Emerald Isle; Celtic Tiger; home of saints and literary giants; land of rain, mist, and bog–the images of Ireland are almost endless. Two years ago I played a minor role in getting a National Centre for Geocomputation (NCG) established in Ireland, and later almost without thinking agreed with the director, Stewart Fotheringham, to apply for a fellowship to support an extended stay (Stewart will be known to many at UCSB because of his role in several CSISS summer workshops). I had the vague idea that my wife Fiona would find the environment suitably similar to her native Scotland, and I was very impressed at the advances Stewart and his team were making in my area of interest.
The Walton Fellowship is offered by Science Foundation Ireland as a way of attracting foreigners to work with Irish universities on the two topics that Ireland has identified as research priorities—biotechnology and information technology. As you may know, the Irish economy has been growing at double-digit rates in recent years, and what was once the poor man of Europe is now a much-touted model for more mature economies such as the French and the German that have been having a tough time of late. The fellowship is named for Ernest Walton, a native of Belfast and a Nobel laureate in Physics who worked with Rutherford on the atom-splitting experiments of the 1920s, and later returned to Ireland to teach at Trinity College in Dublin.
Plans were made, and in mid October 2005 we arrived in Dublin, prepared to stay for nine months, with a Christmas break in Santa Barbara. NCG is located in Maynooth, a small town in County Kildare about 16 miles west of Dublin, but given the excellent train service we decided to look for a place to live in the city. We found a flat in the embassy district of Ballsbridge, southeast of the city center. Dublin is divided by the Liffey River into the North Side and the South Side, with odd and even postal codes respectively. The two sides are irreconcilable, the north being more traditional and the south distinctly upscale. Anyone from Santa Barbara will be shocked to learn that house prices in Dublin are far higher—a one-floor two-room “cabin” will go for more than half a million Euros in parts of the South Side, (more than $600,000) , and a townhouse may fetch several million.
Our flat was within walking distance of Sandymount village, home of two pubs, several butchers, a supermarket and a wonderful neighborhood Italian restaurant. The pubs were traditional, with no jukebox, slot machines, TV, or other distractions—at 10pm about 100 people would be there, drinking either Guinness or cider, and engaged in earnest conversation. Irish conversation is like no other – intense, abstract, full of wit and charm, and totally engaging. Many Dublin pubs have live music, often provided by volunteer regulars, and almost all will have a peat fire most months of the year that somehow seems perfectly appropriate with Guinness.
For the complete text (and pictures) of Mike’s witty, charming, and totally engaging “Letter from Ireland,” click here.