Archive | October, 2012

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

As everyone knows, today is Halloween. However, you may NOT know that Halloween is one of most favorite holidays! Who doesn’t love a chance to dress up and be whoever you want to be for an entire night, have no one judge you for it, AND get tons of free candy and not have to feel guilty about eating it? There are probably some scrooges who don’t, however I absolutely love it. I was very worried coming over to Ireland this semester that Halloween wouldn’t be as big of deal as it is in the states. This being said, I was pleasantly surprised this week when almost every night I stumbled upon people walking in and out of pubs with costumes ranging anywhere from Where’s Waldo to cotton candy. I wanted to do a little bit of research on my own about the history of Halloween in Ireland and see if there was anything different about the traditions and upbringing than the ones in the United States. I was very interested into what I found…

Halloween originally came from the 2,000 year-old Celtic festival of Samhain, which comes from the old Irish language meaning “end of summer.” The Pagan Irish worshipped the natural cycle of life with emphasis on solar and lunar cycles and the changing of the seasons. It was a time used by the ancient pagans to stock up on supplies and get ready for the winter months. They believed that on Samhain, the veil between this world and the next was at its weakest and the spirits of the dead ancestors could pass through. The Celts believed it was the day that the dead revisited the mortal world. It marked the end of summer and the start of the winter months on the Celtic calendar. Huge feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. Samhain was celebrated by wearing costumes, most likely animal heads and skins, to disguise themselves as evil spirits and avoid kidnapping by the real harmful spirits who were out prowling for innocent people. Huge bonfires would be lit to help guide the friendly spirits. In Ireland specifically, people went about before nightfall collecting items for Samhain feasts and sometimes wore costumes while doing so. This was probably where the tradition of “trick-or-treating” originated, in which children wear costumes and go to houses and collect candy. In 19th century Ireland, a man dressed as a white mare would lead youths door-to-door collecting food; by giving these children food, the household could expect good fortune from the ‘Muck Olla.’

Along with trick-or-treating, carving jack-o’-lanterns may also have sprung from Celtic beliefs. Turnip lanterns, sometimes with faces carved into them, were made on this holiday in the 19th century in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands. As well as being used to lights one’s way while outside on Samhain night, they may also have been used to represent the spirits and/or to protect oneself and one’s home from evil.  

The Halloween that we see today is now a very westernized version of what we originally saw back then in Ireland. However, North American almanacs of the late and early 19th century give no indication that Halloween was celebrated there. The Puritans in New England, for example, maintained strong opposition toward the tradition of Halloween and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that it was brought to North America in full force. Confined to the immigrant communities during the mid-19th century, it was gradually assimilated into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century, it was being celebrated coast to coast by all people of various backgrounds. 

All this being said, I’d like to give a big THANK YOU to the Irish for basically creating the framework for the Halloween celebration we know today. So when all of you are out trick-or-treating tonight, you can remember the history of this day and appreciate celebrating it in the country that provided the origins of this awesome holiday.

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County Wicklow

31 Oct

Kate Rabatsky

A couple of weeks ago, I took a bus tour to a bus tour to County Wicklow. I really had no idea what to expect because I just decided to go last minute with some of my friends. We took a very long bus ride through the mountains and hills. The bus stopped in the middle of Wicklow National Park because there was a very famous film that was filmed at a little bridge by the road. The movie is called P.S. I Love You and they filmed this bridge during the scene when the two main characters met for the first time. It was very cool to see.

We hopped back on the bus and did our final stop in Glendalough. It was interesting to find out that the name of this place meant “glen of two lakes” because there are two massive lakes that are just beautiful. We learned a lot about the history of this area. A group of monks founded a monastery in this area in the 5th century. The most famous of the monks that founded the monastery was a man named Kevin, who soon attracted many followers.

One of the most famous structures in the Glendalough is the Round Tower. It is 33 meters tall, with one window per floor and 4 windows on the top floor in the compass points. Monks in St. Kevin’s monastery built the tower originally as a bell tower. But sometimes the tower was used as protection in times of attack. The tower’s main door was constructed to be about 3 meters above the ground so that when the ladder was removed, intruders wouldn’t be able to get in.

I never really knew much about the monks of Glendalough but I had seen many places called Kevin’s Kitchen before and never really understood what it meant until now.

Croke Park

31 Oct

On Friday, some kids from our Irish Life and Culture class went to Croke Park. Croke Park has been Ireland’s main stadium that supports Irish sports, and it is located right here in Dublin. Just outside the city centre. The stadium is the home of Gaelic games, and is also the main headquarters for the GAA: Gaelic Athletic Association. The stadium holds over 60 games a year, with games mostly being played on Sundays, and some Saturday games. The two biggest Gaelic sports are: Gaelic football and hurling. The stadium holds over eighty thousand people, making it one of the biggest stadiums in all of Europe. Everyone gets really into, and the GAA has a huge impact on Irish life and culture. It brings everyone together to enjoy these sporting games, with good competition and every county competing to be the best.

