Jessica LeBresh Letters Home


Jessica at monastic site

Me at the monastic site

November 16, 2012

Dear Robert Emmet Society and Friends,

Hello again! I hope everyone is enjoying fall in Michigan. The weather has not changed very much here from when I arrived, except perhaps a small drop in temperature. But we don’t mind here at 159 Lurgan Park, since we have heat!

As assessment due dates draw nearer students in Heritage Studies begin to become more studious, and less slightly less social, though they still keep a healthy balance of studying and nights out. For Irish and European History in my first year class with John Tunney we recently took a trip to the monastery of Clonmacnoise, where there are several gorgeous ancient high crosses. We were asked to take note of the visitor facilities and the historic site itself for our essay. It was very interesting to experience the monastery both as a tourist, and a critical student of tourism. The original high crosses were moved from their resting site and relocated to the visitor center after it was noticed that acid rain was destroying them slowly, and replicas were put in their place. There was some debate of whether it was historically ethical to make such a drastic change to these priceless pieces, but in the end preservation proved the more prudent. 

In Modern Irish History, my second year course, we have been asked to write an essay on British conquest and settlement in Ireland in the seventeenth century. I grew more and more thankful to be assigned this task when I realized just how little I knew about this crucial century in Irish history. I had previously known little of Oliver Cromwell and his less than pleasant legacy, but not the extent of it. The aftermath of his anti-Irish, anti-Catholic campaign was tragic, leaving the Irish and Old English alike in hopelessness and misery. A thorough study of the seventeenth century also gives insight to the significance of the religion of the current king in England had in Ireland. Land changed hands from Protestant to Catholic several times in this era due to changes on the throne. Though, all in all, the Irish and Old English Catholics generally came out the lesser.Monastic site

Local History and Genealogy continues to be quite interesting. It has been remarked that over seventy million people in the world today claim Irish heritage. We have been researching modern practices that characterize the search for Irish ancestors today. It is absolutely fascinating and has inspired me to send a virtual inquiry, via my sister, to my eldest living family member about our family history, so that I might use the presented facts to delve deeper into our ancestry. Hopefully my little project proves successful and I will be able to trace my family tree, and possibly visit the hometowns of my ancestors. What a trip that would be!

Last weekend I took a trip to County Limerick, which was the first time I had visited that part of Ireland. I stay two nights in a small town called Newcastle West in a family home of a friend. It was lovely to see what a typical night in an Irish home was like. I found that the Irish reputation for hospitality is not over exaggerated, and one most certainly does not go hungry in a proper Irish home. I also observed that while the Irish are extremely hard workers, they do know how to relax as well. We ended our Friday evening with a warm fire, our feet up, and an Ireland versus the Republic of South Africa rugby match on the television. I’d rather not report the final score…

I have decided to bring a little bit of America to Ireland next Thursday, and prepare a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner for my roommates and friends. There will be all the necessary components present, with ample desserts, and likely a very burnt turkey, since this is my first attempt at roasting one. Wish me luck!

I don’t think I can end a letter without expressing my sincerest gratitude for this opportunity once again, and saying thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I am having the time of my life. Everyday is exciting and new, I’m constantly learning and occasionally teaching. This is really the most fun I can imagine having. Thank you everyone.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Fourteenth Robert Emmet Scholarship winner,
Jess LeBresh

