Archive | October, 2013

The City of Tribes

29 Oct

It’s been a little while since I’ve written my last blog but I’m going to discuss our first trip to the West of Ireland, to Galway and the Aran Islands. We met for an 11am departure in front of the Aungier Street building, where our bus was patiently waiting for us. After picking up a morning coffee, we headed onto the bus. We started with a brief attendance check, and then we were on our way. And, might I add, that I was not on the list, so I was considered “staff”. Having this label had its perks to it, which I will explain later in the blog.

On the way to Galway, we passed a town called Athlone. We drove along the River Shannon and passed the Athlone Castle. We also learned a fun fact about our teacher, Donal: he grew up in Athlone.

We finally arrived at our hotel in Galway. Once the group got inside, a circle formed around Donal as he began to pass out our keys. I waited for my name, and in this situation it was “staff”, to be called. It turns out that I had a room all to myself, which I could not complain about. After settling into our rooms, a few of us took a 20 minute walk to the City Centre. Here, we explored the area and found that there were many shops, restaurants and pubs, sort of like a mini-Dublin. We visited the sites such as the Claddagh and the Eyre Square.

Later that night, we made our way into the City Centre again and went to a pub called “The King’s Head”. We listened to some traditional (and some not-so-traditional) Irish music by a band called “Stone Cold Sober”. Ironic? After a late night, we had to brave an early wake-up at around 9am. We hopped back on the bus and took a one-hour journey to the ferry which would take us to the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are composed of three separate islands. We traveled to the biggest island, Inis Mór. We took a tour around the island, having learned that the island has a population of only about 800.

The best part of the excursion, and possibly my favorite adventure to date, was visiting the Dun Aengus. Dun Aengus is located at the edge of a steep cliff. To get to this cliff, you had to trek it up a path, which included a set of steep and rocky steps. Once getting to the top, it seemed worth the trouble of climbing. We couldn’t have asked for a better day, having probably one of the clearest days so far in Ireland. It was a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean. I could almost see Boston, which is where I am from. 

On our final day and after another early wake up, we left the hotel and made our way to our final destination of the trip, The Cliffs of Moher. This site was one that I was looking forward to, having heard so many great things about it. The weather didn’t seem to be in our favor today, having little to no visibility. I had one good view of the Cliffs but after that, no luck. Despite the weather, I am still grateful we got to go.

I enjoyed our trip to the West of Ireland, having made new friends and visiting stunning sites. 

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The Pheonix of Dublin, Ballymun – Joe Hester

29 Oct

            As one of my mobile seminars I was given the opportunity to visit the headquarters of Ballymun Regeneration Limited. This was a program set up by Dublin City Council to improve the area of Ballymun.

           

            Before setting out to Ballymun, I was talking to some of My Irish friends about where I was going. The majorities of the reactions were that of shock. They told me of stories of how bad the area was how they would see no reason to ever visit. It seemed to me that there were some preconceived notions about this neighborhood.

 

            Ballymun was a neighborhood set up by Dublin city council that provided a large amount of subsidized housing for those living off of welfare in the Dublin area. In 1960, the Ballymun tower blocks were erected and Dublin started to move people out of downtown Dublin into the apartment blocks. Many problems came along with this community; many stemming from poorly planned developments. Firstly, there was a major highway splitting the community into two halves. This created a lack of a downtown or central area. Without a main street there was not a great sense of community and anti-social behavior was created. Secondly, the Housing developments were very much vertical. This meant that there was ample housing but the tall buildings created empty lots. The lots were breeding grounds for crime and drugs. The community of Ballymun quickly spiraled into one of the most undesirable neighborhoods in Dublin.

 

            Ballymun Regeneration Limited was set up by Dublin City council in the 1990’s as a project to restore the community. The project had many clear goals of what they needed to do in order to restore Ballymun. First, level the apartment buildings and start to build laterally. This action did two things: eliminated the lots and gave people actual property. Second, they needed to create an actual community. They eliminated the high way in the center of town in order to give Ballymun center more accessibility. They also created community centers, sports facilities, art galleries and shops in the center of town. These facilities are things that we normally take for granted but we can see how devastating the effects of an anti-social neighborhood through Ballymun. Lastly, they set out to draw revenue to Ballymun. BRL wanted to change the name of Ballymun from one that invokes images of heroin addicts to one of shopping centers and affordable housing. One of the largest Draws Ballymun has is the introduction of Ikea. This brings much needed traffic and revenue for the town and there are plans in work to renovate the current shopping center to make it bigger and better.

