Archive | October, 2013

50 Shades of Green

30 Oct

On October 4th, we headed to Galway, Ireland to learn about the history and culture of Ireland while witnessing the beautiful countryside that we all knew was here but hadn’t gotten a chance to see much of yet.  With high hopes, a coffee, and “Galway Girl” in my earphones, we started the two hour long bus ride to the west.  Looking out the window on the bus had me in disbelief as I had never seen all the different and vibrant shades of green in landscape.  With the rolling green hills and the beautiful blue skies, the bus ride was far from boring.  When we arrived, we had the rest of the evening to explore and discover the town by ourselves.  The free time was wonderful because Galway had the classic Irish environment that I’d been searching for since arriving in Europe.  Walking down the streets with the troubadours singing out classic Irish tunes, the locals drinking Guinness outside pubs, and the stunning green background scenery made me instantly love Galway.

The next day we woke up early to head out to the Aran Islands.  I had not heard much about the Aran Islands beforehand so I was not sure what the island had in store.  Once we got off the ferry on the largest island called Inis Mor, we hopped in a van to take us to our destination.  One of the highlights was listening to what our driver, a local named David, had to say about Kilronan, one of the fourteen villages on the island.  He informed us that Inis Mor had a population of about 800, with Irish being the main language of the people.  While driving through the island you immediately notice the excessive amounts of rocks that are stacked on top of each other.  David shared that the people have built over 3000 miles of stone walls on the island, which I thought was quite incredible.  The people had to stack rocks in forms of fences to separate land.  He gave us a quick driving tour around the island and then dropped us off and the beginning of a gravel path.  We all started walking up a small hill with no clue what was going to be at the top.  However, what we came upon was one of the greatest views I’ve ever seen.  I found myself just sitting on the edge of the cliffs trying to take it all in.  We were blessed with perfect weather so we got the full experience while visiting the Aran Islands.  After the hour we had at Dun Aonghasa, we were taken to a site called The Seven Churches which used to be a monastic settlement and later turned into a graveyard.  It was great to have learned about the Celtic cross in class and then see them all over the site.  As the Celtic cross is usually used for burial monuments now, I find it particularly interesting that as legend has it, Saint Patrick introduced this cross to show people the importance of Christianity by comparing it to the sun.  I was quite inspired by the history and beauty of the Celtic cross, so I wrote a short poem about it and what I saw at The Seven Churches site:

Celebrated throughout Ireland,

the Christian cross along with a ring,

stands the Celtic symbol so grand.

The sun beaming through,

Christianity needed like plants need light,

just like Saint Patrick knew.

The next day, we had more beautiful sights to see and headed straight to the Cliffs of Moher before heading back to Dublin.  We didn’t have the best weather like we did the day before, but for about thirty seconds the clouds moved out of the way allowing us to see the cliffs.  Although we didn’t get to see the cliffs like we would have preferred to, it was still a great day looking through the museum and surrounding area.

Skellig Michael

30 Oct

When I first heard about Skellig Michael in my Irish Life and Cultures class, I knew it was a place I had to visit. Our teacher described Skellig Michael as a remote ancient monastic settlement on top of an uninhabitable island off the west coast of Ireland. The whole thing sounded absolutely amazing. I approached two other students in the class to see if they would be interested in making a trip to the site. The two students I asked were just as intrigued as I was, and all we had to do was plan the excursion. After some research and multiple calls to boat operators in Portmagee, we find out that a trip to Skellig Michael wouldn’t be as easy as we initially thought. There were two major issues with the trip. Since the North Atlantic is so rough, there is only a short span of the year when boats can make trips to the island. Even during the season, boats only go out on select days when the ocean is calm. We found out that the season was about to end The second issue we encountered was that there is no easy way to get from Dublin to Portmagee. The trip would be expensive and there was no guarantee that the boats would go out even if we made it to Portmagee. Upon hearing Wednesday evening that boats were likely to go out the next day, we made a last minute decision to make the journey.

We boarded a train from Dublin to Cork, and then took a train from Cork to Killarney. We decided to try to find a place to stay in Killarney because it was the last major city before Portmagee. We ended up finding a hostel near the city center of Killarney. Walking through the streets you could hear live music everywhere. After we found our room we decided to go check out some of the old Irish pubs. We had a great experience in one of these pubs drinking, laughing, and talking to locals all the while listening to music. We eventually called it a night knowing we had to get up very early the next day.

