Archive | April, 2013

Discovering a Healthy Ireland

17 Apr

Since arriving in Dublin, a question that has always plagued me is, “How do Irish people stay healthy?” I see college students eating bags of crisps and sweets throughout the day; the vending machine that is currently across the corridor from me is full of crisps, candy bars, and sugary soft drinks. At least six students have come by and gotten food or drinks out of them in the past twenty minutes. Is that going to be lunch? Where are the fruits and vegetables? The sandwiches in the café around the corner are loaded with mayonnaise, butter, fried chicken, or bacon. People drink a lot of alcohol very frequently. Thick clouds of cigarette smoke hang outside of restaurants and pubs. Yet somehow, Ireland does not seem to be an unhealthy country. In fact, the average life expectancy is higher than that of the United States – 80 compared to 78 years old. How did this strange health culture develop, and how is it sustaining the population?

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Among the ranked causes of death in Ireland, coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and lung disease all make it into the top five. Most of these diseases can be prevented through lifestyle changes that promote better health. It does seem like there is a connection between the habits and behaviours of young people I’ve observed and the cause of death around the age of 80, but what happens in between to cause the Irish population to generally appear healthier than Americans, despite a poor diet and a lack of apparent exercise? Granted, weight is not at all an indicator of health; a high metabolism does not counteract clogged arteries or deteriorating internal organs, but “obesity” is not a buzzword on the Irish medical scene like it is in the United States.

The Irish Nutrition and Health Foundation (NHF) has played a big role in advertising the benefits of an active lifestyle; however, they take a more moderate approach to lifestyle changes.

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According to the NHF core messages, it is important to “be aware of your weight” and to “choose a monthly day” to weigh yourself. The rhetoric surrounding weight is much less obsessive and dominant than it is in the United States; focusing the goals of the organization on health rather than weight may be a reason why Ireland is a healthier country. America’s preoccupation with dieting and losing weight often creates a quick fix for weight loss, not a sustainable lifestyle change. The NHF also encourages local sourcing as a pathway toward better health; this message has not yet become realized in the States, as local food is more seen as a privilege for wealthy hipsters, not as a solution to overprocessed outsourced foods. Finally, the NHF acknowledges that people who have different lifestyles will require different caloric intakes. Their message “adjust your intake to suit your needs” helps people avoid going to extremes with trendy diet and exercise regimes. Moderation seems to be Ireland’s key message in its health promotion materials, and I think it is a fair one. In looking at U.S. health promotion materials, there seems to be a lack of congruency among different organizations responsible for the nation’s health awareness. Both the Centre for Disease Control and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s rhetoric is vague and immeasurable, making us very aware of the problems but not to the solutions. In contrast, the Irish NHF provides many solutions to problems that aren’t expressly communicated. There are not scary statistics about childhood obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and other health related conditions supporting the desire for a lifestyle change. This implies that it is always in a person’s best interest to improve health through moderate and reasonable lifestyle changes regardless of if there is a problem that needs to be expressly solved.

I think this rhetoric is powerful in an Irish population, but I’m not sure that the positive message would resonate the same way among most Americans. American culture is very individualistic cause-and-effect centred; why should I need to change my lifestyle if there isn’t a problem? I think that while European culture seems much less actively involved in their health, the U.S. has a lot to learn from this model of moderation and balance of diet and physical activity.

View the rest of NHF’s core messages: http://www.nutritionandhealth.ie/Sectors/NHF/NHF.nsf/vPages/About_the_NHF~nhf-core-messages?OpenDocument

And see how the countries of the world line up in life expectancy: http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/history-of-life-expectancy

 

 

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Time to Go

17 Apr

Getting ready to leave is really strange. I have completely mixed emotions about everything, I’m torn between being excited to get to go home, and being sad about leaving Ireland. On one hand I think it’s time for me to go home and spend time there with my friends and family, but then this experience has been such an amazing one and I’m going to miss the friends I’ve made here. I’m going to miss Dublin as well; always having something to do, the pubs, being able to walk everywhere, and especially the people of Dublin. I also think it’s really cruel that the weather decided to be this beautiful right before we left; it just makes it that much harder to leave.St. Patricks Day 211

While I do have mixed emotions about leaving, I certainly don’t have any regrets about my time here. I feel like I’ve gotten to experience so much of Ireland, and I’ve even experienced a little bit of other countries like on my trips to Barcelona and London. This whole opportunity has been amazing, and has taught me so much. I’ve become more independent, more outgoing, and it’s taught me that if I want to do something I should go out and do it instead of just sitting in my room complaining. This semester has also immensely fed my want to travel the world. I’m already planning my next adventure!