October 15, 2012
Dear Robert Emmet Society and friends,

It’s been over a month that I’ve been in Galway now, and the place already feels like home. I’m getting more accustomed to the Irish third level school system, and am enjoying it immensely. The lectures continue to intrigue, and my new found friends continue to entertain. I’ve had the chance to take a trip to Derry to attend a lecture entitled “Civil Rights, Stormont Wrongs”presented by Fionnbarra O Dochartaigh, a co-founder of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. On the bus ride up to Derry the gravity of the situation finally dawned on me. I was going up to the North to witness a historic event, amongst civil rights legends. This in itself was a lot to grasp. However, I did my best to appreciate what was occurring.
Upon arriving in Derry I met Fionnbarra, and we went to his house where his sister made a “good Catholic dinner” of fish and chips (appropriate with it being Friday). I was the designated register form consultant for the evening (I signed people up, and gave them pins) which of course made me beam with pride. Fionnbarra then commenced his lecture, and I was surprised and saddened to find out that it is perceived that all their hard work of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association is being undone by the government. And apparently the younger generation is doing little to stop them. That was the theme of the evening, and the belief was shared by all occupants of the room. I felt responsible for my generation as a whole, and our inaction. Though of course, I feel it is not my place to get politically involved in a national debate for a country other than my own.
As the night drew to an end I was introduced to some of the onlookers of the evening, include Sir John Hume, Knight and Nobel Prize winner. The night really could not have been more exciting.
This past weekend I went on a surf trip with the GMIT Surf Society, and what fun it was! We went out on the waves on Saturday for a couple of hours, and I stood up on the board! The feeling of accomplishment was definitely worth the two gallons of salt water I’m positive I swallowed. That evening we had a lovely night in, with some Irish card games and joke telling. Sunday we all relaxed and drove home. It was a fantastic weekend.
One thing I am having a great time with is learning new Irish terminology. To state a few, we have “What’s the craic?” Craic being basically fun, it’s sort of the Irish version of “What’s up?” Then we have “sound”, generally used to describe a person, meaning a good, nice person. And the often used “deadly”, basically saying “awesome”. There have been multiple others, the list could go on and on.
I’m still extraordinarily excited to be where I am right now, and I’m so thankful for the opportunity.

Everyone take care!
14th Robert Emmet Scholarship winner, Jess LeBresh

September 19, 2012

Dear Robert Emmet Society and Friends,

A very warm greeting from the Emerald Isle! I have been in Galway now for a little over two weeks, and every day has been amazing. My travels were smooth and relatively swift. I started my Irish experience before I even left the US! There was a lovely Irish woman from Cork waiting at the terminal, and I got my first taste of what is now a long list of Irish congeniality.

Upon arriving in Galway I found my new home, 159 Lurgan Park, where two of my roommates awaited me. The two waiting were Joe, (Chinese) and Lucia (Spanish). The day after I arrived our final roommate, Nadia (French), moved in. We get along exceptionally well and have had a great time sharing our cultures. Yesterday I made them homemade chocolate chip cookies! Which I’ve been informed is a very American tradition.

On my first day of induction out of the corner of my eye I spotted Niall Farrell, and ran to catch him before he went up the stairs and out of sight. It was so nice to see a familiar face! He has been a great help with settling into Galway. I’ve also met a number of other international, as well as Irish students. A large group of us went on a tour of the Cliffs of Moher, which is easily my favorite place on Earth. Our tour guide was very friendly, and shared a mountain of information. We were fortunate enough to see beautiful historical sights along the way, including the Poulnabrone Dolmen, which is a famous megalithic monument just outside of Galway.

Yesterday was clubs and societies day! I signed up for many things, and hope to experience some great Irish culture in the process. I have signed up for archery, surfing, the international society, and the Make a Wish program. I may also try my hand at Rugby!

I am really enjoying my classes. The lecturers have been extremely accommodating in my schedule, allowing me to take classes from years one, two, and three. I am taking Irish and European History, Modern Irish Literature, Archeology, and Local History and Genealogy. I have a difficult time deciding which has the most interesting content, since they’ve all been captivating so far. Something that has surprised me greatly is how uncertain Irish history actually is. I had always assumed the Irish were of Celtic decent, and was under the impression that this was common knowledge. Since classes have started I have come across several challenges to this notion. It seems that it is unlikely that the Celts were actually the first settlers here. This information is a huge revelation for me, and I can’t wait to continue my education on what we know today of Irish history.

This weekend I will be traveling with my friends and roommates to Dublin, to visit the Robert Emmet statue and other historical sites relating to him. I am very excited to see these sites in person after having read so much about him. I’ve not often gotten to see the remnants of such a rich past. This will be a trip to remember!

I would like to offer a most sincere thank you to the Robert Emmet Society for making something so amazing possible. Every morning I wake up astonished to be so fortunate. What the Robert Emmet Society does for students is incredibly generous, and I am elated to be a part of it.

Kindest Regards,

Fourteenth Robert Emmet Scholar, Jess LeBresh