INTERESTED IN BECOMING A FRIEND?
Dr. Tim Campbell, Director, Saint Patrick Centre
Jane Anderson, North America National Coordinator
President – Gina Fitzgerald
President and YA Coordinator – Laddie Guy
YA Coordinator – Eithne Heffernan
President – Jen Vettrus
YA Coordinator – Jane Anderson
ALBANY NEW YORK
President – Mike Conners
Young Ambassador Alex Nieman reflects on her experience on the 2019 Young Ambassador Program in this weeks Down Recorder.
Gaining new perspectives in life is something that is always invaluable. My two week trip to Downpatrick from Albany, New York, has been an experience I will always remember. Through the Friend’s of Saint Patrick Centre Young Ambassador Program, I’ve been given this amazing oppurtunity to come to Downpatrick to learn about the work of the Saint Patrick Centre and the culture of the people. In such a short amount of time I’ve been fortunate enough to visit historic and sacred sights around Ireland and Northern Ireland, interact and learn from the local people, as well as gain insight into my field of interest abroad.
I didn’t really know how to prepare myself for life in Northern Ireland. I watched at little of “Derry Girls”, which is a great show, but other than that I came here with very little knowledge about the political and religious history of the area. During my stay here, everyone I’ve met has been incredibly kind. People always say “Hi” to you on the street, and are quick to strike up a conversation with you in the supermarket. The thing I will take away the most from this trip will be how nice the people are in this small town, and everywhere I’ve visited.
One major goal of the Young Ambassador Program is to strengthen ties between the young people of North America and Northern Ireland. A big part of that is learning about the history of each place. I’ve been lucky enough to visit towns across the whole of County Down, County Armagh, Belfast, and Dublin. I’ve seen the holy water at Struell Wells, one of the oldest golf clubs in the world at Ardglass, the grave of Saint Patrick, the remains of inch Abbey, the first Catholic church at Saul, the Titanic Museum in Belfast, fought with the Magnus Vikings,
visited Iveagh and Leinster House in Dublin, and Castle Ward in Downpatrick- just to name a few. I’ve learned more about history in Northern Ireland these two weeks than I have in a few years at school. Everywhere you go, there is an immense amount of history. Every building, stone wall, or street, has a past to learn about. In America, the farthest back any building goes is a couple hundred years. Here, almost every building is older than America itself, and could date back thousands of years.
I had the chance to visit the County Down Museum as well, which gave me an amazing look into the past of this County and Northern Ireland. I was able to see how life operated in Northern Ireland hundreds of years ago; how they farmed, what they wore, religious relics, children’s toy, and much more. Visiting the museum was a great way to get a complete background and history into Northern Ireland.
As an Ambassador for the Saint Patrick Centre visiting Northern Ireland, we are all placed into individual work placements for the time we are here, depending on our own interests. This experience allows us to observe and learn in a different environment than what we are used to. I was placed at the Down News for a week, where I was able to attend PR events, meet many interesting people, and learn a little bit about running an online newspaper.
Reflecting on my journey, I am so grateful and happy to have had this opportunity. Without the Saint Patrick Centre, none of this would have been possible. With the help of the Chapters throughout North America, each year young adults have the chance to travel abroad, study, learn, and make unforgettable memories. I’ve made new friends, networked with people in my field, and had so much fun exploring Northern Ireland.
Lexi Dittrich – 2019 Young Ambassador reflects on her time here:
‘I find it funny when people ask me now “So how was Northern Ireland?” Where am I to begin? The easier and second most asked question is “Was it different than you had expected?” I don’t ever have to hesitate–yes, in every way, and that’s what made it such a life-changing experience.
For starters, I never expected to have hit it off so well with such an incredibly close group of friends as the fellow 2019 Young Ambassadors. We all had connected online before meeting, and when we all were together, the dynamic felt like that of close siblings or long-term roommates. Certainly, no, I didn’t expect to leave with such a lasting group of friends.
