Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Summer School at National University Ireland

In just 5 short months I intend to be sitting in a classroom at NUIG (National University Ireland Galway.) If all goes well I'll be taking two courses: Creative Writing: Fiction and Poetry as well as Gaelic Culture and Literature during a four week session.  I will also take a not for credit class in Irish Language. I've always wanted to learn more about the language of my ancestors besides the Pog Ma Thoin (kiss my arse) phrase I was taught by B and B owner Mary in Thurles circa 1999.

The process of getting to NUIG though has been intensive and time consuming. There were various applications to complete, including potential scholarships for funding, as well as reference letters to gather, a search for accommodation (going well due to an ad in the Galway Advertiser, thank you Lorna and Mona) deposits to make, etc...But this "mature student" is also an obsessive list maker and form creator so all should be well.

Before I was even accepted to UIUC (University of Illinois Champaign) about this time last year, I knew I wanted to study abroad in Ireland. I understand there are multitudes of excellent authors all over this planet and I will continue to read as many of them as I can in my lifetime, but the Irish writer tugs at my heart.

One of my sons made the comment, "You know you're just going for the sightseeing." Funny, how little he knows his mother. I have no desire to kiss the Blarney Stone again. Been there, done that, still wearing the Guinness stained t-shirt, no... this time will be different, better. I suppose in his defense he knows me as much as I knew my own mother. We offspring have this tendency to see our parents as we wish them to be or as they wish only to show themselves to us, so really; do we ever know them? Do we know anything of their heartaches? Their dreams? What they felt were their most momentous accomplishments or deepest, darkest regrets? Did they really like our paper mache ashtray we made them for Mother's day?

My parents Donald and Thelma O'Shaughnessy on their
wedding day in 1956 with my grandparents
Josephine and Thomas O'Shaughnessy
and their daughter Teresa

During my school break I have been sorting through old black and white photos of my parents and grandparents wishing desperately and regretting deeply that I did not ask the questions of them back then which I seek now, after they are dead of course, ashes well spread. Why did I not ask my grandfather about his father, George J. O'Shaughnessy, the one who first left Ireland in 1872?  Did he ever have contact with his family again? Where was he born? What did his parents do when he left? How did they survive that loss? Did they survive that loss? Did he ever make them a paper mache ash tray?

My grandfather was 83 when he died and I was 17. There was indeed time for me to ask these questions of him, to learn more about his father who braved the long voyage across the sea at the age of 14 with only his 12 year old younger brother for company. But I was instead wrapped up in so many other more important things: the next Foghat concert, my 1969 Nova, my ridiculous boyfriend with the bad imitation of Elvis hair. I am at times haunted by how fast my own life is careening past me. I feel driven to record my life, my parents life, my grandparents life so that the next generations, when they run head first into the middle age wall of reality, will have more information about their past.

Which is why I am going to NUIG. To learn about Irish writers FROM Irish writers, to immerse myself in that which fills me up; sky and sea, a stony burren, cold winds, warm rains, friendly familiar faces, pints in pubs instead of bars and of course, the written word.


  1. Wow, what an adventure you are on Donna! I hope all is going well for you and I look forward to hearing and seeing more. Please post pictures too.

    1. Ah, you know I will. Thanks for checking in Paul!

  2. Can't wait to meet you in person. The month will fly for you.

    I share the same thoughts - wish I'd asked my grandparents questions before they died. Going to ask my mum and dad lots over the next month #research

    1. Me either Lorna. Having fun checking bus schedules from Galway to your area. You are so blessed to have your folks still. Mine were just 63 and 67 when they died leaving this party was too soon.

  3. Wow — a month in Galway at university! Sounds amazing. Who's teaching the writing class?