Ireland on my mind


By Vivian Blevins

Contributing columnist

I’ve been privileged to travel outside of the U.S. 30 plus times, but since the pandemic, I haven’t even thought about it — until today. As I was cleaning out a desk drawer, I found photos I had taken in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day is on the horizon, so I began to price airfares from Dayton to Dublin — around $600 in economy class with an advanced purchase of a month. I’m fully vaccinated, so I thought, “Why not?“ Reality hit when I realized that my passport has expired.

When I think of Ireland, I think of the old Dublin post office with the bullet holes from the revolt in 1916, O’Connell Street with the statue of the revolutionary, the Arlington Hotel where Irish performers sing and dance on stage, the pavers with images of James Joyce and quotations from his famous “Ulysses.” I think of the Abbey Theater and the play I saw there about William Butler Yeats. I can never think of Yeats, whose work I studied at Eastern Kentucky University in my master’s program, without remembering the lines from “The Second Coming” — “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” This takes me to the autocrats of this world and particularly to Russian dictator Putin who has determined that Ukraine will be his regardless of the number of lives wiped out in the process.

I visited Trinity College where Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, and Bram Stoker studied. I think of the Old Library and remember seeing the Book of Kells. On this particular visit to Dublin, I went to a contemporary art gallery featuring the mobile sculptures of Alexander Calder where I questioned why some “stuff” on display was called art: piles of large stones and a white nightgown attached to a ceiling fan going round and round.

I remember the food in Dublin, always three kinds of potatoes on each dinner plate. Then history intervenes and images done by artists of the Great Potato Famine from 1845 until 1852 are awakened in me where thousands died of starvation and disease. Those who could manage it immigrated. Then, my husband and I took a train to Galway on the west coast, hopped off the train, and were greeted by an Irish breakfast: sausage, bacon, blood pudding, white pudding, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, and soda bread. And we saw evidence there of a memorial to President John F. Kennedy who visited in 1963 with rhetoric that wooed the crowds.

Now I’m remembering Northern Ireland, but before exploring those memories, I’m thinking about Dr. Dale Adams, a brilliant professor at Lee College, who gave me a book on cultural literacy. E.D. Hirsch, the author of the book, presented a philosophy akin to Northrop Frye’s educated imagination in which, simply put, Frye posits that to have an educated imagination is to link emotion and intellect as we make connections. And Hirsch maintains that if Americans are to have cultural conversations, there is a body of knowledge which we must know if we are to be culturally literate with all the advantages from that position.

This thought takes me to the 2021 movie “Belfast,” which I saw last week with a tagline of the following for all those who were forced to leave Ireland by the circumstances of their lives, “No matter how far you go, you never forget where you came from.” That thread leads me to a novel I read yesterday by Dublin native Emma Donoghue entitled “Akin.” Donoghue has a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Cambridge, and her novel demonstrates in a most brilliant fashion cultural literacy/educated imagination with literary and historical references.

But back to Northern Ireland. Have I lost you? If so, please accept my apologies.

I’m flipping through photos I took in Northern Ireland, still a part of the British Empire about which at one time was said, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” That was said because, of course, the Brits had colonized many parts of the world, using the resources of other places to supplement what they didn’t have as a small island nation. I have a photo of the Stormont Building where the Northern Ireland legislature meets. With the hostility between the Protestants and the Catholics, I would say that the ongoing “Troubles” make for interesting sessions in that building. And I’m looking at a photo that shows the shipyard in Belfast where the “Titanic” was built and the Ferris Wheel. My photo collection from Northern Ireland includes images of a dozen of the murals that populate the buildings in Belfast with the likeness of Bobby Sands, masked militia with long guns, and “Liberty or Death” verbiage. One last tidbit about Belfast. We went into a small tavern filled with retired postal workers who were celebrating the author a book that one of them had recently published. As I looked around as these elderly men, I saw images of my Irish father, Caleb Bowling, of what he would have looked like had he been privileged to live to be an old man. And I was humbled.

One day Gary and I traveled by train and taxi to the small town of Avoca (and by bus back to Dublin) where the BBC series “Ballykissangel” was filmed. In one photo, Gary is standing in front of the famous tavern Fitzgerald’s and later inside the bar which sports photos of the actors in the series. I will conclude this sentimental journey with telling you that yes, I did take a photo of the bridge that plays such an important part in the “Ballykissangel” series. That bridge is symbolic of our lives. We venture out from our side of bridges, travel across to other places. As we do, we take parts of ourselves with us, but when we return and cross that bridge back to our departure place, we are changed, immeasurably enriched.

In conclusion, you’re probably asking about the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle or the Cliffs of Moher? The trip with my husband was just one trip. I had been twice before, once with the Edison State Travel Abroad program. I’m getting my passport renewed or I might need to start all over with a new one. And the drugstore to get the required photo is only a few blocks from my house.

Vivian B. Blevins, Ph.D., a graduate of The Ohio State University, served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Miami Valley Today does not endorse these viewpoints nor the independent activities of the author.

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