Probably the most important part of this trip is the different people I’ve met. Not only making new great friends, but meeting people from all over the world has been amazing. It’s allowed me to realize how close-minded we as a culture can tend to be. I’ve also seen the different stereotypes people expect of Americans, and now I’m determined to avoid being the stereotypical American. I guess the only reason I’m not completely freaking out about leaving, is because I realize how much I’ve learned and grown from this experience and I hope that I’ll just have more of these amazing experiences in the future.  Me the first week here

My Top 3 Favorite Things I Have Done While Living In Dublin

17 Apr

As my stay in Ireland is nearing the end, I have had time to reflect on the things I have done while living here in Dublin. Dublin is a very unique and interesting city full of history and culture and I am glad I got to live here for 3 and a half months.

3. Meeting interesting Irish people. Throughout Dublin there are many unique and interesting people I have been able to meet. I enjoyed the kindness of every cab driver always asking me where I am from, the people I have talked to at the pubs, and the stories many Irish citizens have told me. On the plane ride here I sat next to a nice Irish women who told me a lot about Ireland, and her family and she was the first person to show me how nice and welcoming Irish people are and I appreciated that greatly.

2. Going to the Pubs. I really enjoyed all the pubs I got to go to while in Ireland. I liked going to the Temple Bar Area even though it is constantly crowded with tourists and different tourists traps and the drinks are very pricey. My favorite bar in Dublin would have to be Whelans. I love the live music and I love the atmosphere. I went to different pubs in different areas and in Dublin and most of them were enjoyable, but Whelans is by far my favorite. If I had to choose my second favorite it would probably be Flannerys.

1. My favorite thing I have done while in Dublin was going to the St.Patrick’s Day festivities and seeing how Dublin celebrates. It was so fun and cool to be in Ireland during St. Patrick’s day and I am glad I got the chance. The parade and going out in Dublin with my friends was especially fun and I will remember it forever.

My stay in Dublin has been fantastic and I am going to miss it when I return home in less than two weeks. I met so many awesome people and made some great friends and I am going to cherish these moments I have had as long as I live!

 

Exploration of Ireland

17 Apr

Every weekend there is something going on, whether its DBS planned or we just want to venture out and explore. This past weekend was the exploration of Wicklow Town. There were five of us girls who had planned to meet up at the train station around one on Friday to head south along the coast. When we got on the train that afternoon, we had booked a hostile and that’s all the plans we had. There were probably a few things we should’ve looked into before going, but honestly, it was thrilling to go somewhere with no plans! That’s just what you’ve gotta do when you live in a place called Ireland. We got off the train and just started walking. We were looking for our hostile, but didn’t know where it was. Good thing the sun was shining! As we ventured through the town, I  found a sweet old broken down castle thing. Not sure precisely what it was. ImageThe gate was wide open, so we went in. While the other girls were busy looking for the hostile, I was admiring what was in front of me. Old ruins of a mysterious area. Shortly after I got all the pictures I wanted, I saw a sign on a tree that said do not enter. Oops! Of course the first thing I decided to do was breaking the rules.

Anyway, I continued to walk through the town looking into the shops and admiring the houses on the hillside. ImageI spotted a beautiful church on the hill—we were going to have to make our way up to that eventually to get a better look. Finally, we had found the hostile.

For dinner, we headed to a pub across the road. Of course, the first thing I ordered was a cup of coffee. The best food item at our table was the crab claws (or something like that). I didn’t try them, but the plate sure looked aesthetically pleasing. The five of us enjoyed the warmth and quality time to sit and talk. We had heard from the owner of the hostile, that there would be a traditional Irish band playing at a local pub at half past ten. We had been craving this type of music, so of course we were going to check that out. As we entered the pub, it looked as if we were the youngest people in the room, not only that, we were definitely the only girls. We picked a table. I couldn’t tell if I was just paranoid, but to me, everyone was watching us. We were just sitting there, talking away, when an older gentlemen approached us and asked us if we were American. He and his friends were so thrilled that they wanted a picture with us. That was odd, but the story continues. All the other tables filled with older men asked to get pictures with us, unfortunately, I got thrown in to a picture by myself with the Mayor of Wicklow Town. I can neither prove nor deny the validity of that title. However, that’s the story he told me and I am sticking to it. All that to say, the American Girls were famous in that little pub, which explains why we were being “watched.”