           

            Unfortunately, due to the poor economic situation the Ballymun Project is being phased out and will be eliminated by the end of the year.  However, it seems that Ballymun is on the right path to recovery. It is nice to see a regeneration project on the way to succeeding. In the United States, after hurricane Katrina, many of the subsidized housing areas were demolished and erected as private housing. Many contractors took advantage of the disaster to move all the people out of the area to create better neighborhoods. They did make nice, but at the cost of the previous tenants. This happens all over the US and it is a nice change to see successful projects do exist abroad.

To the West (Gallway and more) – Joe Hester

29 Oct

            I packed my backpack full of a weekends worth of clothes and toiletries. We were about to embark on our first major excursion, Galway. We loaded up into two coach buses and left Dublin. We drove for quite some time passing farm after farm and we even got to see the Irish sunset over the rolling green country-side. It was a nice change of pace. Having been in the bustling city of Dublin for about a month it was nice to get away from the city and see what rural Ireland had to offer.

           

            We arrived at Galway during the night everyone was ready to get off the bus and explore the city.  It was different from Dublin. The streets were rather quaint and everything seemed closer together.  The sound street performers rang through the air as the city of Galway let us down its winding roads.

 

            The next morning we woke up and boarded our buses to go to the Aaron Islands. We took a bus to the ferry seeing more farmland and the Irish west coast. We also passed the largest area of bog that I have seen.  We arrived at the ferry and this was a particularly special moment for me. You see I am not really a big fan of boats or the ocean for that matter. Large vessels like cruise ships are no problem, but stick me in a smaller boat where every wave rocks the boat and I get a little more uncomfortable.  Nonetheless, I was determined not let this voyage ruin my trip and I carried on.

 

            The Aaron Island’s sweater shops greeted us. I learned that each family had its own pattern, which were used to identify dead fishermen when they washed up onto shore. This was a rather gruesome, but nonetheless interesting. We then took a tour of the Aaron Islands visiting ancient monasteries and fortresses. The terrain was particularly rocky here, which made me wonder how this land was suitable for farming. I then learned that all of the farmland was man made. The highlight of the Aaron Island was the cliffs. Looking over the cliffs and just experiencing the vertigo that came with it was truly humbling. Knowing that people actually die on these cliffs every year from eroding rocks falling beneath peoples feet was truly terrifying and exciting at the same time.

 

            The next day we were able go out and “see” the Cliffs of Moher. Now I say, “see” because on that day we had experienced the worst fog that I had ever seen. The fog was so thick that you could not even see the faint outline of the cliffs without a strong gust of wind. I was even led to believe that the cliffs did in fact not exist and that it was all a rouse set up with fog machines, fans and speakers blasting ocean noises. This was disappointing to say the least, but I can still say that I was at the Cliffs of Moher.

 

            One would think that Ireland, being the small nation that it is, would not be so different from coast to coast. However, I was surprised at the differences in culture between the west and the east. The largest surprise was the fact that some of the folks on the Aaron Islands did not speak English as their first language. It was interesting to listen in on Irish conversations. Coming to Ireland initially, I thought that Irish was a dead language, however it seems that I was very wrong, the Irish language is very well alive in Ireland. That fact shows just how proud the Irish are in holding onto their very unique culture and history.

Caroline Dudeck: The Abbey Theatre

29 Oct

 

 

On Thursday October 24, 2013, I spent my evening on the north side of Dublin City at the Abbey Theatre. There, I took a guided tour of the theatre and was treated to the play The Hanging Gardens, written by Frank McGuinness.

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Ireland had no official theatre and no professional actors or actresses. When an Irish playwright wanted to put on a production, they would have to hire actors from England to come over and play the parts. Many Irish people did not like that English people were playing in Irish plays, as it was clear that they were British since they couldn’t pronounce words in the correct Irish accent. Ireland’s lack of professional theatre during this time motivated W.B. Yates and Lady Augusta Gregory to create the Abbey Theatre in 1904.

Yates and Lady Augusta Gregory wanted to foster Irish playwrights and literature, so they allowed the public to submit their plays for review. A review board looks over their work and either accepts or declines the work. If a play were approved, they would put it on for a few nights and watched the audience’s reaction. If they play went well they would put it on for a longer period of time. However, if a play were not accepted, the board would send a polite letter of decline, with a few critiques and reasoning as to why they didn’t approve the play. This is still the premise on which the Abbey Theatre runs today. Anyone can submit his or her work for review. New, accepted work is put on in the Peacock theatre, which is a smaller theatre attached to the Abbey. The name Peacock was derived from the bright blue that the room was when it was purchased.