I woke up the next morning with a huge amount of anticipation. We had to call the boat companies to see if they were taking the boats out that day. When I got the news that the boats were a go, I really couldn’t believe that we were actually headed to the island. We took a taxi from Killarney to Portmagee, arriving just in time to have some breakfast at the only restaurant in town. We boarded the tiny skipper and embarked on the 45-minute ride to the island. As we flew across the water I couldn’t believe the size of the swells even on a calm day. Dolphins chased the boat, jumping from one side of the wake to the other. As we approached the island I couldn’t believe the sheer size of the cliffs. I could just make out part of the stone staircase circling the island winding towards the top. We made our way up more than 600 steps to the ancient monastic settlements at the top. There were three main circular stone huts next to a small church and graveyard. The church was dedicated to St Michael somewhere between 950 and 1050 when it was customary to build a new church to celebrate a dedication. After walking around the site, we ventured to the very top of the island. The day was absolutely gorgeous and it was perfectly clear. I could see the ocean stretching for miles all around me and I could just make out the Irish mainland in the distance. Standing up there I felt utterly at peace. I sat down to look over the ocean, breathing in the salty air. I could see why the monks occupied Skellig. As cheesy as it sounds, when I sat up there I felt like I was one with the world. All of my other worries and thoughts faded away and I was able to just breath. While I could see the monk’s benefit of living on Skellig, I am still confused as to how the monks pulled it off logistically. I can’t imagine how they travelled to the island or survived there for any length of time. The sea surrounding Skellig is rough and the island is exposed to the weather. There is no real source of food on the island and there is only one small field where any livestock could have survived. After two hours on the island we headed back down the step to board the boat back to the mainland.

When we got back to Portmagee, we caught a taxi that would take us back to Killarney. On the ride home I sat thinking about the events of earlier that day. I thought about explaining the experience to my friends back home. I smiled to myself knowing I had just done something truly unique.

The Clonycavan Man

30 Oct

After looking throughout the National Museum of Ireland, the one exhibit that really caught my attention was the European Bog Bodies, specifically the Clonycavan Man, which was found in Ireland. They are leathery looking bodies, almost like people coated in leather, but in reality are bodies that were submerged in bogs centuries ago and preserved. You can vividly see the teeth, pores on the nose, a full head of hair and a beard, things I would never expect to see on such an ancient body. The bodies initially dumbfounded me due to the fact that they had survived centuries in these bogs to be recovered so well preserved. It is estimated that this body in particular was buried between 392 and 201 BC.

What also fascinated me was the amount of detail the body told about the life it had once lived and the area around it. The hair, for instance, was dyed red, which would have been imported, indicating he was wealthy during his lifetime. The hair also gave information about his diet, which was rich in vegetables, pointing out that he was most likely killed in the summer. There was a large wound in the scull, thought to be from an axe, an indication that the Clonycavan Man was killed. He was found between the known kingdoms of Brega and Mide, so he must have lived in one of them and was killed by someone of the other.

I talked with one of the museum experts about this exhibit and he gave me more insight on the body, telling me that they were most likely killed and placed in the bogs as offerings to the gods, as they understood that the bog would preserve them. I found it fascinating that so much could be known about someone who lived 2,300 years ago and the times he lived in, just from the body he left behind.

I think that this whole exhibit offered me a great deal of insight into the different areas in Ireland and the ways people socialized, ate and lived centuries ago and it was definitely valuable in understanding Irish history and roots.

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The Hanging Gardens (Avery Cok)

29 Oct

I sat in my seat in the Abbey Theatre hoping to really get immersed into the Irish culture. I saw “The Hanging Gardens” and I am extremely elated that I made the right decision. I think of plays as a great way of making one cultured. I believe that they integrate social and political views, in some aspect, which can heighten anyone’s learning experience. I can say that my knowledge of Ireland undoubtedly augmented with every minute that the play went on for. I am so grateful for the opportunity to watch an amazing spectacle.

