Archive | January, 2013

Fitting in with the Irish

31 Jan


While planning my study abroad experience in the great city of Dublin, I was unsure of what to really expect. The typical question I received was, “They speak English there, right?” Well confidently I would answer that their common language was English. At this point, I was unaware of their long-lasting Irish Gaelic—the Gaelic word being Gaeilge per our lecture—still spoken. I just assumed like everyone else, that English was it. Just like the language assumption, there were many other details I failed to know before coming that have now come to my attention.

Very quickly after my arrival, the weather is the most obvious cultural difference. Rain is a normal part of life here. The temperature doesn’t drastically change, like the Midwest, but it seems as if it might never stop raining. This has been something that I have had to engrave into my head when I am getting ready in the mornings; I will need waterproof shoes, a jacket with a hood and possibly an umbrella—that is if it the wind doesn’t break it within the first five minutes of walking. It has also been an adjustment switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius. I constantly remind myself that 10 degrees is a good temperature for here, but that doesn’t mean snow will be falling. I don’t remember what I was thinking before I left the States, but I hadn’t prepared myself well in the weather category.

Another obvious difference is the constant Irish accents—I am in the minority without one. It never fails that as soon as I open my mouth to let words come out, the next question I receive is, “Where are you from?” Clearly, the “American accent” is very noticeable. I am a fan of the Irish accent—any form, because there are quite a few to pick from. First, due to the split of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, there are differences in the Northern and Southern dialects, despite being on the same small island. Through further research done by Professor Raymond Hickey at Cambridge University, I found, “Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have diverged politically and socially, rendering even more distinct the differences between varieties of English in each part of the island.” Then I must take in to account the English spoken by the elderly rural population and the English spoken by the younger urban population. The differences here are due to the elderly commonly speaking a form of English closer to that of when they transitioned from Gaelic Irish to Irish English. However, the form I most often hear—at least I think it is what I am hearing—is the Dublin English. I never realized there could be as many forms of Irish English as have been made obvious to me. There are probably a lot more dialects I have yet to hear, but so far, I am enjoying this change, despite my difficulty to fully understand most of the time.

Lastly, the culture difference that has cause to get me more lost than anyone should admit is the city. Let me clarify this better. I grew up in small town. Not far away from civilization  but it’s not common for me to drive into the city, let alone wander around it by myself. I have only been here for three weeks, but somehow, I have found myself wandering the streets of Dublin alone. This hasn’t necessarily been bad. I have gotten lost more times than I can count on my hands. I have jumped on the wrong train multiple times. I have waited for a bus, to then realize I didn’t have the right change to pay my way on. Throughout my confusion, there has always been a nice Irish person to help me out. The bus drivers have let me get on the bus for free, random pedestrians will stop and guide me to the right location, and shop owners are more than willing to give a helping hand. On a more-than-average basis, the Irish people are delightful people. This is great for a country-ish girl like myself. Therefore, it hasn’t been so bad frequently getting lost because I have the Irish around to help.

This country has blown my preconceived notions out of the water. There are major cultural differences than that of the States, but most of the time, I feel right at home! I don’t have to be Irish to fit in with the Irish.



Hickey, Raymond. (2007). Irish English, History and Present-day Forms. Cambridge University Press: New York. Retrieved from <!e-book/book/djvu/A/iif_kgpm_Hickey%20R.%20Irish%20English%20History%20and%20Present-Day%20Forms..pdf>. 


Weekend In Cork

30 Jan

The Sun Rising in Kinsale

This weekend a few of the other American students and I took a trip out to the city of Cork. Cork is a beautiful city, being the second largest city in Ireland after Dublin. It is named after the marshland that surrounds the country side on the outskirts of the main city and is known for its delicious fish due to it being so close to the coast. During our weekend we saw three major places in Cork: The town of Cobh, The Blarney Castle, and The village of Kinsale.


The Titanic Memorial

Cobh is a seaport town that is famous for being the last place The Titanic docked before its departure and infamous sinking. “At Queenstown (now Cobh) she picked up mail and 123 passengers. On Board were 2228 passengers and crew when the Titanic left Queenstown at 1:30 pm on the afternoon of Thursday April 11th 1912 steaming west out into the Atlantic bound for New York (” There is a small monument in the town to remember those who perished as well as a museum on The Titanic. The town is also known as the place where around half (2.5 million) of the Irish citizens who left Ireland to start a new life in the United States departed from. The town has many colourful buildings and St. Colman Cathedral can be seen towering above the shops from anywhere in the area.


