Archive | March, 2014

Volunteering with the Simon Community

22 Mar


Earlier in the semester, we were given the opportunity to sign up to volunteer with the Simon Community.  I was thrilled to be given this opportunity to give back some for the short amount of time I’ve been here.  I have been volunteering with an ongoing project called Soup Run Team.  In Ireland, homelessness can be common. Soup Run Team walks around Dublin providing soup, sandwiches, and offers a good chat to those who are homeless. It is estimated that up to 5,000 individuals are homeless at any one time in Ireland.  That’s a pretty startling number.  One fact about the Soup Run Team I’m pretty impressed with is that it has volunteers going out on routes 24/7, 365 days a year – including all of the holidays.  That’s pretty awesome if you ask me!  It shows how dedicated they are to their service and wanting to help others. I am more than happy to put forth some of my time here to help those in need and who are suffering.   I went into my first night hoping to gain a better perspective on what life would be like if that were me and appreciate what I have and not take it for granted.

My first Tuesday night, I was teamed up with two veteran volunteers on Route 1 (I believe there were about five different set routes to tackle the city).  One of those volunteers has been volunteering for over twelve years! I applaud him and his dedication to this great organization.  With canteens of tea and soup and our bag of goodies, us three set out on our route.  It was nice to have a route with roads that I’m familiar with.  We drove around a bit to search for people in their sleeping bags on the streets, but at some point we had to park and tackle the weather.  The weather was absolutely unbelievable last night – I’m talking 40mph wind gusts and constant rain.  Needless to say, my boots didn’t prove to be as waterproof as I thought they were. The same volunteer who’s been with Soup Run for years told me that it was the worst weather he’s ever been out on with Soup Run. What a night I picked for my first, huh? We kept trucking along and would go up to anyone we saw sitting on the streets, trying to shield themselves from the rain and wind as best as they could, to offer up some supplies for them.  Some accepted and some declined.  The first individual that we came along was so very grateful to us and thanked us for the food and poncho to help keep clean.  It makes you put everything in perspective and not to take anything for granted and appreciate what’s been given to you in this life.  I don’t know how they can survive on the streets like that – and especially on a night like that. It made me forever grateful for the hot shower and dry clothes I had waiting for me back in my apartment. 

The Simon Community is such a great organization and would highly recommend people to get involved with what they do.  They have a serious, positive impact on the homeless around Dublin.  


A trip to the West

22 Mar

A few weekends ago, some of us international students took on the west of Ireland visiting Galway, Aran Islands, and the mighty Cliffs of Moher.  This trip was quite different than the trip to Northern Ireland which was more political based with visiting places such as the Orange Order and having a walking tour of Derry-Londonderry.  This last trip was a little more relaxed and scenic based.

On Friday, we all boarded the coaches and set out for Galway.  I always enjoy the coach rides through Ireland because I love looking out and seeing all of the green rolling hills.  When we got closer to Galway, it was interesting to see so many of the fields covered with limestone walls and rocks strewn about.  It’s hard for me to imagine back in the middle of the 1800’s when the Famine was occurring in Ireland with what they were going through.  I grew up on a farm until I was about ten years old and we were grateful to have acres of nice land to till and plant our crops.  Looking out at that countryside, it made me wonder how it was at all possible for the Irish farmers to have any successful crops with all of the rocks and no quality soil for the potatoes to grow?  The Potato Famine is said to have claimed close to one million lives, due to starvation, disease, and malnutrition, and Ireland lost families and individuals to emigration.

Saturday was a pretty long day.  We left Galway in the morning so we could catch our ferry to the Aran Islands.  That day I was incredibly thankful that I don’t get motion sickness from boats – because boy-oh-boy was our boat catching some waves out on that water! We arrived to the islands safe and sound.  We were on the largest of the three islands called Inis Mor where about 850 people live.  Many of the people who live on the island have occupations as farmers, work in the sweater making business, or in tourism.  I really enjoyed the tour we received of the island by a van.  Gaelic is the main language that is spoken on the island and english as a second language.  It was cool to hear so many people speaking Gaelic since I don’t really hear it in full force in Dublin.  Our ferry ride back to the mainland was uneventful and not as rough as the way in. Back in Galway for the night, we enjoyed a nice dinner at our hotel and got to interact some more with other individuals who were on the trip that we maybe didn’t know.

