|Ireland and Northern Ireland Open Their Doors to UST Students|
For the first time, the University’s Ireland Study Abroad Program focused on students interviewing over 40 leading governmental officials, as well as political, religious and community leaders and people from all walks of life in Dublin, Ireland, and Belfast, Northern Ireland. The interviews centered on the conflict and the peace in Northern Ireland over the last 40 years and aspects of contemporary Ireland, including cross-border issues, the economy, human rights and the environment.
“I’m so glad that I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel with the UST study abroad group to Ireland this summer,” said Deanna Soileau, international studies and communication 2009 graduate. “While we were in Ireland, we experienced history in the making, met high-ranking individuals in politics, the arts and the Church, and took special tours to see some of Ireland’s most ancient sites. I could not have seen Ireland like this on my own, and I could not have asked for a better experience.”
Twelve undergraduate and graduate students participated in the program from a host of backgrounds and interests. They prepared for this hands-on interaction with two weeks of intensive reading and study in Houston before crossing the water. The professors who created this one-of-a-kind program are Irish born and educated Irish Studies Visiting Scholar Aoife Ní Ghloinn and Lori Gallagher, JD, director of the Center for Irish Studies.
Students began their study of Contemporary Ireland by witnessing many facets of the Irish Government at Leinster House in Dublin. They also attended live sessions of the Dáil (Irish House of Representatives) where they observed An Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen answer questions posed by the opposition parties about the Irish economy and other key contemporary issues. They also observed debates in the Seanad (the Senate) on matters relating to human rights and the environment, among other topics, and met with officials from three different departments on Irish language and the peace process.
In Northern Ireland, the students spent eight days hearing lectures from and interviewing members of the academic, journalistic, religious, political and cross-community sectors, in their pursuit of greater understanding of the Northern Ireland Peace Process as a model for resolution of other conflicts around the world. They also had a private meeting with Martin McGuinness, the Joint First Minister of the Northern Ireland Government, a position that is equivalent to the President of the United States.
While in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the students witnessed an historic act as two of the loyalist paramilitary groups (loyalists desire for Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom) made movement toward decommissioning their weapons (disarming).
“The complexity of the situation in Northern Ireland became apparent through experience and conversation with the people enmeshed in the conflict and peace,” said Jennifer Gilbert, Irish Study Abroad graduate student. “And amazingly, we were in Northern Ireland when the loyalists were discussing decommissioning and we met people who were facilitating the peace process with dialogue on those very issues.”
Students received up to $2,000 scholarships toward airfare, tuition and excursions through the Center for Irish Studies.
Founded in 2003, The Center for Irish Studies was named one of the top 10 Irish Studies programs in the nation by IrishCentral.com, an Irish Web site, launched by the New York-based Irish Voice newspaper and Irish America magazine. The Center oversees an undergraduate minor program, a graduate concentration in the Master in Liberal Arts program and the Ireland Study Abroad program as well as a Cultural Outreach Program with events open to the public and the University community. To learn more about the Center, visit www.stthom.edu/irishstudies.
Shown at top, Brazen Head, Dublin, (left to right) Laura Laskey, Prof. Aoife Ní Ghloinn, Jennifer Gilbert, Lauren Kelly, Juletta Palyan, Noemi Flores, Mary MacArthur, Catherine Aquila, Cristina Pizano-Flores, Prof. Lori Gallagher, Erica Perez, Deanna Soileau and Casey Yancey. Shown at center, Joint First Minister Martin McGuinness and Rev. Harold Good with students, in Belfast Northern Ireland.