Archive | March, 2013

Inishmore (and more) with Dun Aengus

27 Mar

Picture the scene in your mind. 

A long-bearded, older man battles the wind on a coastal cliff as he struggles to make his way to the temple. In its time, Dún Aonghasa would stretched along fourteen acres of land surrounding a 100-meter drop into the sea. The year is approximately 1,000 years before the common era.

Today, what is considered to have once been a site of religious and ceremonial power, now lies battered, but not broken, still standing defiantly, as an angry Atlantic Ocean laps at its main protector, the cliff.



A short ferry across Galway Bay and a 20- minute walk along a barren and windy landscape rewards tourists from across the world with one of the most spectacular sights in all of Europe.

Our study abroad group had the opportunity to make our own pilgrimage to Inishmore and explore Dun Aengus and the complex history it holds in its millenia-old stone structure. Little is known about the prehistoric temple, but most historians agree that it is the largest of the structures on any of the Aran Islands.
Built during the Bronze Age, it is likely the fort was originally designed as an oval, but now resembles a semi-circle as parts of the cliff have fallen away with time.

Although the fort is designed with four concentric walls (the outermost has almost completely fallen away), its design is more consistent with religious temples rather than with a purely military enclosure, although it is thought to have rappelled sea attacks.


Legends hold that the mythical race of the Fir Bolgs built Dun Aengus after they sought refuge on the island in the first century CE. They named the fort after their chieftain, Aenghus, King of the Clann Umoir, “the sterling pilot of his people who lives in legend as the founder and first lord of Dun Aengus.”

However, it seems much more likely, due to archaeological evidence, that Druids performed seasonal ceremonies at the site, and could do so in accordance with bonfires they could see from the mainland.


The Aran Islands

27 Mar

Visiting the Aran Islands was yet another trip to knock off of my “Irish Bucket List”. I certainly didn’t anticipate the wildly bumpy ferry ride across the North Sound that ultimately delivered us safely to Inishmore, but the stomach-turning waves were well worth the experience. Upon arrival, it seemed as if we had arrived in a new world – or rather, an old world, one that remained constant with the times of the past. A strong preference for simplicity and nature dominated the “modern world’s” desire for overwhelming technological progress. The contrast was a welcome one, as it was nice to get away from the fast-paced lifestyle of the mainland, if only for a few hours.

Our bus tour around the island proved to be one that opened my eyes to Ireland’s past, as well as its contemporary sense of natural beauty. The island’s homes are spread apart with a comfortable amount of land in between most, providing each homeowner with their own plot of tranquility. Further, tourists simply aren’t allowed to buy a home on the island; there must be a familial connection in order to own land there. This serves to avoid the beautiful island being overrun by zealous tourists and preserve its Irish roots.

The Irish language remains very present on the islands, allowing Irish culture and history to be further preserved by word of mouth. Though many residents of the island also speak English and other languages, Gaelic has survived throughout the years better than it has on the Irish mainland


The trek up to Dun Aengus was a memory that will stick with me for years to come. The Iron Age fort overlooks the Atlantic Ocean from a great height, thus providing my first view toward my home in America in many months. Despite the fierce winds and scary height, I crawled myself toward the edge of the cliff in order to peer down toward the waters, creating an uncomfortable feeling that forced me to back away after just a few moments. The brief instant was incredible nonetheless.

Though departing the island on even choppier waters in the same ferry proved for many to be just as nerve-racking, I felt much more comfortable with the waterway journey thanks to the peace of mind the island eased upon me. I hope to return to the islands one day in order to reflect on my first journey there. 


The Celtic Sport

26 Mar

On St. Patricks Day I went to Croke Park with some other American Study Abroad students and Feargus to watch a hurling game and a Gaelic football game. It was pouring rain and freezing but I endured the poor conditions in order to get a glimpse of the Irish sports that I had been hearing so much about. The hurling game surprised me. It seemed like a mixture of a lot of sports that I had encountered in my life; such as field hockey, lacrosse, and soccer. After a couple of minutes I was able to get the gist of the game, though I was no expert on the rules, and had fun cheering on the team that I decided I wanted to win. After the game I decided to do some research on hurling and how it came about. I found that the game of hurling is thought to be the world’s oldest field game; as it was brought to Ireland by the Celts. The stick, which in America would probably simply be called a stick, actually has a name, “hurley.” While watching the game the rules were hard to keep track of, after finding information I now know that you can pick up the ball with your stick and carry it by hand but only for four steps, you can bounce the ball on the stick but only once, or you can run with the ball on the stick. Over all, it is very similar to a game played in America called lacrosse. In that game you are allowed to carry the ball in the netting of the stick for however long you want; but you are not allowed to pick up the ball by hand. The ball is also a small round ball in lacrosse but in hurling it is more similar to a baseball with raised edges.

