In the Hills of Donegal

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Finally made it across the border. Even after almost three months in Northern Ireland, I’ve had a hard time getting out of the little circle of Ballycastle, Corrymeela, and the immediate Causeway Coast area. It’s nice to get out and travel — really travel — for a weekend, even if it’s just a hop across the border to Donegal.

Here in Northern Ireland, Ireland — the country, not the island — is alternatively referred to as “The Republic” or “The South”. Each is a statement: calling Ireland the Republic makes a firm divide between the “country” of Northern Ireland and Ireland itself, while saying the South infers that all of Ireland is forever one country, with only the difference of separate governments on each side of the border.

Despite being in fact north of parts of Northern Ireland, to some Donegal county is still the “South” — the free, unoccupied territory of the Irish state. During the Troubles, Donegal served as a major area for republican paramilitaries who took advantage of the county’s nationalist sentiments to hide from the British army and Irish police, and even today the county still carries a sense of that republican pride.

But protestants and unionists have a historical stake in Donegal, too: the county was once part of the Irish kingdom of “Ulster,” along with the counties of Northern Ireland, and the title is still a favorite substitute for Northern Ireland amongst loyalists circles — despite not all “Ulster” counties being part of Northern Ireland, as is the case with Donegal.

Today, with Brexit bringing borders back into the question, the connection between Donegal and Northern Ireland have once again come into focus, with most Donegal citizens having to travel through Northern Ireland to reach the rest of the South, or to work, shop, or visit family across the border.

The return of borders (possibly as soon as two years from now) could disrupt not just tourism and trade, but also the livelihoods of people on both sides of the political divide, people who have based their lives around the ease of traveling back and forth freely. The consequences of that can’t be known, but few see it as a good thing.

But enough of the politics and gloom — here are some photos of Donegal, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been:

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It was nice to be in Dunfanaghy for the weekend, just drinking good beer with friends, listening to some music at a jazz and blues festival, and sleeping in late in the morning to the sound of raindrops on the roof of my tent (rain which didn’t let up for nearly the entire weekend). To quote a random Irish man I bumped into mere minutes after arriving in town: “There might not be good weather, but there’ll be good craic.”

“Craic” — gossip, fun, news, entertainment — it’s pretty much a catch-all term here in Ireland. But there was indeed good craic — the beauty of the hills, the friendship of people who were strangers mere months ago, and coffee and eggs on toast in a little breakfast shop by the water. I’ve found myself just…enjoying things like that these days. Enjoying without reservation or worry, which is something I’ve had a hard time doing over the past few months.

It feels good — good craic, in other words.

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Dunfanghy town

Moving forward still, on to the next thing. Applying to a few schools (who, inshallah, I’ll hear back from within a few months), and starting to find out how to wrap up my time in Boston. I’m not…ready for Boston to be over, these days. Seeing a good friend recently that I made during my time at Northeastern made me realize how much I value Boston and being there, and I some days want to just go back and hold on to the life I created in that city, a life that I put years of time and effort and more than a few hard days into making it a home.

The thought of leaving Boston after next Spring is a painful one, but it’s also a decision that I think needs to be made. I can’t stagnate and hold onto a life that is no longer there — even if, at the end of the day, that’s all I really want to do.

I don’t know where I’m going to be a year from now. London or Scotland, maybe, or even Brussels, or Washington D.C. Sometimes, I forget that I’m only 21 years old, and that not everything has to be figured out right at this moment. The world is still so large, and still has so much to see and explore, and life remains open-ended. I need to keep that in mind more often.

For now, I am slowly falling in love with another part of the world in that special way that I fall in love with everywhere I travel to, be it Bosnia or France or Jordan. Learning for the first time again to love a people for their quirks (both good and bad), for their culture and the land they call home, for the music that flows from every pub at night and the good, wholesomeness of the food (even if it could use a little more variety from time to time).

I’ve missed this. You can learn a lot of life in these little ways, merely from being in a place that is not home.

That’s about it for today — not a long post, just a quick update on what’s been going on with my life, and some of the thoughts I’ve been having. There will be more to come as Ireland moves from summer to fall, and the cold and (even more) rain begins to creep in. Already I’m halfway through this time at Corrymeela, and past that — well, I’m still taking this whole thing one step at a time.

Some final words, from Joni Mitchell:

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
From up and down and still somehow,
It’s life’s illusions I recall,
I really don’t know life at all.”

There is a kind of peace that can be found in accepting that. Thanks, once again, for reading.

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