For another, I never expected to come to a region so teeming with natural majesty and history. Hills and valleys and mountains stretching into the clouds, sprawling fields of farm life and flowers, mystifying ruins of cathedrals, castles and watchtowers in every town: never had I ever dreamed of seeing ancient wonders like these. Neither had I expected to see so many sacred sites of ancient peoples, so many places that had been victim to recent tragedies wrought from civil war, so many holy places where Saint Patrick himself once tread.
But most significantly, I never expected to learn so much from so many angles in just a couple of weeks. From local storied experiences, I absorbed so much on recent history and current culture. From politicians, I observed the struggle of a nation with a fractured Legislative Assembly for the past 3 years, understood the frustration of a people at the hands of an unheard-of political stalemate. Murals, former soldiers, Government officials in the South, and civilians told of continued tension 20 years after The Troubles ended and of the fight for reconciliation that wages to this day. But by volunteering and interacting locally, sitting in on council meetings and observing natives, I discovered a society working hard for improvement and change, one that is taking action against every day issues and, through organizations like the Saint Patrick Centre, striving to bring all peoples of all sides together in peace and commonality.
Yes, absolutely the trip wasn’t what I had expected. No, I would never change a single moment of it. And no, I did not enter, nor leave as a tourist: I came as a scholar and left as an Ambassador, life wholly changed thanks to a blessed opportunity provided by peace-loving people from an incredible land. This is the Northern Ireland I want to represent and share with the world: one that shifts our gaze toward reconciliation and awe.’
Friends of Saint Patrick Centre Milwaukee Chapter
Being a 2019 Young Ambassador -‘ Katherine Walsh.
When I first heard that I would be going to Northern Ireland to learn about the life and legacy of St. Patrick, I was immediately thinking about history. I pictured myself sitting in a library memorizing the dates and details of St. Patrick’s travels, who exactly he spoke to, and the direct meaning of his words; however, this was not the case. My experience at the St. Patrick Centre and in Downpatrick was a lively, social, cultural experience because the mission and spirit of St. Patrick was so alive in every interaction I had.
Downpatrick is not a town that is stuck in history, but a town that lives through its history, taking past messages of understanding, respect, and compassion and applying them to everyday life. The St. Patrick Centre felt like the center of the town and for my trip as a starting place for visitors, a gathering space for the community, and a peaceful place for anyone to sit and reflect.
During my two weeks as part of the Young Ambassador Program I had the honor of shadowing many local politicians that have dedicated their lives to representing the people of Downpatrick. While these politicians were great references for explaining the political parties and political tensions in the region, their actions focused on small ways to improve life for everyone in their constituency. When we asked them about their goals for Northern Ireland, they all broke through the polarizing historical and political backdrop of their lives to speak of lasting peace, prosperity, and respect – all themes that are highlighted in the life of St. Patrick.
Two weeks certainly felt too short when it was time to leave but I am profoundly grateful to everyone who made this the cultural, social, political, — and yes, historical trip of a lifetime. I look forward to visiting again soon and I know that my first stop will be the St. Patrick Centre, right in the heart of Downpatrick.’
Toronto Resident Michael Murray reflects on his experience as a Young Ambassador in 2019 –
My time in Downpatrick was both educational and quite the unexpected experience. As being the son of two Irish parents from Dublin, I had only until recently seen the Republic’s side of life on the Emerald Isle.
But in the North, I had saw and experienced so much that I never thought would be possible and just a few hours away from my parental home. Seeing the holy sites and relics of the past, meeting with politicians and working with the community, I find it hard to express the exact words of how my time at Downpatrick changed my view of Ireland as a whole.
As an individual who is extremely interested in the historical side of Ireland, I was not disappointed when I came to Downpatrick. From the Saints and Scholars, to the Pagans and Vikings, there was such a rich and mysterious history that always intrigued. I knew Ireland was always a place of ancient history and tales as old as time, but to actually be there, to see the fairy mounds, the churches and the ruins really did open my eyes to all that Downpatrick had to offer to the world.