Dublin Program puts the Experience in Experiential Learning

It’s not every day that class is held in another country. Yet, for the Dublin Semester-in-Practice program, it’s not out of the cards either. For students who have participated in externships, the weekly seminar requirement is nothing out of the ordinary. Usually, students spend the class time talking about their placement, divulging what they have learned and areas they seek to improve in. In a sense, the seminar serves a very practical purpose of hearing from students, learning from their experiences, and providing advice on how to proceed. 

However, for the students participating in the Dublin program, our seminar can look a little different. On an average week we get to hear from excellent speakers on a variety of Irish, legal, and political topics. This includes lecturers from Trinity College Dublin’s law school and high-ranking government officials. Every week it’s something new and relates back to the environment we are working in. While we also talk about our externship placements and how to navigate an international workplace, we get to supplement these discussions with talks on Irish sports, constitutional referendums, and EU data protection laws. And sometimes, we get to leave the classroom and experience that week’s educational topic firsthand.


Our first class field trip was to Blackhall, the headquarters of Ireland’s law society. Aspiring Irish solicitors sit for their version of the bar exam after finishing undergrad. Once they pass their exams, they begin a three-year traineeship with a qualified solicitor (usually in a law firm) before they are qualified to practice on their own. During the traineeship, they will attend Blackhall twice for professional development courses. Every year, around 500 trainees from across Ireland come to Dublin to take the courses at Blackhall which last several weeks or months. Because of this, people become close with their Blackhall classmates and think very fondly of their time there. As visitors to Blackhall, we watched a presentation about the Irish law society and the professional development coursework. We then got to tour the grounds and see the pitch where Gaelic games, soccer and the like are played. We also saw the Blackhall pub that students use after class (Trinity has its own pub too) and the ceremony hall used for graduations. There is no Blackhall equivalent in the United States, so our tour was not only fascinating but helped contextualize the experiences of our co-workers. 


A few weeks later, we decided to up the ante and go international. Instead of meeting in BC’s lovely Dublin headquarters, we traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom. Belfast holds great cultural and political significance in Ireland’s history. Namely, it is one of the cities that is at the heart of the struggle between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. For context, after centuries of British rule, Ireland was partitioned in 1921 leaving six northern counties to remain in the UK and establishing the Irish Republic in the South. Many “republicans,” people who favor a united republic, were upset with this decision and a civil war broke out. Ultimately, the republicans lost, and Northern Ireland remained part of the UK. Throughout the rest of the 20th century conflict carried on between the predominantly Protestant Northern Ireland and the Catholic Republic. This period is commonly referred to as “the Troubles.” Today, remnants of the Troubles remain as the city is still largely divided on sectarian lines. Indeed, the present terrorism threat level was raised to “substantially severe” in March 2023. Thus, understanding more about Northern Ireland’s history and the role it plays in Irish culture and politics helped contextualize the environment we live and work in. 

For our field trip we were joined by a professor of anthropology who focuses on symbols of identity from Queens University in Belfast. He took us around Belfast to show us the famous murals that depict each side of the conflict. On the Protestant / pro-UK side, we saw murals that tied connections to the United Kingdom’s past and present. This included murals paying homage to the late Queen Elizabeth and new paintings welcoming the king. By contrast, on the Catholic / pro-Irish side, we saw murals depicting rebels who stood up against British rule painted on a background of green, white, and orange. At any one time we could tell which “side” of town we were on by the flags flying: Union Jack v. the Tricolor (the name used to describe the Irish flag). Although the city has made progress in terms of peace and reconciliation, there is still a 45 foot “peace wall” separating the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods. Experiencing this divide first hand helped us understand the ongoing political debate around Northern and the Republic. 

Then, we went on to see the city and attractions that make Belfast famous. Notably, we went to the Titanic Museum to see how the ship was built in Belfast’s shipyards. 

Kilmainham Gaol

Lastly, we continued our education of the Irish / British historical conflict by visiting Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced “jail”). Kilmainham was built in the late 1780’s to address the poor conditions of prison life elsewhere in Ireland. At the time, men, women, and children were all held in one big cell with little access to light and air. The new jail was built in response to a prison reform movement and included a one-cell-one-person policy (that wasn’t always followed). The jail has a long history connected with Ireland’s Great Famine and the practice of deporting prisoners to Australian prison camps. However, it’s most well-known for its role in the 1916 Easter Rising. The Rising was an insurrection of Irish republicans against the British state to declare Irish independence. It lasted six days until the republican leaders surrendered. Fourteen of the leaders were sentenced to death and placed in Kilmainham Gaol awaiting their execution. Joseph Plunkett famously married his girlfriend Grace Gifford in the jail the night before he was executed. The British believed the executions would stifle the independence movement, but they severely miscalculated. Instead, the executions united the Irish people against British rule. Today, Kilmainham represents Ireland’s long and troubled history with British rule and policing. 

Needless to say, BC’s Dublin program takes experiential learning quite seriously, weaving in historical, political and legal discussions into our seminar. While a day in the classroom isn’t so bad, field trips to see historical landmarks in person is much better. 

Katie Cross is a second-year student at BC Law, studying in our Semester-in-Practice: Dublin Program. Contact her at crosskj@bc.edu.

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