Archive | March, 2013

Buying Local

30 Mar

Back home when I go grocery shopping I normally go to a one stop place and buy everything that I need. It’s normally a larger grocery store, like Publix, where I can buy my fruit, vegetables, meat, and other groceries all at one time. My town back in the U.S. does have a farmers market in the summer where I occasionally buy fruit and vegetables, but it normally costs twice as much as if I were to buy it from a bigger chain store. I hate not being able to support my local community more by buying more often from the farmers market but it’s just too expensive.

Our first day in Dublin, Karl pointed out the fresh produce, and the butcher that were just around the corner from Blackhall. He advised us to go to the smaller businesses because not only is it fresh but it’s often cheaper as well.  Of course we all quickly discovered Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl as well which I think most of us preferred Tesco at first because it was more similar to the grocery stores we had back home. After looking at the meat at Tesco though, I decided to check out the butchers. The chicken at the butcher looked much less questionable to that I had seen at the store, and as Karl had said it was cheaper. After having such success at the butcher I decided to go to the fruit and veg place as well. I thought the fruit and veg place was the most greatest thing after I stepped inside, all the produce looked good, it wasn’t badly priced, and all of the men that worked there were really friendly. Since visiting both places that day I have since gone back just about every week to get the majority of my groceries.Farmers-Market-foods

I still go to Aldi to get some of the other basics I need; but I most definitely prefer shopping in the local places to the overcrowded, check out craziness that I always experience at Aldi. Plus since becoming a frequent customer at the fruit and veg place, I enjoy the random conversation with the owners every week and they occasionally give me price cuts. It’s also nice knowing that the purchases I’m making at the local places are going directly to help out local, small, independent businesses. Getting to enjoy buying local so easily is definitely something I’m going to miss when I have to go back home to the states.

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No Ordinary Fort

29 Mar

This past weekend in the West did not disappoint. Although the weather was not as good as it should have been in March, that didn’t distract me from the beauty all around. My favorite part was taking the ferry to Inishmore. The tidbits of information I accumulated while on the island was that it was only 9 miles wide, had 900 people living on it and one grocery store. That definitely got my wheels turning. Only 900 people? Nine miles? Why would anyone want to stay on this tiny island with so few people? that’s smaller than the people who live in my college town and I thought that was a small number of people. On top of that, this is the biggest of the three islands. There has got to be something about this place that attracts or magnetizes the people to it. 

Upon further investigation because I was skeptical of some of the facts I had heard, I got everything figured out about the Aran Islands:

 

Island one: Inis Mór. Population 900. Roughly 14 km long and 3.8 km wide.

Island two: Inis Meáin. Population over 180. Roughly about 4 km long and 2.5 km wide.

Island three: Inis Oírr. Population over 260. Roughly about 3 km long and 2 km wide.

 

These figures helped me in understanding the islands better. We were only in Inishmore for half a day, but I loved it and wanted to find out more of what this island had to offer, so here it goes!

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Our hike up to Dún Aonghusa (Dun Aengus) was peculiar. The open fields were covered with rock fences or rock “tables” as I referred to them as, but really it was limestone rock. This limestone concrete that covered the ground is not something you see in the Midwest. I found myself stopping multiple times to just look at these rocks. As we got closer to the fort, one still couldn’t really see where we were eventually going to end up; I just knew it was going to be a fort, but what kind of fort I wasn’t prepared for. This semi-circular stone fort is around 2,000 years old. Before bits and pieces of the cliffs began to break away, it was probably in the shape of an oval. Its rock walls surrounding it are not too high themselves, but are a series of four concentric walls or dry stone construction. However, this extremely cool fort certainly cannot compare to the cliffs it sits on. Discover Ireland’s description is my favorite, “This semi-circular stone fort clings to the island’s 300-foot cliffs as the Atlantic pounds below.”  Being terrified of heights, it was difficult to stand by the edge and look out, but I am so glad I did. There aren’t many places in this world (at least where I have visited or seen pictures for) that compare to the beauty of this view. That is my personal opinion, but that is what I believe. There was just something about being right by the edge with no bar or fence forcing me to stay back. It seemed as if it was untouched by manmade objects. There, this crumbling fort, right on the edge of the island existed.

