Anne Driscoll making a difference in Emerald Isle
By STACEY MARCUS
“I arrived in Ireland with no phone, no home and no hairdresser,” said Anne Driscoll, an award-winning journalist, social worker and author.
The longtime Swampscott resident details her experiences as a Fulbright Scholar working with the Irish Innocence Project in her engaging three-volume Irish You Were Here book series, which showcases her superb storytelling skills.
“My first trip abroad was to Ireland for my honeymoon and I have always longed to figure out a way I might some day work and live there, or maybe retire there. I’ve visited Ireland a couple of times since my honeymoon (including a book tour there), but it wasn’t until I got my Fulbright that I finally had the opportunity to actually live and work there. That Fulbright has changed the trajectory of my entire life,” she said, during a recent visit to her Swampscott home.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect of Ireland or myself,” Driscoll said. Her journey began in the fall of 2013 when she arrived in Dublin for her Fulbright academic year to teach law and journalism students of the Irish Innocence Project at Griffith College in Dublin. From the moment Driscoll arrived, the magic began.
“Something about Ireland deeply resonated with me,” Driscoll said.
She may have arrived in Ireland with no phone, no home and no hairdresser, but on her third day there she found an apartment overlooking Griffith College. The landlady had recently opened a hair salon. The magic continued to unfold as Driscoll, who is a member of the Boston Irish Currach Rowing Club, rowed down the River Liffey, climbed two mountains in one day and visited 1200-year-old monasteries and 12th-century pubs. One of her favorite moments was hearing new friends Anita, Adele and Trish proclaim, “We love her!” as they exited a pub at 2:30 a.m., having received myriad marriage proposals at the annual Matchmaking Festival.
“I think I am engaged to three farmers,” said Driscoll, with a smile.
Awesome is how Driscoll describes her work teaching investigative journalism and interviewing skills to law students at Griffith College as they explore cases for the Irish Innocence Project. When she was invited to work on the Innocence Program for a second year, she accepted straightaway. Last summer, she was offered a position in Ireland to work with The Sunny Center of New York, a sanctuary founded by Sonia ‘Sunny’ Jacobs and Peter Pringle who were each sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. While Jacobs spent 17 years in prison in the United States, Pringle spent more than a decade in prison in Ireland. Each was exonerated and their convictions overturned. Driscoll will bring the couple to the North Shore in July to be part of Salem State University’s Institute on Human Rights.
Driscoll is senior reporter for the Justice Brandeis Innocence Project at the Schuster Institute, which uses investigative journalism techniques to examine possible miscarriages of criminal justice. A licensed social worker, Driscoll received the 2016 Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and Social Justice award for her groundbreaking contribution in overturning wrongful convictions, including that of Angel Echavarria of Lynn who was serving a life sentence for a 1994 murder he did not commit.
Driscoll, who grew up in Weymouth and first moved to the North Shore when she attended Salem State College, has always loved writing and telling stories. But she decided to “be practical” and majored in social work. “I was interested in what makes people tick,” she said, and enjoyed her first job working with juvenile delinquent girls, but quit to pursue a writing career.
“My parents thought I was insane,” Driscoll said.
North Shore Sunday hired her to cover local sports, a subject for which she was far from an expert. “I didn’t play sports, so I wrote a profile about myself. Amazingly, they hired me,” she said.
Since that first writing gig, the award-winning journalist’s work has graced the pages of the New York Times, People, Teen People, Health, Real Simple, Parenting and CosmoGirl. She was a stringer for the Boston Globe for 10 years and wrote several self-help books for tweens.
It’s full circle for the Salem State graduate. When she and her former husband were looking to buy a home, Swampscott was their first choice. “I’ve been in the same house in Swampscott ever since!” she said.
“I have loved living in Swampscott, as I love living by the ocean and I find Swampscott to be an authentic and beautiful community. It’s the kind of place you can have an idea and make it happen,” said Driscoll. Her favorite spot is Fisherman’s Beach. “I love the rich history of Fisherman’s Beach – the fishermen who thrived there, the American impressionists who painted the scenes of the fishermen, the fishing shacks, the lobster traps and the Swampscott dories that dotted the landscape, and the Fish House that replaced the fishing shacks.”
She enjoys living and working in Ireland, but there are things here she misses, such as:
Cindy’s pizza, but also Tony Lena’s and Captain’s. Driscoll says Ireland is pizza-challenged.
The smell of the ocean. Although she lives on Ireland’s West Coast, it lacks the same briny smell.
Driving into Swampscott along Lynn Shore Drive and the feeling of home that she gets when she can see Town Hall, the gazebo and the monument on her left and the ocean on her right.
On her website, Driscoll says her mission is “to make a difference in the world, one story at a time.” Check out her three-volume series Irish You Were Here: My Year of Matchmaking Festivals, Fairy Forts and Mugging My Mugger in Ireland (year one), Irish You Were Here: Volume Two: My Year of Chip Butties, Holy Wells and Hugging My Mugger (year two) and Irish You Were Here: Volume Three: My Year of Roaming Ancient Castles, Finding Magic Marbles and Writing Letters to My Mugger (year three).