Young Ambassador Program 2019 – our 12th Anniversary
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.
The aim of the Young Ambassador Program is to establish a network of informed and influential individuals throughout North America who can actively represent the northern part of Ireland throughout their lives. Northern Ireland provides an incredibly diverse platform to learn about many social and cultural aspects of contemporary and historical life in Ireland as well as a developing model for community reconciliation which is relevant to many cities in North America. Young Ambassadors will develop a meaningful and on-going relationship with Chapters of the Friends of Saint Patrick, the Saint Patrick Centre and organizations linked to the Program. They will continue to represent them when appropriate throughout the rest of their lives.