Monday, July 11, 2011

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!


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