Archive | October, 2012


31 Oct

The Irish Museum of Modern Art or the IMMA holds a profuse amount of Ireland’s most notable modern and contemporary art. I must say the museum is one of Irelands hidden gems because I would not have known about it if my photography teacher had not mentioned it to my class. The museum attracts more than 400,000 visits every year the IMMA is the leading national institution for the collection and presentation for artist from around the country to display their work.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to explore the Alice Maher exhibit appropriately title Becoming, a mid-career retrospect of Maher’s work. The exhibition depicts a “point of transformation, and the philosophical arena”, of Maher’s current and previous work. The 16-room exhibit is a complex account of ever changing world that surrounds us every day.

As I wondered from room to room I have to admit, I was a little confused by the story Maher was attempting to share with the common spectator such as myself. Then I being to notice that each room had a story of its own and once combined they all share a complex story of the Becoming of the world around us. When I walked into the third room title Ombres I was immediately drawn to the three portraits on the wall to the far right of the room. The images illustrated three different textures, straight, wavy, and kinky of what appears to be hair covering an entire body. Perhaps the three basic textures of hair, the portraits are made out of nothing more than charcoal on a 170 x 370 canvases. I found the images to be a representation of perception, how much we value our hair to the point that it over comes who we are and we are nothing more than hair. I could be completely off from what Maher is actually expressing however this is my take on the Ombres


A Day at Croke Park

31 Oct

My most recent trip has been to Croke Park stadium and museum. I have to admit that I’ve never been very interested in sports, either in playing them or watching them, but I found the tour of the stadium to be more interesting than I thought it would be.

One thing that stands out in my mind was the passion for the sports and the various teams that I saw in a short film that we watched. It was evident that the spectators had a huge passion for their favorite team, and the win or loss of their teams really meant a lot to them. At times, I could feel myself begin to get caught up in some of the fans’ excitement!

Another aspect of the tour that really stood out to me was the history of the stadium. One of the stands, known as Hill 16, was built using rubble from Easter Rising, a rebellion staged in 1916. I thought it was fascinating to think that the stadium holds part of such an important piece of history. If you think about it, the rebellion really wasn’t that long ago, and the fact that it was so recent makes the event that much more meaningful.

A second historical aspect of the stadium was that the stadium was the setting for a massacre in 1920 that became known as Bloody Sunday. This took place within the events of the Irish War of Independence. Fourteen civilians were killed in the shooting. As I looked around the stadium, viewing the places where those people had been killed, I realized how important the stadium is, not only because of the games it hosts, but because of the events it memorializes.

My experience at Croke Park helped me to learn not only about the sports of Ireland, but about the recent history and events that took place not so long ago. Hopefully, I’ll be able to remember what I’ve learned, even years after I have returned to my home country.

The Emerald Isle: North

30 Oct


I often find that we tend to formulate opinions about particular people and places before seeing them based on what we hear and see on tv and in passing. In many ways, this was the situation for me prior to visiting Northern Ireland. Although I had never been there, I had the preconceived notion that the North would be run-down and, to be completely honest, a bit dangerous due to its past. Yet when we arrived in Belfast on Friday evening, I was thoroughly shocked by the flourishing city that was unfolding before me…

One of the most intriguing aspects of Belfast (and Derry later on) was how very different it was from Dublin both socially as well as architecturally. The people that inhabited Belfast seemed to dress and act a bit differently than what we are used to. For lack of better word, they seemed to have a bit more of a “traditional” European style; it almost felt as if I was walking through the streets of London at some points. In addition to the people, I frequently found myself looking up at a number of the buildings and marveling at the finesse of the architecture–one particular building directly outside the Jury’s Inn that we stayed at had beautifully intricate details lining the roof that I couldn’t help but admire. It’s slightly bewildering to think that two cities like Belfast and Dublin could exist in the same country (though technically, Northern Ireland is part of the UK) and yet differ from each other on so many levels.

As exciting as cities are for me, however, I was raised surrounded by nature and my interests lie mainly in the Irish countryside. Considering this, our time spent at The Giant’s Causeway was, perhaps, one of the most memorable experiences I have had here. Aside from the obvious fact that it was an absolutely beautiful day, the geological rock formations and all else that surrounded completely blew me away. I’ve always been a fan of nature, and having the opportunity to experience it up close and personal was an exciting opportunity for me (admittedly, I often held up my friends as I couldn’t take my camera away from my eye). To put it quite simply, walking next to the sea and breathing in the fresh ocean air in a land completely different than what I am used to was one of the more exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had; something about the vast green countryside that rolled on and on to my left and the scalloped grooves of the causeway to my right made me feel alive.

