Archive | March, 2014

Trip to Connemara

31 Mar

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1780750_10152397365033787_1620480731_nAs part of my job during my amazing internship at Extreme Ireland here in Dublin is getting to do what’s called a “secret shopper”. This is when an intern, such as myself, goes “under cover” on one of the day tour that Extreme Ireland runs. The whole point is that no one knows you work for the company and then you report back with you feedback of the tour. I got the opportunity to do this on Monday when I went on their tour of Connemara and Galway. I was extremely excited because I get the opportunity to see a lot of Ireland. The group was small, only seven of us. There was a couple from Germany with a translator and a group of three people from Hong Cong. It was pretty interesting to see them traveling around Ireland and how it was different from my own experience.

Our first stop was to the Quiet Man Bridge. This was a big deal because the quiet man is one of my grandparent’s favorite films. We took some photos and then we were off. We then took a stop at Klyemore Abbey where we got a tour. We learn about the history of Abbey. It used to be a mansion for a wealthy family until the lady of the house died from a terrible disease while they were on a family trip to Egypt. Eventually, it was sold to a group of Benedictine nuns who ran it as an abbey and then turned it into a prestigious boarding school for women in the 1920s. The school eventually closed in 2011, but some nuns still live there. The area also includes some beautiful gardens and a Gothic church that you can visit. We also took a stop at Galway bay and some other area in Galway for photos. Although it was raining, I still enjoyed the trip.

Monasterboice

30 Mar

Continuing my historical tour around the Boyne Valley, I arrived at a place off the beaten path, again with centuries of history. This place was called Monasterboice, after the old monastery that stood there years before. Since about the 5th century, people had used the location for religious and spiritual purposes. It was prone to Viking raids and internal reforms by the monks that lived there. Surely, it has changed significantly since it was first founded. For tourists, like me, what remains are the ruins of the monastery, a cemetery, a round tower, and the high crosses.

The significance of Monasterboice and what struck me as the most remarkable parts were these high crosses. They are traditional Celtic crosses that stand about 15 feet tall and are over 1000 years old. But the size and antiquity of the crosses are not what make it so unique. The design and carvings on each side of the crosses are stunning and tell the story of Christian influence in Irish culture. One cross, called Muirdach’s Cross, tells the stories of Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, and the Three Wise Men, which are all cornerstones of Christian faith. The beautiful carvings are so detailed that the artist must have been very prominent and Muirdach must have been a greatly influential missionary. The round tower sits in the back of the site, but grabs much of the attention. What I loved about the round tower was the door that sat about 6 feet off the ground, which protected the monks and their treasures during the Viking raids and other hostile groups. The cemetery on Monasterboice’s grounds is as old as the monastery and church, but is still used today for local families. This shows the close ties that the Irish communities have with their history and their religion – something that many other countries cannot offer.

The Hill of Slane

26 Mar

Throughout Ireland, the landscape is littered with historical sites on top of beautiful landmarks. The rolling hills of the countryside are one of these geographical features that are known worldwide. On top of one of these hills, North of Dublin in the town of Slane, sits an attraction that is full of mythology and beauty. Taking a tour of the Hill of Slane was wonderful insight into the history, religion, and antiquity of Irish culture.

 

The story of the significance of the Hill of Slane involves a figure synonymous with Irish Catholicism: Saint Patrick. It was said that in his attempt to convert the Celtic Pagans of Ireland to Catholicism, he lit a fire on top of the hill during the time of Easter. When the “high king” of Slane warned Patrick not to start the fire or he would be killed, Patrick did not obey. Instead, when he lit the fire and the Druids came rushing to put it out, Patrick converted them to Christianity, too.