The next thing for me to consider is why there was a fort up there. From what I had heard, no one really understands its purpose; however, it may have been used for some type of ritual activity. With all that being said, I go back to my point about its beauty. People aren’t flocking from all over the world to enter the fort and partake of some spiritual activity or to kiss a stone or to touch every other red brick in the wall. People may begin the journey up to this really old fort to be able to see just that—ancient architecture and ruins—but by the time they get there, they stay for much longer at the top because of the breathtaking view they get to experience. It’s not just something you see and take a picture of and continue on your way. Not at all. You hike to the top, get blown all around by the crazy wind, you hear the waves crashing against the cliffs, you see the endless ocean blending in to the sky, you look out over the village, and you feel your stomach knot as you get closer to the 300 foot drop. I didn’t want to go back down. If I was forced to stay at the fort all day, I could have easily done that because it was so surreal and peaceful.

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We ventured to other parts of the island, stopping in shops and talking with locals. They were friendly and open about their lives. Some people said they go to the main island—Ireland—weekly, but then others said they only go once a month if they go at all. Many were born and raised on this island. They may have left at some point, but they eventually came back. I never got a direct answer from them as to why they stay on such a tiny island, so I guess it will always be a mystery to me. However, if they stuck around for merely the serenity and beauty of it, I would completely understand.

 

Sources:

http://www.tripadvisor.ie/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g551521-i44358633-Inishmore_Aran_Islands_County_Galway_Western_Ireland.html#44358633

 –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%BAn_Aonghasa

http://www.fodors.com/world/europe/ireland/county-clare-galway-and-the-aran-islands/inis-mor-inishmore/

Discovering Malahide

29 Mar

Malahide is a beautiful, quaint town along the coast just north of Dublin. I had an immediate connection with this beach town upon my first visit. I originally went to Malahide to see one of Dublin’s greatest landmarks, the Malahide Castle. The castle and the 270-acre castle grounds date back to 1185, when the land was given to Richard Talbot. The 800-year-old castle has been a home to the Talbot family for most of its existence, with the exception of an 11-year period from 1649-1660 when Oliver Cromwell invaded and Miles Corbet took residence. In 1975, the Talbot’s sold the castle to the Irish State and it has since been an established visitor attraction for over 35 years. Luckily, I visited the Malahide Castle on a sunny day and was able to enjoy the beautiful botanical gardens. The grounds were flooded with adorable children going to the playground. My time at the castle was great, but the best part of my visit was being able to experience a town I would not have otherwise.

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Malahide is filled with shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs that each have their own character and charm. The town has a chic, beach feel to it which reminds me so much of my hometown, Manhattan Beach. Like Malahide is a seaside village in Dublin, Manhattan Beach is a laid-back beach town in Los Angeles. Both act as a sort of escape in the midst of two bustling, metropolitan cities. During my short visit, I noticed that, similar to Manhattan Beach, residents of Malahide take great pride in their unique town. Boasting about their 2km beach, Malahide residents make sure to keep it as clean as possible. The town has won several Irish Tidy Towns Awards.

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The charming coastal town is a beautiful place to visit. Malahide truly has something for everyone. It is loaded with historic landmarks, extensive golf courses, adorable boutiques, and of course the lovely beach. My favorite part of the town was its close resemblance to Manhattan Beach. Now I have a place to go whenever I’m feeling a bit homesick!

A Night With Beckett

27 Mar

Widely known as one of the most influential writers of the 1900s, Samuel Beckett is amongst Ireland’s most famous playwrights. Beckett has many well-known plays including Waiting for Godot, Molloy, Endgame, and Krapp’s Last Tape and in 1969, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Influenced by fellow Irish writer, James Joyce, Beckett is considered one of the last modernist writers and has influenced many writers that followed. He continues to be the inspiration to writers, actors, directors and the like still today.

 

The Mouth On Fire Theater Company recently staged a production called “Before Vanishing…” which is composed of four short pieces by Beckett. The short plays include Ohio Impromptu, Footfalls, That Time and Come and Go which was repeated in Irish. I was lucky enough to see this production at The New Theater in Dublin during its two-week playing time.