Often I collect small little stones and branches when I visit new places as mementos of sorts so I can always remember my experiences in that given place. In Northern Ireland, however, these little tokens of my experiences weren’t enough to capture everything I felt there and I find myself longing to go back. In hindsight, it was naive of me to write off this unique part of the Emerald Isle before even experiencing it. What I had expected to be a dangerous and run-down area turned out being one of the most beautiful places I’ve experienced while being here so far and although I was wrong, I simply take that as part of everything I’ve learned here. Who knows, maybe at some point in the future I’ll be the one to talk up the wonders of the Great North. GB.


Traditional Irish Music: A Staple of Irish Culture

30 Oct

From singing on buses coming home from trips, to hearing musicians on the street, to listening to traditional Irish musicians in pubs, it is obvious that music is a vital component of the Irish culture. It is something that we have come across on a day-to-day basis, and thus I wanted to learn more about why music has such a strong affiliation with Irish culture.

While researching the significance of music in Ireland, I came across a variety of thoughts and articles about the importance of music in the culture. I’d like to share a general synopsis of my findings. I think that it’s important to note that story telling has a strong presence in traditional Irish songs. As Simon Write stated in his article: “music was a way to communicate and commentate on the political and social issues of the day.” Music can be used to express ideas that cannot be said or to share frustrations or triumphs. However, music can also simply tell light-hearted stories as well. It is a way to share not only frustrations, but triumphs as well.

Music can also be used as a reminder of the past. An interesting comment that Write made as well, was that after the Great Famine when many Irish were leaving the country, music was used as a means to hold on to and maintain their Irish ties. It was a way to remind themselves of their country and culture, despite traveling away.

However, the most prominent idea that I came across while researching, and something I’ve noticed throughout this semester as well, is that music plays an integral role in the community. Ireland prides itself on its sense of community, and music is a way to bring everyone together. Therefore, while music can remind Ireland of its past (both good and bad), it is also such a staple in Irish life because it encourages a great sense of camaraderie. It brings people together while also reminding them of their roots.

I think that it is interesting and important to notice the things around us throughout our semester, such as the strong presence of traditional Irish folk music, and then to find out the meaning behind its significance as well.


30 Oct

When I came to Dublin for the semester I was sad that I’d be missing out on two of my favorite holidays back at home – Halloween and Thanksgiving. Little did i know, Halloween in Dublin is just about as big as it is back home! Due to the fact that most European countries don’t celebrate this holiday, I decided to look in to it’s origins in Irish history.

The origin of Halloween lies in the Celt’s Autumn festival which was held on the first day of the 11th month (November in English but known as Samhain in Irish).For Celtic tribes, who viewed the year as divided into light and dark halves, Samhain was the equivalent of New Year. The Celts believed that on the eve of Samhain (Halloween), the dead spirits would revisit the mortal world, so huge bonfires were lit to keep away any evil spirits.

 Although in modern day Halloween is less about dead spirits and more about having fun dressing up and getting candy, there are some traditional aspects of an Irish Halloween that we have keep going.

Jack-o-lantern & Irish Folklore: 

There are two different ideas on why the Irish carried Jack-o-lantern. One is that the tradition is an ancient Celtic tradition: In order to carry home an ember from the communal bonfire the people would hollow out a turnip so they could walk home with the fire still burning.

The other story is that Jack-o-lanterns date back to the 18th century and is named after an Irish blacksmith, called Jack, who crossed the Devil and made the devil promise him he wouldn’t go to hell:  However, Jack was denied entry into Heaven.  When he was denied entry to Heaven he was condemned to walk the earth for eternity but asked the Devil for some light. He was given an ember from the fires of hell and placed it in to a  a turnip that he had hollowed out. From that day on, Jack roamed the earth using is Jack O Lantern to light the way.

Among with some traditions I was already familiar with, I also came across a few that I had never hear of before. For example, the Irish have a typical Halloween dish called Colcannon. Colcannon is a traditional Irish Halloween food and consists of potatoes, cabbage, onions, butter, milk, salt and pepper and is typically eaten for dinner. Sometimes clean coins are wrapped in baking paper and placed in the potato for children to find and keep.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

29 Oct

On Sunday, I took the opportunity to attend mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was such a nice service and I was so glad I got to go.  The Cathedral is not only absolutely stunning but one of my favorite places in Dublin. Whenever I get the chance I try to take advantage of walking through the garden, but going to church was such a great experience.

The Cathedral, which was built in honor of Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick and dates back to 1220.  A lot of what St. Patrick did back in his days has impacted the unpredictable life of religion. Many individuals have played a role in the progression of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Cromwell, William of Orange and King James I, to Queen Victoria all visited prior to St. Patrick, who along with the Irish Church Act made the Cathedral a National one. 