Sunday was perhaps my favorite day of the weekend because we got to visit the Cliffs of Moher! I had been extremely anxious to visit the cliffs ever since I arrived back in January. And it was everything I had wanted and more.  When we first arrived, I was a little disappointed with the weather because it was so foggy that you couldn’t really see the outline of the cliffs that well.  With some time, it cleared up and I was a happy camper. It was super cool to be there where a scene from the Harry Potter was filmed since I’m a super Harry Potter fan. Being surrounded by those mighty cliffs for a few hours was sure something else. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.  It was definitely an adrenaline rush as you walked closer and closer to the edge to look down on the waves crashing against the cliffs.


Blood + Sweat + Tears = Rugby

21 Mar

Okay so no one ever told me how hardcore Rugby is. Where has this sport been all my life? Thank you Ireland for opening my eyes.

I know we have it in the states. I mean my cousin played at the same university I attend now, but it’s a much bigger deal here. Better players. Better matches. Better fans.

What is Rugby?

If you don’t want to know the ins and outs then just know that Rugby is basically a better, fiercer, bloodier, soccer-football mutant. Yeah mutant, like these guys’ massive quad muscles.

To be a bit more technical…there are 15 guys running around for each team. The objective is to score points by getting the rugby ball across the goal line. This is called a try (like a touchdown) worth 5 points. You can also kick field goals and every team gets to kick after scoring a try.

So far its sounds a lot like football, but now we stray. Any player can carry, pass, or kick the ball. The only restriction is you cannot pass the ball forward. So basically it looks like a giant game of keep-away…but more hardcore. There are no formal plays like in football. Thus, the clock rarely stops. 80 minutes of brutal force split into two halves.

Something particularly unique to Rugby is the scrum. A scrum is a contest for the ball involving eight players who bind together and push against the other team’s assembled eight for possession. Scrums restart play after certain minor infractions. This is the coolest thing y’all.


For the record, there are different rules for Rugby Leagues versus Rugby Unions, but I’ll just leave that to you and your Google searching if you’re interested.

Why is Rugby so Hardcore?

Is that really a question? Silly reader.

First of all. They wear no pads. No helmets.

Just their adorable long socks and short-shorts so we can all admire.

I fully appreciate the magnificence of the Rugby uniform, but at the same time I cringe at how beaten their bodies must get. These guys are slammed into the ground. Not even turf. Freaking earth. Have you felt the earth lately? It’s not something I enjoy slamming my body into.


Second of all, there are like zero breaks. American football is constant start and stop, but Rugby is a pretty solid 80 minutes of go. Oh but THEN let’s talk about substitutions. American NFL football teams hold 53 players. Those players and then split, like play time, into offense and defense. And in both football and soccer, substitutions are nearly infinite.

But oh no Rugby, that would be too easy. There are only 7-12 substitutions on each Rugby team, and once a player goes out, he cannot re-enter the game. Breaks are apparently for the weak.

Oh wait. The only exception to that rule is if guys run off because blood is slowly dripping down their face and they get stitched up real fast. Nbd.

I’ve sort of rambled on at this point, so I’m going to cut myself off here and just say: Rugby is one of the most physically and mentally intense games I’ve ever seen.

Up Close and Personal

Thanks to the lovely study abroad program I’m attending, FIE, I was able to attend a Pro 12 match between Leinster (Providence Dublin is in) and the Glasgow Warriors (from Scotland).

It was great. Men in short-shorts everywhere.


Haha. Okay I swear it was cool because of the sport and atmosphere too, not just these men and their long socks.

The match was a lot like minor league sports back home. Smaller stadium, less rowdy, cheaper tickets etc. Though, I think Pro 12 is a pretty major rugby league…. Y’all I don’t know I’m doing my best haha Anyways, I just love sports so I had a great time. Plus Leinster won 28-25!

I love actually going to sporting events, but everyone knows sometimes the best seats are from your own chair in front of the television. So this brings me too…

Six Nations Rugby and IRISH DOMINATION

So there is this big tournament called Six Nations Rugby. The nations are: Ireland, England, France, Whales, Scotland, and Italy. This year, St.Patrick’s weekend, France hosted Ireland for the championship.

So basically every single television in this country was on. It’s like the Superbowl. Emotions ran high.

