Martin McKiernan

Discomfort drives change

Martin is a law student at Ulster University. He has experience working in the voluntary and public sector with Citizens Advice and the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland. He is active in student politics having been Vice President of the Queen Mary University (London) Law Society. Martin is also active in his local Sinn Fein organization where he manages their social media engagement.


Martin McKiernan

Ulster University


Work Placement
The Brady Campaign

Host Family
Sean & Dori O’Donnell

Date Published
June 10, 2017

The Washington Ireland Program can be difficult to describe to anyone not involved with the organization. There are incredible opportunities, both personally and professionally, that you are exposed to throughout the summer. So for my blog I have felt to go back a few steps and talk about the emotions I felt leaving Ireland and heading to America and meeting the most important people I would meet all summer, my host family.

Ah, America. The land of free. The land of opportunity. The American dream and yer man Big Sam. I’ve heard the phrases and the stereotypes, but just to get out to this vast country and see the place for myself.

Something inside me, maybe my Irish pessimism, prevented me from actually believing I would get here in the first place. Amazing opportunities don’t happen for a normal Belfast lad like myself. Or do they? Well, in fact, it was happening, and 8 weeks of challenges and adventure lay ahead.

I remember meeting 3 other WIP students, Colum, Nadine and Conleth early on 3rd June and then we all got on the bus on Glengall street, a journey which set us off on our American adventure.

Meeting everyone at Dublin airport, the nerves began to sink in. For the first time it seemed real. Heading to America was in my reach. Bryan Patten was there to see us off. Up the stairs we went, with our last views of Ireland and a sense of the unknown for what lay ahead. The photo enclosed is one when I finally got through all the security in Dublin and there was no turning back! The District of Columbia and the State of Virginia were waiting for me, as I adopted them as my new home for the summer of 2017.

Arriving in DC, we met our host families in the arrivals waiting lounge. It was such a strange initial feeling. After a 7 hour transatlantic flight the group was feeling pretty tired but the host family arrival was full of energy and took me by surprise. Looking through at all these excited faces, with their American accents, asking us who was who and hugging us as if we had known them for years. The awkward smile and laugh kicked in. My host dad, Sean, picked me up. He gave me a high five and a hug. All of a sudden, my nerves went away and I couldn’t wait to get to know my host family better. In that moment I was consumed with an excited feeling which I can only equate to being a small child on Christmas day and that present you really wanted was there.

Heading back to O’Donnell house in Arlington county, Virginia, I was amazed looking around. In my head I didn’t know what to expect. The heat, the clear blue sky, the monstrous highways and the cars driving on the other side of the road took me by surprise. We arrived at the O’Donnells and there I met the whole family – Dori (mom), Audrey & McKenna (sisters), Garrett (brother) and their lovable dog Shrek. They were unbelievably welcome and friendly. They were so inquisitive about Ireland, how my flight went and finding out more about me. Dori had tacos and chips (crisps) with dipping sauce out the back. My welcome to the US could not have been more perfect. Our bonding has continued throughout the summer and Dori’s fabulous cooking has been gladly received. They are an amazing family and WIP did an incredible job of matching them with me. I know they will be in my life for a long time to come.

So that’s it. At the time of writing I’m just over 5 weeks into the program. In this 5 weeks already I have learned so much. The main lesson is that no matter what age or where I go in life, I will continue to learn. Each experience and opportunity we have shapes us and adds to our own journey in this world. Despite nervous feelings and apprehension before leaving Ireland I have not looked back. Discomfort drives change and putting yourself out there and grabbing those chances available to you is so important.

WIP 2017 has given me so much, I hope I have given my fair share as well. This class, our class, is going to change the island of Ireland and add so much to our chosen industries. Our bond with America will always run deep and our bond we have together with our class and host families will continue for a long time to come.