Friday, July 22, 2011

goodbye Ireland...for now

I am currently sitting in the Boston airport, trying to make the most of my really long lay over while I wait for my flight to Denver. Bad news, I am no longer in Ireland and my heart is a little bit broken. Good news, I am finally enjoying a real, ‘Merican Blue Moon beer, ah I’ve missed it. The last few days in Dublin have been really great. We have basically been free to do whatever since we returned from Belfast. On Tuesday night we did our farewell dinner with the whole group. While it was really fun getting to hang out with everyone one last time, it was also kind of sad. Don and Martin gave us some inspiring last words of wisdom and advice about readjusting to being home. We had a lot of “lasts” the past few days. We’ve gone to our favorite places for the last time and went and said bye to some of our Irish friends. We did a lot in the last few days and I would say we went out with a bang.  Leaving Ireland is extremely bittersweet. I was absolutely heartbroken leaving campus this morning for the airport, but at the same time, especially now that I am actually back in America, I am excited to see my friends and family back home. For my last post I have decided to compile a list of advice for prospective students. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

-Make one, I repeat only ONE trip to Penneys. Yes, the cute clothes and cheap prices are tempting but a lot of small purchases add up to a big hole in your pocket and your Penneys clothes will break anyway.
-When you need change don’t ask the bartenders to “break it,” they take it literally and will rip your 20 euro in half. On second thought, ask them anyways because it’s pretty hilarious.
-Don’t travel anywhere in large groups of Americans, you will never get to actually meet or talk to Irish people if you do.
-Only eat at the fastfood restaurant, Supermac’s, late at night. Trust me, it will not taste as good during the day.
-Upon arriving try and get comfortable as quickly as you can. You don’t want to waste anytime being homesick because time flies when you’re abroad.
-When Martin gives you an estimate about how far it will take you to walk somewhere, add 20 minutes onto it because he walks abnormally fast.
-If you get on the bus around 11:30 pm and they take a long time to move, don’t panic, get excited instead; you are about to experience the late night Dublin bus races. All the bus drivers start their last round of stops at the same time and see who wins, be sure to cheer your driver on, he will appreciate it.
-After you’ve discovered your favorite pub or coffee shop try and become a regular there, it will make you feel more local and it’s a great way to make Irish friends.
- Smithwick’s beer is pronounced “Smith-icks.” You may as well learn that now.
-As Martin and Don will tell you again and again, don’t stress. Something is bound to go wrong or happen unexpectedly on your trip, just go with it. Some of my best memories are when we made a mistake or ended up somewhere we didn’t want to be and we had an adventure and a good laugh out of it.
-The Irish have no sense of personal space whatsoever, and they have no shame in showing pda… just prepare yourself now and learn to accept it.
-Most importantly, be open to new experiences. Get out of your comfort zone and take it all in. You will come back changed for the better.
-Order a Baby Guinness for me, request Galway Girl at every pub and end every night at Flannery’s.
-If you are reading this blog and are on the fence about whether or not you should study abroad with CIEE Dublin… DO IT. I debated for a long time if I actually had the courage to go abroad and I am so glad I did. I would recommend this program to anyone. When else in your life can you frolick around a foreign country carefree? Studying abroad, much like college in general, gives you all the freedom of being an adult with none of the responsibility. Enjoy it.

All in all, this trip has been absolutely incredible. I have spent months and months preparing for this trip and I have spent years dreaming about going to Ireland, I can’t believe it’s over. This program was everything I hoped for and more. I can say with absolute certainty that deciding to come to Ireland for CIEE summer school is the best decision I’ve made in college. The two months I have spent in Ireland are two of the best months of my life. I have made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. I want to give a big thanks to CIEE for giving me this incredible opportunity. I would especially like to thank Don and Martin, they both made this trip the best it could possibly be. And all I can really say now is that I left part of my heart in Ireland and I intend to come back in the near future and get it.



Monday, July 18, 2011

Northern Ireland

Our class trip to Northern Ireland was really interesting. We stayed at a hotel in Belfast City Centre and did different tours every day. Belfast has a completely different vibe than Dublin, and the impacts of “The Troubles” and the tension between Protestants and Catholics are still very prominent. Beginning in the 1960’s, The Troubles came about due to tension between Catholic Nationalists who wished to be part of the Republic of Ireland, and Protestant Unionists who wished to remain part of the United Kingdom. The tension of the two cultural identities led to many problems in the North. The violent sectarian conflicts between these two ethnic groups continued until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 in which the right of self-determination and the recognition of the birthright of all people to identify and themselves and be accepted as British or Irish was established. Although this brought about a ceasefire, the culture of Northern Ireland is still very divided. 
Belfast City Hall