I think it is fascinating, how the cathedral is a major historical and tourist spot to visit but is mainly a place of worship.  I live in Westchester County about a half hour away from the city, coincidentally where there is another St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I have only attended mass there once but in a way the service was similar to the one I attended on Sunday.  Both of those remind me of what I have learned throughout all my religion classes; following the tradition, while the church I go to now is much more of a modern-day service. At the service, there was more singing involved and I really appreciated that.  The choir sat right by the altar and also walked down the aisle before the priest at the beginning and end.  The process of the mass was very similar to mass that I attend on Sundays back in New York.  Some aspects were quite different though.  For example, when I went to receive communion we knelt down in front of the author with a group of about ten people.  I have never done that before, usually I go up to one priest and receive the Eucharist from him.  Many of the prayers and readings were exactly like the ones back home, which made it, better for me to understand what was going on.  

The magnificent cathedral, known for being the heart of Dublin and Ireland’s history and culture for over 800 years remains the largest Cathedral in the country.Image

West Belfast and The Bogside, Derry

29 Oct

On our trip to the North our group was able to visit two communities that were often described as the most violent places on Earth just decades ago. The Troubles from 1968 to 1998 marred the Northern Irish community and has caused a deep psychological scar on all parties involved. What I had learned in my history classes in America and my Irish Cultures class here about The Troubles had lead me to believe that this psychological scar would be omnipresent over the communities in Belfast and Derry. My perception was that these areas would be very closed to outsiders and probably pretty dangerous to wander through alone. Through this trip I learned how much of my perceptions were accurate and how much these communities had changed since peace has graced them.

On Saturday morning after breakfast we were given a few hours to ourselves in Belfast before boarding the bus again to Antrim and Derry. I decided to take a walk through West Belfast and see the famous murals that lined the roads throughout this Irish-Catholic neighborhood. As I walked down Falls Road the non-partisan city center buildings began to melt away and were replaced by proud displaces of Irish nationalism and culture through the forms of tricolors and Irish place names. I looked at my map to confirm that I was officially in “An Gaeltact” part of the city. The murals in this area spoke volumes about the areas tumultuous past. Huge depictions of Bobby Sands and the other Hunger Strikers marked the neighborhood. There were murals of great American abolitionists and Civil Rights leaders like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as many murals promoting solidarity between the Irish and Palestinians. The fact that the Irish in both the north and south seem to identify and support the Palestinians is an interesting connection between these two peoples. Along signposts were signs condemning Israel for its occupation and urging people to boycott Israeli goods in supermarkets. The Irish in the north may have gravitated to supporting the Palestinians because they see one another as dispossessed communities often living under military oppression. Although because of time constraints I did not walk through the Loyalist section of the city, I do not think there would be nearly as strong support for Palestine, as Israel is considered a key ally to the United States and United Kingdom in the region. Radical Loyalists who still proclaim “A Protestant state for a Protestant people” would probably also be more inclined to support a country built on being a Jewish homeland for the Jewish people.The UK was also the architect of the Balfour agreement which would also lead me to believe that Loyalists would likely support Israel. While the Northern Irish community and the Republic both show strong support for Palestine they appear to have different views on radical republicanism. In West, Belfast I noticed many street corners were spray painted with phrases like “RIP Alan Ryan” and “RIRA”. While in the Republic most people considered Ryan to be a Real IRA thug the Northern Irish consider him to be a hero. These differences show the hardline stances that some in the North have embraced over the years. What was most striking about West Belfast however was not its murals or the peace walls which divide the communities around Belfast, it was the peaceful and ordinary nature of the neighborhood which most suprised me. Walking through the area on a Saturday morning did not for an instant feel dangerous or uncomfortable. The area was quiet, people walked their dogs, children played in drive ways, people went about their day as anyone anywhere would. It was surreal, to see on one side of the road a mural of IRA men starving to death, and kids laughing and playing on the other. The people were also friendly, one elderly man walked up to me to ask me what I thought of the murals and where I was from. He warmly shook my hand and smiled, telling me to enjoy my time in Ireland. I did not expect his level of normalcy in a place that has been compared to Baghdad in the past.

This normalcy was not confined to Belfast either, I had the same experience walking through the city center of Derry and The Bogside. The city was very nice, the Bogside neighborhood very peaceful, and the people very nice. It would be easy to forget you were walking in an area once classified as a “No go zone” by British forces until you come across giant murals of the Civil Rights movement or the IRA grafitti that covers every wall and signpost in The Bogside.

The fact that these communities have moved from violent war zones to peaceful neighborhoods in such a short time gives me faith that other places of tension around the world can do likewise. I hope that the Northern Irish people can use their experience to inspire to help others disarm and resolve their conflicts non-violently. Their resolve to permanent non-violence should serve as a model to the rest of the world for what can be achieved without murder or fear.