This weekend marks 6 months since I moved to Ireland to begin my PhD adventure! It’s not quite how I expected my six-monthiversary to look. As of Thursday 12th March the country is on lockdown because of Covid19; schools and universities have been closed and I’ve spent the week working from home. I’m definitely an introvert but even I am pining for some social interaction. But, this post is more of a reflection. How did I end up in Ireland? Why did I choose to study here? Why do I love it? If you’re interested, read on…
After falling head over heels in love with the country on my first visit in 2016, I began an annual trip to Ireland. I felt a weird and inexplicable kinship with the place. I loved the rolling mountains and all of the green. The people were so friendly and warm. Dublin felt like a big town rather than a city, and I enjoyed exploring its streets, getting lost and finding myself again. I’m a country girl and have always lived in the middle of nowhere, but Dublin felt like somewhere I could settle. As soon as I left I’d be plotting my return, thinking about where in Ireland to go next. The welcoming feel of the country turned me into a solo traveller; before my trip in 2017 I’d never been on holiday on my own before. The freedom was liberating, and the country became somewhat symbolic of that sense of freedom and provided an escape from the narrow confines of my world.
When 2019 rolled round I was completing my MA in Music at Oxford Brookes University, trying to pull the threads of my academic interests into a coherent dissertation topic. A wonderful conference in sunny (or not so sunny, as was the case) California in early February spurred me on with my proposal. And on the fringes of my mind my PhD notions hovered, shuffling about uncertainly. I was crippled with indecision, constantly exploring different avenues, creating and then discarding plans. At the back of my mind there was this chasm full of what ifs and doubt and worry for the future. After the MA I didn’t have a next step in place. I’d left my job and was doing temporary supply work, which I really wasn’t enjoying. There was a lot of low-level panic and soul-searching in those months.
Fast forward to early summer and the arrival of an email advertising a fully-funded PhD scholarship at Dublin City University. Too good to be true, right? A frantic fortnight followed, life was put on hold, and a PhD proposal was wrestled into being. I desperately wanted to be successful. I wanted to continue with my academic trajectory, and where better to do it than in my favourite city, supervised by a stellar academic? I hit send in June, attended a conference in Ireland later that month, and was invited to interview in early July. A friend kindly did a mock interview with me, told me to stop searching for the problems in every question asked, and pulled me back from the precipice of self-doubt. I could do this.
Needless to say, I did the interview and was awarded the scholarship. I was stunned and thrilled; it felt unreal to be getting my wish. After a summer of dissertation writing and accommodation hunting I trekked across to Dublin (via the ferry) and moved into my new home on September 15th. It was grey and damp, a soft day, not quite the Ireland I wanted my mum to see on her first trip to the country. Over the next few days she settled me in, I gave her a whistle-stop tour of the city, and then I took her to the airport to head home. I felt intensely guilty waving her off, as if I was abandoning her in my desire to flee the kingdom, and there’s still a little pocket of mum-related guilt in my heart.
That said, my first six months in Dublin have been great (Covid19 aside). I live by the sea (an unexpected joy), I’ve joined a choir, made new friends, taken a German course, explored and walked my legs off. Added to this, my research is going well, I’ve given papers at two conferences (and ‘presented’ in-absentia at a third!), and my supervisor is brilliant. I feel luckier than I can express. The me of 12 months ago would have laughed you out of the room if you’d told her that by September 2019 she’d be living in Dublin. I spent the first half of that year feeling hopeless and directionless. I did a shameful amount of moping and hand-wringing and feeling sorry for myself. Fortunately, I have good friends who helped pull me out of that rut and gave me a well-meant kick up the behind. I am blessed indeed, and grateful for their continued support from across the seas, particularly during these more stressful times.
So, to wrap up, here’s a little ‘poetic’ musing inspired by all of those people who look a bit puzzled when I express my love of Ireland, explain a bit about how I came to be here, and why I hope I get to stay post-PhD.
Why Ireland? they ask.
Because I fell in love, I say.
With a feeling, not a face.
A land and its people, the place.
What do you like about it? they ask
So many things, I say.
Living by the sea,
finding a home away from home,
realising there’s a place for me.
The hihowareye, all one word,
And though all the pharmacies seem quite absurd,
the people are kind,
telling you often to mind
And sure look, it’ll be grand,
who can’t be happy with their feet on the sand,
watching the sun get out of bed,
and peep around the top of Howth Head.
Also, the mountains are there,
looking in the distance all etched and bare,
calling quietly for you to come and see,
to spend an afternoon amongst rock and tree.
From the Fairy Castle of Ticknock,
to the deep lakes of Glendalough,
the Wicklow garden is only a drive.
A hop, skip, jump to feeling alive,
and small price to pay to watch the day
unfurl beneath clouds of grey,
or maybe under hues of blue.
Then there’s the culture.
All those lovely galleries,
so often free. And the libraries,
with books aplenty just for me
to leaf through, browse, and borrow.
And to top it all, the cherry on the cake,
I’ve been blessed enough to make
new friends to add to those I’d had.
Planners, shakers, and all music makers.
Folks who’ll FaceTime when you’re feeling down,
people to meet and show you the town.
So you’re happy there? they ask.
As happy as can be, I say.
I came to Ireland on holiday
and found a place I wanted to stay.
I’ve six months under my belt,
And in that time I’ve never felt
the wish to be gone.
So Éire, thanks a million.
Let me see what six months more
will have in store.