 

The ruins of the old abbey and monastery were unique in themselves. Just by walking through the broken walls and missing ceilings, I developed a great respect for the architecture and design of 15th century construction. First, the location of the monastery was very strategic in that you can see for miles around from the very top – something very important during the Viking raids. Secondly, during a time when things were built small, this monument must have triumphed over the surrounding area. Moreover, although it is not nearly in the same condition or stature today as it was centuries ago, the foundation still exists, which is remarkable. It is monuments like the Hill of Slane that make Ireland special and convey the stories of the past. I am glad the monastery on the Hill of Slane still stands and that I got to see it.

Northern Ireland

25 Mar

I remember learning about the IRA my junior year in high school when we did a lesson on terrorist groups, but I had not thought about it again until we visited Northern Ireland. I knew there were a lot of problems in Northern Ireland but I did not fully understand the extent of the violence. I also did not realize that the conflict is still going on and that the extreme violence has only recently been resolved. Seeing the Peace Walls and listening to two men on two different sides tell us about the same period of time was eye-opening. The things I could not wrap my head around were the reasons for fighting. It is all because of religion and politics and I just could not believe that people could be so strong in their opinions that they could not even be neighbors and just co-exist. I feel that it is a good thing to have opinions and things you believe in but when it gets to the point that you are violent with someone who does not share the same opinions or values, it is being taken too far. It is as if everyone needed to just evaluate why they were fighting and realize it was getting them nowhere.

I really enjoyed all of the different tours we went on and all of the people we met. It was great to get so many perspectives and listen to different people who were there. The part of the trip that struck me the most was when we saw the movie of how they made the play about the Troubles with men who had been a part of the violence. It gave us a great insight into just how big the disagreement between the Catholics/Nationalist and the Protestants/Unionists was. When I was talking about it afterwards with other students, we all agreed that it was amazing to see that two of the men who were on opposite sides of the conflict were saying they are now best friends. It kind of gave us a little hope for all of the conflicts going on around the world right now and made us wonder why if they can settle their differences and be peaceful, why can’t everyone do the same?

SpunOut

23 Mar

This past Friday I attended a seminar about a non-profit organization called Spunout. SpunOut is designed to approach individuals 16-25 in Ireland and Northern Ireland with information on various topics such as bullying, mental and physical health, and drugs.  One of the organizations youth officers came in and gave us a great presentation talking about what SpunOut’s mission is and how they help young people.  

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One cool aspect about Spunout that I like is that the cleverly designed and thorough website is that it give the young people a chance to ask questions and be very interactive by giving their input on certain subjects.  It’s a very safe and reliable place for them to speak out and receive positive, helpful information.  

Since SpunOut has started, it’s been gaining a lot of support and making their website and services known to young people.  Back in 2012, their webpage received over 2 million views and that number is only increasing in the coming years.  SpunOut realizes that many of todays young people are all about the social media and connecting through the web.  Therefore they have an active Facebook page and a Twitter account which people can follow to get daily messages and helpful information throughout the day.  They definitely know who their audience is and that’s why they get young people involved.  On their YouTube channel, they have videos made that star individuals in their twenties so others can relate more easily.  Their website, SpunOut.ie has various subjects to click on such as features, opinion, action, find help, and videos.  The information on their page is accurate and can be trusted. With some websites, it hard to tell if their information is legitimate or not.  SpunOut works with professionals in all areas to receive correct facts to be put on the site.  

Here is a great YouTube video from SpunOut’s webpage that gives you an idea about what’s so great about the non-profit program –

Dublin Taxis

23 Mar

One of the first things I noticed when I came to Dublin back in January were the abundance of taxis. I’ve never lived in a large city before, so I assumed it was fairly normal. Now that I’ve traveled around Europe, this is not the case. The number of taxis in Dublin is astronomical. A quick Google search on the topic brought up an article from 2008 which states that Dublin, at the time, had almost the exact same amount of taxis as New York City, a little over 12,000, “but with only a fraction of the population to support business.”

