Archive | December, 2012

Sligo Extravaganza

20 Dec

My trip to county Sligo in the northwest of Ireland along with my fellow NUin peers was an interesting and eye-opening experience for myself. Despite the drizzly weather and foggy mornings, the weekend was jam packed with a range of marvelous activities that not only brought me closer towards my peers, but also made me appreciate and exposed me to Irish history and culture.

            One of the most special and memorable aspects of this trip that made it unique was our stay at the Gyreum Ecolodge. The word “gyreum” is derived from Greek, meaning “round building”; this accurately describes the design of the ecolodge, which looks like a green circular funnel emerging from the ground. As the second half of the name gives away, this interesting accommodation site is entirely eco-friendly, using a single wind turbine to power the geothermal heating, solar panels for hot water and electricity. There is a featured eco-friendly composite toilet just a few meters away from the lodge, as well as a tank to collect rainwater, to be used in the showers and toilets.  I felt that the culture and mission of this wonderful lodge, reflected the Irish mentality of being an eco-friendly society, and I was glad to have been a part of the experience for the weekend. Additionally, we were all pampered with an array of mouthwatering home cooked delicious meals, which were made with the freshest produce and ingredients.

            On our first night, we watched a documentary film, directed and produced by one of the owners of the ecolodge, on the issue of the Irish government excavating a number of Cairns and other sacred historical sites in county Sligo, whose actions, the locals strongly oppose. As a result, I learnt about the historical structures of Cairns, which serve a variety of purposes that include being decorations, religious monuments, defense mechanisms, tools for the study of astronomy and a structure for ceremonies etc. Not surprisingly, on our mountain hike the next day, we were able to see actual thousand year old Cairns on the various hill tops that we climbed and took pictures with them. The hike gave me yet another chance to appreciate the beauty and landscape of Ireland, with long winding mountains in the distance, evergreen meadows and cows and sheep grazing.

            On our last night at the ecolodge, an Irish band of musicians had come together to perform a variety of Irish folk songs, that each told a different mythological story of Ireland. Through learning from our Irish, Life and Culture presentations on music, I was able to recognize many of the various instruments that the musicians played, including, a fiddle, a bodhran, a tin whistle and a banjo. Each exclusive instrument contributed it’s own distinct sound to the songs they played, which helped me better understand the value and use of the instruments being used. Finally, after the music had concluded, we were privileged to meet a well renowned female Druid of Sligo, who shared her views on life and narrated a couple of classic Irish folk tales to us with great vigor. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed to learn that she had been studying mainly oral and regular literature for over forty years to have successfully reached the status that she is today; moreover, I realized that to become an ultimate Druid master, one has to sacrifice and dedicate their entire lifestyle and life, to the teachings and philosophy of the Druids.

            All in all, my weekend in Sligo was a blast! My experience was a reinforcement of how hospitable and generous Irish people can be, as seen through our hosts at the ecolodge. Moreover, I was able to be reminded of the wonderful attitude the Irish have towards protecting their environment, whether through the concept of the ecolodge or the locals who protested against the excavation of those precious historical sites in Sligo. The trip also thought me more about Irish culture through the music and story telling session with the band and the Druid. To sum my trip up, it was loads of craic! 

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Dublin Music Scene

20 Dec

Instead of traveling within Europe or going back home for reading week, I stayed for the entirety of that period in Dublin, to absorb and learn more about the Irish lifestyle and culture. While this may sound to many like a far less enticing reading week plan then my friends, who visited exotic cities like Barcelona, Ibiza, Prague, Moscow etc, I do not regret staying in Dublin. While remaining here, I was able to discover more of the Dublin nightlife and experience it’s culture. However, what stood out to me the most was the live music pub scene here in Dublin.

            I was lucky enough to visit both the Brazen Head by the Dublin Castle, and the International Pub by Trinity College, both of which I had never been to.

            Despite having overpriced drinks, the Brazen Head experience was very charming. Claiming to be the oldest pub in Ireland, est. in 1198, I fell in love with the traditional Irish music that complimented my pints of beer extremely well. They also played my song request, “Fields of Athenry”, with a fiddle and a concertina. It was during this piece, that I decided to ask one of the locals why this song was such an important and popular song to Ireland. I soon learnt that this Irish folk ballad, tells the tale of a man named Michael, who is sent to a prison in Australia for stealing food for his family during the Irish potato famine. This was a common happening among many Irish people who had struggled and starved during the famine, and as a result, it had become a nationally recognized song, being adopted as the song of the Irish rugby team as well. Other great singing performances and songs followed the rest of the night, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

            The International Pub was one of my most unique live music experiences here in Dublin. Along with one of my friends, we saw a Puerto Rican female rapper, and a trio of Samoan ladies from the US put on very meaningful and powerful performances. In different musical styles, each performer/performing group rapped/sang about their struggles with racism within the US, coming from a minority community. However, what stood out to me the most was the reception they got from the local Irish audience members. The audience members were extremely encouraging and welcoming of their performances, praising it to the highest regard. Therefore, this performance helped me gain a better understanding of the Irish mentality and appreciation towards meaningful music.

