Archive | December, 2012

Northern Ireland: Giant’s Causeway

23 Dec

Giant’s Causeway, a huge natural space of land located in Northern Ireland, immediately became one of the most incredible things that I’ve seen while studying abroad in Europe. I was astounded at the stunning coastline, the interesting looking octagon-shaped rocks, the huge walls of grass dirt covered rocks hugging the path, and of course, the giant volcanic hole located within the first ten minutes of my walk. As I walked down the path, observing all of the natural beauty, I could definitely understand why Giant’s Causeway is considered the most popular tourist attraction in the whole of Northern Ireland.

The Giant’s Causeway not only has an interesting factual history, it also has an extremely old legend behind it. The real history began about 65 million years ago, when volcanoes were active in this area of the world. At the Giant’s Causeway, there was an enormous lava plateau under the earth, and when it cooled down, the previously molten rocks formed the fantastic looking rock pillars. The rocks contained chalk, also known as white limestone; some of the white limestone can still be noticed on the rocks to this day.  Back 65 million years ago, when the continents were just a huge landmass known as Pangaea, the tectonic plates beneath where the causeway is located shifted, creating the ocean and volcanic activity. The lava that was produced from this activity spilled throughout the area, and as it cooled and dried, it created what we see today.

Although we now know the real story behind Giant’s Causeway, we cannot forget the legends that used to be known as the cause of the phenomenon. In the causeway legend, a giant, known as Fionn mac Cumhaill, lived peacefully in Ireland with his giant wife. In Scotland, however, a giant named Benandonner would bully and gibe Fionn, who, after a while of enduring it, finally decided to take action and built a causeway of stones to walk across en route to Scotland. However, Fionn had one glance at Benandonner and ran away in fear, even losing his boot, which is still present in Port Noffer to this day. However, the legend definitely does not end there. Fionn, realizing Benandonner was in pursuit of him, had his wife dress him up as a baby to hide him. Because of the size of the giant baby, Benandonner assumed that Fionn himself would be frighteningly enormous, so he took off back to Scotland, ruining the causeway just in case Fionn wanted to follow him.

Both of the stories definitely add interest to the beautiful Giant’s Causeway. I was glad to know the legend and the truth behind this incredible space of land. Visiting and walking through this area of Ireland has definitely been one of the highlights of my study abroad experience.


Free Derry: Bloody Sunday Museum

23 Dec

In Derry, of Northern Ireland, there lies a museum that is dedicated to the victims of the Bloody Sunday massacre that occurred in Derry in on January 30th, 1972. This terrible event, in which fourteen were brutally shot and killed by police during a peaceful march, is marked as an extremely dark day in Irish and Northern Irish history. The museum of Free Derry is dedicated to those individuals who gave up their lives attempting to promote peace and acceptance in Northern Ireland. The owner and the starter of the museum is actually the brother of the youngest teenager killed in the Bloody Sunday attacks.

When we first gathered into the front room of the tiny museum, the owner came to briefly speak with us. The story he told was full of detail, but, thankfully, also not full of detail. He was present during the attacks, and was with his brother while he was dying of the wounds he received. The owner gave us the basic facts of that day, and passed around some of the rubber bullets that the officers would use against the Free Derry activists. Knowing that one of those enormous pieces of rubber was shot at people from extremely close ranges is cringe-worthy. The story he told us is heartbreaking, but he was candid and honest while telling us, and even gave time for questions. Afterward, we were able to explore the small museum.

The museum consists of two long halls filled with pictures, artifacts, letters, newspaper clippings, and other things of the like. It also tells the basic history of the troubles in Derry, moving in chronological order. It is one of the most informative but saddest things that I have experienced while in Ireland. One of the most interesting aspects of the museum were the televisions, which showed homemade videos, as well as professionally taking videos, of various parts of the troubles in Northern Ireland. However, one specific thing that caught mine, and I’m sure many others’, eye was the letter that one of the officers wrote to the family of one of the dead protesters during Bloody Sunday. In this letter, the officer showed absolutely no remorse for his actions, and even went so far as to attack the individual.  It was the most appalling piece of paper I have ever seen, and it really highlighted the entire, polar opposite feelings and views that certain groups had during Ireland’s Troubles.

Overall, the trip to the museum, although extremely sad, was a fruitful one. It is a tiny museum, but so extremely informative and truthful. The personal history behind it makes the museum that much more memorable.