This abundance of taxis causes trouble for the drivers themselves, though, which I won’t delve into.  The Irish Examiner has multiple articles on this subject if you’re interested [x].  The abundance of taxis, however, is really helpful for those living in Dublin, especially when the weather is less than ideal or if you’re heading home from a pub or club after drinking maybe a bit too much!

The base price of a taxi starts at €4.10 for standard (8am – 8pm) and on Tariff A, runs at €1.03 per km or €0.36 per minute [x]. Each extra passenger also incurs a charge of €1 per passenger. There are currently 110 taxi ranks in service 24 hours a day, and can be found on O’Connell street by Savoy Cinema, Grafton Street Lower, and Foster Place. You can find a full list on the Dublin City website.

There are multiple taxi companies operating in Dublin, including Hailo, 820 Cabs, Global Taxis, National Radio Cabs, and Blue Cabs. There are a number of ways to get a taxi: call, use a mobile app, hail one on the street, or most of these companies allow you to book a taxi online as well!

I’ve never had a bad experience with a taxi here, but there have been a couple horror stories in the news.

Helpful tips:

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Before getting into a taxi, ensure that there is a blue and green taxi sticker on the side of the door, as well as the typical taxi banner across the top of the vehicle. These are required by the state.

Sit in the backseat of the taxi.

When you enter the taxi, make sure that a taxi driver license is displayed prominently on the dashboard.

Record the driver’s name and make a call (real or fake) saying that you’ll be home soon and are in a taxi driven by [the driver’s name].

If you feel unsafe at any time, simply ask for the driver to drop you off where you are, pay your fare, and exit the taxi.

[x] [x]

Kilmainham Gaol

23 Mar

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Kilmainham Gaol is a very old, historic jail opened it’s doors in 1796 in Dublin, Ireland. It was expanded upon multiple times in it’s history to accommodate for more prisoners and eventually closed it’s doors following the release of it’s last prisoner in 1924. A grassroots movement to restore the jail began in the 1960s following failed attempts to get a restoration process started. Kilmainham now serves as a heritage historical site that you can enter and tour, and also includes a museum.

The conditions of the jail were harsh. The jail itself has been constructed of limestone, a porous stone, making the jail damp and musty as it constantly rained in Ireland, even back then. For the first 50 years, there was no glass in the windows and no lighting besides a small candle that each prisoners was allotted every two weeks. The diet of most prisoners consisted of break, milk, oatmeal, and soup. Men, women, and children were all thrown into the same cells, sometimes up to 5 prisoners per tiny cell [source].

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Within it’s 128 years of operating as a prison, Kilmainham held some of Ireland’s most notable ‘criminals’ from various rebellions throughout Ireland’s history. In 1803, Kilmainham held Robert Emmet, the leader of the 1803 rebellion (against British rule). Emmet, who was sentenced to death after being charged with high treason, delivered the famous Speech from the DockAround the same time Emmet was held at the jail, his ‘housekeeper‘ and co-conspirator, Anne Devlin, was detained as well. However, she was kept in Kilmainham until 1805. During the two years of her imprisonment, she was mentally tortured and held in poor conditions. The goal of her absolute misery was to gather her intelligence about the uprising and the names of those who planned and attempted to execute it. Anne never broke, but passed away in 1851 in absolute poverty. Other notable prisoners included Charles Parnell (1881), Patrick Pearse (1916), Èamon de Valera (1916), James Connolly (1916), and Joseph Plunkett (1916).

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My visit to Kilmainham was on a rainy, chilly day, fitting the mood surrounding the jail. Walking into the first hallway gave me chills. I peered into the cells through the holes in the doors and saw the tiny cells where so many Irish citizens spent their time. The mere fact that I was standing in such a historic place in Ireland’s history where important political prisoners were held and some, executed was enough to make me take a step back and say a quick prayer for lives tortured and lost.

The prison itself is well-preserved and restored in some areas. Graffiti from prisoners still litters the doors and walls throughout the prison. It was an informative and eye-opening experience.

 

Other sources: [1], [2], [3]