We went to watch the game at a nearby pub and holy shells it was intense. People were packed in like sardines. It was so funny for the pub to be basically silent and then all of a sudden everyone would be cursing out the television in unison. You really didn’t need to understand the game at all. It was obvious weather I was supposed to be happy or angry about a play.

The passion ladies and gents. That’s something I love about sports. It’s like religion for some people.

Anyways the game was brutal. Lots of bloody faces not getting stitched up. One guy was carried off in a stretcher. These guys are insane.

Fast forward 80 minutes…


VICTORY IS OURS. Ireland defeated France 20-22. It was a cool moment, even for me, a new bandwagon fan for the Irish. I was so happy for them! There was no shortage of blood, sweat, and tears at this match.

I’ll leave you with this great quote:

“You know, say what you will about the ravages of sports in this corporate age where overpaid athletes expect prima donna treatment, but there is still something so unifying about sport in its purest form, when athletes rise above themselves and touch greatness and, in doing so, remind us all that we also have greatness inside of us.” 


Brooke Ballengee

The Wonder of Newgrange

18 Mar

newgrangeIt is common to overthink the deep human history that surrounds each of us on a daily basis. However, there are some exceptions that make it impossible to ignore the resilience and brilliance of human work. The Pyramids of Giza, the Coliseum, the Great Wall of China, and Stonehenge are example of such remarkable human work. Even the small island of Ireland has evidence of this stunning history in Newgrange. In the Boyne Valley, this historical monument triumphs over the other prehistoric jewels that surround it. It was constructed more than 5000 years ago and was discovered with the main corridors and tombs still intact. Taking a trip to see this Irish treasure was as perplexing as much as it was interesting.

The structure is astonishing from the outside, rebuilt using the same stones that were used thousands of years before. What was hard to understand was how long it took these people to construct such a monument, considering that the average person only lived to be about 25 years old. What was even harder to comprehend was just how they built a structure that has proven to pass the test of time. They got huge rocks from miles away and brought they up and down the rivers to the top of the hill that they stand on now. Upon entering the small tomb, you get a feel for how the monument was used in ceremonies and special occasions. By far, the most incredible part of seeing Newgrange was watching the light come through the chamber hole, that simulated the sunlight passing through on the winter solstice. Thus, even with a calendar or any advanced technology, humans were able to understand the exact location of the sun on the shortest day of the year and use that knowledge in the construction of an important monument. Therefore, throughout my visit to Newgrange, it became harder and harder to overlook the depths of human capability.

A Trip to the North

18 Mar

Disclaimer: These are just my thoughts. I make no assumption that I could ever fully understand the sectritaian divide still in existence in Northern Ireland, having not been a part of it myself!

A Mucho Simplified Down Low of the History

Most of you guys have probably heard of the IRA and you may know that there is some protestant-catholic stuff going on right? That was basically what I knew when I arrived on this tiny island.  Little did I know how complicated the conflict really was. So here’s the bare bones of it.

Remember that whole colonization turned independence from the British thing we did, well we aren’t the only ones. In the 16th century Britain started to come on over and start what they call Plantations, which is basically forming colonies. Fast forward a century and things start to get pretty crappy for the indigenous population. I’m talking institutionalized ethnic-based discrimination that lasted for hundreds of years. Ringing any familiar bells? The plantation idea is similar to the British colonizing New England in America, and the oppression of the Irish population has many similarities to the systematic discrimination of African-Americans in the States.

After an uprising that sparked the fire in 1916 Ireland wins independence in 1922, but not the entire island. The northeast corner of the island was carved out for the Unionists (those citizens who wanted to remain under British rule). Nationalists (those who want a complete Republic of Ireland) weren’t too happy about that. So at this point we’ve got Catholics/Protestants and Nationalist/Unionists with an Irish/British on top.

The tensions exploded into violence in Northern Ireland in the late 60s and 70s when the historically Irish Catholic population demanded equal rights. Paramilitary groups arose on both sides and a civil-war-like conflict broke out. Most of the victims, as with any war, were innocent civilians. Following a ceasefire, an agreement was met in 1998 (The Good Friday Agreement) which established a number of things including a duel government and duel citizenship for citizens of N. Ireland.

My impression of Northern Ireland today is primarily that people are tired and done with the fighting. 99% of the population puts peace above the divisions among themselves. Barring an unforeseen catastrophic event, I believe the storm has finally passed.