The first day in Belfast we took a tour of different political murals and we walked along the “Peace Wall” which separates the Irish Nationalists and the British Unionists. The peace wall is covered with graffiti written by people from all over the world who also wish for peace in Northern Ireland. I’ve never seen a city like Belfast before; the division between the two groups is very prevalent and affects everyday life. Even some of the pubs have a similar kind of peace line in which one side of the building an “Ethno-British” pub and one is an “Ethno-Irish” pub and it is clear that the people in these different pubs do not mix, even though they are literally one doorway away.
Bobby Sands mural

Graffiti on the peace wall
Peace Wall

 On a happier note, later that day we went to the dockyards where Titanic was built. We got to walk through the rooms in which the architects of the Titanic drew the blue prints, and we also stood in the room where they made the decision to not put enough lifeboats on board. It was a tad bit eerie, but nonetheless was really cool. Our tour guide made it fun and he pretty much quoted the movie Titanic word for word verbatim. He also made sure that we knew the old Belfast saying, “She was fine when she left us” and he made it clear that it was not their fault that she sank.   

Building where they designed the Titanic

The second day of our trip was spent in Derry, or Londonderry depending on whom you ask. Derry was an important city during The Troubles and was home to the Battle of the Bogside, which was a violent riot that resulted in many deaths, and was also home to Bloody Sunday. We walked around and looked at the murals and memorials dedicated to the sad events that took place there and then we went into the Bloody Sunday Museum. The museum is run by a man named John Kerry. He was there on Bloody Sunday and his younger brother Michael, was killed. This really hit home for me; the reality of how The Troubles impacts real people’s lives. The museum was sad and our group was pretty somber. We also walked along the city walls where the loyalist Apprentice Boys had marched, leading to the rioting of the Irish nationalists, which ultimately resulted in the Battle of the Bogside. At the end of the day a few friends and I stopped into a pub in Derry to relax while we waited to go back to Belfast. Upon arriving into this pub you are immediately welcomed with a big painting of Bobby Sands, the famous hunger striker, and a Republic of Ireland flag; it is obvious whose territory you are in. The cultural division runs deep and is made very clear wherever you go.


The third day in Northern Ireland was much more relaxed. In the morning we went and toured Carrickfergus Castle, which is an old Norman castle. This was a lot of fun frolicking around an ancient castle and getting to look at the different armor and weapons that were used. My inner nerd couldn’t help but think of the Lord of the Rings, it was awesome. 
Walking along the walls of the castle
Carrickfergus Castle
Trying on the armor

Our next stop that day was to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This is a small rope bridge that allows people to walk over the ocean to a small landmass on the other side. The weather was great and it was beautiful right along the ocean. We considered staying on the little island and living there the rest of our lives, an idea most welcomed by a couple people that were a little bit terrified to have to cross back over the bridge. 
Our whole class after crossing the rope bridge

Our last stop for the day was to Giant’s Causeway. Giant’s Causeway is on the ocean and is made up of naturally occurring basalt columns. This was caused by a volcanic eruption, although according to Irish legend it was a bridge built by a giant named Fionn so that he could get to Scotland. It was beautiful and the rocks looked like they were shaped and stacked so perfectly that I almost didn’t believe it wasn’t manmade. 
Giant's Causeway

All in all, Belfast was a very interesting city and it was a great trip. The bus ride home was a little bit depressing, not only because of no longer getting free three course meals at the hotel and returning to cheap pasta in the dorms, but because our trip in Ireland is winding down. Returning to Dublin from any trip, including around Ireland and even when I traveled to London and Rome makes me appreciate Dublin so much more. Every time I’ve returned, I kind of have a feeling of going back home, and I have an ache in heart thinking about having to leave for good in three days. I can’t think about that for now though, I have three days left and I plan to enjoy them!

The luck of the Irish? I think not.

inside St. Michan's
On Friday morning we toured St. Michan’s church in the morning and the Glasnevin Cemetery in the afternoon. St. Michan’s is the oldest parish on the north side of the River Liffey and although the church itself wasn’t that spectacular (especially having toured St. Patrick’s Cathedral the week before… can’t really even be compared) the mummies underneath were awesome.  Underneath the church are burial vaults that have been naturally, perfectly preserved and mummified due to the constant dry condition in the vaults. We got to go down into the vaults and although my claustrophobia was kicking in big time as we climbed down the tunnel-like staircase, it was worth it. Our tour guide was very eccentric and he made the tour more interesting and he insisted that touching the hand of the mummy would bring us good luck. So I shook the mummy’s hand, hoping to receive some luck and then we left St. Michan’s. 