The Peacock theatre, however, was not always a part of the Abbey. In 1951, the original Abbey theatre burnt down, and was temporarily moved to the Rupert Guinness Hall and then the Queens theatre as new plans were being created to build a bigger, better, more fire resistant theatre. It reopened at its current location in 1966 and the Peacock theatre opened its doors in 1967.

The Abbey Theatre has played an important role in Irish history, which can be reflected through the plays that have ran over time and through the building itself. For example, the old Abbey theatre stood just moments away from the 1916 Easter Rising battle. The theatre itself avoided damage from the rising, but many people involved in the theatre, including actors, actresses, and employees, all worked as either nurses or damage control during the perilous period. There is a plaque in the new Abbey Theatre that commemorates those that served Ireland during the Easter Rising.

The symbol for the Abbey Theatre is the iconic Queen Maeve and the rising sun, created by Elinor Mary Monsell specifically for the Abbey Theatre. The original was hand carved into wood, but has been changed to fit the shape of an A, for Abbey.

The Abbey theatre lays on a plethora of foundations. Yates and Lady Augusta wanted to foster Irish literature by not only encouraging new playwrights to make their work public, but to share with the general public the gift of their national theatre. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, attending the theatre was a high class act that only the very rich could afford, thus many working class people did not go. To counteract the stereotype that theatre was only for the rich, the Abbey theatre front row seats have a price ceiling of thirteen euros, so that an exceptional theatre experience will never break the budget, even if one wants to sit in the front row.

While visiting the Abbey, I saw the dressing rooms of the actors, some of the many storage rooms of the costumes from hundreds of different productions, and was even able to walk onstage and on the set of the play, The Hanging Gardens, that I saw later that evening. The play itself was absolutely amazing. I don’t want to ruin the plot for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but the production really touched on the hardships that the modern family experiences. It was heartfelt and serious, the acting was wonderful, and it clearly spoke to an international audience (as I’m an American,) which I didn’t expect since it prides itself on being an Irish literature theatre.

My experience at the Abbey Theatre was an excellent one. I was extremely interested by the history that I learned during the backstage tour, and thoroughly enjoyed the production. It was a different experience than going to the Gaiety theatre, where I saw Waiting for Godot a few weeks back, but it’s nice to see and compare two of Dublin’s finest theatres. I will definitely be back at the Abbey to see The Risen People by James Plunkett before I head back to the states. 

€1000 Wigs: A Day at the Criminal Courts

28 Oct

Last week Monday I attended at mobile seminar which took me and my peers on a tour of the Criminal Courts building in Dublin. The Criminal Courts building is brand new, built only in 2009! It looks super modern and some of us were saying the inside reminded us of the Ministry of Magic building in Harry Potter. 

Paddy, our tour guide, is a Barrister at the Criminal Courts. Ireland doesn’t have lawyers, they have Barristers and Solicitors. Barristers are self-employed and work for the courts. Solicitors work in their own firms and are hired by clients. The Solicitors then finds a Barrister to work with on the case. The Barrister never works with the client directly, always just with the Solicitor. Paddy worked in family courts, which deals with mostly divorce. To my surprise, divorce has only been legal in Ireland sine 1995. And now, to be granted a divorce, you must be separated first from your husband/wife for 4 out of the 5 years that you have been married. Isn’t that crazy!? Irish people tend to get married at a later age due to this fact because they must make a wise decision when getting married. 

The Barristers are required to wear these long robes like what they would wear in old days. These robes are very expensive, the cheapest being €200. It is tradition for the Barristers to wear wigs in the courtroom as well. A lot of the younger Barristers do not wear wigs, but more of the older ones still do. Apparently the wigs are mega expensive, with prices starting at €1000!!  And let me tell you, the wigs were not even cute…

Ireland uses the common law tradition which dates backs centuries. It is used by most former British territories including the USA. The Criminal Courts building in Dublin is the main criminal courts in Ireland. Most serious crime is dealt with here from all over the country. There three different kinds of courts: the high court (rape, murder, treason), the district court (1 year sentences), and the circuit courts. A lot of people say that Ireland mixes church and state too freely. Which I noted above when I talked about divorce in Ireland. 