Northern Ireland: Belfast Murals

23 Dec

In Belfast, where we visited for a day, there lies a rich history of the Troubles that occurred in Northern Ireland not too long ago. The troubles were born out of the conflict between those who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, and those who wanted to break off and become part of the Republic of Ireland. After the war of independence, a few counties stayed in Northern Ireland stayed as part of the United Kingdom. However, in that area, there were groups who were considered ‘nationalists’ who wanted to become part of the Republic, and groups that were called ‘loyalists’ who wanted to stay under the British rule. This polar opposition of views led to what we now refer to as the ‘Troubles’ of Northern Ireland.

In the 60s through 80s and 90s, the troubles were associated with Northern Ireland, including Belfast, its capital. In the 60s, the Royal Ulster Constabulary started a brutal attack on a civil rights for Catholics protest, and when a Protestant loyalist counter protest occurred, violence did as well. During the early 70s, when the Bloody Sunday attacks occurred, there were also other violent attacks between the groups. In 1974, there was a bombing by the IRA in two Birmingham, which directly led to the British government’s establishment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which meant that any suspects could be put in prison for up to a week, without any actual charges. In the 80s, there were the hunger strikes, led by the IRA leader, Bobby Sands, in prison. During the 90s, violent protests kept occurring throughout Northern Ireland, and in 1998, the Good Friday peace agreement finally was reached. Although that did not immediately stop the troubles, it is considered a landmark, and the beginning of the end of them.

In Belfast, there are many murals that are depictions of the troubles that occurred over time in Northern Ireland. We were fortunate enough to go on a bus tour to see many of these murals, both from Irish nationalists and British loyalists. They are located all throughout Belfast, and are detailed and enormous. There are murals of Bobby Sands, of Catholics being hated by Protestants, and of nationalists promoting violence against loyalists. The murals are both symbolic and straight to the point. They are representatives of history, and clearly mark the views of whoever created them. Being able to see these murals was both educational and exciting and interesting.

A Bunch of Blarney

21 Dec

One of the last things on my Ireland bucket list for the semester was to be able to say that I kissed the Blarney Stone. Feeling like I was about to fall through the crack that I was bending over backwards, I felt the rain start just as I kissed the cold smooth surface of the infamous stone. It is a moment I will never forget. Leading up to the Blarney Castle was some of the most amazing landscape I had seen in this beautiful country thus far. It made me wonder why this castle was so significant as I read the plaques leading up to the place where so many tourists have been to kiss the Blarney Stone.

Frances Sylvester Mahoney was one of the first people to promote the powers that are supposedly linked to kissing the stone. Mahoney said, “The stone this is, whoever kisses, he never misses to grow eloquent ‘tis he may clamber to a lady’s chamber, or be a member of Parliament”. This being said, kissing the stone is meant to bring good luck and the gift of eloquence. Although it may not believed by all, many tourists from all over the word have planted a kiss on the block of bluestone from 1446.

DSCN2751 DSCN2731 DSCN2770The stone is said to give one “the ability to deceive without offending” according to ancient myths from centuries ago. There is no one particular story that is necessarily true, but the Blarney Castle was one of my favorite spots. Although the rain began just as I was kissing the stone, I wouldn’t expect anything else while in Ireland. I am thankful for my new gift of eloquence from the Blarney Castle as I leave the country that has become my home.

The Irish Language

21 Dec

Something that really interested me throughout this semester is the Irish language. I found it fascinating to hear it spoken in day-to-day life in the Aran Islands, and I found our visit to Conradh na Gaeilge especially interesting as well. It shocks me that I was unaware of the language prior to coming to Ireland (or at least I didn’t know it was called “Irish” as apposed to just “Gaelic”), and already I bring up the Irish language when talking to friends and family at home when they ask about Ireland. I was inspired by Conradh na Gaeilge’s dedication to preserving the Irish language. I think it is really valuable to have the club downstairs where everyone can speak Irish to each other.


After visiting Conradh na Gaeilge, I became interested in the prevalence of the Irish language in Ireland. According to the census report released in 2011, the number of Irish speakers in Ireland has increased by 7.1% since 2006. The number of people outside of the education system who speak Irish has increased by 5,037 people. In addition, those who speak Irish on a weekly basis have increased by 7,781 and there are now 27,239 more people who sometimes speak  Irish (not all the time, but they are able to). In Gaeltacht areas, 35% of the people there speak Irish on a day-to-day basis. According to the Irish Times, the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley said that there is a 20-year strategy to develop and preserve the Irish language. The goal is to achieve a 25% increase in Irish speakers in this area, and thus the statistics released are a positive sign. Through my research, I have also learned that Irish is the third most spoken language in Ireland. The other two languages are English and Polish, which I found particularly interesting and surprising.


