Archive | November, 2013

Culture Comparison: Florence

30 Nov

During my Reading week, I traveled to the Tuscan city of Florence. Because I now call two places in the world home, I not only compared Florence to Boston, but I also compared it to Dublin. Because of the relative proximity between Dublin and Florence, the juxtaposition between them was more fascinating; such a difference between the North and the South of Europe emphasized how diverse the continent really is. This diversity, to say the least, hit me as soon as I landed in Florence.

When I got off the plane, I noticed almost immediately that this was a very different place. I could speak Italian, so the language barrier was almost non-existent; however, the culture barrier was still keeping me from crossing cultures and secretly blending into their community. Unlike the Dublin cabs, Florentine cabs started at a disturbingly high 8 euro at night. Moreover, the taxi driver must have been very fond of my presence because he had the aim of giving me a tour of the city before he brought me to my hotel; luckily I’ve been to Florence before on some foreign exchange programs, so I politely told him that “fare un giro” with my taxi driver wasn’t on my bucket list. The relatively long ride to my hotel did have some interesting outcomes, though; I got to relive experiencing the absolutely horrendous driving style that each and every Florentine citizen apparently had to have before acquiring their license. The fact that I ticked him off by giving him directions within his own city didn’t make anything better, either.

As one could notice, I’ve been saying “Florentine” rather than “Italian” when I’ve been characterizing Florence’s inhabitants. This is because the Florentine community blatantly refuses to characterize itself as members of Italy over its old city-state. One of my best friends, Cosimo, is from Florence; however, I’m not exaggerating when I say that he gets genuinely angry when I call him an Italian. Whereas the people of Dublin happily call themselves members of Ireland and then members of Dublin, the people of Florence refer to themselves as Florentine, Tuscan, and then Italian if they absolutely have to.

When I woke up for my first morning there, I was greeted in the cafeteria with a wide selection of sweets, plates with deli meat and cheese, fruits, jams, breads, and juices. Along with this, I got the espresso that tipped off the Italian nature of this breakfast. This meal was much more noticeably different than my own back home in Dublin, where I got eggs, bacon, sausages, pudding, beans, and a roll. The culinary difference didn’t stop there; throughout the day I could choose between Florentine food, Tuscan food, Neopolitan food, Roman food, and even Milanese food. Yes, they’re all relatively the same, but the restaurants were everywhere I looked, literally begging me to eat inside them. This contrasts with the relatively small and diverse culture of eating out in Dublin, in which a tourist or Irishman (unconventionally) could tour the world’s cuisines at the Jervis center.

The architectural style in Florence was also a little less quaint. Embodying the southern European style of housing, every roof was a shade of red or orange and every building was a shade of tan, white, grey, or yellow; this contrasts heavily with the cool shades of color that paints the buildings of Dublin. Also, there is a quite obvious difference between Florence’s cathedral, the Duomo, and the smaller, relatively simple Christ Church Cathedral of Dublin.

From aesthetics to community behavior, the hand-rattling, bouncing Florentine culture juxtaposed with the calmer, more introverted Dublin culture; I enjoyed revisiting Florence and immersing myself within its culture, but the difference between it and Dublin really emphasized how much I appreciate the calmer culture of my second home city.

– John Miranda


Phoenix Park

30 Nov

About a 15 minute walk away from where I live in Blackhall Place lays Phoenix Park, one of the largest urban parks in all of Europe. Phoenix Park, or “Páirc an Fhionnuisce” in Irish, is home to many different attractions, and monuments. Most notable are the Dublin Zoo, Papal Cross, and the Wellington Monument The Dublin Zoo is the largest zoo in Ireland, and one of the most popular attractions in Dublin. At 182 years old, it is the third oldest zoo in the world. It also houses more than 700 animals. Dublin Zoo has been renowned for its conservation work as well, working with the European Endangered Species Programme, which works to help endangered species in Europe. Another significant part of Phoenix Park is the Papal Cross, a monument that was erected in 1979 for the visit of Pope John Paul II. Over 1 million people attended the open-air mass during that visit. The cross itself stands 115ft tall, surrounded by a large open field upon which the local Fallow deer graze. Fallow deer have been native to Phoenix Park since the 17th century, where they were hunted by the gentry. During World War II, the Fallow deer were almost eradicated from the park, when 1,200 were shot dead following pressure for space in the park. In 1942, only 38 deer remained. Now the deer population stands around 450, a number that is sustainable by the Office of Public Works and the Park itself. The Fallow deer sometimes meander near the Wellington Monument, an obelisk that stands 203ft tall and resembles the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.. The Wellington Monument was built to commemorate the victories of Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington. The obelisk was built in 1820, but remained unfinished until 1861 due to a lack of funding. Phoenix Park is a very prominent part of Dublin, rich with history. Living so close to it is an incredible privilege as it provides endless room for running, walking, and hanging out.

-Sachin MehtaImage

Glasnevin Cemetery

29 Nov

One of my favorite study excursions during my Irish studies was to the largest non-denominational cemetery in the country, the Glasnevin Cemetary. This trip interested me initially because I always liked the bond between religion and society; what better place to go to than to a place where every religion comes together as one? This reason, along with my inclination toward anything historically significant, made me very excited to have a tour at the Glasnevin.

