This summer, Honors Professor of the Practice Michael Patrick MacDonald and 24 Honors students received special encouragement as they began their Honors Dialogue of Civilizations, “Storytelling, Landscape, and Contested Identities in Northern Ireland.”
Marty J. Walsh, Mayor of Boston, wrote a letter of support to our Honors students as they embarked on their journey through Ireland, emphasizing the importance of cross-cultural connection: “As representatives of Boston traveling to Belfast and across Ireland, you are not just students; you are goodwill ambassadors. I hope you will bring a spirit of openness when you meet your Irish hosts and counterparts.”
With guidance from Professor MacDonald, Honors students journeyed from Dublin to Derry to Belfast, exploring the foundational role that storytelling has on the Irish cultural and social identity. They visited the grave of William Butler Yeats, met with celebrated artists and novelists such as Claire Keegan, Paula Meehan and Natalya O’Flaherty, and were welcomed to Belfast by Lord Mayor John Finucane, the famous human rights lawyer. Their Honors DOC experience took them from the Benbulben Mountains in County Sligo to the site of the 1916 Easter Rising executions to turf cutting near Bellaghy in Northern Ireland.
For Mayor Walsh, the opportunities for Northeastern students to see firsthand the connections between Ireland and Boston was important to highlight. The son of Irish immigrants from Connemara, Mayor Walsh noted the deep cross-cultural network between the two communities: “Irish-American leaders can be found in our city from public service and public safety to justice, finance, philanthropy, healthcare, and education. They are spiritual leaders. They are leaders in the arts, the trades, and in sports.”
In 2019, Professor MacDonald was recognized with the prestigious Fulbright Award and recently completed his scholarship, which involved using writing as a means towards social justice in Ireland. His Fulbright experience will undoubtedly shape his Honors courses moving forward.
Mayor Walsh concluded this letter with the hope that their trip “forges lasting memories and connections. Thank you for being a citizen diplomat on behalf of our city.” We in Honors are grateful for our students and Professor MacDonald for demonstrating the very best of what Northeastern and Honors has to give to a global community: the spirit of adventure, openness of spirit, and diplomacy in all forms and currency.