The biggest event that happened in Croke Park, I believe, was Bloody Sunday. During a Gaelic football match the Royal Irish Constabulary invaded Croke Park in November of 1920.They were supported by the British Auxiliary Division, and started opening fire around the stadium.  There were four-teen deaths including the captain of Tipperary’s team Michael Hogan. The fact that something like this could happen at a sporting event out of nowhere is ridiculous. Innocent lives were taken because the Irish were fighting for what they wanted: independence, and there was nothing they could do to really protect themselves. It made a huge impact for the Irish’s Independence.

Croke Park today still affects Ireland a lot. The Irish have never been more proud of their Country, especially in supporting sports. It has brought this country together in unity even if they are competing for the championship.

C.S. Lewis Lecture

31 Oct

On October 22, I attended a C.S. Lewis Lecture, which is a lecture held annually by the Evangelical Alliance Ireland in honor of C.S. Lewis and his beliefs about Christianity.  This year was the sixth annual year, and it was held in the Chartered Accountants House on Pearse Street in Dublin. The guest lecturer was Os Guinness—the great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness; both of his parents were medical missionaries during World War II. I attended this lecture with my parents not knowing what it was about, but it turned out to be a very stimulating event. There were refreshments before the lecture started, and books were available for purchase. I noticed some students there, probably attending due to requirement. We even met Os Guinness by running into him in the elevator down to the lecture hall, and my dad got his autograph in one of the books when the lecture finished.

To sum up, the lecture was mainly about “Soul Freedom”, which is creating a safe public space for believers in Christianity and nonbelievers.  Os spoke about simply stimulating ongoing public discussion, since the Irish public has moved from being once extremely religious to now majorly secular. As the world becomes more modern, it has also become less religious. He talked about how Europe has resisted the resurgence of religion that has occurred in other countries, such as America. He addressed questions such as: why is freedom of though so important? and how do we live with our deep differences? He also spoke about the problem of Christians fighting for their own rights rather than the rights of others. He also introduced stages for implementing a plan to achieve their goal. One quote that resonated with me was “the right to believe anything doesn’t mean anything we believe is right.”

This lecture particularly resonated with me because I identify as a Christian, and it opened my eyes more to what the ways of life are like currently in Ireland. I was aware that people do not adhere to Catholicism as much, but I realized how much times have truly changed from the past—specifically from Catholicism. Despite the war between Catholics and Protestants, secularism is now the majority; I found that somewhat ironic. Also, this lecture caused me to view the city in a different light; I can better comprehend the change that has occurred and the way that Irish Dubliners are—I have had a hard time understanding the Irish ways of life and this is an aspect that I had not previously considered to help me understand. It has helped me obtain a slightly better grasp on Irish life, and I have found myself slowly realizing that it is these aspects that I had not considered that provide a better understanding of Irish life. 

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I didn’t get a chance to take a picture, but this is from the lecture

The Preservation of Irish Culture Through Sport

31 Oct

In getting to know the culture and history of Ireland, one must encounter the powerful influence and affect that sports have upon the people that make up the small island. The preservation of Irish culture amongst a turbulent British influence over hundreds of years makes the maintaining of any form of true Irish traditions extremely important. This preservation includes the act of sport. The four main Gaelic sports are hurling, rounders, handball and gaelic football. The establishment that helped to bring formalization and foundation for these sports was the GAA, The Gaelic Athletic Association.

My interest in the GAA grew after our trip to Croke Park, the national stadium where all GAA Finals are played. I became more interested in learning about how the GAA started and it’s impact on Irish society.

The main founder of the GAA was Michael Cusack, who moved to Dublin in 1877. At that time, Gaelic sports were mainly played by the middle and upper classes. The foundations for these games found their roots in local clubs throughout Ireland, which all varied slightly in their rules and regulations. Sometimes games had to be stopped because teams from different counties were playing by different rules. A game that Cusack witnessed in Galway in 1884, where the game was stopped multiple times because of confusion over rules, sparked the idea that a standardization of the Irish games needed to be established through a general governing body of Irish sports.

Cusack was a journalist and used this venue to gain support for his cause. His October 11, 1884 articles on the establishment of a governing body over Irish sports gained wide spread support. He then took the next step and organized an official meeting in Haye’s Commercial Hotel, which took place exactly 128 years ago on November 1st, which was to be the very first meeting of the present day Gaelic Athletic Association for the Preservation and Cultivation of our National Pastimes. 

The organization would grow rapidly from its first small meeting of seven men. As it grew, it needed a foundational headquarters to play national finals matches. After a fundraising match to raise money for the first Patron of the GAA, Archbishop Thomas William Croke, enough money was raised to purchase the Jones Road Sports Ground. It would be renamed Croke Park after the Archbishop. 