            As a whole, both of these memorable experiences at the Brazen Head and the International Pub exposed me to the excellent music scene here in Dublin. Moreover, it showed me how important the element of music is in Irish life and culture. 

Anglo the Musical

20 Dec

One of my most enjoyable NUin Ireland outing experiences was our trip to watch the musical, “Anglo”. The musical piece comprised of a mix of both regular actors and puppets, adding an interesting touch to the play. What made the play compelling was the economic issues it addressed, focusing on the fall of the Celtic tiger Irish economy, by telling the story of the greed of two lovers from the rural islands of Dunishgal, in the west of Ireland. Therefore, the play not only gave me an understanding of the unique Island of Dunishgal, but also a clearer picture of the factors that led up to the Irish economic crisis and the Irish mentality towards getting rich.            

            The actions of the Irish Anglo Saxon bank (IRAS) directly led to the economic crisis in Ireland, where it willingly loaned money to people who did not have the means to pay back. As seen in this fictitious musical, the IRAS establishes a branch in Dunishgal and looks to invest in housing and commercial development around the Island. Executives from the IRAS encourage these two lovers, John and Sara, the central characters of this play, who live a simple farming lifestyle, to borrow money from the bank and look to invest in the development that was to take place in Dunishgal. They emphasize that having a debt towards the bank is a good thing, and the rewards they would get from applying for loans would outweigh the burden of paying back the loans in the first place; they used the classic “get rich overnight” argument. Sadly, it worked, and John borrows a horrific amount of money, without any credit and spends it on material goods and investments. However, reflecting the reality of the actual economic situation in Ireland back in 2008, the IRAS crashed as a result of the housing bubble, and most people in Ireland lost all their assets and wealth, including John and Sara in Dunishgal.

            Finally, what the play successfully conveyed to me was the attitude of the Irish towards becoming rich overnight. Being a country that became the fastest “poor country” to become rich in Europe, the story of John and Sara are mockeries of the many true stories of Irish families who struggled with poverty and unemployment during the Celtic tiger downfall; they did not live very comfortable lives.  Moreover, the musical also reinforced my high opinion of Irish theatre, and made me better understand Irish economic history. 

Guinness Factory Visit

20 Dec

Guinness beer was among one of the few things that I knew about Ireland, prior to my visit. What I hadn’t known, was how influential and central this drink has been towards Ireland and it’s culture for centuries. Having been in Ireland for quite some time now, it would be a lie if I could tell you exactly how many Guinness advertisements I have come across. Whether it is drinking a pint or walking on a street in Dublin, it is hard to avoid coming across some association with Guinness. These circumstances made me decide to go visit the Guinness factory, which I could see from my very own blackhall apartment living room and learn more about this sacred Irish beer.

            Upon entering the factory and beginning the tour with my mom, I was astounded by the very architecture and shape of the building. I came to learn that the entire building was shaped like a pint of Guinness as well. Each floor had interesting facts and demonstrations that discussed the history and the process of making Guinness. Only the very finest wheat and barley, is harvested and fermented along with the alcohol to create this fine beer. The bitter taste can be attributed to the roasting of the barley, which is an essential process to producing this beer. It is because of its unique bitter taste that this beer became very popular; it is also useful to calm sickness and maintain good health. A common joke is that the secret to Arthur Guinness’s 21 healthy children was that he drank a pint of Guinness beer daily.

            After learning about the tedious process involved in making Guinness, I learnt that although this was the biggest Guinness factory producing plant in the world, there are other similar branches all across the globe, making it a drink enjoyed internationally. Established in the early 19th century by the Guinness family (Arthur Guinness), this company has come a long way in establishing itself as more then just a beer company, but a sense of pride and identity for the Irish people. Our tour concluded with enjoying a pint of the most delicious and freshest pint of Guinness I have had, at the 360-degree bar on the top most floor of the factory. If it weren’t for this enjoyable factory visit, I would have left Ireland with many unanswered questions about this popular national beer. 

NUin ireland Experience

20 Dec

As I get ready to depart back home to the States, I thought it would be appropriate to conclude my last Irish blog with a reflection of my NUin Ireland semester experience.