To say the least, I was not disappointed; the place was overwhelmingly huge, with over 1.5 people resting within its nine-acre property. My group was greeted very nicely by an informative tour guide, leading us first around one of the only museums held within a cemetery. I loved looking through the many interactive sights within the museum, learning about how each major religion treats its perished followers. I also loved walking around the preserved artifacts of Daniel O’Connell’s famous belongings. He founded the Glasnevin Cemetery in 1832 as a place where people of all denominations and races can go to rest peacefully; this was an act that was characteristic to him, as he also led the cause toward Catholic Emancipation in 1829. His personality could be expressed through his cemetery; people of all religions and nationalities rested next to each other, such as the Italian Catholic tombstone that I saw erected next to an Irish Protestant one.

Because Daniel O’Connell was the founder of the Glasnevin Cemetery, his tomb was obviously the most highly-esteemed and decorated. Erected right on top of his tomb was a rather large Irish round tower; this amazed me, as the only Irish round tower in the United States was a relatively small one back in my hometown of Milford, Massachusetts.

Other than O’Connell, there were many other significant Irish figures buried at the Glasnevin. Such figures include the socialist leader of the 1913 lockout, James Larkin, and famous nationalist leader Charles Parnell. Both had rather quaint tombstones; Larkin rests under a simple rectangular shaped piece of granite, while Parnell rests under a literal stone. The difference between their two burials is that Parnell was buried within a large circle of land. The tour guide informed me that this large, circular area was once a mass grave for victims of a cholera epidemic; for this reason, the mass grave was called the Cholera Pit.

Another interesting pair of tombstones I’ve seen were of two significant Irish figures that could not be farther apart from the ideological spectrum, anti-Treaty leader Eamon de Valera and pro-Treaty leader Michael Collins. These two arch-nemeses polarized the two sides of the Irish Civil War in 1922; the Civil War resulted in a split in ideology toward the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which essentially gave Ireland its status as a sovereign state. The two tombstones are still viewed with two different lenses, depending on what the viewer’s stance is toward the Irish Civil War. An interesting quirk that our tour guide told us is that there is a mysterious Parisian woman who leaves flowers and a note annually to Michael Collins on his grave. No one knows why this woman does this ritualistically, but I didn’t complain as I saw beautiful flowers mounted on Collins’ grave.

Overall, this excursion to the Glasnevin cemetery was engaging as well as entertaining; the tour guide fed my curiosity while the cemetery delighted me with its sheer size and implicit history.

Glasnevin Cemetery

28 Nov



I have always found cemeteries very interesting. They are such a peaceful place where you can just wander about and learn a little piece of information about someone even if you never knew them. Therefore, I was very excited to see Glasnevin Cemetery on our program schedule. I assumed it was going to be a small old graveyard holding only people who passed away centuries ago. Obviously, I was extremely surprised to arrive at a massive cemetery where funeral proceedings were still being held. For a brief moment I was a little disappointed, thinking it was going to be all modern headstones without much history, but that is certainly not the case.


Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and told us an assortment of interesting facts. The original cemetery was opened in 1832 and was 9 acres. Today it is 124 acres. Daniel O’Connell founded the cemetery because he felt it was an injustice that the Catholics had no option for a proper burial. Furthermore, he felt that there should be a location where families could give their loved ones of any denomination the burial service of their choice.


The grave and monument of O’Connell immediately catches your eye when you enter the grounds. He has an enormous tower as well as a massive crypt. Some close members of his family are buried in there as well. I couldn’t resist touching his coffin because the tour guide informed us, like so many objects in Ireland, touching it is good luck. She also explained that if you opened his family members’ coffins there would still be hair and skin because they were sealed so tight. Even more terrifying, she warned that they could explode at any moment!


We also had the chance to visit the graves of several famous Irish men and women. The most popularly visited grave is that of Michael Collins. There are always flowers atop his headstone, but the guide swore that it was never the cemetery workers’ doing, it is always visitors. I found it interesting that a woman nicknamed “the mysterious French lady” who works at a museum in Paris, makes an annual trip to Collins’ grave to leave flowers and notes. Overall, I had a wonderful time learning about all the history the cemetery holds and I am highly grateful for the opportunity to see where so many literary and revolutionary figures were laid to rest.





Northern Ireland

28 Nov


A few weeks ago the NUin group went to Northern Ireland where we spent time in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. This experience was surreal. The first day we were in Belfast I was overwhelmed by the number of murals dedicated to the Troubles, even though I had seen pictures of most of them in class. There were stark differences between the Nationalist and Unionist sides of town. British flags hung proudly in Unionist areas, and Irish flags hung proudly in Nationalist areas. The walls the kept the two sides from each other was massive and something I had never seen before. I knew going there these were things I would see, but I did not realize the effect they would have on me. It was quite scary knowing how much hatred and hurt there was in Belfast. It was deeply saddening knowing that this beautiful city was ripped apart by events that happened long ago and that are still happening.