ImageIt is amazing to find a sport that was brought to the island thousands of years ago, that is still played regularly today. I find it fascinating that I was able to experience the game, because in a sense I was experiencing the culture of the Celtic people. There are many tourist attractions in Ireland such as the Leprechaun Museum, Temple Bar, and the St. Patricks Day Parade, that were not deeply rooted in Irish/Celtic culture but are passed off as such. I find the Celtic culture fascinating and I believe that tourists would be attracted to things like hurling matches, or Gaelic football games. These are truly Irish games and I am glad I was able to experience them.

A River of Green

26 Mar


Being lucky enough to have been born and raised 20 minutes from New York City there are many things in life I have been fortunate enough to enjoy. From the amazing food to all the attractions that you can see, one thing stands out above everything and that is all the parades and holiday celebrations in New York. By far one of my favorite days in New York City is St. Patrick’s Day. When I was in High School I went to the parade and took in all the festivities a couple of times. Being Irish and having witnessed what St. Patrick’s Day was like in New York, I couldn’t wait to see what it was like when I got to Ireland.

I circled the day in my calendar when I arrived and had been counting down the days ever since. When it came it was an experience like nothing else in the world, but for different reason than I expected. In New York everyone is wearing green from head to toe, even if they’re not Irish and celebrating like there is no tomorrow. In Ireland it was a little different, one because almost everyone is already Irish and two because it wasn’t as dramatic as I expected. Don’t get me wrong there was a lot of green but there was nothing like I was expecting. The parade was not as extravagant as the one in New York, which I expected. Nonetheless it was absolutely amazing. The people all over the city were in incredible spirits and just so happy throughout the entire day. Even in the middle of the day when we went to the GAA club finals you could feel the spirit in the air.

Even through everything, I felt that something was different in Ireland compared to the USA. In the Temple Bar area there were so many people dressed in green living up the day, but I noticed that there weren’t that many Irish people. When I ended the night at my local bar, Frank Ryan & Son’s, I came to understand what the difference was that I felt. I wished one of the locals at the bar a happy St. Patrick’s Day and he told me that I was the first person all day to do so. That came as a huge surprise to me so naturally I asked why that was. He told it was due to the fact that many Irish people don’t see St. Paddy’s day the same was a tourist’s do, many tourists use it as a way to just drink and wear green and seemingly do whatever they want because, hey its St. Paddy’s day. He told me that many Irish people view it as a day to just simply be happy and proud of who they are and where they’re from, just without all the Hallmark junk that tourists know and love. Many do the same things; go to the parade, wear green, and drink. They just don’t blow it way out of proportion like so many do. 

This made me think a lot about our national holiday, July 4th. Should it really be a day where everyone drinks, makes hot dogs and hamburgers and watched fireworks? I think to a degree it should still be like that, but we should see it as much more than that. It’s truly a day to reflect and enjoy what we were able to accomplish as a nation. Come together and rejoice at the fact that we broke free from the British and became our own nation. We should fly the Red, White and Blue proudly through the streets of the US because of what the day means, not because of what it has become. It should be similarly to why many Irish people show off their green spirit and dawn the colors of their nation as a sense of national pride.



The Cliffs of Moher

25 Mar

Our recent trip to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare was one that will likely go down as my favorite landmark visit during my time abroad. For years I’ve heard from friends and family alike about the natural beauty that accompanies the scene and that no words can compare to the actual experience of looking out beyond what seems to be the edge of the world. Safe to say, they were right.


My first impression was struck by the physical size of the cliffs, not in height but rather in length from one side to another. I had brought myself to anticipate just how elevated the summit would be, but I was surprised by just how far one has to walk to stretch from O’Brien’s castle all the way to a few peaks over. In retrospect however, I realize that this shouldn’t have been a surprise at all given the grandeur of the site.


Standing atop the 214 meter edge caused my stomach to twist and turn, as I have a great fear of heights. However, after familiarizing myself with the elevation for sometime, I feel that I finally overcame the fear and can now take on any height.


I did my best to appreciate the context of the site beyond the amazing physicality as well I could while I had the opportunity. Sure, we all enjoyed the fact that a famous “Harry Potter” scene was filmed there, as well certain scenes from other movies such as “The Princess Bride” and “Leap Year”. The cliffs are also home to an impressive degree of tourism, as some one million visitors come to peak out over the edge every year.  