Belfast Peace Wall Tour

The peace wall divides part of the working class area of Belfast, it closes every night at 7pm and doesn’t open until 7am. One side is a protestant British community, the other an Irish-Catholic community. I don’t really like the name “Peace Wall” when it so clearly signifies division in the community. Our group got to hear from both a Republican and a Unionist on their “respective” sides of the wall.

Every war has two sides right, and we definitely heard different accounts. The Republican man (who by the way was not affiliated with any religion) focused a lot on the past discrimination by the British, the infamous Bloody Sunday, and other violent acts committed. He said that most members of the community appreciated the peace wall because of the mistrust between the communities.

On the other side, the Unionist man focused on the present and future much more. He said he wished the peace wall would come down because he didn’t think the communities could really heal and intertwine until it did. In my humble opinion, I think he’s definitely right about this one. Physical environments effect behavior, and I think it will be a beautiful thing when the wall is finally gone.

I thought it was really interesting to see which facts the Nationalist crowd gave versus the facts from the Unionist crowd. Both presentations were true, and yet they are so different. I think there is more than one valuable lesson that we world should take from the experience of Northern Ireland, but one of them is that no story has one side. No major conflict is totally black and white.



Brooke Ballengee

Western Ireland

18 Mar

A few weekends ago, I joined our Irish Life and Culture class on a trip to Western Ireland. During this trip, I was able to explore Galway, the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher. On Saturday we embarked for the Aran Islands, which involved a bus and ferry ride. We learned quickly that the weather conditions for the day were not exactly ideal, since the wind made the boat ride very rocky. Once on the main island we took a bus tour. The driver informed us that the Aran Islands are made up of 3 islands, Inis Mór, Inis Meáin, and Inis Oírr. The population on the Aran Islands is over 1,300. The island has one market and one bank. The people on the island receive food and other supplies brought by boat from Galway. While on the island we were able to practice our Irish, since that is the spoken language by the locals on the island. We were also able to climb up the Aran cliffs and see the seven churches.

The following day we visited the Cliffs of Moher. We initially experienced very foggy weather in which it was very difficult to make out the cliffs in the fog. Luckily the fog lessened after half an hour and we were able to view the cliffs.  The cliffs formed 320 million years ago and are 702 feet high and 5 miles in length. The rock layers of the cliffs were formed by hardened mud and sand. On a clear day a visitor would be able to make out the Aran Islands and Galway bay in the distance. At the base of the cliffs is one of Ireland’s largest surfing waves. The wave is called “Aileen’s” by surfers and has been seen in multiple surf movies.

Overall it was a wonderful trip in which I was able to understand why individuals have been drawn to the charming, culture filled environment of Western Ireland.

By: Jenna Gilder

Northern Ireland

18 Mar

On February 7th we went on a trip to Northern Ireland. On the trip we visited Belfast and Derry and learned more about the conflicts that have occurred in Northern Ireland. In Derry the tour guide proudly told us that there has been peace in Northern Ireland for the past 15 years. We were also able to visit the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, which I successfully walked across without falling in the water. Luckily the bridge is only 20 meters long, so I was safely back on solid ground quickly. I joined the trip Friday evening since I had class during the day, so sadly I was not able to take a full tour of Belfast. I hope that I can travel to Belfast again at a later point during my semester abroad, so that I can see the peace wall.

My favorite place that we visited was Giant’s Causeway. This famous Irish landmark was created over the course of sixty million years from the earth’s movement and volcanic eruptions. Many different legends have alluded to the belief that the Causeway was carved by a giant named Finn McCool who intended to use this rock formation to walk to Scotland to fight his enemy Benandonner. Clues supporting this myth, such as the giant’s boot, the wishing chair and the organ, can be seen in the rock formation. The locals have told this legend for many years and the Causeway continues to be one of Northern Ireland most famous tourist attractions.

Although it did rain a little while we were at the Causeway the weather ultimately was nice. We were able to climb the rocks without slipping and marvel in its natural beauty.  I was also able to take one of the cliff trails, which led to a bird’s eye view of the rock formation. The audio guide detailing the myths of Giant’s Causeway proved to be extremely helpful and allowed me to complete the tour at my own pace while also learning the cultural history of the landmark.

By: Jenna Gilder