It was with some remorse that we returned to Wisconsin. Though eager to see our families and enjoy the last month of summer vacation, we had had such a remarkable experience in the last ten days. Through Belfast, Limerick, Galway, Wexford, and Dublin, we had embraced another culture and shared our own. To close that chapter in our lives was difficult.
If there is one thing that my time in Ireland has taught me about, however, it’s about the importance of the values and morals which we imbue our cultures with.
During our tour of Galway, I learned about the story of the Claddagh ring. In modern times, it’s often an indication of relationship status, dependent on which hand you wear it on and the direction of the ring, but that in itself isn’t the only meaning which the Claddagh ring holds. It’s a seemingly straightforward design: a pair of hands clasping a heart, with a crown set upon it. The hands symbolize friendship, the heart love, and the crown loyalty.
The friendships that had been strengthened or newly-formed during this trip were unforgettable. It was Mr. Simmons who wisely told us about the “health and happiness of the orchestra,” and the underlying principle behind it was that we help each other out. Whenever someone was feeling emotional or having a problem, the support of their friends around them was so essential to improving this experience for everyone—and it really did. The enjoyment of our trip rested in our capability of being, first and foremost…friends. We are the outstretched hands which pull the other person up when they’re down.
Love was inherent in our return. Whether it was a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a pet, a sibling, a parent…there was someone who had missed us while we were gone, and we had missed someone just as much while we were gone. The closing of our time in Ireland also meant the beginning of our time back with those who we cared about at home. Our hearts aren’t singular by design: there is no limit to how much we love, who we love, what we love.
Loyalty resided in Wisconsin, but not only Wisconsin. Our sense of identity extended beyond that: we now had links with a new country, a new society. We were perhaps nothing more than tourists; that much was evident. But being tourists allowed us to appreciate all of the wonderful disparities between that which was native to us and that which wasn’t. Ireland was made more lovely by its unfamiliarity, and in the space of those ten days, becoming acquainted with it was a redefinition of our sense of culture.
And thusly the themes of love, loyalty, and friendship echo across continents and countries. Whether through the Claddagh ideal or just core virtues, they were there.
And with those values in mind, in reflection, how can one be sorrowful about leaving Ireland? I’m leaving as a fuller person, as is everyone else who shared this journey with me. The conclusion of this journey beckons me to apply what I’ve learned here to other aspects of my life, and if there’s one enduring thing that a person can gain from a fantastic experience like this, I believe that’s the most fulfilling reward I could ever have.