I’m glad to see the number of Irish speakers in Ireland increasing and to see organizations like Conradh na Gaeilge work to preserve the language. Irish is so important to Irish culture.  It is unique to Ireland and should be more prominent in the country.


20 Dec

For our FIE Irish Life and Culture course essay, I chose to write about the separation of Church and State in Ireland.  I specifically decided to focus on abortion.  In my research and reading of news articles, I came across a very shocking and saddening story which I had actually heard a blurb about on the news while in Brussels over reading week.  This story is about a young woman who was pregnant with her first child and was experiencing some medical complications.  When it was learned that her baby was not going to make it and the patient was still in danger, the woman requested an abortion.  However, she was denied the abortion, as abortion is still illegal in Ireland under most circumstances.  This whole story has caused a sort of uproar and created a large amount of controversy because the woman ended up dying due to her complications with the miscarriage, and was denied an abortion despite her health being in danger.    

In the very recent past, Ireland has experienced increased controversy with damaged health and even death to women who have been denied an abortion, even though their health or life was in danger.  Along with this, there has been increased rallying and support of the pro-choice movement in Ireland.  The most relevant and recent example may be the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway University Hospital.  Savita was seventeen weeks pregnant when she started experiencing severe back pain and frequent urination.  She and her husband went in to the maternity ward at Galway University Hospital; she was examined, told she was fine, and sent home.  Once home, her symptoms worsened, and she and her husband returned to the hospital.  Upon further examination, the doctors tell her that she is fully dilated; however, at seventeen weeks the baby is unviable, and they will inevitably loose the baby.  When Savita had an ultrasound, they discovered that there is still a fetal heartbeat, and she and her husband are told that intervention is now no longer an option.  She asks for a termination of the miscarriage, but is continually denied.  On the third day of the miscarriage, Savita begs for termination of the pregnancy, to which the doctor responds to the Hindu, Indian woman, “this is a Catholic country,” insinuating that abortions are against the Catholic religion and also the law.  That night and the next morning, Savaita’s condition worsened; by the afternoon, the fetal heartbeat had stopped.  At that point, the pregnancy was terminated.  However, Savita’s condition worsened still, and she was sedated.  Doctors told her husband that she had contracted E.coli ESBL and septicemia.  Her heart, kidney, and liver began to fail, and Savita died .  Many argue that Savita Halappanavar was wrongly denied the termination of the pregnancy.  What has caused the most controversy is the alleged statement made by the doctor that Ireland “is a Catholic country,” and, therefore, abortions are illegal.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

20 Dec

During our FIE travels, we also went to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge during our weekend in Northern Ireland.  The bridge is located near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.  This bridge is located in the most beautiful setting; it connects the main land on the coast to a large rocky formation.  This rocky formation is the small island of Carrickarede, from the Irish: Carraig a Raid, which means “rock of casting.”  The bridge itself covers the sixty-eight feet between the coast and the island, and is ninety-eight feet about the water crashing into the rocks below.  It is truly a beautiful sight that looks like it could be straight from a page of a magazine.  The area is exceptional in natural beauty, and also boasts beautiful views of Rathlin Island and Scotland.  The bridge is mainly a tourist attraction (in 2009, the bridge had 247,000 visitors), and it is owned, like Giant’s Causeway, by the National Trust.

This bridge also has a rich history.  It is believed that salmon fisherman have been building different bridges to the Carrickarede island for over 350 years.  In the 1970s, the bridge was much less safe and had fewer safety precautions than it does, today.  At that time, there were large gaps between each slat of the bridge, and there was only one handrail on one side of the bridge.  This, obviously, was a safety hazard.  So, in 2000, a new bridge was built.  This bridge tested up to ten tons. It was built with the help of local hikers, climbers, and rappelers.  Another, even more safe bridge, was then built in 2004.  In 2008, the bridge that we crossed on our trip to Carrick-a-Rede was built.  This bridge was constructed out of wire rope and Douglas fir wood by a construction company in Belfast for the cost of 16,000 pounds (sorry I don’t have the pound symbol on my computer).  Though this bridge is incredibly safe, it still can be very frightening for some visitors.  There have even been instances where visitors have had to be taken off of Carrickarede island by a boat after being unable to walk back across the bridge due to their own fear.  This bridge is no longer used by fisherman during salmon season like it used to be, because there are very few salmon left in the water.  During the 1960s, almost 300 salmon were caught each day.  In 2002, only 300 salmon were caught in an entire season.