The Troubles

Believe it or not, I’m actually in Ireland to study, not just to travel the countryside. I’m with a program called LSU in Ireland, along with 21 other students and three professors. I’m earning a total of six credit hours with a British history class and a comparative politics class. In both classes, I’m learning about the culture of the British Isles, and it’s enriched my experience so far. I’m picking up on certain trends, attitudes and beliefs of the Irish people I come into contact with that I wouldn’t have understood had I not taken these classes.

The G8 Summit was just wrapping up in Northern Ireland when I arrived in Limerick. Every news channel covered the meeting in detail. It was interesting to watch an Irish anchor speak in Gaelic about Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin’s disagreements over the Syrian Civil War. The news stations and papers also covered the First Lady’s trip around the island; Natasha and Malia didn’t hide their boredom in Trinity College’s Old Library, though!

Some pundits have pointed out, however, that it might have been dangerous to hold the summit in a land just recovering from 35 years of terror called “The Troubles.” John Horgan and John Morrison of CNN warned in “A New Breed of Terror in Northern Ireland” of a possible attack either at the summit, or more likely, in the general area to distract the world from the meeting’s purpose to a new and evolved version of the IRA.

In the column, the authors give a brief history of the Troubles, a series of violent events after the Anglo-Irish War. The southern part of the island was given free state status that eventually led to the Republic of Ireland, and the northern section remained as part of the United Kingdom. It was a complex time period. Some wanted a united Ireland; some wanted the politics to stay as they were in the 1930s and 1940s. Some thought the way to create a united Ireland was through diplomacy and lobbying, while others, like the IRA, used terrorist tactics. Ireland was divided geographically, but it was also divided religiously. Much of Ulster in the north was and is Protestant, while most of the Republic of Ireland remains Catholic. Some early reformers like Daniel O’Connell wished for a peaceful and non-sectarian Ireland, despite small rebellions like Young Ireland’s Battle of Widow McCormac’s Cabbage Patch.

Things turned more violent with the turn of the 20th century. The 1916 Easter Rising is iconized in Irish history, along with the guerilla warfare that followed. The authors note that though the majority of the country hopes for peace and stability, a growing minority is fulfilling their grandfathers’ mission of a complete Ireland through physical force. These new groups are called “dissident” Republicans, and they have evolved in a way unlike the old IRA. There’s the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA and the Óglaigh na hÉireann – or Irish Volunteers. There’s also the New IRA, which is a combination of the Real IRA and the Republican Action Against Drugs. The dissidents have murdered police officers and soldiers, organized shootings and bombings, and have made numerous threats. The members are of all ages: the younger ones were born after the Irish cease-fire, and the older ones were part of the old IRA, and have terrorist experiences. The dissidents only have a few hundred followers across the island, but their recruitment efforts are succeeding and their weapons are becoming more and more sophisticated.

The piece was written before the summit took place, and Horgan and Morrison worried that the dissidents would use the G8 Summit as an opportunity to attack and make their efforts known worldwide. Obviously, and thankfully, nothing of the sort happened. Maybe it was due to the influx of thousands of extra police officers on hand across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, or maybe it was because the dissidents are waiting for a more opportune time to fight: the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising. It’s only a few years away, enough time to increase their numbers, organize their efforts and create a plan to unite Ireland once and for all.

How likely is this to happen? I’m not one to judge. I’ve only been here a little more than a week, read so many articles and spoken to so many natives. I’m not about to make a grand theory about a country I know little about. However, during my time here I have heard more than a few comments from Irishmen and women about their disdain of the British, their hope of a united Ireland, and their love of nation. My tour guide in Limerick spoke of Oliver Cromwell with such contempt, you’d have thought the Lord Protector ruled just yesterday. I witnessed a young British boy pass a guard at Bunratty Castle and tell his mother, “Look Mummy, a copper!” To which, the uniformed man said sternly, “I’m not British! I’m no copper! I’m a police officer!” That terrified the boy, and the man’s eyes turned from anger to guilt; the kindergartner didn’t know any better. To try to right his temper, he gave the boy a high five. A pub owner told me singers from “all 32 counties” perform at her bar. “And just for clarification, there are 32 counties in Ireland, not 26,” she said with fire in her eyes. She ignored the border and included the six counties in Northern Ireland as part of the number of counties in the Republic of Ireland.