So, I would like to give me little review of what I thought about everything. I honestly came into the play not knowing anything specific about it. During the progress of the play, I can see that its high points include: fierce acting skills tht were perpetuated by the father of the family, character development, realistic set, emotional connection, and some feeling of empathy, which was exhumed by the audience. Now, one might be wondering why I used “perpetuated” in a positive sense. I feel that, at times, the abundance of emotion might have been a little overdone. It does increase the connection between the audience and the characters and it does get one’s attention, but I feel as if some points could have used less intensity. Sometimes, I would jump out of my seat, when the actors started yelling out of nowhere. Consequently, it might be how fast that they start yelling from a previously calm conversation. Another thing that got my attention was the lack of change. There was one set for the whole play. It was a garden. I see the garden as very symbolic and it was like a safe-haven for the family. To be completely honest, the lack of change could make one lose interest in the play. I don’t know what the story is about, but I would like to have seen some change because that is what I’m used to when I see plays. However, I would say that my opinion on that is subjective and others might have seen the play in a positive aspect due to it. Whilst watching the ending, I tried to analyze every situation because I know that there is something more than what meets the eye. The story was too intricate for me to understand. I got the apparent theme that the family knows that the father is going into dementia. I think that the ending demonstrates that he fell into it. He additionally thought that he had an extra child than the three that he actually had. And I was disappointed that I did not get to see him talk to his fourth child. I feel as if it would have definitively strengthened the audience’s connection.

I subsequently delved into the plot even more. Another theme that is readily important is the idea of family and the significance of familial relationships. Much of the plot consisted of the father talking to all his children and they eventually went through a breakthrough, where they talked about their lives. The children found out things that they never knew before about their father. As a result, it actually justifies the ending because the father begins to end all unopened ends for his children. From what I can assume from the play, the father starts to actually become a father once he is out of his mind. I believe that there are many life lessons ingrained in the plot and this one, in particular, upholds the fact that people try to start to finish things a little too late. However, it is also better late than never. With that, I feel as if there were many life lessons incorporated into the overall plot of the play. Furthermore, I commend the acting that all the actors did. Although it might have been a little overdone at times, I would say that it was an integral part of the play. This did a superb job in developing the story line. 

All in all, I had a great time watching the play. It left me wondering about the significance of the plot, which coerced me to critically think. Also, I felt emotionally intertwined into the story and I would say that most people probably felt the same as me. It was a great experience and when I think of Irish culture, one of the key components of that will revolve around that play. I am gracious for the chance and happy that I went. It further proves my emotional connection with the arts. 

-Avery Cok

Northern Ireland

29 Oct

Our trip to Northern Ireland was very informative.  I enjoyed hearing the Loyalist vs. the Unionist point of views.  The murals were interesting and I learned a lot but this trip was definitely different compared to the Galway one.  I am a big fan of the views Ireland has to offer.  So my favorite part of this trip was definitely Carrick-a-Rede.  The rope bridge connects the mainland to the tiny Carrick-A-Rede Island.  Walking across the rope bridge was very suspenseful.   It doesn’t seem sturdy and many people walking across it at the same time made me nervous.  At one point my friend was taking a picture and I was trying to walk around her and I stepped on the rope part of the bridge…For a split second I thought I was going to fall right through.  Not one of the smartest decisions I have made.  The walk out to the Island was fun.  The ocean was the prettiest color blue I had ever seen.  I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it.  After that we went to the Giant’s Causeway.  Not only did this have spectacular views as we walked through the paths but we decided to climb up the rocks as far as we could to get even more insight.  Coming down from the rocks were scary because we were basically sliding down steep cliffs but being at the top was worth the risk of getting down.  I wish we were able to spend a little bit more time at the Giant’s Causeway because we didn’t get a chance to climb to the very top of the highest cliff.

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This is Rielly, Shannon and with Carrick-A-Rede in the background. Beautiful view

On our final day in Northern Ireland we went on a walking tour of Derry.  Our tour guide was really nice and she explained so much of the city to us it was hard to keep up with all the political information.  One thing that really stood out to me was the Death of innocence mural.  This was a reminder of the Irish troubles in Northern Ireland.  It’s about a 14 girl named Annette McGavigan that was shot by a British soldier in 1971.  What really affected me was that her father used to go to the mural every day up until he passed last year, just to talk to her.  I think that its one of the more appreciated murals in Derry.

Galway, Aran Islands, Inis Mor

29 Oct

 

One of the most memorable experiences I have had in Ireland is seeing the Aran Islands.  We visited Inis Mor on the second day of our trip and I have never seen such a beautiful place.  I liked that we had the bus tour.  Our tour guide was very informant about the island.  He told us that its population was 800 and the bank was only open one day a week for a few hours.  Being from such a big city at home and living in Dublin makes me feel like that living in a place like the Aran Islands is like another world.  We were asking so many questions to the tour guide because none of us were used to that lifestyle.  Eventually he asked us where we were from and we explained, “A city next to Boston, Massachusetts” he replied, “Oh really, what town?  I used to live in Quincy.”  That made me realize how accurate the expression “what a small world” is, considering five out of about twenty people on the bus were from Quincy.  It turns out he still owns a house there today and we went on for the rest of the ride having him compare the pros and cons of living in two completely different environments.