After stopping for a coffee break in a shop along the way, Martin walked us down to Glasnevin Cemetery. The cemetery has graves of notable national figures such as Daniel O’Connell, Michael Collins, Charles Stewart Parnell, and many more. Although the tour was really interesting, especially considering we have previously learned about many of the people that our tour guide talked about, it is still a little bit strange to me to have a guided tour of a cemetery.  We went inside the tomb of Daniel O’Connell and our tour guide insisted that touching his tomb would bring us good luck. So once again I touched the tomb, doubling up on my luck for the day. 

This luck really didn’t come in handy the following day though when I went to go see Phoenix Park. We were told that Phoenix Park is a must see in Dublin and that it’s bigger than Central Park in New York City. It is home to the Dublin Zoo, the residence of the President of Ireland, the United States Ambassador’s residence, the Ashtown Castle, a cafĂ©, ponds, and many memorials… we saw none of these.  I went with my three good friends and after riding the bus for an hour we got to the park and started walking around. We walked for about an hour total and all we saw was one deer and tall grass that we couldn’t even walk through, it didn’t really look like a park at all, it looked like just a plot of land. We were trying to be optimistic and so we kept walking but to no avail. We sat at a picnic bench and laughed for about 10 minutes straight about our predicament and then decided to leave and head back into the city. We found out the next day all of the awesome stuff inside Phoenix Park that we apparently missed, and we determined that we somehow must have used the wrong entrance and just walked along the outside of the park rather than actually walked inside the park. So we spent our last full Saturday in Dublin on a sunny day basically walking around on the grass next to a street. Fail. But on the bright side, we had an adventure and came away with a funny story. You win some you lose some, I guess. My luck from the previous day had apparently worn out. 

frolicking about Dublin

Second session has been flying by! Second session has seemed really different than the first session. We have a lot more free time and less structure. I have learned to enjoy the freedom of the second session; I’ve been to a lot of different places in Dublin and I am finally figuring out the places I like most and we have even become regulars at a few. The first session we went to a lot of places outside of Dublin, we traveled to a bunch of different little towns and we did the touristy stuff like the Guinness Factory, so this session has been a lot more relaxed and we’ve mostly just stayed in Dublin. It makes me feel much more local and less like a visitor to be able to have a favorite pub or coffee shop and to actually have local friends. On Tuesday, we toured the Writer’s Museum in the morning and then we were free the rest of the day. The Writer’s Museum was interesting; we walked around and listened to an audio recording about different books and many great Irish authors. Although, a museum about books wouldn’t usually be at the top of my list to go see, I did find a few of the exhibits interesting. I especially enjoyed learning more about the work and life of James Joyce. I read his book, Dubliners in high school and then had to reread it here for a class assignment. I remember thinking in high school that the short stories in Dubliners were boring and mundane. I didn’t get it at all. Reading them again after being here and studying the history and culture, it holds a lot more meaning. I like seeing that what I learn in school actually does change my perspective on things.

After the Writer’s Museum we shopped around the city a little bit and with the beautiful weather we couldn’t pass up sitting outside. We went to St. Stephen’s Green, which is a park in the middle of the city. We laid out in the grass at the park, which is a prime location for people watching. I saw an assortment of people there: young families, old couples, rowdy teenage boys, and I couldn’t help but imagine their lives and what it would be like to grow up here.
Entrance to St. Stephen's Green

 I have grown to absolutely love Dublin and as I sat at the park with my three friends we dreamed what it would be like to move back here next year. I am learning to appreciate my unique position in life; with one more year left of college and no clue what to do next, I really do have the freedom to do whatever I want. The four of us sat at the park and conjured up our dream life for next year; we planned out where we could work, live, hang out, and we decided that every sunny day in Dublin we would meet back at St. Stephen’s Green. Who knows if we could actually move back here after we graduate next year, but the important thing is that we have the ability to dream about it. I came to Dublin at the beginning of the summer feeling very unsure about my place in life. It seems like there’s a lot more pressure in America to get married, secure a career, and have it all together right after college, it’s the white picket fence American dream, I suppose.  

Don and Martin are always saying that Americans are way too stressed about everything; I’m starting to believe them. Rather than stressing out about life after college, I’m beginning to get excited. I had the privilege of celebrating my 22nd birthday here in Dublin, and although I’ve sort of been dreading it because it means I no longer have the excuse of being a young and reckless 21 year old, I’m realizing that we take life too seriously and getting older should be an exciting adventure, not something to stress over. Alright, enough rambling and daydreaming, back to my day in the park. After enjoying the park for a few hours we ate at one of our favorite restaurants, Sweeney’s. Take note, if you enjoy drinking Blue Moon beer at home, go to Sweeney’s. Although it doesn’t taste nearly as good as it does in the States, it is the only place I’ve found in Dublin that serves it. All in all, it was a great day in the city. 