There are two states on the island of Ireland: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Many natives would argue, however, that there is one nation of Ireland. The people of this island share history, traditions and culture unlike that of the other British Isles. Many wish the two were united, but few want to give up stability and peace for it. This island has a bloody history, and the many Irish people are tired of fighting. Whether the Brits leave by diplomacy or force – or if they even leave at all – will soon play out in the coming years leading up to the centennial of the Easter Rising.

Thanks for reading,
Danielle

Breathtaking

I’m thankful I’ve seen many sights in my 20 years of life that have made me stop in my tracks, look around, catch my breath and thank God for His creation: Half Dome at Yosemite National Park, the Redwoods in northern California, a lightning storm in the Appalachians in Tennessee, the swamps of south Louisiana, a blossoming rainforest on the Big Island of Hawaii, the Grand Canyon, the Mosel River valley in Germany. But out of all of these, and after much consideration, I think I’ve laid eyes on my favorite stretch of land on God’s green earth so far.

The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

According to the brochure I picked up at the visitors’ desk, 300 million years ago a gargantuan river dumped dirt and sediment into its delta, which was located where the Cliffs of Moher stand today. After generations of erosion from the Atlantic waves and winds pummeling the coast, God blessed us with the sight that stands 700 feet above the water today.

The pictures don’t do it justice; they never do. It was beautifully terrifying. I could hear the aggressive crashing thunder of the waves, even three football fields above. Birds dived headfirst off the edge to their roosts carved in the rocks below. Hurricane-level gusts of winds whipped from all sides, an omen to the brave ones who wanted to climb the protective stone wall along the edge. Many signs warned visitors of the cliffs’ dangers, a monument stood remembering the souls who gazed a little too closely, and telephone numbers of counselors were posted prominently.

We hiked and hiked and hiked, and every new angle gave me a new appreciation for the coastal cliffs. I snapped pictures, hoping they would help explain to my friends and family back home what I had seen. Louisiana doesn’t have a defined coastline; our marshes slowly turn from freshwater to brackish water to saltwater. The beaches in nearby Alabama and Florida are fun and sandy, but are at sea-level. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the Cliffs of Moher, though. It’s like God took a huge saw, and ruggedly cut the stone that is the ground of western Ireland. I don’t understand how some people can look at the beauty lay before us, and not believe in a higher power. Are we that discouraged to think sights like these “just happen”? I understand the Cliffs of Moher literally took millions of years of erosion to come into being, but isn’t that actually God’s craftsman hand at work? While gazing at this spectacle, I took a timeout from my worries, my thoughts, my insecurities, and I praised God for His creation. I thanked Him for our beautiful and temporary home, planet Earth, and I thanked Him for the unimaginable eternal home, the Kingdom of Heaven. I thanked Him for taking His time to make me as well, for at that moment, I felt so small, so awestruck, so insignificant, yet I know He still thought me up, has a plan for me, and loves me.

Let them praise the name of the Lord!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
He gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
You great sea creatures and all deeps,
Fire and hail, snow and mist,
Stormy wind fulfilling his word!
Mountains and all hills,
Fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
Creeping things and flying birds!
-Psalm 148:5-10

Trapped

“Be aware when climbing to the top of the tower. People will be going down as you go up!”

I thought the tour guide of Bunratty Castle was being a bit dramatic when she warned up about the castle’s spiral stairs, but soon after, I realized she was understating the entire experience! The stone spiral stairs were just wide enough to squeeze a medium-build man against the wall, steep enough to make me appreciate the hiking boots I wore, and narrow enough to force you to turn your feet sideways, unless you wanted your heels to hang off. It was difficult enough to climb about four stories of these stairs unbothered.

I managed not to tumble down the stairs of Bunratty Castle.

I managed not to tumble down the stairs of Bunratty Castle.

But then the French tour group arrived.

Like their ancestors the Normans, they pillaged the stairwell swiftly, separated me from my friends unmercifully, and trapped me against the wall halfway up the stairwell. I was climbing up, with three of my classmates. Without a care to others, they came down, assuming we’d move for them. All of them were elderly, but I was not about to risk my life on the inside of the stairwell for a group that wasn’t kind to me. In desperation, I asked, “How many are there of you? Would it be better for me to wait for you to come down or me to go up?” They all turned their heads to with blank stares. A lady in pumps, gripping the handrail, said something to me in French. For all I know she could have been giving a history lesson of the Gaeltacht, but the tone of her voice was not nice at all.

It’s not my fault she and her forty comrades didn’t even attempt to speak English in Ireland. I laughed in frustration and held my tongue, despite the fact she wouldn’t have understood me anyway.