            Prior to my arrival in Ireland, I did not have a very high opinion of Ireland being a very exciting and eventful country to live in. However, I can confidently say that my initial opinion was premature and ignorant to a large extent. What I have experienced in the last few months is a very accepting, friendly, warm and interesting group of people. From taxi drivers, to teachers, friends and shopkeepers, the Irish have been extremely helpful and interested in learning about new cultures as well. Moreover, the Irish know how to live life and have fun, as I have experienced through the nightlife in Dublin. This has also been apparent to me through the pubs and restaurants I have visited in Dublin, Galway and Wicklow. Whether it is going for plays, for a fancy dinner, a movie, a sport game etc, there is always something to do in Dublin. What I find special about Dublin, is that it is like a village with the characteristics of a big city; it is small enough to see the same people each day, but big enough to choose from a variety of food cuisine for dinner and meet interesting tourists and people from around the world. I have learnt to love it and consider it my home away from home. As for the other counties in Ireland and the day trips we had, to visit the various cultural sites in Dublin through our Irish life and culture class, I learnt a lot about Irish life and culture as a whole. From admiring the beauty of the Irish countryside in the Cliffs of Moher or the Aran Islands, or enjoying a hot bowl of mouthwatering beef Guinness stew, this experience will be a cherished memory in my heart. It has helped me grow as a person and understand myself. Choosing to live on the Emerald Isle for these past four months has been a rewarding experience. Sláinte!

Croke Park Visit

20 Dec

One of my biggest fascinations with Irish culture is their love for sport. More importantly, it was in two sports that I had little to no familiarity with, hurling and Gaelic football. I strongly believe that sport is an integral part of a nations culture, and that once understood, could help one better understand that culture. Therefore, my visit to Croke Park did exactly that.

            Upon viewing the introductory video before commencing our tour of the stadium itself, I was able to see intense clips from various hurling and Gaelic football matches including the most recent finals championship match. It is during the video that I learnt for the first time that there are goals in Gaelic football in addition to rugby like vertical posts, and that the ball is not necessarily oval shaped, but more round like a soccer/volleyball. I was amazed by the hurling clips of the professionals and how well they played the sport, as I recalled how disastrous my efforts to play hurling were during our visit to the Causey Farm during orientation week; I realized how much of a skill based sport it is.

            Once our tour commenced, I was delighted at the various aspects of the park we were able to visit. From the very locker and warm up rooms, to the post-game player bar and VIP seating suite, I admired the size and sophistication of the entire stadium. The ground itself had some of the most resonating green and well kept grass I had seen in my life, and the ground capacity was capable of fitting over 80,000 plus people. Just as I started to wonder how much hurling and Gaelic football players are paid, the tour guide told us that apart from sponsorships all the players are not paid, and have professional jobs when they are not playing. After learning about this astonishing fact, I was told that all of the players grow up playing for their very own counties of birth and origin, and are not allowed to play for another county. This eliminates the prospect of trading players and transfers, and makes competition more even.  

            More importantly, I came to learn of the historical significance and importance of Croke park as being a century old sporting ground, that does not allow other non-Irish sports like rugby and football to be played. To the Irish, Croke Park is a sacred Mecca for enjoying sport and Irish culture, and a symbol of the British oppression that occurred in the bloody Sunday incident. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the historic beautiful Croke Park stadium, and hope to return to Ireland and watch a hurling or Gaelic football game. 

Guinness Factory Visit

20 Dec

Guinness beer was among one of the few things that I knew about Ireland, prior to my visit. What I hadn’t known, was how influential and central this drink has been towards Ireland and it’s culture for centuries. Having been in Ireland for quite some time now, it would be a lie if I could tell you exactly how many Guinness advertisements I have come across. Whether it is drinking a pint or walking on a street in Dublin, it is hard to avoid coming across some association with Guinness. These circumstances made me decide to go visit the Guinness factory, which I could see from my very own blackhall apartment living room and learn more about this sacred Irish beer.
Upon entering the factory and beginning the tour with my mom, I was astounded by the very architecture and shape of the building. I came to learn that the entire building was shaped like a pint of Guinness as well. Each floor had interesting facts and demonstrations that discussed the history and the process of making Guinness. Only the very finest wheat and barley, is harvested and fermented along with the alcohol to create this fine beer. The bitter taste can be attributed to the roasting of the barley, which is an essential process to producing this beer. It is because of its unique bitter taste that this beer became very popular; it is also useful to calm sickness and maintain good health. A common joke is that the secret to Arthur Guinness’s 21 healthy children was that he drank a pint of Guinness beer daily.
After learning about the tedious process involved in making Guinness, I learnt that although this was the biggest Guinness factory producing plant in the world, there are other similar branches all across the globe, making it a drink enjoyed internationally. Established in the early 19th century by the Guinness family (Arthur Guinness), this company has come a long way in establishing itself as more then just a beer company, but a sense of pride and identity for the Irish people. Our tour concluded with enjoying a pint of the most delicious and freshest pint of Guinness I have had, at the 360-degree bar on the top most floor of the factory. If it weren’t for this enjoyable factory visit, I would have left Ireland with many unanswered questions about this popular national beer.