We switched back to the other place we had had dinner because we heard they were also having an Irish band come in. We found a big booth toward the back and took a seat. Honestly though, we couldn’t figure out where everyone our age was. We felt like the youngest ones in the entire town. We enjoyed the band that played. I enjoyed my delicious coffee—third cup of the day! Overall, the night was going well.  When all of a sudden, a lady came over to our table and sat down. She asked us if we were American. Seriously, are we wearing a sign above our heads? She waved her friend over and he came and sat down. He apparently had been waiting all night to talk to us. We found out that they had seen us at the previous location and they thought we were following them around. They seemed pretty flattered at that idea! They also asked us if a lot of people had been coming up to us. Well, yeah, all night. I asked if they don’t get a lot of Americans around and the lady said she doesn’t recall seeing any. That explains it! Per our conversation, Wicklow Town is not a normal tourist attraction. This is what we get for not making any plans!

The next day, we again did not have a plan. It was warmer and the sun was shining. In fact, the sun was shining bright all day. Not a lick of rain, which is so unusually for Ireland, but I am not complaining.  We got a full Irish breakfast (coffee was definitely involved) and began our walk around the town. We went up to the church on the hill and took pictures. We were looking for the supposed castle ruins, but no one in the town seemed to know where it was and if they did, we never got the correct directions. We wandered around for a long time just observing. We couldn’t really do anything else because the train only came at certain times of the day, which we double and triple checked the time of the next train to make sure we had the right time. It gets confusing when the times are written in military time.

One of the girls had a great idea to go on the nature walk we had seen by the train station. It wasn’t super nature-y, but it was nice. We got to walk around and admire the landscape, houses, trees, water, swans, dogs, the SUN. It was a beautiful long walk.Image

Eventually, we made it back to the train station with twenty minutes or so to spare—or so we thought. This place looked abandoned. It was definitely the station we had gotten of at, but not a soul was nearby. We tried to find an entrance, but there was nothing. We found a timetable and realized we had just barely missed the train, the next one not for a few hours. Now what are we going to do? One girl is feeling sick and the rest of us are just ready to get back home. We stood there, almost in disbelief, when a car pulled up. There was a man and I’m assuming his wife in the car. They asked if we were looking for something. We explained the situation; they pointed us in the direction of a bus we could get back to the city. It left every hour on the hour.

As we walked back to the bus stop, I sat down. Extremely exhausted from a late night and an earlier morning. Lots of walking had happened and our adventures were grand. This weekend had been a success. The girls and I had discussed how our lives here are so surreal. We are in classes for three to four days, than the weekends consists of exploration of the Island. My time here is almost up and I still can’t get over how amazing my time here has been. It definitely has not been perfect or “happy” all the time, but it’s been—like I’ve said many times—an unexpected adventure that I am so glad happened.

For a weekend, we got to live like American celebrities with nothing on the schedule except to take in Ireland and all it has to offer. I know once I go home that I won’t have rolling green hills or ancient sites to stumble across, but that doesn’t mean how I have spent my free time here has to be all that different. When I get home, I plan on freeing up my usually busy life to just enjoy the nature all around me. I’m going to explore and appreciate what my homeland has to offer.

Irish Castles

17 Apr

We have learned a plethora of information concerning Ireland and its history, language, music, literature, and people. It has been an incredible time filling my brain up with Irish facts and figures, hoping to one day be able to share this priceless knowledge that I stored in my brain. But really, if nothing else comes of my Irish knowledge, at least I was able to understand the tours we took, the bus drivers I spoke with, or the statues I passed on my walk to school just a little bit better.

One thing that I do not think we covered in class or in random conversation was about the castles scattered throughout Ireland. Maybe that’s because they aren’t special just to the Irish land because many other countries throughout Europe and beyond have castles. Or maybe that was my job to travel throughout Ireland and see them for myself. Well I accepted the challenge to see some beautiful Irish castles, seeing as how the United States doesn’t have any to rant and rave about. Along the way, I had to find answers to my own questions that started to form in my head. What makes them special enough to still be around? Why are they there in the first place? Who lived there? What is that piece of furniture used for? What would have been like to live here? These questions that I’ve had for all the castles I have seen and visited were answered each time I took a tour. Not even listing the ones I’ve driven by while on a bus or train or even a plane, I’ve come across a good amount of castles and to name just a few: Malahide Castle, Kilkenny Castle, Dublin Castle, and Howth Castle. These being the ones that have come to my head while writing this. All of them are very unique with their own back story, their own family having lived in it, their own décor inside, and their own surrounding land. Some were more similar then others, but all were drawing in my attention to their splendor. Just briefly I am going to compare and contrast the Malahide Castle and the Kilkenny Castle. Why I chose these was because Malahide Castle was the very first castle I saw in Ireland and Kilkenny was the last one I saw in Ireland. They have their major differences, but I picked out some similarities during the tours I took of each one.Image

