Welcome 2017 and bring on the Parsnip Soup!

In the first of a series of guest blogs, Clare Best talks about her new year visit to Bundoran and the recent Transatlantic Connections Conference:

Three weeks into the New Year and I haven’t broken a single New Year’s resolution. But that’s because I don’t much like resolutions and I didn’t make any. Resolution implies something that can be decided on, put to bed, removing all doubt. I don’t think life is like that. And one of the earlier meanings of the word resolution was ‘death, dissolution, decay’ followed later by ‘dispersal’ and ‘weakening’. No thanks! I prefer the ‘P’ words – priorities, preparation, potential. Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about how to line up the things I want to work on this year, how to make way for that work.

I’m grateful that I felt ready for all these Ps by January 1st. The Christmas break had brought its own P words – peaceful days in our new home; seeing Powell and Pressburger’s Red Shoes as a ballet by Matthew Bourne; and making the best parsnip soup ever. I like making soup because it involves plenty of comforting preparation. This particular soup is a delicious hotchpotch of things left over (I’d bought too many parsnips), spices and herbs, chillies. It packs a punch. Highly recommended.

Another potent experience has been a return visit to Ireland – this time with Philip. Our destination was Bundoran in Donegal for TACC 2017  – more of this shortly. Before that,  we enjoyed a preamble in Dublin and Belfast, taking in the Book of Kells and TCD Library; a top-notch (free!) Messiaen organ recital in St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin; Belfast Museum; Titanic Belfast (which has my vote for best new museum) and plenty of good meals and wintry walks.

And then it was on to Donegal. Drew University’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies (based in Madison, New Jersey), in partnership with Niamh Hamill and John O’Connell of the Institute of Study Abroad Ireland, have done something utterly brilliant in establishing the annual Transatlantic Connections Conference in Bundoran, Donegal in January (they are now planning the 5th conference, for 2018). Recently officially named as ‘the world’s coolest place’ by National Geographic, Bundoran offers the kind of warm and generous welcome that simply makes you want to come back. And the Conference makes you want to come back too. I’m so glad I’ve been able to. I was here for TACC 2015 and loved it. Drew/Caspersen has a well-established Medical Humanities department and I have been happily getting to know them over the past two years.

This year, the overall theme of the conference was ‘Equality Emerging’ and the chance to hear speakers such as Helen Shores Lee, Linda Ervine, Christine Kinealy, Michael MacDonald, William Roulston to name just a few, and to meet friends old and new at this eclectic and intelligent meeting of minds, let alone the chance to share a platform with Philip on Friday afternoon – all this was an exciting prospect.

On our panel, I spoke about Take Me With You – my collaborative project with Tim Andrews (we missed Tim in Bundoran, but I know there will be other opportunities to talk about our work together) and Philip spoke about his work in 2016 with the extraordinary Blackthorn Trust. Thank you to all who came along and thanks too for the stimulating questions and the discussions afterwards.

Now we’re back in Sussex and I’m getting my head down, fuelled up for this weird and worrying year by the sheer variety and positive energy of the early weeks of 2017.

Here’s wishing everyone a Happy and Peaceful year, full of potential, promise and preparation for more fruitful times.

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