Blarney Castle

The Blarney Castle was probably my favorite aspect of Cork. The Castle was built in the early 12th century and according to the story told to us by our tour guide it got its name from when Queen Elizabeth requested ownership of the castle as an oath of loyalty from Cormac McCarthy, the Lord of Blarney, he would always change the subject and subtly avoid the topic of surrendering the castle. After many years of back and forth on the subject only to be diverted each conversation, The Queen proclaimed that McCarthy was giving her “a load of blarney”. The Blarney Castle is famous for the Blarney Stone which is said that if one kisses it they will be granted with “the gift of gab” or in layman’s terms the ability to speak flawlessly and confidently. Kissing it however is not an easy task, one must first climb all the way to the top of the castle and then be lowered down and bent over backwards to reach it. It was very exciting and a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Kinsale is a fisherman village and although has no spectacular monuments such as The Titanic Memorial or The Blarney Stone is special none the less. We went early in the morning and seeing the sun rise and glisten over the water is a sight I will never forget. The pastures we passed on the way into the town were what I imagined Ireland being like, green as can be. The town is littered with small cafes and places to get Fish and Chips, a popular dish everywhere in Ireland but I can’t imagine anywhere having a better tasting version then fish straight from the sea onto your plate.
Cork was an amazing experience with so many diverse places to go and so much history in every place we stepped foot in.


– Spencer Oliveira

Chains Forged in a Quest for Freedom

30 Jan

Sitting as I am across from the skeleton of a new law school building under rapid construction on UCD’s campus, it’s easy to forget that construction across this island has almost completely halted. But reflection on my time in Dublin brings to mind a different picture, one more in keeping with the financial straits in which this country finds itself. Abandoned scaffolding; large mounds of earth graced only by machines lying tilted and disused; finished and half-finished housing standing empty. This was a view of Dublin and its surrounding areas to which Lewis’ Vanity Fair piece helped open my eyes. The finances of this country were demolished by the crash of its real estate and construction bubble, and the easy money and immigrant workers which fueled this building boom are gone, dried up and vanished.


Abandoned homes mar sections of Ireland’s beautiful countryside.

What strikes one most about this crisis, however, is how the unique nature of Irish history has led its people to be so completely trapped by the success they so briefly enjoyed. As Lewis suggests, the past injustices visited upon the Irish people have led them to be much more easily tempted by the promise of easy home ownership than others. The Irish have been dispossessed of their property, sovereignty, and freedoms many times in the often tragic history of their small island. British Penal Laws in the 18th century severely restricted the liberties of Irish Catholics and forbade them from purchasing or holding certain properties without breaking allegiance with the Pope in Rome and professing themselves as Protestants. An “Act of Union” with England in 1801 robbed the Irish of their very right to govern their own country as a sovereign entity, and even today, after a successful rebellion and founding of a new Irish state, about a quarter of the country remains in the hands of another power. These transgressions are not so long removed for most people; their wounds are far too recent to have healed, and their impact remains visible today.

After so much forced landlessness in the past, the Irish see the opportunity to own their own homes now as an opportunity which must be seized, and the responsibility of paying for those homes is a responsibility which is not easily lifted. The Irish bought homes in droves for unreasonable prices during the boom, and now are determined to pay them off, though of course their economic situation makes that nearly impossible. Irish law doesn’t permit homeowners to escape their mortgages and leave the bank with the property, however, so these citizens have no choice but to knuckle under a new oppression, this time bound by chains of their own making.


Lewis, M. (2011). When Irish Eyes Are Crying. Vanity Fair, March

University of Minnesota Law School. Laws in Ireland for the suppression of Popery commonly known as the Penal Laws. Retrieved from

Victorian Web (1997). Britain and Ireland 1789-1801. Retrieved from

Wall, M. The age of the Penal Laws – 1691-1778. In Moody & Martin (Eds.), The Course of Irish History.

A less than “titanic” tribute in Cobh

30 Jan


This posthumous tribute to the Irish travelers who died on the Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912 is posted on a nondescript rock on a main pathway in Cobh, Ireland. 

Few tourists crowd around the rock for photo opportunities. Few locals acknowledge its presence before crossing the street.

Despite being a monument standing only 4 feet high, it represents the memories, sights and sounds of over 100 years ago when a behemoth vessel, 105 feet tall, nearly 900 feet long, gently sailed away from the seaside town, carrying over a thousand passengers en route to Southampton, England, where they would then leave for New York City, the Titanic’s first (and last) trip abroad. 

123 Irish men, women and children were aboard the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912, all unaware of the tragedy that would befall them that night. Most would perish after the vessel clipped an iceberg and began to sink. Some survived, scampering onto one of the few lifeboats on board (previous laws only required ships to have a few lifeboats– the Titanic had 20, not nearly enough for all the passengers). Nearly all stayed in the third class cabin, as according to their social status. 


Many of the third class had settled in to enjoy their trip to North America. One English teacher in the second class noted that the passengers “were enjoying every minute of the time,” while others described the “gay party in steerage,” where young boys tossed ice cubes at one another for a lark.

Fun soon led to chaos as the ship struck the iceberg south of Newfoundland. As the night turned to early morning, more of the third class were in danger of death than any other demographic. Just over 45 per cent of the third class perished in the icy North Atlantic ocean, triple the death rate of the second class and 23 times higher than the number of those found dead who sailed in the first class cabins.

Today, Cobh is home to both the small memorial and a modest Titanic “Experience” museum across the street. Although few people remain to remember the days of reaction to one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history, the town of Cobh will forever hold their own monument, just down the road.  

