learning opportunities – the incredibly moving play we saw on mixed marriages (Protestant and Catholic) in Derry, the somber and beautiful exhibit of art inspired and/or informed by The Troubles we went to in Belfast, and the fun and beautiful night of music and pub culture experienced in the Dingle pubs, i.e. All of these events and experiences – planned excursions and in context discoveries, delicious meals, discussions with Irish people, engaging in Irish culture and politics, deep learning about The Troubles and personal stories and putting that into present perspective, the evening at the US Ambassador’s residence in Phoenix Park in Dublin, our morning at the Irish Fulbright Commission, our tea with the Bibeanna and the Men of Ventry – helped these students to fall in love with Ireland and to discover, construct and embrace a new world view of themselves and their potential roles as citizens of the world and cultural ambassadors. I am so proud of these students and their commitment to getting everything they could out of this experience and bringing curiosity, grace and respectful inquiry to our process and its product, their insightful and wondrous blogs.

IMG_2303This last day was a free day – students had time to write, edit, contextualize – finish up their last few blog posts, write their final reflections in Canvas, and record their summative VoiceThread discussions about their reflections on how they had changed over the course of this three-week class.

IMG_2306At 4pm, we met in Paudie’s Bar in the Dingle Bay Hotel (their sticky toffee pudding is to die for!) so that students could give their final presentations and order a snack and a pot of tea. We discovered when we got there, that there was a wedding reception scheduled at 5pm, so we got through about half of the presentations before it was too loud and busy to continue. But, in context, it was great fun to see an Irish wedding reception – the fashion, the particular rituals of toasting the bridge and groom, the music and the dancing! We moved on to Lord Baker’s Restaurant, where we were to have our final group dinner – a significant place (this is where, during my Fulbright year in Ireland, I met Maureen Kearney, Martin Kearney’s niece, her husband John Moriarty and their son, Jonathan – owners of Lord Baker’s). We arrived a bit early and asked if we could finish up the presentations before our dinner, and we did just that.

The significance of these final project presentations in this place was so lovely. We had a marvelous dinner, and the student presentations were just incredible. They each did a PechaKucha presentation on a topic that deeply resonated – their presentations were unique, creative and engaging – and they were passionate research, synthesis and contextualizing capstone experiences, owing to our active practice and pedagogy of student-centered learning. Take a look at their blogs to read their reflections on their own work and that of their peers.

Thanks to my wonderful Maymester students for a marvelous and unforgettable learning journey –

Marie Angoulvant – Marie Goes to Ireland
Josh Blair – From Ireland to Paris
Peter Costea – People Places and Adventures in Ireland
Austin Fogle – Ireland Blog
Jazmin Fontenot – And the Journey Begins
Adam Gerken – Adam’s Ireland in Context Blog
Kevie Kawasaki – Adventures Abroad
Suzie Lee – Spectacular Journey In Ireland With Suzie


Fulbright Reception at the US Ambassador’s Residence in Phoenix Park

Web1_002When I wrote to Colleen Duby, Executive Director of the Fulbright Commission in Dublin, to arrange a tour of the Dublin Fulbright Offices and an overview of Fulbright for my students, she told me that during the week we would all be in Dublin, there were a few special Fulbright events happening. Tom Healy, Chairman of the US Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, would be in Ireland for a few days and I would be invited to both Fulbright events and would be invited to perform at one of them. The first event, a reception in honor of the Fulbright & Ireland – the United States Commission Awards, would be held at the US Ambassador’s Residence in Phoenix Park. The second, a showcase performance of Fulbright writers and performers, would be held at The Ark in the Temple Bar District. I asked Colleen if my students could also receive invitations so they could come along with me. A few days before the event, everyone got invitations from the Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America.

You can read the student blogs to see how captivated, excited (and a little nervous) and proud they were to be invited to this amazing event. They were thrilled to be able to be present in this beautiful and historic home, and they were delighted to be able to meet Tom Healy – a wonderful poet and a very nice man. Colleen introduced me to him and he was keen to meet all of my students and asked if we could all have a photo taken, together. We did manage that later in the evening, and I’ll get it posted as soon as Tom’s photographer sends it along. Tom was extremely gracious and took some time on a very busy evening to shake the hand of each student, to ask their names and where they were from and if they might consider Fulbright as a strategy for graduate school. We talked about the importance of developing and ethos that embraces world citizenship and I can see my students opening up, more and more, to wider and deeper ideas about their futures.

It was an amazing evening – the weather was gorgeous and we had a hilarious taxi driver that ferried us through Phoenix Park to the Residence (and came back to pick us. afterwards). It was the first time he’d ever been through the gates and he was delighted! We were all subject to a name check, and guards using under-vehicle mirrors checked the vehicle as well. There were delicious little nibbles being served and I met and talked with many interesting people – government officials, Fulbright and Embassy staff, and current and former Fulbright. The newly awarded Irish Fulbright Scholars (students and professors) for the coming academic year were presented and there were a number of short speeches by attending dignitaries. People then headed outside to the 62-acre garden in the middle of Phoenix Park, Europe’s largest park for a gorgeous view, some tasty nibbles, and some lovely conversation. It was a big day – Dublin Castle tour, our first group lunch at the Silk Road Café, a our of the Chester Beatty Library, and this incredible, magical reception. A very, very good day!

Did you know that the US Embassy in Dublin is 50 years old? You can watch the celebration video, here. We walked by the embassy on our way to the Fulbright Commission on our first morning in Dublin – almost a week ago! Sunday morning, we’re off to Belfast to learn more about Northern Ireland’s history and culture, and background to ‘The Troubles’.