The GAA from that point on was to become an integral part of Irish society. Not only did the organization involve itself with sports, but also found itself aligning with very heated political topics. In the 1916 uprising, many of the GAA’s prime members were imprisoned, which curtailed the GAA’s progress. After the uprising, British authorities banned trains going to and from Croke Park, which severely hurt the GAA’s financial situation. But the GAA fought back and refused to acknowledge the British laws requiring permits to play Irish games. They even organized a massive day of protest in 1918 known as Gaelic Sunday, in which hundreds of Gaelic games were played around Ireland under the GAA’s organization as a defying act against British rule. 

The GAA has a very serious commitment to the preservation of Gaelic games, which in the past meant that only Gaelic games could be played on its fields according to rule 42. A momentous change for the organization came in 2005, when this rule was uplifted and the Irish Rugby team and the Irish Soccer team were allowed to play in Croke Park. In 2007 the Irish Rugby Team played the French Rugby team, and the Irish Soccer team played the Wales Soccer team.

The GAA and it’s famous Croke Park have played a massive role in preserving Irish culture, as well as influencing the political and social history of the nation. 

Northern Ireland

31 Oct

We left Dublin on Friday to embark on our journey up to Northern Ireland, unaware of what to expect. We had all heard different warnings about the cities up north– in class we learned about the struggles between Northern Ireland, Ireland and the British and how complicated the relationships are. Some friends told me to be very careful in Belfast due to all of the violence that occurred there, others told me that Belfast has great shopping and a lively nightlife and did not mention anything about being careful. I took all of the comments into consideration, but waited until we pulled into the city to make my own decisions. We visited parliament as well as the headquarters of the Orange Order and looked at both sides of the struggle and I am still unable to say that I sympathize with a certain side. While I do think that the whole of Ireland should be united if only for the reason that it just makes the most sense because the island is so small, Northern Ireland does have benefits from being a part of the United Kingdom. There are good points for both sides of the argument. If I lived in Northern Ireland, I have no idea if I would consider myself Irish or British. Learning about the conflict in class and actually visiting the city of Belfast stirs very different emotions within you. In class learning feels distant, like there is no direct connection to you. Actually seeing the bullet holes in the walls and the murals just awakens feelings and emotions and allows you to really empathize with the people. All weekend, the thing that gave me the biggest emotional reaction was an artifact that I saw at the museum in Derry. Inside a case were actual items from Bloody Sunday. Jackets with bullet holes, shirts with blood, cameras, and belts all stared back at you as you gazed in. Hearing about Bloody Sunday is one thing, but seeing a bloody shirt from one of the victims is a completely different feeling.

I went to Northern Ireland with a basic understanding of the conflict, but left with a deeper understanding of the issue. Murals, artifacts and actual people’s opinions helped to teach us about what happened and what is currently happening. We can learn from a book, or we can experience the world firsthand and actually understand what is going on.

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And Here I Though It Would Be A Nice Break…

31 Oct

Whenever I speak to an Irish person and the pleasantries such as names, hometown, etc., come to an end, I would guess that 70% of the time politics are brought into discussion. It is quite odd that Irish people would have not only a vested interest, but also sound understanding of the Presidential race in America. I find this nearly comical because in America, while it is huge news, it is not a day to day topic of conversation. Therefore, I wanted to do a little research to see why Irish people are so interested in the Presidential race.

It may sound egocentric, but let’s be honest here: the United States is one of the most powerful countries in the world. As such, it is not terribly surprising that people around the world are inherently attuned to our activities. Since the current Presidential race will have huge implications in to our foreign policy, it creates the perfect storm of attention to US politics. However, it can be argued that the Irish have more of an interest in our activities than most other countries in Europe.

The relationship between the Irish and US politics can be traced to many spots. During the Great Famine in the mid 19th Century, America became a huge emigration location for the struggling Irish families. A recent study showed that over 40 million people in the United States claim Irish heritage, and 25% solely claim Irish heritage. Therefore, it takes no stretch of the imagination to imply there are many people living in Ireland with family in America today. In fact, President John F. Kennedy, who was an icon in Ireland during his presidency, visited Dunganstown in his 1963 trip to Ireland; his family originally hails from here.

However, it is also noteworthy to look at what the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C. had to say about US-Irish relations in a 2008 review requested by then-Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. The introduction stated that, “The United States has played a central role to Ireland’s economic development and path to peace.” While I’m sure we were not the only player in Ireland’s economic development and peace process, this would explain why many Irish people have an attraction toward US politics.

I suppose I will have to get used to Irish people constantly wanting to talk politics. Let’s just hope Obama wins so we aren’t scorned, as I am told by a few Irish people that is a likely outcome (sorry to all Republicans on this trip).