St. Stephen's Green

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Happy 4th of July 'Merica!

I must say that without an outdoor BBQ, fireworks, and throwing the frisbee around, the 4th was a little bit of a let down. I was surprised to find that so many people here actually did celebrate it though. Much to the delight of everyone in our group, there is a pub on campus, which would be quite a rarity back home on an American campus. The pub on campus is called the NuBar and they were hosting a 4th of July bbq.  After our fair share of hamburgers and corn on the cob at NuBar, we headed into town, and in true American fashion, we went to Temple Bar
Many places in town had American flags hung and almost everywhere we went someone wished us a “Happy Independence Day.”  Most the Irish people we ran into that night seemed genuinely excited for us that it was independence day and made a point to talk to us about it. Something I’ve noticed about the Irish is that they have quite a global awareness about other cultures. Almost every Irish person I’ve talked to is very knowledgeable about American history, politics and popular culture. I don’t know nearly as much about Irish society as they know about American society. As ethnocentric as this is, most of my perceptions about Ireland come from American movies, which is probably why most of my expectations about being here were wrong. Much to the dismay of all the girls on this trip, Ireland is not full of handsome Irish men wandering the countryside like P.S I Love You taught us, but nonetheless when we took a tour of Wicklow national park that didn’t stop most of the girls from looking. The Irish aren’t completely innocent either, considering that I’ve heard Jersey Shore quoted to me more than once. The first week of being here, when anyone asked where I’m from I would usually just say America, but most people usually seemed a little annoyed that I would assume they hadn’t figured that out. Turns out, everyone here knows where Colorado is, and I usually get some kind of response about Coors beer, the Rocky Mountains, and, much to my surprise, multiple people have asked me if I ride horses on the plains... I'm still a little baffled that that's the image some people have when they picture Colorado. Enough pondering about perceptions; back to 4th of July. With the responsibility of representing American pride we of course all wore red, white, and blue. My friend in the program, Erika, wore a red and white-stripped shirt. This of course led many people to jokingly ask, “Where’s Wally?” We were constantly correcting people saying, “His name is not even Wally, it’s Waldo!!”  The following day, we were shopping at a bookstore called Chapters when we stumbled upon the kid’s section. Turns out that in Ireland the Where’s Waldo books do not feature Waldo, but they feature “Wally” and are actually called Where’s Wally? Typical, the joke is on us.

Monday, July 11, 2011 in blue

I went to my first Gaelic football game yesterday. It’s like soccer on craic (pun intended.) The field is similar to a rugby pitch with what looks like a soccer goal with football goal posts on top at either end. It’s worth 3 points to get the ball in the goal, and 1 point in the goal posts. Players can only run with the ball in their hand for four steps and then they must kick, throw, or bounce it off their own foot. I was actually at the stadium, Croke Park, the week before for a hurling match because they are played on the same field. Croke Park, like everything else in Dublin has an incredible history. The sad shootings of Bloody Sunday took place there, but it is also a symbol of Irish pride and unity. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was established to unite the different counties in Ireland by competing in traditional Gaelic sports. At the beginning of the game, everyone sang the Irish National Anthem in Gaelic. While the rivalries between the different counties are strong, there is an overarching theme of Irish pride in their culture and country. Yesterday, the match was between Dublin and Wexford and so I obviously had to support Dublin. The Irish are very loyal to their home teams and take a lot of pride in cheering for them. Not surprisingly, there was an overwhelming amount of Dublin fans, but among the sea of light blue Dublin jerseys there were also a few purple and yellow Wexford fans. We happened to be sitting among a lot of Wexford fans and, like most other places, we stuck out like a sore thumb. Never having seen Gaelic football before in my life, we were a bit confused at the beginning and we accidently cheered for Wexford a few times while waving our blue Dublin flags, but Gaelic football is pretty simple and we caught on quickly. It was a really close game and the fans were wild, the atmosphere reminded me of going to football games back home. The Dublin fans, otherwise known as The Dubs, were rowdy and I talked to a few students afterwards who assured me that the next game I go to I need to sit in the hill, which is the standing stadium for the “true fans.” My night ended at a sports pub, arm in arm with other fans singing along to Come On You Boys In Blue, which is like their spirit song. The entire pub was singing, with the exception of a few bitter Wexford fans, and I felt truly Irish and connected to the community.
In front of Croke Park

session one in a nutshell

My time in Dublin thus far has been quite the adventure. From the first few days of walking around the city in a zombie-like jet-lagged state, to being in tears at the end of the first session while having to say goodbye, I have come a long way.  My expectations for Dublin were way off, but then again, most expectations are. Coming here, I knew that Dublin would be a thriving, international city but some part of me still wanted to believe it would be the green rolling hills full of sheep and farmers. While I was initially disappointed, little did I know that in a few weeks time I would be absolutely in love with this city.