 

I am so happy I had the pleasure to visit Dun Aengus.  The walk up to the cliffs was definitely worth it.  The walk was actually very relaxing.  By the time I got to the top of the cliff I was astonished at how perfect it was.  It was absolutely breath taking.  Everyone was sitting on the edge of the cliffs to have their picture taken and then got up immediately because if they made one bad move then that could be their last move.  Thinking about the cliffs still gives me pins and needles in my feet every time; But thinking back to how I felt when I was sitting on the edge of the cliff just looking across the ocean I felt so comfortable.  I was no longer nervous; I never wanted to get up because gazing out to the ocean just felt so relaxing.  We definitely lucked out with such a gorgeous day.  The weather was incredible.

 

The following day we got a real taste of that Ireland weather.  It was raining the entire day and we went to the Cliffs of Moher.  I was disappointed because we weren’t able to get the full experience of the Cliffs due to the fog.  Every one that has been there tells me how amazing it is and at some point during my stay I will make it back on a better day to make sure I get the full experience.

 

The Galway trip was such an unforgettable experience.  I know I have many more places to see and Ireland has so much to offer but I think that this is going to be incomparable.

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This is our tour guide from Quincy, Massachusetts... where all five of us are from.  Small world.

This is our tour guide from Quincy, Massachusetts… where all five of us are from. Small world.

 

The Royal and Farm Life

29 Oct

On Friday I got to experience a little bit of the stereotypical Ireland I had been expecting.  There was a field trip that went to Trim Castle and then Causey Farm, two things that come to mind when I think of typical Ireland (farm life and castles). 

The town of Trim was a cute little town with its small streets lined with little shops. The castle itself was not as impressive as I had envisioned but it was still nice looking.  The first hall on the inside contained three mini replicas of the castle as it changed through the ages.  It was very neat to see how it had changed in the course of only a couple decades.  

In the castle there were a bunch of different small rooms that you could only access but walking up these steep, small spiral staircases that I kept feeling like I’d fall down at any moment.  The tour guide said that the last king had his party room at the top floor and guests had to walk up those stairs, which wasn’t a big problem, but walking down when they were very intoxicated caused a few accidents.  

After exploring Trim we headed to Causey Farm.  The first thing we saw when we pulled in were two sheep dogs herding our bus towards its parking spot.  They were the cutest dogs ever and definitely made me miss my dog but petting them and playing with them was one of the highlights of my day.

From there we went into the café where the owner gave us homemade scones for a snack which were the most delicious things I’ve eaten in awhile.  They had homemade jelly and crème fraiche on them too which added to their amazing taste.  After a snack the owner took us to a barn where our group learned how to do an Irish dance.  There were four parts of it and it took us a little time to learn each part but once we did we were able to do an entire Irish dance to a complete song, which was a great experience.

After that we went back into the café and learned how to make traditional Irish soda bread.  That part was very neat because we got to measure out the ingredients ourselves and mix them, make the dough and even put a design in the dough before it baked.

While the dough was in the oven we went and watched the sheep dog herd sheep.  We formed a semi-circle and the sheep were herded right in our circle.  I’ve only ever seen dogs do this on TV but it was quite the show to see him do it in real life.  The sheep really responded to him and the dog followed all his owners commands perfectly. 

 

The last part of our day at Causey Farm was a haunted house.  For Halloween the farm does 4 different haunted events but since it was during the day the house was the only one that was actually going on at the moment.  It was really wild how much effort that they had put into the haunted house because it actually was really scary but also had a lot of interesting things in it.  Needless to say I don’t like scary things though and will not be doing something like that again.  At the end of the haunted house though there was a fenced area that had 5 sheepdog puppies in it that we were able to say hi to and pet a little which was definitely the highlight of my day because they were the cutest sweetest things.  It was the best ending to such a good day. 

Between the farm and the Castle it was a very great day in Ireland.  I felt like I had actually done things that I came to Ireland expecting to see and do and it was a lot of fun too.