So I forced my wave through the French wave, minded my step, thanked God he blessed me with balance and prayed he’d keep my patience in check, and at last, surfaced to the sound of English words.

The view from the tower was almost worth the near-death experience in the stairwell.

The view from Bunratty Castle

The view from Bunratty Castle

It was beautiful! My heart finally stopped racing and I turned to make the trek down. But lo and behold, THEY WERE BACK.

The French mob

The French mob

Flabbergasted, I camped out on the tower and waited for them to disperse. They did much more quickly than I expected, and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the day trip. If you ever get the chance, visit Bunratty Castle, so long as you avoid getting mobbed in the tower.

Thanks for reading,
Danielle

It’s Green for a Reason

As the cartoon plane approached Ireland’s coast on the map in front of me, I peered outside the plane to catch my first glimpse of the Emerald Isle. All I saw was white, and then the plane sunk below the clouds.

Green. Everywhere I looked was green.

There were odd-shaped green fields, divided by green trees. Miniscule cows and sheep grazed on green pastures, dotted with green shrubs and green bushes. Quaint farm houses and churches, isolated on great, big green lawns, were spotted on the green hills that rose and fell over the green landscape.

I leaned over to the man sitting in my aisle and said, “It’s just so green.”

“It’s green for a reason,” he said with a smirk and an Irish lilt. He and his five-year-old American son were visiting family for the first time in years. “Look, baby. That’s our Ireland!”

I walked out of the airport to my group’s bus, and knew immediately what he meant by “green for a reason.” A dreary mist set over the parking lot, and it hasn’t let up for the last nine hours. It’s wet, it’s windy, and it’s very chilly for someone who left a place where the heat index was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

But, it’s beautiful. Every crack in the sidewalk, every free space of ground is green and wildflowers grow everywhere. I even saw some pink flowers growing out of the side of a stone bridge, ten feet above ground. Sheep, cattle and horses graze and are kept in their pastures by basic wooden fences or old stone walls.

I can’t wait to see what this trip holds!

Thanks for reading,
Danielle

8 Packing Tips for Women

Today I’m traveling to study abroad with LSU in Ireland for a month. I am very excited to learn and tour, but the idea of packing baffled me. After spending an entire afternoon laying outfits on my bed, I think I’ve finally figured it out. Here are 8 Packing Tips for Women.

1. Don’t Overpack
Even though you’ll be gone a while, you don’t need to pack your entire closet. Plan on doing laundry once a week, so you’ll only have to pack enough to last a week. Choose only the basics. For example, I packed the following for my trip to Ireland, where the high Saturday is 59°F:
-2 jeans
-1 pair of leggings
-3 short-sleeved shirts
-2 tanks
-3 long-sleeved shirts
-2 button downs
-2 sweaters
-1 sweatshirt
-1 rain jacket
-1 dress
-2 belts
-3 pairs of shoes
-2 pajama sets

2. Everything Must Match
To double or triple the number of outfits you have, make sure every bottom matches every top, every tank matches every blouse and every shoe matches every item. To do this, pick a simple color scheme of one or two colors and fill in with neutrals like gray, black and white. Everything I packed is either neutral, blue or yellow.

3. Layer
Ireland is much chillier than south Louisiana, and layering is a must. Pack tanks, short-sleeves, long-sleeves, button downs and sweaters. These options will keep you warm, but will also give you plenty of options to mix and match new outfits with only a select few items. All you have to do is switch an undershirt, and you’re suddenly wearing what looks like a new outfit.

Layering is a great way to stay warm and to create new outfits.

Layering is a great way to stay warm and to create new outfits.

 

4. Pick a Staple Dress
Choose a patterned sundress from your closet with your selected color scheme. You can wear the dress by itself, or tie it together with a sweater or button down. To mix it up even more, add a belt or scarf.

Wear a button down to give a sundress a new look.

Wear a button down to give a sundress a new look.

5. Wear Your Bulkiest Clothes on the Plane
To give yourself more room in your suitcase for souvenirs, wear your bulkiest items while traveling: jeans, sweatshirt, and tennis shoes.IMG_3500

6. Leggings CAN Be Pants
Like it or not, leggings are a fashion lifesaver. Leggings take up hardly any room in your suitcase, match every shirt under the sun and are super comfortable. Instead of packing multiple jeans, save some space and switch out a pair for leggings.

A long sweater can be worn with leggings, or it can be tucked in to a skirt to dress up.

A long sweater can be worn with leggings, or it can be tucked in to a skirt to dress up.