Malahide Castle—like I said previously— was the first castle I visited. It was my first weekend just slightly out of the city, but a short distance away on the DART. We intentionally went to Malahide to see the castle there. As we approached the castle, there were tall fences around its gardens. We continued on (skipping the details about the visitor center) to the castle itself. It was smaller in size—which we later found out it had been even smaller before the family added on—than the other castles I have seen, but it was so cool. ImageThe bright orange door at the front was my favorite feature about the house. It definitely stood out against the dark stone. Throughout the tour I learned all about the Talbott family who had dwelt in that house. We heard stories about the ghosts still lurking throughout the rooms, specifically staying in the great dining hall that we happened to be spending the most time in. There was a very large table, probably able to seat 20+ people, which was used to feed the family (sons) right before they went off to battle with William of Orange. Huge paintings covered the walls of family members and important people to the family, also with the main one being a picture of that specific war. Each room was unique in its style and decoration. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the specific locations as to where the furniture had originated, but it seemed like the family had gone on huge shopping sprees in many different countries to furnish this lovely castle. It was beautiful. Surrounding the castle was a lot of land and trees,Image green gardens, as well a smaller area for the botanical garden. We spent a good while just wandering around the area. Admiring the trees, flowers, and everything else it had to offer.Image

My experience at Kilkenny Castle was slightly different. Its set more up on a hill so the village of Kilkenny and its people can see it stand tall. At least, this is how I interpreted it to be. Its size was much bigger than Malahide Castle, the shape as well was different too.Image It has beautiful windows lining the front and all around. Multiple tall towers on all sides protruded up into the sky. ImageAs I first walked through the gate, my first response was to wander around the grounds. It didn’t appear to have more land than Malahide did because it was in a more dominant place in the town, but one can never be too sure. Also, to my delight, there were purple and white tulips growing around some of the trees. This area was beautiful. I went in to get a tour, this one was a go at your own pace, rather than having a tour guide like Malahide Castle. Again, I wasn’t authorized to take pictures, so I was left having to write down all that I read and saw. In every room there were paintings covering the walls, just like all the castles I had seen previously, usually of the Butler family members who had lived there previously. That was until I got to the Picture Gallery, which was just a long hall with paintings. There were places for people to sit and admire the artwork. Each room, again was unique in style: gold trim, thick curtains and plush red couches in one, Ormonde collections and French silk in another, Italian fireplaces and Chinese décor in another, and then a big library for Mr. Butler to spend his time during the day. ImageOn the other side of the castle was a small garden area with rose bushes, a water fountain and benches. I don’t have enough time to describe every room, but believe me, it was breathtaking every new room I saw.

 Millions of pounds and euros had been spent to restore both of these beautiful castles back to their original state. They both had drawing rooms for the ladies to move in to after dinner with “fans” to block the ladies directly from the fireplace to their makeup wouldn’t melt off. Also, both castles had the conversation/love chair, which has intrigued me every time I’ve seen one. Lavish staircases were popular to both and the Coat of Arms were proudly hanging around the castles.

 I don’t think I can choose which castle was my favorite because they both mean something different to me. First castle I visited with friends and the last castle I may ever seen in Ireland (although I really hope this isn’t the case). The pictures I have will most likely be printed and hung proudly around my house or apartment for years to come. The stories behind each family and the reasoning behind certain decorations and furniture choices will be locked in the pictures I do have.

Old Structure – Newgrange

17 Apr

On my trip to Newgrange, I was able to view and enter into something that was constructed more than 5,000 years ago. Seeing this tomb or temple or ancient burial sight or whatever it was used for was so impressive because of how old this structure is and because the architecture absolutely amazes me. The fact that whoever built this ancient burial sight had no means of machines to help them transport the rocks and everything else that went into building this tomb. Although the size of the tomb on the outside was humongous, I was quite disappointed with how small the area inside the tomb was.  My expectations were not met as I had hoped that the tomb was as big as it was on the inside as it was on the outside. Unfortunately, the tomb only had a small pathway that led into a very tiny room 20 meters into the structure, which is only a third of the entire area of Newgrange. However, the room inside the tomb was very unique.