You can follow Tom Healy’s blog, here.

Photo credit: Ambassador’s Residence, US Embassy in Dublin, Ireland

Day 3 – Dublin Castle (Caisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath)

IMG_0798We begin our day early, at 7:30am – it is going to be a long day, but a good, good day. This third day of Maymester, we are scheduled for a tour of Dublin Castle, a group lunch at The Silk Road Café, a tour of the Chester Beatty Library, and a Fulbright reception at the US Ambassador’s Residence in Phoenix Park.

Dublin castle is not a turreted caste – it’s a bit of an architectural mishmash, more of a palace than a castle. The original structure, built by the Anglo-Normans as a 13th-century fortress and commissioned by King John (the first Lord of Ireland), is mostly gone – although part of the southeastern tower (Record Tower, completed in 1258) remains. For 700 years Dublin castle was the seat of English rule.

After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the castle complex was ceremonially handed over to the newly formed Provisional Government led by Michael Collins. I love to hear the story about the official handing over of the castle to Michael Collins on behalf of the Free State in 1992 – the British Viceroy is reputed to have scolded Collins on arriving seven minutes late. Collins characteristically replied, “We’ve been waiting for 700 years, you can wait for seven minutes”. The Irish government now uses the castle for meetings of the European Council, conferences and state functions.

We arrive a bit early (our booking time was changed) and I lead students to the beautiful Victorian Chapel Royal – featuring 90 heads of famous Irish people and saints carved from Tullamore limestone. Directly beside this stunning chapel is the Record Tower with its 5-foot thick stone walls – now home to the Garda Museum. In this lovely space Marie sits and happily sketches, Kevie pulls out her journal and writes, Adam sits quietly and contemplates the beautiful windows, Peter stretches out on one of the chorister benches and observes everything – we are all taken with the light and the solitude. We are alone, together. We stay for some time.

Next, I lead the students to the Dubh Linn (Black Pool) Gardens, a beautiful and peaceful retreat in busy, noisy Dublin city centre – formal gardens which double as a helicopter landing pad and which most tourists don’t know about and thus, rarely visit. A warm and gentle morning, the sun is high and the sky is blue – the gardens are quiet and we are the first visitors of the day. The students move across the space, exploring and taking photos. Some lie in the warm grass and talk, some sketch and write, and some take photos and wander. It is a glorious and serendipitous moment and we are all keenly aware of the happy life this little slice of nature offers. There are beautiful, colorful and bold works of art in the garden – brightly colored ceramic tiles in a birdbath (David Lambert’s Birdbath) and a large glass snake (Sarah Daly’s Serpent Pool) – a memorial to the 2003 Special Olympics. There is a sobering and beautiful memorial to An Garda Síochána – the “Guardian of the Peace,” more commonly referred to as the Gardaí “Guardians,” the police force of Ireland – and all those killed in the line of duty.

There is a bust of the murdered journalist and Irish crime reporter Veronica Guerin, portrayed by Cate Blanchett in the film Veronica Guerin. The central area of the gardens feature a Celtic design formed by paving stones winding through the beautiful, soft grass, and wooden benches set in a circular pattern mirroring the shape of this area of the gardens.

The luxurious State Apartments contain a number of rooms. St. Patrick’s Hall – the grandest room in the Apartments, is now used for presidential inaugurations. When Brian and I were back in Ireland in the spring of 2011, the state dinner hosted by the President of Ireland to welcome Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland was held in this hall (May 18, 2011). The Throne Room features a large throne built for the visit of King George IV to Ireland in 1821. The State Drawing Room is used for the reception of foreign dignitaries and the State Dinging Room (also called the Picture Gallery) is the oldest room in the castle and is still used for dining when conferences take place in St. Patrick’s Hall. It was in this room where the wounded James Connolly was tied to a chair, too ill with gangrene suffered from wounds he received during the 1916 Easter Rising to stand, was executed by firing squad. The State Bedrooms are former private quarters, now being used for meeting rooms. President Bill Clinton helped to broker The Good Friday Agreement in the Northern Ireland peace process, and many of these meetings were held in these rooms. The agreement stands as one of the Clinton administration’s major foreign policy successes and includes a devolved, inclusive government, prisoner release, troop reductions, targets for paramilitary decommissioning, provisions for polls on Irish reunification, civil rights measures and “parity of esteem” for the two communities in Northern Ireland. The last dignitary to stay in the royal bedrooms was Margaret Thatcher – who spent a night there with her husband Dennis during one of the European Council meetings held in the 1980s. Our guide told us a very good story about a recommendation being made to the Queen for a full Irish breakfast. She declined and ordered a simple, hard-boiled egg (a very single-minded lady). The castle staff apparently looked high and low for an eggcup; when none was found, someone ran out to the Dunnes Store or some store like that to purchase an eggcup. The Queen was kept waiting for her breakfast while all of this was going on – a good story! The bedrooms were being renovated, so our group was unable to see them. I’ve been in these rooms many times over the years, and am always stirred and sobered to think of the things – good and bad – that have gone on within these walls. The State Corridor features reconstructed vaults and arches. Dublin Castle is maintained by the Office of Public Works, OPW), and also houses the magnificent Chester Beatty Library (in a purpose-built facility) and the Silk Road Café – one of my absolute favorite treasures of a café from my Fulbright year in Ireland.

Students are amazed at this castle and enjoy our tour and our visit to the underground excavation of the old 13th-century castle – discovered purely by accident in 1986 and featuring foundations built by the Vikings and steps leading down to the moat.