What Does it Mean to be Irish?
When I think about it, before this trip, I don’t really remember ever meeting anyone from Ireland, or even thought about their identity. I had no idea that Irish history was so rich and dramatic, full of life changing events that carry on through history to today. While we learned about the history of Ireland and the Irish people before we came to the country, actually being there and hearing real Irish people talk about it made everything much more clear and easy to understand.
Since the beginning of Ireland’s history, Protestantism was the majority religion in Ireland, and Catholics were widely discriminated against. Starting with the Penal Laws, which restricted Catholics from having land, owning horses, having education, and eventually resulted in their loss of the right to vote, throughout history, and continuing today, most recently with the Troubles in Northern Ireland, religion plays a huge role in Irish identity.
We can see from all of the events that have happened throughout Irish history involving religious tension, that religion is a huge part of the Irish identity. What does it mean to be Irish? To me, it means to be proud. It means understanding loss, and being strong when faced with adverse conditions. And I truly feel that this applies to all Irish people, not just Catholics, because not just the Catholics were involved. Every person living in Ireland has some sort of Catholic or Protestant background, and every person living in Ireland during the times of these events was affected.
So to be Irish, from what I have been able to tell, means being proud of where you came from. It means accepting your history, along with the history of other people. While there are definitely some people who still discriminate, either against Catholics or Protestants, they still all share a history. Everyone has been affected, and that brings a sense of identity to the Irish people that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Now that we have returned from our trip, I was able to really think about the experience as a whole. Before going to Ireland, I didn’t really have a reason to go, other than I thought it would be a fun trip, and I wanted to travel. I had no idea that Ireland’s rich history would affect me so much personally.
“That’s what being Irish is a lot of the time, passing for something else – the Paddy, the European, the peasant, the rocker, the leprechaun. It’s sometimes funny; it’s sometimes dangerous and damaging” (Doyle, Home to Harlem). This isn’t done by the Irish people themselves, its done by all the other people who truly have no idea what it means to be Irish. It is so easy to believe a stereotype when you don’t know the history behind them. And while some Irish people will laugh and joke around about being drunks, or conform to stereotypes in order to make money off souvenirs, that’s not what it truly means to be Irish.
My study abroad experience is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. In Ireland, I feel like I was able to get in touch with myself more, as well as understand more about the world outside of the United States.
Sometimes, we forget that we aren’t the only country in the world, and we are often not taught of any other history than our own. That was the biggest benefit of the trip, to me; being able to learn about a history other than the one I grew up learning about, and learning it from people who have been personally affected by it.
Being able to actually sit in the Parliament building, where leaders gather to make legislative decisions, that’s not something you get to experience in America. Some people in America may never even see the White House in real life.
Another benefit, and my favorite part of the trip, was being exposed to scenery that we could only dream of seeing in America, at least for me, coming from South Bend, Indiana. (By the way, someone literally referred to South Bend as the “armpit” of Indiana while we were in Ireland.) I’ve seen the ocean before, but never like the sights I saw in Ireland, especially at the top if Killiney Hill and the Cliffs of Moher, and even at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. These are some of the best memories I’ve made from this trip.
Dear Future Candidates,
If I had to say something to pass on to future study abroad candidates, I would say, first of all, do it. When I first heard about the trip, I was interested in it, but didn’t really look into it. It wasn’t until the professors sent me an email after the initial deadline that there were still spots open, that I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity.
My next question, then, would be why not? Why not take the chance to experience a different culture and history? Sitting in a classroom can be boring, and let’s face it, how much of what you learn in a classroom are you going to remember after college? Or even 6 months from now? Studying abroad gives you an experience that you will remember for the rest of your life.
If you never study abroad in college, you may never get the chance to travel after college. Once you get a “real” job, and start a family, you may never get the chance to have a trip like the one we just took. So, my advice, or “words of wisdom” to future candidates would be just that:
Do it! Why not?