Our time in Derry/Londonderry was even more shocking. We walked the walls and were able to see the direct line between the two sides, and the fact that both Derry and Londonderry names should be used when talking about them shows the split. The day we spent walking around Derry/Londonderry was the most depressing day of my time here in Ireland. Our tour guide was amazing and everyone loved him, which made it so much harder seeing him tear up at a mural of a young girl murdered during the Troubles. It became quite clear to all of us how much the Troubles still affect Northern Ireland. We went to the local museum dedicated to Bloody Sunday, where one of the victim’s brothers ushered us around. It was impossible for me to imagine working at a place where I constantly heard the gunshot that killed my brother on loop, see photos of his lifeless face, and know that pieces of clothing soaked in his blood were just a few feet away from me. It was a surreal experience and made me want to cry. The trip was incredibly informative and interesting, and I can only hope that there will be more peace between the Unionists and Nationalists for their own sake and sanity.


The Myth of Giant’s Causeway: the Legend of Finn MacCool

28 Nov

Recently we visited the North of Ireland, where we learned not only about the history of the two major cities, Belfast and Derry, but a myth about how one of their natural wonders was formed: The Myth of Giant’s Causeway, the Legend of Finn MacCool. As with any ancient legend, it has been interpreted and retold in multiple variations, but a few key points of the story always remain. 

Finn MacCool was a giant warrior, going about his day when he looked across the ocean channel to Scotland and spotted a giant called Benandonner. Benandonner began shouting at Finn, and mocking him and his fighting abilities. Finn got angry and threw a rock at Benandonner, to which Benendonner threw one back and told Finn that he was luck he couldn’t swim because if he could Finn would be in trouble.This enraged Finn and he began tearing pieces of rock from the earth and building a causeway to Scotland. However because Finn was exhausted from spending so much time building the causeway he wanted to take a nap, but feared he wouldn’t have enough time to sleep before Benandonner crossed the causeway and looked for him. Finn and his wife decided that they would disguise him as a baby so that he could sleep. So when the Benandonner came over from Scotland shouting and looking for him, Finn’s wife offered him tea and a cake in which Finn’s wife had put some stones. When Benandonner ate the cake he broke one of his teeth, and thought about how tough Finn must be if he was able to eat that cake. When Benandonner began to look around, he finally spotted Finn, disguised as a baby sleeping in a cot. The Scottish Giant was shocked, and thought that if Finn’s baby was so large, Finn must be even larger. Terrified he left the house and ran back across the causeway, tearing it up behind him as he went so that Finn would not be able to easily follow.

I thought this story was entertaining, although now we know that Giant’s Causeway was formed by nature, this tale, and other ancient myths like it, shows the human tendency to want to be able to conceptualize things that we don’t know how to explain. 





The Book of Kells and Natural Museum (Avery Cok)

28 Nov

As I voyaged through Trinity College, I knew that there was one important thing I had to see and that was the Book of Kells. I knew my previous studies in art history would not go to waste. I loved the fact that I could heavily analyze and interpret the symbols that the museum presented. Along with the history lesson on the elaborate creation of the books, I heightened my previous textbook experience with actual experience. By that, I’m talking about how I got to see the religious books with my own eyes. It was spectacular. I found everything about the museum so interesting. I am no stranger to going to museums, but that was one of the most influential ones to me due to the fact that I’m at an age, where I can appreciate the artistry of it. And the knowledge that I know didn’t hurt either. The complete art and the amount of time that it took to write on those calf vellum pages is incredible. The key thing that is seen on these pages are significant images, which correlate with religious worship. There is also a meticulous abundance of interlacing. Interconnecting within the artistry seems to be a main theme of its style. But, who would try to undertake such a finite task? Celtic monks were the type of people that created these books in Irish monasteries between the sixth and ninth centuries. The innovation for its time has never been seen before. It would be a hard task for the world to currently try to do. Consequently, there was something that these monks were doing right.

However, that wasn’t the only thing that was in the museum. There was this grandiose library that was fairly closed off. In addition, there were statue heads of influential people. I couldn’t help, but read through all the names and recount the information that I’ve learned from my studies. My favorite statue bust was John Locke’s because I believe he is such an influential person to the structure of modern society. It was a cool thing to experience and I would recommend anyone who considers themselves an academic to go there.

Furthermore, I went to the Natural Museum of Ireland, where I got to see many of Ireland’s native animals. It was interesting, but it had to be one of the smallest museums I have ever been to. I thought that the starfish and the black lobster that I got to see were peculiar. First off, I have never seen a black lobster in my life before and it makes me wonder about the other animals that I don’t know about. It additionally made me think about all the undiscovered sea animals that lay in the depths of the ocean. With regards to the starfish, I just couldn’t fathom how unorthodox they looked. Or, it might be my lack of knowledge of starfish. Nevertheless, I assume that I have seen different types of starfish from Irish ones. It was really cool that I became immersed and cultured on Irish animals and I was able to do that for free, which is something that I’m not used to. With that, I give both of these museums my stamp of approval in being a worthwhile time, while in Ireland.    

-Avery Cok