Faces of Ireland


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Mariana Silva '21 | Dublin, Ireland | Doctoral Researcher in Environmental Engineering, Trinity College Dublin

Mariana Silva ’21 has studied environmental issues all over the globe, from Ecuador to Uganda. Now, her research focus is understanding water movements in Irish bogs in hopes of restoring areas that bore the brunt of industrialized peat harvesting.

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How would you describe the connection between Notre Dame and Ireland? How are the two places of the same spirit and values?

Both have felt like homes, quite simply. It took so little for me to mesh somewhat naturally and shockingly quickly. Something indescribable in the air that makes my insecurity wash right away both in Dublin and at ND. There’s a cheerfulness and an almost “insider” feeling to both places, with a strong sense of community, ties to local history, and culture that newcomers are welcomed to learn about.

In your current role, how do you see aspects of both communities present in your day-to-day life?

As a Ph.D student in Dublin, I am constantly recalling elements of my time at Notre Dame to coworkers. And I'm constantly introducing ND visitors in Dublin to my Irish and Ph.D friends, such that the communities seem to have meshed into one big global family.

Do you have any other treasured moments or stories from your time in Ireland? What led you to pursue your degree there rather than in the States? 

I've loved Ireland since I was very young, pretty much for no reason, seeing as I have no Irish ancestry! My first visit to Dublin was in 2017 just before deciding to attend Notre Dame instead of Trinity College Dublin for undergrad. But, shortly after, I headed back with Notre Dame International for the Dublin Summer Programme in 2018. This really cemented in me early on that my interest in the country went beyond that of a tourist’s. I just really loved it—the nature, the people, the music, art, and so much more. As my degree progressed at Notre Dame, I found myself falling into a niche (ecological engineering), which I could connect back to Ireland by way of researching bogs. And from there, the choice seemed obvious to pursue postgraduate research in bog restoration as a way to connect everything I’d learned at ND with my future in Ireland. From an academic perspective, I feel that honing my niche research interest in peatlands has really made me feel a part of the community of scientists working on this topic by the time I started on the Ph.D. This dawned on me when I was finishing up my thesis in August; it had just sunk in that I really knew and cared about the work I was doing.

I enjoyed making connections from all over Europe: I stay in touch with friends living in France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Greece and, of course, Ireland. With these friends, I spent many a night chatting over pints, as well as enjoying weekend hikes to Glendalough, the Sugarloaf, Bray, and Howth. And of course, many of the little moments spent around 58 Merrion Square were just as meaningful for the sake of being familiar and feeling like home. Some of my activities there included late-night ND game watches with the undergraduates, reading on the bean bags in the library, serving wine at book launches, and playing Settlers of Catan with other ND alums living down the road!

I was able to experience Ireland beyond just Dublin since moving here, as well. My roommate and I spent the weekend in a cabin in West Cork, I visited for a few sunny May days on Inis Mór, and I ran a half marathon in Donegal last year. I have also become good friends with a couple of Clare lads who have invited me along to visit their hometown and their friends living in Limerick, Ennis, and Galway. Most of these weekend trips felt less like tourism and more like acquainting myself with a new home, which was gratifying to experience.

Check out other alumni featured in our Faces of Ireland series:
Conal Fagan '21
Mary McGraw '17
Rosie Giglia '17