I have written and rewritten and deleted and drafted until I couldn’t stall any longer on this post. I have only been in Ireland for a little while now, yet it seems like I’ve had a year’s worth of experiences, at least. I’ve been trying to think of what kind of cohesive blog post I can possibly post to capture everything that has gone on in my life, but I can’t see a single narrative forming. Now that classes have formally begun, perhaps I can get more organized. But I feel that the chaotic post that follows is the only way I can get anywhere close to sharing my first week in Ireland at this time. I’ve included the most memorable moments, certainly, but nowhere near all of them; there were millions of little memories that will prove to be important in who this trip is making me become. Below is the only way I can think of to share that.
Tuesday, June 20
Flight day. My flight was delayed by over an hour, because apparently the same level of rain that I’ve learned is normal here in Ireland is enough to stop a plane from landing in Atlanta. It had already been pushed back by a few hours around a month ago, meaning that my four-ish hour layover changed into thirty minutes to run across O’Hare International Airport and board my plane before it took off. Stress controlled me on the two hour flight to Chicago, wondering if I would make it or if I will be sleeping in the Chicago airport that night. Luckily, I made it at the last minute. On the plane, I ended up switching seats with an Irish man who was separated from his wife; they got to sit together, and I got eight hours on an airplane with my first friend (and now-roommate) on the USAC program, Niella. We were set to land at 8:05 am in Ireland; I had been terrified for months that I would not sleep. I brought a blanket, a pillow, and melatonin to make sure that I would. And I did, technically. I got about an hour of sleep, waking up on and off, and then my first day of Ireland starts with me sleep-deprived and jet-lagged.
Wednesday, June 21
Day one in Ireland is day one of classes. We get lunch on our own, our first interactions with locals outside of our taxi driver, who told us horror stories of why Uber is the worst thing that has ever happened. Coffee shops are remarkably similar from country to country, though Irish coffee shops definitely have better pastries. I had an amazing lemon tart and smoothie. After that, we begin our tour of Dublin, starting at City Hall. I don’t much know what we were supposed to be doing there, because we did introductions and then were kicked out after a showdown between our tour guide/teacher, Angus, and a security guard. Then we walk to Dublin Castle where we sit outside and get a lecture about the Easter Rising. Half of the class is drifting off, because nobody actually slept, and it is incredibly hot out. Fun fact: June 21, 2017 is the hottest Ireland has ever gotten in June. We return to the hotel, where our rooms are finally ready and we get our bags out of the in-hotel pub (I know, SO Irish). We change and then have dinner/orientation. I sit at a table full of people that I do not know, and try Beef & Guinness Stew, which is not bad, but is definitely a strong taste. After dinner, a small group of people goes out for a little while, and then we head back to catch up on sleep. One problem with that, however: my room is directly above the pub, which is currently hosting a sing-along. So I go down and join them, dancing a bit. Finally, they finish up around midnight. I get to sleep somewhere around one, a fitful, stopping-starting kind of night.
Thursday, June 22
The tour of the city is kicked into high-gear with six miles of walking. We hit the GPO museum (which I massively recommend to anyone coming to Ireland), 16 Moore Street, the Garden of Remembrance, Collins Barracks, and Arbour Hill Cemetery. Angus allows us to ride the tram back, which means that we would have walked far more otherwise. I love how many different angles of the history we get into, but it is getting to be too much for me, still jet-lagged. I now know the story of the 1916 Easter Rising, though we continue to go deeper into it Saturday.
After our tour, we go to Christ Church Cathedral, where we explore the tomb, the exhibits on the practice of the church, and listen to a choir practice that is being done in Latin. The Latin kind of surprises me, because the Cathedral has not been Catholic for centuries. In fact, by an odd quirk of history, the cathedrals of Dublin are primarily Protestant due to the domination of Ireland by Britain, particularly in the east. After this, we go to Riverdance, which is just stunning. It was the opening night of the season and was the first performance of the new female lead. It also included a dancer who has cystic fibrosis, the charity that they were collecting for before and after the performance. Several judges and dancers from Dancing with the Stars came for the opening. The story is clear, and the music and dancing are filled to the brim with meaning. We get gelato (lemon meringue pie gelato. Yum!) and walk back to the hotel’s pub, as I won’t be able to sleep while it’s open anyway. I teach a few of the girls the basics of the waltz, which is really hard to do in the corner of a somewhat-busy pub. But it’s fun anyway. They agree to learn more dances later.