Birthday Bumps

30 Jan

Yesterday I celebrated my twenty-first birthday. I had been waiting years for this day and that got me thinking. Twenty-one isn’t really a monumental year for other people around the world as the drinking age is much younger at eighteen. Which led me to wonder, how do the Irish celebrate birthdays? Is much different from how we in America celebrate? Do they celebrate much like they celebrate everything else at the pub with a pint of beer? With a little research I did find my answer.

I’ve found that most Irish Birthday traditions aren’t much different from American ones. Yes most adults tend to go out to the pub or the club for a pint of beer with their friends, but there are some deeper traditions in the Irish culture. I’m not sure how many exactly follow it but they are there.

One tradition is that the birthday child is lifted upside down and gently bumped on the ground. The number of times the child is bumped on the ground depends on the age. If the child is 5 years old then the child is bumped against the floor 5 times. An extra bump is given for good luck. I don’t know how I would feel about getting bumped against the ground multiple times. To me it seems like a sure fire way to give your child a concussion. But that could just be me.

Another Irish birthday tradition actually occurs on the twenty-first birthday. Apparently in Ireland being given a house key is an important coming of age moment. Most young adults are given a key to the house on their twenty-first birthday and this signifies that they now have permission to come and go as they please. Ultimately it shows a level of trust between the parents and the child. I like this tradition; I think it is a great bonding moment between the families and could bring them together. Most American kids get house keys as soon as they start school, and receiving the house key is essentially no big deal. So this is nice.

So I’ve learned that Irish traditions don’t vary that much from American traditions they do have some strange ones but for the most part we all celebrate the same. 

Handshake with a Mummy

30 Jan

I have stumbled upon many interesting things in the three weeks that I have been in Dublin. I was (and still am) excited about experiencing and seeing things abroad that I would not have back in the states. I expected to see many of the tourist attractions (St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Guinness Storehouse). What I did not expect was to see dead people…

In the heart of Dublin there is the first Parish church north of the River Liffey, St. Michan’s Church. The old Viking church was originally founded in 1095, with a current building that was constructed in 1686. I was taken to his church as part of a trip for business students studying abroad without knowing anything about it. My first thoughts about the church were, “this is cute. That stained glass is pretty. This church seems pretty ordinary to schedule a tour for over 40 people.” After the initial walk around the church, we all sat down in the pews and were waiting to go. Then a cute old man walked in and started telling us about the mummies in the crypts underneath the church. Needless to say, we were all shocked to hear this and our visit to St. Michan’s Church suddenly made sense.

Lying beneath the church are five burial vaults containing some of Dublin’s wealthiest families dating back to the 1600s. The crypts are made of limestone and kept very cold so the mummies are still in great condition. We were allowed to go into two of the five vaults. In the first crypt, there are four mummies in open caskets. In the front is a nun on the left, a man with one hand and both feet cut off in the center, and a woman on the right. The man may have been a thief or simply too big to fit in the casket. Lying across the top was another mummy and highlight of the trip. I surprised myself by taking up the offer to “shake” the hand of this said to be Crusader and 800 year-old mummy for good luck. The second crypt contains the remains of the Sheare brothers who were brutally executed by the British. My trip to St. Michan’s Church was surprising to say the least. I definitely will not forget the time I touched and 800 year-old’s hand!


Dublin: Hurdled Ford or Black Pool?

30 Jan

I am currently taking an Irish for Beginners class this semester, so I have been taking notice of words around town that appear in Irish. One of the terms that is very common to see – on license plates, on buses, on street signs – is Baile Átha Cliath, the modern Irish name for the city of Dublin. We learned that this means “town on the hurdled ford” and derives its name from a crossing point along the Liffey where the water was low enough to traverse by foot. This point was called Átha Cliath and was located where the Father Mathew Bridge stands today, connecting Merchant’s Quay and Church Street. Baile Átha Cliath was a Christian Monastery that was likely located on Aungier Street, so it is easy to see that we at DBS are right in the heart of Dublin’s history. This monastery is no longer standing, but the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church was supposed to have been built in that original location in 1536. Because the church currently houses the Our Lady of Dublin stature that dates back to medieval times, it is clear that this site is very old and could have very well been the original Baile Átha Cliath.

This "Black Madonna" dates back to the medieval period.

This “Black Madonna” dates back to the medieval period.

However, we also learned in our last class that the original Irish name for Dublin was Dubhlinn, meaning “black pool,” and it was the Vikings who first pronounced it Dublin and gave the city its name in English. I was curious to find out why the city is not still called Dubhlinn in Irish and it is instead referred to as Baile Átha Cliath on all official documents.

It seems that Dubhlinn and Baile Átha Cliath were two separate settlements at first, and because the Irish ended up rebelling against the Scandinavian settlement the Vikings called Dublin, it would be logical for modern day Ireland to not refer to the Scandinavian settlement in their own language by calling it Dubhlinn. Baile Átha Cliath, however, because it was the site of a Christian monastery, seems to be a much more traditionally Irish name for the city. According to How the Irish Saved Civilisation, it seems as though Christianity could have very well died out if it weren’t for its dominant presence in Celtic Ireland. It seems, then, that Baile Átha Cliath is a more authentically Celtic Irish name for Dublin than Dubhlinn, which is associated with the Viking invaders.