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 I went because I could get a free ticket and knew that Beckett is a famous Irish playwright, so I thought it would be a valuable cultural experience. Not knowing anything about Beckett’s style, however, I was pretty shocked at the performance. His work is very bleak and minimalist, something that I am not very used to. Needless to say, the opening performance that consisted of two, very still men just reading a story seemed rather strange to me. Honestly, I was pretty lost the entire time. I was trying to find the deeper meaning in each piece, and I’m sure there was one, I just could not seem to grasp it. What stuck me most about the work was not the story or the words, but the visuals.  Each piece was visually striking with distinct feelings portrayed through the images and lighting. The second piece was dark and sort of haunting, while the third and fourth were more well lit but still had clear moods and tones associated. The final piece was probably the most diverse as it consisted of brighter colors and a more lit stage. The three women, with their faces mostly hidden by their hats, had very sharp movements and spoke with clarity and poise. This piece was repeated a second time in Irish. I was not a fan of the Irish repetition because I was already lost when they were speaking in English, watching it again in Irish made me even more frustrated.

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Overall, my night at The New Theater was very interesting. I am very happy I had the opportunity to see an Irish play so well performed while in Ireland, however, I don’t think I’ll be attending another Beckett play any time soon.

The Fields of Athenry

27 Mar

the_fields_of_athenryLike all countries, Ireland has a national anthem that is continuously sung to represent Irish pride. The National Anthem: Amhran na bhFiann, or The Soldier’s Song in English, was written by Peadar Kearney in 1907. The anthem first appeared published in the Irish Freedom newspaper five years later but did not receive its deserved fame until it was sung at the Easter Rising of 1916. This song is still constantly sung today, however it appears Ireland is adopting a second National Anthem as well.

Although I have been living in Ireland for almost three months, I still consider myself a tourist. I do a majority of the things that normal tourists do; I visit the bars filled with tourists, I visit all the attractions recommended for tourists, and most importantly, I shop like a tourist. I cannot count on two hands how many times I have visited the Irish gift shop, Carroll’s. While in a Carroll’s store, any customer has the pleasure of listening to their Irish music Cd that is played on repeat. One of the songs that I heard on one of my numerous visits to this store continuously stuck in my head. I could not make out the actual words sung by the Irish man, but I constantly caught myself humming the catchy tune.

Last week, I have the pleasure of traveling to the western coast of Ireland with our class. On one of our bus excursions, lyrics were distributed and the bus erupted with the song known as The Fields of Athenry. As soon as I heard the chorus of this song, I knew this was the tune that I had been humming in my head for months. The Fields of Athenry is a song remembering the time of the devastating potato famine in Ireland. During this time, an overabundance of Irish men were taken from Ireland and sent to Australia on prison ships. It appears that this song about imprisonment, famine, and separation is catchy not only to me, but also a plethora of Irish citizens.

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When Pete St. John wrote the song in the 1970s, he thought he was simply writing another Irish Ballad (Coughlan, 2012). Years later, this song has become much more than another ballad. Tuesday night, March 26th, I had the pleasure of attending the Ireland verse Austria FIFA World Cup Qualifying game at Aviva Stadium. When there was only five minutes left of play during the normal time of the game, all the Irish fans in the stadium burst in song to The Fields of Athenry. At first, I thought it was ironic that the fans chose a song that I was lucky enough to know the lyrics to so I could sing along. But than, once the game ended and the crowd erupted in the same song again, I realized it was not just irony; this song has become a new national anthem in Ireland.

The Fields of Athenry has become the unofficial anthem for Irish sports fans at major events (IMD, 2013). Since this song is about the most difficult time in Ireland’s history, it evokes strong pride in the Irish today. In the words of the song write, Pete St. John, “I’m delighted I have a song — we have a song — that can be sung with pride” (Coughlan, 2012). The Fields of Athenry has been adopted by the Irish society as the new, unofficial national anthem of Ireland. I have never felt more Irish than I did Tuesday night singing this song at the top of my lungs with the Irish football fans surrounding me.

