I work in a most amazing place that is steeped in history. It is a house that has been standing for two centuries and has seen people from all corners of life walk through its doors. I feel like I walk among ghosts when I wander through the endless warren of corridors. In its youth, this mansion was full of grandeur, entertaining the wealthy and beautiful lords and ladies of Dublin in the early 1800’s. The architecture suggests affluence and the grounds are extensive. There is a walled-in Victorian garden at the end of the property where a curvilinear glasshouse still stands. It is my dream to have this restored to its former glory. I think it dates back to before 1850. There are magnificent views of Dublin Bay. The grounds outside the estate were popular with the gentry of that time for hunting. This is a sketch of the house, dated 1867. The original house can be seen on the right hand side. It had a massive conservatory which housed many exotic plants, but sadly no longer stands there today. A viewing tower was constructed as one of the lords who occupied the house was in love with the scenic views.
In 1863, a religious order took ownership and it became a school and convent. The nuns constructed the left-wing, which was attached to the original house. The following photograph is of one of the ladies who attended the boarding school, taken c. 1870. The school was originally a poor-school but it soon became popular with the higher classes in society as the quality of education given by the nuns was excellent. It was not long before the daughters of the rich began attending. This is evident from the school registers which record the addresses of pupils at that time.
The voices of the nuns are now also but a whisper, just as the occupants before them. The nuns have moved out of the convent since 2007 as the house was too big for them to manage. They are a dying breed unfortunately. Many of them are quite elderly now. The school has taken over the use of the convent, holding lectures and meetings there. The house still preserves the smell of history and the shadows of eras gone by.
An anomoly can be described as something unique that goes against the grain, diverges from the established norm, breaks rules and trends. The pattern in academic life goes as thus: gain a degree; then a master’s; embark on a doctoral; followed by a post-doctoral and hopefully gain a tenure in your field in university. Sigh! I guess this normally takes approximately 10 years or less.
I have come across plenty of people who have been successful at this and are still in their early thirties. Well, I am an academic anomoly. Why? Well, I fell into academia later in life than the norm. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I partied instead. My aim was to get a degree. This was achieved in 2006. But here I am in 2011 and I am doing my PhD.
I look on jealously at those postgraduate students in the Reading Room who can devote hours and days on end to their research. They are at liberty to pour over books until the small hours of the morning. Yet, I struggle to keep my eyes open past ten o’clock in the evening. After dinner, playing, pyjamas and mental mind games to convince a 3 year old it is time for bed, my brain is jelly and the last thing I can decipher is the uses of the subjunctive forms in Old Irish. These students don’t know how lucky they are.
Then there are those who are fortunate enough to have gained funding and scholarships to aid them in their research. Far be it that they have to worry about where the money is going to come from to pay the fees. Oh sure, the part-time job helps to pay for drinks, food and rent. But here I am cowering in worry as to how I am going to come up with the funds to pay for another 2 years on the research register and at the same time pay for 2 adults and 2 children to survive in the capital city. Is it a selfish act and should I join the real world? I guess most would say yes. I should put children first.
On a totally superficial level, I arrive into university everyday and enter a fashion parade. All these young hipsters have so much time (and grant money) to dedicate to their wardrobes and appearances. Everyone trying to out do the other in an effort to appear unique, when really what happens is that they all look alike. I get up in the morning and blindly gather some clothes and throw them on before dressing the kids. As for putting on make-up and doing my hair, forget it. A pony-tail is suffice. So I arrive in a fluster after cycling in and I realise my bra is on inside out or my top is on backwards!
At the end of the week between work, teaching and family commitments I have probably done about three hours productive research. Sometimes I feel like I am spitting in the ocean when I think about the vast amount of work I have to do still. Frequently, I lack confidence in my capability of completing this doctorate. Then there is a glimmer of hope and I see myself in the cape, graduating and sighing in relief. This is what I hold on to and I know deep down that I will achieve what I have set out to do, even in the face of all these adversities.
today crept up out of nowhere and, all of a sudden, it was the deadline for submitting my first ever abstract for a conference. for some reason i am one of those people that leaves it to the last minute. i am not exactly sure if i am happy with that trait though! laziness and procrastination seem to be a hindrance to my productivity and i find myself more stressed about how little time i have left to complete something rather than actually putting pen to paper. then there is the jitters from the anxiety attacks, not helped by the copious cups of coffee of course. imminently, there is the brain meltdown and total loss of confidence and an overwhelming feeling of giving up. but underneath all that fretting, a little voice coaxes me to keep at it.
anyway, the conference will be in seven weeks and i find out on monday if it has been accepted. it will be a miracle as i spent about two days thinking of a topic and less time putting it on paper. it will basically be a discussion of the manuscript tradition of the text I am working on and addressing the structure and presentation of the edition. So let’s keep fingers crossed.