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It was quite interesting and sad to see all of the graffiti from previous visitors before there was any real supervision at the tomb. I also found it very odd about the three slots in the walls. There was of course the famous tri-spiral that happened to oddly look like the famous Mickey Mouse symbol, which I quite enjoyed. Also, the slot on the very right was decorated the most and seemed to have attracted the most attention. Usually, the center of attention is always focused to the middle in any display but this particular tomb had the most amount of attention the right of the room. Stranger enough, however, even though this ancient tomb may have been used to worship the sun, I found it very ironic that the entire room was in the shape of a cross. The room led in twenty meters and then had three rooms, one at the top, left, and right resembling a cross.

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I was quite unsure why there was no photography or filming allowed in this ancient temple. The reasoning for this was because the tour guide mentioned that this room was sacred and they wanted to respect those that were once buried or honored there in the Newgrange. I, however, feel that there is no reason why we should not have been able to take any photos. Whenever, someone goes into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, or St. Peter’s Basilica, or any other churches, there is no crime for taking pictures. I feel that taking pictures of these extraordinary places of worship makes me more inclined to admire that particular place. It also gives you a memory of how unique those particular structures were. Especially with Newgrange for how ancient it really is, I would have loved to get a few pictures inside this ancient site. Knowing that this may be the oldest site ever, being 500 years older than the Pyramid of Giza and being more than 1000 years older then Stonehenge, I would like some simple photo to remember it.

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I did enjoy my visit to Newgrange however I was a bit disappointed because my expectations were so high. I was also upset with the fact at how little time we were given in side of Newgrange. We were given an example of what would happen on the Winter Solstice at approximately 8:58 am but we were only given about 15 minutes maximum to look inside the tomb. Hopefully, I will have a bit more time when I win the lottery to go back to Newgrange on December 21st, 2013!

The Rock of Cashel

17 Apr
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The ancient round tower that still exists today.

There are numerous ruins, most of which are fortresses, which line the coast and fill the interior of Ireland. These fortresses have been necessary in Ireland’s history to seek out intruding clans in order to protect the inhabitants. However, one of the most celebrated and visited ruins in Ireland is not an old fortress or watchtower.  Rather, located in county Tipperary, the Rock of Cashel is a site of extraordinary ruins from an ancient Celtic cathedral. The Celtic cathedral literally sits on top of a giant rock that a legend tells us was thrown by Satan when Saint Patrick banished him from a cave. Prior to becoming a cathedral, this rock was the home to the kings of Munster until Muirchertach O Brian, the king in 1101, gave the rock to the church. In the 12th century, the rock was no longer a stronghold of kings but a stronghold of the Christian faith.

 Construction began and soon the rock was developed into a major religious centre. The first development on the site was a round tower, which still stands today. During the 12th century, people throughout Ireland were experiencing a time of great disparity. In turn, everyone turned to the church for guidance. At first, in 1111, the Rock of Cashel was the residence for the archbishop Rick. Rick’s first order was to establish a Cistercian monk site at the base of the rock. During this time, the original cathedral was built in the place where the present cathedral stands as a place for all people to worship and receive peace. 

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The magnificent Rock of Cashel

However, the church and the happiness did not last long. In August of 1348, the black plague struck county Tipperary and brought horror all around. Between one-third to one-half of the entire population in Ireland died during this time. Since the country was in rough despair, building started falling into decay. Furthermore, by the 16th century many lords began building their own houses and the castle-like structure of the Rock of Cashel became undesirable toImage the archbishop. The archbishop at the time built himself a palace, abandoned his residence at the Rock of Cashel and the site began to fall into ruins.

 

By the end of the Middle Ages, the Rock of Cashel was still used as a holy place for mass,but it became to difficult to maintain and the structure continued to decay. Today, the Rock of Cashel is still remembered as a stronghold of the Christian faith. Numerous people flock to county Tipperary to visit this beautiful structure every year, the queen of England even requested to visit the Rock of Cashel on her most recent trip to Ireland! I had the pleasure of visiting this ancient cathedral recently and I was stunned by its size. Throughout my time in Ireland, I have visited and seen numerous fortresses, but this was the largest stone monument I have been to. It was so peaceful walking around the grounds of such an old cathedral wondering what life could have been like hundreds of years ago.

 

 

 

Sacred Destinations (2013) Rock of Cashel Accessed April 2013, http://www.sacred-destinations.com/ireland/rock-of-cashel