Lastly, the view. While any given day will allow for an incredible view beyond “the edge of the world,” a sunnier day would have allowed us to appreciate the sight even more. The Aran Islands, the Twelve Pins, and Galway Bay can all be seen from the cliffs. Such an array of sights almost makes the cliffs the primary spot to visibly see Ireland itself, as anyone who stands atop the cliffs looking into the horizon is sure to enjoy pure Irish life. 



The Claddagh

25 Mar

One of the oldest fishing villages in Ireland is located in the west of Ireland in county Galway. The village of Claddagh, also know as An Cladach in Irish, which means stony beach, is an area on the western coast of the River Corrib. This village was once home to settlement of people that made their living from fishing. Decades ago, men would catch the fish in boats known as hookers and the women would sell the fish in the local fish market.  Today, this ancient village is only a memory of the people who maintained a settlement there until the 1970s, but the story of the Claddagh is still carried on because of the ring that bears its name.


The Claddagh Village Today 

No one is certain who designed this ring, where it originated, or what its connection to this ancient fishing village is, yet the tale of this ring is one of the most recited stories in Galway. The traditional Claddagh ring represents love, friendship, and loyalty. The design is impossible to mistake; it is represented with two hands holding a heart that is wearing a crown. The joining hands represent friendship, the heart demonstrates love, and the crown signifies loyalty. The motto of the ring reads, “let love and friendship reign.” The rings can be worn in three different positions to declare the status of a woman. When the ring is worn on the right hand with the heart facing outward toward the nail, the ring symbolizes that the woman is single. When the ring is worn on the right hand and the heart is facing inward toward the knuckle, it indicates that the woman is in a relationship. Finally, when the ring is worn on the left hand, it typically means that love has been ignited.


There are two commonly accepted stories of the ring’s origin. In both stories, the design of this ring is commonly associated with the Joyce family, one of the 14 predominant tribes of Galway. On one account, a woman by the name of Margaret Joyce was given a golden ring from an eagle to reward her for her charity to the city. A more realistic interpretation says that this ring originated with a man named Richard Joyce.  Richard Joyce was sailing to the West Indies when he was captured and sold as an Algerian slave. While in slavery, he was trained as a goldsmith. King William III of England demanded Richard be released from slavery in 1689 and returned to Ireland. Despite his reluctance to return, Richard was sent back to Galway where he began working as a goldsmith. The origins of the Claddagh ring are most famously attributed to him and even to this day, the fame lives on.


My Claddagh Ring

The Claddagh ring originally received its fame for being the only ring made in Ireland worn by the royal family in England; this tradition continues today. Every day, the ring appears to grow in popularity, perhaps due to its unique design, strange history, or its sentimental value. People from all over the world recognize the beauty and significance of this piece of jewellery. Ever since I was a young girl, my Irish grandfather has told me stories of the Claddagh ring and its mythical origins. Upon arriving in Ireland almost three months ago, I knew a Claddagh ring was something I wanted to invest in. On my very first trip to the west of Ireland, I was able to finally acquire my very first Claddagh ring. My Claddagh ring definitely reminds me of all the friendships I have built in Ireland, the love I have for this astounding country, and all of the history that surrounds it.



Claddagh National School. (2013). The Old Claddagh. Accessed March 25, 2013.

Thomas Dillons Claddagh Gold. (2010). History of the Claddagh Ring. Accessed March 25, 2013.


County Clare, The Homeland

25 Mar

My paternal side of my family tree once came from County Clare Ireland around the 1870’s. Being there this weekend made me imagine what life must of been like living there, especially during the famine. Although very scenic and breathtaking, I can not even begin to imagine what life would of been like. Starving for months at a time, living with 6 other families in a section, huddling together for warmth, and hiding from the bitter Ireland wind. It must have been unbearable and I wonder how many children that I may have been related to died.Image

After being at the Cliffs of Moher yesterday I wondered to myself how many people during the famine took there own lives due to the poor living conditions. Maybe a father struggling to feed his 8 children or a mother who just found out she is yet pregnant again, even though she has a hard time trying to raise her other children. Once they got the idea and urge to leave Ireland, one must take a ship for 5 to 7 weeks at a time. I am sure some people found it easier to end their own lives now. I have endless gratitude for my ancestors, they battled the famine, put up with the “Coffin Ships” to get to the United States, and than made a long journey to South Dakota so that they could farm, raise cattle, and give their children and in my case great great great grandchildren the opportunities and possibilities to live a long and prosperous life. Being in County Clare this weekend was interesting because a lot of the scenery is the same as it is where I live in Iowa and in areas where my ancestors first settled. It just goes to show, even though my ancestors left, my family never forgets where they came from, the beautiful rolling hills and countryside of County Clare.