7. Stop, Drop and Roll
Instead of folding your clothes, roll them. This takes up less space, and also gives your clothes less wrinkles.

Roll your clothes instead of folding.

Roll your clothes instead of folding.

8. Stuff Socks and Undies in Shoes
This keeps all your socks together, and fills in all possible space in the suitcase.

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St. Patrick

“You will move on your belly
and eat dust all the days of your life.
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed.” Genesis 3: 14-15

Growing up in south Louisiana, you learn about “snake moving season.” Anything muddy, bushy and overgrown is considered “snakey” and you don’t trample through those areas barefoot. Many family legends include those little devils as main characters, like the time my grandmother swore a black racer chased her from the pond to her back porch, or the time my teenaged aunt courageously jumped over a cottonmouth on the living room floor where I, a baby, was playing. She swooped me in her arms, ran out the door and called for help.

I’m terrified of snakes. I have reoccurring nightmares involving the slithering serpents; they slip up my leg and bite me. I always forget what the snake looked like, and therefore can’t receive the right anti-venom. When I finally wake up in a cold sweat, I instinctively check the place on my body where the snake bit me in my dream. It’s only a figment of my imagination, but the fear is real.

I had a meltdown Tuesday. I noticed a mockingbird screeching and flapping her wings awkwardly near our back porch. I observed closely, thinking she was hurt. But then I saw what she was screaming at: a two-foot long, dark gray snake coiled up at the bottom of the porch steps.

I frantically shouted for my dad to come. Seconds later I looked back out the window, and the snake was nowhere to be seen. That’s when the hot tears rolled down my face, and I found myself crouched over gasping for air. I’m not kidding – I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown all because one snake had slithered away from the vibrations I’m sure he felt from my bellowing for help.

The only thing that my dad could do to somewhat calm me down was to reassure me I would be away from snakes for a whole month in Ireland. I leave tomorrow for the Emerald Isle, and I am so thankful God blessed Ireland without any snakes. As Irish legend goes, St. Patrick fasted for 40 days until he drove all the snakes into the sea and away from the island. We know now that due to glacial waters, snakes were never able to migrate to Ireland. Either way, I am elated that I am going to a place for a whole month where I don’t have to fear for snakes. God bless Ireland, and God bless St. Patrick!

St. Patrick drives all snakes from Ireland into the sea.

Hero

“We knew with that phone call, we would be celebrating while another family would be grieving. It was bittersweet, that Momma could live at the expense of a stranger’s death.”

My mother wiped a tear away under her sunglasses as we drove into town. She was explaining the complex emotions of her family as her mother, my grandmother, waited for a life-saving double heart/lung transplant. It was one of the first of its kind, and Debbie, a non-smoker, needed it desperately with her rare and fatal lung disease. At 35, she was a wife and mother of three. My mom was the eldest at 13, and my two aunts were 11 and 6.

“It was the end of ball season,” my mom recalled when Debbie moved to Houston for the summer to wait for someone else to die. “I wanted Momma to live. I didn’t want anyone to die.” If I could speak to that young man’s family, I would tell them he is my hero. His organ donation added 18 years to my grandmother’s life. She got to see all three of her daughters graduate high school, and she got to be my grandmother for 13 years.

The conversation came up when we were discussing the sad story of Sarah Murnaghan, a 10-year-old girl in dire need of a lung donation. The thing is, transplants for children are rare because children don’t die as often. Plus, very few adult lungs fit the cavity of a small child.

Before you read anything else you must understand this: no one, not me, not my mother, wants a sick child to die. But there are a few things the media is not shedding light on, and I have an issue with that.

No news article I’ve read has mentioned where on the adult list Sarah falls now. If I had to guess, there are now other people below her. Who makes this decision? Why should one person be given preference over another? How does one decide who has more reason to live than another? I don’t want to know the answers to these questions. As happy as I am for Sarah’s new hope, I am also sad for the people who are now bumped down the list.

And the biggest kicker of them all: no news article I’ve read has stated the reason Sarah and 120,000 others across the country have been waiting for years is not a policy statement, but the lack of organ donors! Only 28,000 organ transplants were performed in 2012. Just think if more people registered to be donors.

Eighteen people will die today waiting for an organ donation.

You should know that Sarah is not alone. Her family is not the only one to suffer and fight and hope and fear. I pray tonight that Sarah gets an organ donation. I pray tonight that families make the decision to donate life. I pray tonight that I can influence others to make the right choice to register to be an organ donor.

You can sign up here. It’s that easy.