Our teachers, Don and Martin, are great and they compliment each other well. Martin tries to always make sure we feel comfortable in the city and our school material and makes sure we understand Irish culture. Don helps us understand the culture too, usually by means of shocking us with the bluntness and forwardness that is uniquely Irish. The first week here was pretty much all orientation. As our teacher Martin walked us through the city, I was trying desperately to remember where everything is, mostly due to the fact that he continued to jokingly threaten us with “ambush orienteering” in which he would leave us on our own to find our way, and I was determined to be ready for it.  We walked around Dublin City Hall and were able to view the gardens of the black pool where Dublin’s name is derived from, originally called Dubh Linn. We walked along St. Audeon’s, Christchurch Cathedral, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

         All of my free time the first few weeks was spent traveling to different parts of Ireland. Heading out to the countryside was wonderful and it’s the image most people have when they think of Ireland; lots of green hills and beautiful seaside cliffs. I spent my first weekend in Galway, which I absolutely loved. Galway seems like a miniature version of Dublin; it has a small town feel but still all the amenities of a big city. It seemed to have a more “Irish” feel to it. The Irish are all extremely friendly and hospitable and when I walked into the pub in Galway that first weekend, I felt like I was already among friends. The weekend we were there they were having a Havana festival, so the town was full of live music and we sat out on the canal and watched the Havana dancers. It was awesome. I also took many day trips traveling to little fishing towns just outside of Dublin, and while these towns are usually less than an hour train ride away, I feel like I’m in a different country. The most memorable town for me was Howth (although seeing Bono’s door in Killiney was a close second.) My day in Howth consisted of gallivanting around the markets, hiking through the Howth Castle Gardens, and having fresh seafood and a bottle of wine overlooking the ocean. Not a bad day at all. 
Castle Gardens in Howth


I really love the lay out of our class; most days consist of a lecture in the morning and a site visit in the afternoon. The site visits are always really interesting and I love that we can learn about something and then go physically see it. My favorite field trip so far was our visit to Kilmainham Gaol, the jail that housed the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. The 1916 Easter Rising was a failed attempt for Irish freedom but when the rebels were taken to Kilmainham and executed there, it made martyrs out of them, which ultimately reignited Irish passion for independence from Britain.

Courtyard at Kilmainham where the leaders were executed

At Croagh Patrick
            We ended the first session with our West of Ireland trip and this trip was my most favorite thing we’ve done in the program thus far. We traveled out to Westport, County Mayo and stayed in a cute little hotel and did tours everyday.  The first day there we hiked to Croagh Patrick, which is an ancient pilgrimage site that is still used yearly for the devout to climb up it barefoot. Across from Croagh Patrick is the Famine Memorial. County Mayo was hit the hardest during the famine and this memorial is in the shape of a “Coffin ship.”  Tragedy struck in 1847 when the potato crop failed completely, forcing thousands of people to abandon their homes and way of life. Coffin ships were the name given to the ships carrying the thousands of Irish people trying to escape. Many people died on that journey, thus the name coffin ships. It was a very somber mood when we drove along the famine walk and we saw a famine village. The structures of the village were still there, but it had been completely abandoned, this gave us a tangible way to understand the devastation of the famine, it literally wiped out once thriving communities. It was humbling to be in a place that has overcome so much devastation.

Our whole class at the famine village

Famine village
Hiking in Connemara national park

            We also got to tour Tom Hennigan’s farm. His farm has been in his family for generations and we learned all about how Irish farmers used to live back in the 1800’s. With my own family hailing from County Mayo, I couldn’t help but imagine that my ancestors lived similarly. I loved getting to hear from Tom as he talked to us about “the good old days” of Ireland and how much the world has changed. Most of the Irish people that I have conversed with are young college aged students like myself, so it was interesting getting to hear from someone from an older generation. Our West of Ireland trip was so great because we went to places that I would never have gone to on my own. It was also a last hoorah for the students that were leaving after the first session.  Although I was really sad to say goodbye to the first session people, it made me really thankful that I have another month here.  My time in Ireland so far has been a crazy, exciting, and scary adventure!