Friday, June 23
Exhaustion hits. I almost don’t get out of bed in the morning, but we have places to go, things to see. We have a group trip to Newgrange and the Hills of Tara. Newgrange is the location of a famous burial mound predating the Egyptian pyramids. On the winter solstice, the sun enters the chamber in such a perfect way that for just a few moments it will light the space, and then fade again, supposedly for ritual or religious purposes. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like anyone is too sure of what went on there, but that tends to be the case with such ancient monuments.
The Hills of Tara are famous in the Celtic Irish mythological tradition, both as a mystical place and as a site for crowning kings. There is a stone that supposedly will begin speaking to you if you possess ancient Irish royal blood. Everyone is encouraged to try it out, though I have to wonder what everyone would do if the stone actually did start talking. It didn’t talk to me, but that’s no surprise. I’m probably the only person on this trip who has no Irish blood, to my knowledge. After that, we explore a famous used book store at Tara, where I get an old choir book full of songs in Irish. It is my intention to see if I can learn them once I am better at speaking the language. We head back to the hotel and I get together with a small group to do homework. Because in addition to walking several miles a day, cramming my head with every single element of Ireland’s past that could have an impact on the Easter Rising, and not sleeping, I still have homework to do. But it’s fun and we eat cake while we work. I go to bed early for once, because my whole body is on the verge of not working, and I’ll have more to do tomorrow.
Saturday, June 24
The last day of our tour. We hit Trinity College (OH MY GOD; IM IN LOVE WITH THE LIBRARY) and get a look at the Book of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript of Biblical scenes. Then we get back to 1916, visiting the National Library of Ireland’s Exhibition on WW1, the Roger Casement section of the National Museum of Ireland, and St. Stephen’s Green, where famous statues are scattered all around the park. By the end of it, most of us are distracted. Though it’s the last day of our tour, there is something else going on at the Green that captures our attention: The start of Dublin’s Pride.
He releases us, and a group of us end up joining in the festivities, with it being my first Pride. Over the course of the week, the Irish flags that border the River Liffey have been traded for rainbow flags, and on the day of the parade, no Irish flags are to be seen as the country announces its support for the LGBTQ+ community. Pride is massive in Ireland, where the Taoiseach, who is basically Ireland’s Prime Minister, is an openly gay man. Speaking of, we kind of ran into him and made our Irish news debut. At about 1:10 of his comment, a group of teenagers can be seen taking a selfie in the background… Whoops?
But, yeah. So that happened. We also walked in the parade and went out to some of the parties that night. At one, a circle of dancers formed for individual/partner dancing. A guy pulled me in and swing danced, which was fun… until he basically dropped me. Luckily, a few other guys caught me before I hit the ground and helped me back to my feet. Such a long day, but it was our last night in Dublin, and we were going to make the most of it.
Sunday, June 25
We left Dublin for Galway, stopping at a really cheesy castle, Bunratty Castle, which I would not recommend. There was no life to the tour we were given, which honestly disappointed me. Castles have been the biggest let-downs of Ireland thus far, because I like to think about them as full of life, which they obviously aren’t anymore. I really do believe that they could if they were handled correctly, though. A pile of stones is nothing until interpreted, and unfortunately that seems to be something that those at Bunratty Castle don’t understand. The best part of going there was finding a cheap, but beautiful Claddagh ring and eating some wonderful lemon drizzle cake.
The Claddagh ring is one of the most famous traditions of Ireland, though it’s historically a fairly modern practice. But even so, it was one of my major goals to get one when I got to Ireland. The Claddagh Ring is a fairly familiar image with a heart in hands, wearing a crown. The heart symbolizes love, the hands friendship, and the crown loyalty. How it is worn tells the relationship status of the wearer, with (from what I saw; there is some debate) crown-up on the right hand meaning they are single, crown-down meaning in a relationship, crown-up on the left meaning they are engaged, and crown-down meaning they are married. While cliché, it was something I was determined to do.
After this, we went to the Cliffs of Moher, which is a really difficult walk, but a beautiful site. It was the epitome of the idyllic, peaceful Ireland that everyone dreams about.
I honestly wish there was a way that I could stay there, because it was one of the best things I have seen in my life. Even with tourists all up and down the cliffs, when you sit and look out at the ocean below and the castle across the way, it all seems still, like a picture. Things seemed almost frozen when we were there, and troubles and worries drifted away. Because of something this perfect truly existed, there had to be a reason for it. For everything. And in the light of that, everything else seems small.
We got to Galway; we got rooms; I switched rooms. We all went to bed early, because the previous few days had drained us all. But here we were, in Galway. Home for the next month.