Irish locals talk immigration |

Irish locals talk immigration

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyMinturn Middle School students ask guest speakers (from left) Gillian Daly, Kate O'Connor and Mella Wheatley about being Irish and immigrating to the Untied States. The students are studying immigration.

MINTURN ” Gillian Daly was born in Dublin where it rains all the time.

The climate here in Vail seemed much more appealing, and that’s one reason why she and her husband moved here years ago. She tells a seventh grade class at Minturn Middle School that the reasons people move here from Ireland today are obviously much different than when a potato famine crippled the country in the 19th Century.

“It’s more a lifestyle change than a case of starvation,” Daly said.

Seventh graders at the school are doing an in-depth study of immigration. Minturn Middle is an expeditionary learning school, which means their curriculum revolves around extensive, long reaching projects that examine big issues in history.

With immigration, they’re studying why different groups of people have come to the United States through the years and trying to connect that information to the immigration debate we’re facing today.

Daly was one of a handful of people who spoke to the class about how Ireland has changed over the years and how our cultures are different.

Kate O’Connor told the class she’s from New Jersey but has an Irish family. Influenced by her family’s proud Irish heritage, she attended Trinity College in Dublin and earned a degree in Irish studies.

“When my mom’s family came over, it was because of the potato famine,” O’Connor said. “Why would you stay if you’re so poor and you can’t really eat? People heard the streets here were paved with gold and you could do anything.”

One student asked the panel “What would you do in Ireland if you were allergic to potatoes?”

If you lived in Ireland years ago, you’d probably be pretty skinny, O’Connor said. Now though, Ireland is a very modern and wealthy country.

Mella Wheatley, now a teacher at Battle Mountain High School, said she moved here from Ireland 12 years ago. She came here to ski a season or two, but ended up staying much longer.

Wheatley told the class about some of the little differences between our two countries. One thing that was hard to get used to in the United States was processed food. She said it was strange to see people here buy boxes of cake mix instead of making it from scratch.

Daly said she doesn’t like the sugary white bread in the United States.

“You can smell the sugar when you walk down the bread isle,” Daly said.

The students were very interested in how difficult it was learning to drive on the right side of the road, then switch to the left side of the road when they go back to Ireland. Daly said there are a lot of car accidents in Ireland because of tourists forgetting and driving the wrong way through traffic.

They students will create detailed Irish “characters” by writing letters and journals from the point of view of an Irish Immigrant who might have passed through Ellis Island.

Next, they’ll learn about today’s immigration in the United States. They’ll study why people cross the border from Mexico and learn what effect immigration can have on the country. They’ll also study “forced immigration” and how millions of people in Africa were forced from their homes to move here for slavery.

Teacher Stephanie Gallegos said she hopes the students will make connections and see parallels between why people have moved here in the past, and why they’re still coming here in 2007.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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