What my Irish heritage means to me 

Abigail Hunsaker in Ireland

By Abigail Hunsaker

Hunsaker, who is studying hotel and restaurant management, is studying abroad in Maynooth, Ireland for the spring semester. For Irish Heritage Month in March, she discusses how she is discovering her Irish heritage and the significance the Emerald Isle and its history has come to have in her life. 

Growing up as a redhead, I have gotten countless comments saying things like, “Oh, you must have some Irish in you” or “your ancestors MUST be from Ireland,” but it wasn’t until I decided to study abroad in Ireland that I learned it was true, and not just a redhead “thing.” As I investigated my heritage and where I came from, I began to unravel my past and discover that maybe my love for Ireland was not some random falling of the cards but rather an intrinsic part of what made me who I am.  

Since living in Ireland, I have been asked many times, “Why here?” It’s hard to respond to this any other way than saying there was just an innate draw to the small Emerald Isle. A deep affinity for the country has been within me since the day I learned what Ireland was. The rolling green hills covered in sheep, the charming lilt of the accent, the invigorating music and atmosphere in a pub—what is there not to fall in love with? Yet beyond the enchanting surface of Ireland, layers of culture, folklore, magic and wonder make it the fascinating country it still is today.  

For many years growing up, I never did much thinking about where I came from or where my ancestors might have lived. Yet as I get older, discovering the years and years of history and genetics that make me who I am has been an enlightening journey. I am especially thankful that I get to undertake this journey while living in the country where my ancestors come from. As I talk to the people and learn more about how much the country has overcome, I have grown to love Ireland even more. I have learned about epic, strong-willed, fearless Celtic goddesses such as Morrigan and Queen Maeve as well as ancient sports still played to this day, such as hurling and Gaelic football. I have learned the Irish have a funny way of never being on time, yet everything always works out, and everyone is always ready to talk, especially with a pint of Guinness in hand. I have learned about the darker side of Irish history with it comes to the great famine, civil war and many tough times when the strong wills of the Irish were tested but stood strong. I learned that the Irish are incredibly proud of who they are and the culture they have. And I have learned that I am incredibly honored to say I come from such an incredible place and get the opportunity to learn about the extraordinary country in such a special way.  

While I’ve learned so much being here, the most impactful moments I’ve had have been simply talking to the people. My favorite thing about living in Ireland has been interacting with incredibly kind and hospitable people. From the small smiles to helping me carry groceries, I have never experienced such simple daily kindness and warmth. Ireland is often chalked up to St. Patrick’s Day, leprechauns and the color green, but I hope people begin to realize the true beauty inside and out that Ireland offers to the world. I am incredibly thankful to be of Irish heritage, and I look forward to continuing the journey of learning what it means to be Irish.  

Students who are interested in studying in Ireland or another country can make an appointment with Education Abroad to see what opportunities NAU offers.

Abigail Hunsaker and friends at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

NAU Communications