References:

Coughlan, Aiden. (2012). How the Fields of Athenry became our new national anthem. The Irish Independent. http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/how-the-fields-of-athenry-became-our-new-national-anthem-26868709.html

Irish Music Daily (IMD). (2013). Fields of Athenry – love set against the Great Famine. http://www.irishmusicdaily.com/fields-of-athenry

The Cliffs of Insanity

27 Mar

Over the weekend we went to the West of Ireland. We stopped in Connemara on the first day and went to Kylemore Abbey, then to the Aran Islands on the second day, and finally on Sunday we made it to the Cliffs of Moher. This was by far one of the most interesting stops for me. One of the reasons, though lower on my long list, of coming to Ireland was to see the beautiful landscapes that the island has to offer. I was picturing rolling hills of green, rocky cliffs that I am too afraid to walk on, and sprawling farms with sheep and other assortments of animals. I love when I get to experience these places and they are beyond my imagination. I was intrigued to find that there used to be a gigantic river delta where the cliffs are and they were formed 320 million years ago. The cliffs get their name from a ruined fort from the 1st century B.C. that is now gone called Mothar. Knowing this information and standing there in modern times is almost a spiritual experience. To walk those cliffs that are still there today, though they have changed so much, is a strange experience.

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At the Cliffs of Moher there was a tower on the right hand side of the cliffs. Before we began the explorations of the cliffs we were warned that the left side was a bit more dangerous than the right side because there are fewer safety precautions. I of course took this to heart because I am deathly afraid of heights and there was strong gusty winds blowing us around all weekend. We made it to the right side and there was a restored tower sitting on the edge. I was intrigued but I did not make much of an effort to investigate what the tower was at the time; I was a bit preoccupied by the beautiful but perilous cliffs and the 214m drop into the Atlantic Ocean. The mysterious tower therefore stuck in my mind until I was able to research it. I found that the tower is called O’Brien’s Tower and it was built in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien who was a local landlord. He built it to be a viewing tower for tourists. From the tower there are spectacular views of all sides and when it is not cloudy out the Aran Islands. 

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http://www.cliffsofmoher.ie/Facilities/O’Brien’sTower.aspx?rowid=6696
http://www.cliffs-moher.com/about.php

The land of my family

27 Mar

This weekend we took a trip to the west of Ireland, we went to one of the place I had been looking forward to going to since the beginning of this trip and that was the Cliffs of Moher. I was looking forward to it for two main reasons. One of the reasons is because it is simply one of the most beautiful places in the world. To be able to stand 700 feet up and look down was something that I was extremely excited to do. The other main reason is that my Grandmother is from County Clare. My ancestors had been living not too far away from where I had been and it was a weird feeling to be there. I am truly an American, I am mostly Irish, but I am also Italian, Dutch and have a little Czech in me as well. So being able to be so close to where my family is from was a weird feeling for me, and it was something that didn’t hit me right away. 

I knew where I was when I got off the bus and what was waiting for me as I walked towards the cliffs, but for some reason it still hadn’t hit me. The path to the left was the one that was mot treacherous, seeing as the guardrail stopped, so naturally I went left. As I peered over the edge of the rail and looked down it was simply breath taking, 700 feet of nothing, a straight drop down. As I walked along the path it started to hit me more and more where I was. I didn’t truly grasp where I was until I was well beyond the end of the barrier and I was standing on a rock formation, just peering over the edge to an endless abyss. It was amazing; there were simply no worlds to describe what I was seeing. Image

 

It finally hit me where I was, when I was standing on that edge, I was somewhere where not many American’s get the chance to be and that is a place of their true heritage. My Grandmother’s surname is Coulter and it is not a typical Irish name, it is actually Scotts Irish. Everyone in my family, on my mother’s side, told me that I had to go to the Cliffs of Moher. My Grandmother brought my Aunt there, when she was a kid, when they were on a trip to visit family in Ireland. I am incredibly proud of where I come from and to be at a place where my ancestors had been and my aunt had been and simply stare over the cliffs gave me chills up and down my spine. It was truly a moment that I will never forget.