Paddy took us into a real Irish courtroom and let us sit in all the different seats. I got to sit in the witness chair! He answered any questions that we had about the courts and Irish legal system. After that, we were allowed to go into a real live court case. I went into one that had the full set up. There were barristers, solicitors, a judge, a jury, a defendant, and a witness. The Barristers in this courtroom were wearing the wigs!! They looked so ridiculous it was hard not to laugh out loud. I snapped a sneaky picture of one of them even though I’m pretty sure photos aren’t allowed in the courtroom. Since they were in the middle of the hearing, I had no clue what kind of case I was listening in on. The Barrister was looking at a map of Dublin the whole time and listing off phone numbers…other than that I had no idea what was going on. I left soon after since I felt kind of dumb and it was hard to hear since they were not using microphones. Overall the experience was very educational and I enjoyed being able to sit in an actual Irish court room.

James Joyce and his Influence on Dublin

28 Oct

James Joyce is one of Ireland’s most well known authors. I had the fortune of studying some his work last year in high school and have become quite familiar with it. Ever since I began wandering Dublin, I have had constant flashbacks to a book of his, Dubliners. This book is about the lives of everyday people who live in Dublin and the experiences they have. Readers experience everyday life in this city through the eyes of every social class present at the time of the book, the late 19th/early 20th century. It’s ironic because when I was reading Dubliners, I did not know that I would be in the city of Dublin for my first semester of college, seeing all of the sights Joyce refers to.

James Joyce is a true Dubliner through and through and has left his image all throughout the city. There are references to James Joyce all over. Just down the block from my apartment is the James Joyce house, number 15 Usher’s Island. This is the house where The Dead, a chapter in Dubliners, apparently took place. The Dead is about a dinner party in which the hosts, Kate and Julia Morkan, invite a myriad of guests to their house for a formal evening. Actors recreate the dinner party from the story as onlookers watch and experience the book firsthand.

Right next to this house is the James Joyce Bridge. It is a big white arch bridge that goes over the River Liffey. It is one of the many bridges that connect the south side of Dublin to the north. It is one of the more modern bridges, with large white arches and futuristic LED lights that turn on at night to accent the bridge. Santiago Calatrava designed it. It was dedicated to the author in June 2003.

Lastly, about ten-fifteen minutes outside of the city center, is the Glasnevin Cemetery. It is here where James Joyce’s parents are buried along with the other 1.5 million people who inhabit this cemetery. Their headstone is white and stands out amongst all of the others. Surprisingly, James himself is buried in Zurich where he died after undergoing ulcer surgery.

Looking back on all of this, I find it interesting how after reading this one book in my senior year of high school I have experienced so much of it in the real world. Connections from daily life to the literary world are possible and happen all around us. Sometimes I feel as though as if I have entered a different world when walking around Dublin with my mind jumping back and forth to descriptions of the city I had read in Joyce’s work. This is an important skill to hone, as it will allow one to make connections between things that may seem distant. It just goes to show how what I learned back in the classroom is actually applying to my life out of high school.

-Scott Schmidt

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Dublin City Marathon 2013

28 Oct

Dublin City Marathon 2013

On the cold, but sunny Monday October 28th Dublin hosted its 34th annual marathon. The race started at Fitzwilliam Street Upper and finished at Clare Street and Merrion Square North. The 26.1 mile race took thousands of runners on one big loop around Dublin. They ran down O’Connell Street, through Phoenix Park, and around University College Dublin. Thousands of runners came out to raise money for different charities of their choice.

This year was particularly exciting for the Irish people because an Irish man won the race for the first time in twenty years. A man named Sean Hehir took first place after it took him two hours and eighteen minutes of running. This time marks just one minute over Sean’s best. Sean was born in Clare, but has been living in Dublin the past seventeen years. The last Irish man to win the Dublin Marathon was John Treacy in 1993. Sean did not take the win easily though. It was neck and neck the whole race between him and a Dublin native Joe Sweeney. At mile twenty Joe was slightly ahead of Sean and it appeared if he would take first. But Sean came back to take a slight win over Joe.

As a runner, these kinds of events are very exciting for me. I love the feeling of the huge crowd of people running down the street. I personally have never run a marathon, or a half marathon for that matter. I have participated in my fair share of races though. My Nana is a marathon runner and has run several all over the United States. She always impresses me because she is in her seventies and can still run 26.1 miles. I am a teenager and I struggle running just a couple miles. The one thing about any race though that inspires me is the reason people are running. Whether it is a one miles race or a full marathon everyone is running for a goal. Maybe it is to raise money for a charity, to get in better shape, or just to say they can do it. Whatever it is, every time someone crosses the finish line you can see the joy on their face. They get what is called a ‘runners high,’ a euphoric feeling of being able to accomplish most anything.

-Anna Wilhite