Tag Archives: travel journal

Irish Travel Journal, Days 7-10

This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.

We left Galway early in the morning and drove to the monastery at Clonmacnoise. Although it is now in ruins, Clonmacnoise was an active monastery and pilgrimage site from 600-1600.

After a quick tour in the freezing rain, we piled back into the warmth of the bus for the drive to Dublin. There, I finally got to see the play I have been desperately wanting to see ever since I first read it 6 years ago – Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman.

AT LONG LAST!

AT LONG LAST!

To make the evening even better, I met up with my friend Kat at the theatre, since she had flown over from Scotland to spend a few days in Dublin with me.

She brought her Polaroid.

Kat brought her Polaroid.

The Pillowman was everything I had hoped it would be and more (which is saying something, since my expectations were very, very high). The actors were phenomenal, the set was well designed, and the costumes were on point. I loved it.

The set of The Pillowman at The Gaiety

The set of The Pillowman at The Gaiety

And did I mention that we had front-row seats?

After the play, we took the freshmen to the historic Shelburne Hotel (the 1922 Irish Constitution was drafted in room 112) for a discussion of the play.

The Shelburne Hotel by day.

The Shelburne Hotel by day.

The next morning we visited the Book of Kells at Trinity College and took a tour of Kilmainham Gaol, where 14 men were executed for their roles in the Easter Rising in 1916. These executions – and the stories around them – turned the tide of public opinion toward the Republican cause, and led to the election of 73 Sinn Féin party members to Parliament in 1918 and their subsequent formation of the Dáil (an independent Irish Parliament).

The rest of the afternoon was free, so Kat and I wandered around Dublin to catch up and enjoy the weather.

That night was another play, Death of a Comedian by contemporary playwright Owen McCafferty. The play was shown at the Peacock stage, which is the blackbox theatre associated with the historic Abbey Theatre.

From a production standpoint, the show was excellent. The sets were minimal, creative, and well-executed, the lighting and sound effects were spot on, and all 3 actors were talented and well-cast. The script, however, left something to be desired. The play started strong, but felt unfinished. As Dean Killen put it, there was thesis, antithesis…but no synthesis.

The next morning, on my last full day in Ireland, I met Kat for breakfast. As always, the time went by too quickly.


Selfie on the Trinity campus.

At noon, I met up with the rest of the group for a quick trip to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a drive out to Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, to visit Joyce’s Martello tower, where the first chapter of Ulysses is set and where we read out loud the first chapter of Ulysses.

We spent the afternoon and evening in Dalkey, before returning to Dublin for our last night.

It was hard to feel good about waking up on my last day in Ireland, but wake up I had to. After one last Irish breakfast of fried eggs, baked beans, and grilled tomato, it was time to load the baggage onto the bus for the trip to the airport.

Once we arrived, it was a long series of lines – To check in. To get through security. To get through USA pre-check. To get through customs. To board the plane.

To fly home.

My tour of Ireland was complete.

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 19.37.46

(for now)

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

Irish Travel Journal, Day 6

This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.

The next morning was another early start, since we had to catch the ferry out to Inis Mór (Inishmore), the largest of the Aran Islands.

It was a bumpy (and sleepy) crossing on the way there, but by the time we arrived the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. On the island we met up with Bertie, our tour guide for the day, and climbed onto his little bus for the ride up to the top of the island.

After depositing us at the end of the road, Bertie left us to continue on foot on the path up to Dún Aonghasa (Dun Aengus), an old fort built right up to the edge of the cliff at the island’s highest point.

After spending some time up at Dún Aonghasa taking pictures, enjoying the view, and staying away from the edge, we walked back down to the tea shop for lunch. Just like I had 6 years ago, I ordered the soup and brown bread.

On the bus ride back down to the water’s edge, we briefly stopped at the Seven Churches, which is a site containing the ruins of just two churches.

The ferry ride back to Galway was much calmer, and Cigi and I spent most of it sitting in the open air on the top deck.

Back at the hotel we were joined by a seanachaí, or Irish storyteller. He travels all around Ireland, collecting traditional stories and legends from old people before they are lost. He shared some of those stories with our group – stories about fields that would trap people inside if they strayed into them at night, about being cursed by having the rats set on you, and about confounding the rats before they could work their ill will. He also told us stories about collecting these stories, and about the people he has met during his travels.

The stories were all spellbindingly told, and the seanachaí himself was a fascinating character, with thick glasses, long wild hair, and an even longer beard that was split right down the middle. Unfortunately, the room we were in at the hotel was brightly lit, huge, and freezing cold, which made it difficult to properly appreciate both the stories and their teller.

After storytime, we rushed off to the warmth and grease of McDonagh’s for fish & chips (with mushy peas, of course!).

Once we had eaten all we could, Cigi and I headed across the street to Taaffes for a pint and some traditional music.

Continue on to Days 7-10

Tagged , , , , , ,

Irish Travel Journal, Day 5

This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.

Cigi and I woke up early the next morning so we would have time to explore the castle grounds. After trying out our fancy shower and eating some more whiskey porridge for breakfast, we set out to explore.

We made our way down to the formal gardens, and looked out over the lake from a small balcony set into the wall.

On our way back, we discovered the ruins of the original Mac Raignall clan castle from the 12th century, but unfortunately didn’t have time to linger – as it was, we barely made it back to the main castle in time to get back on the bus.

The ruins of the original castle.

The ruins of the original castle.

We drove from the castle to Galway, and stopped in the suburb of Salthill for lunch at a local brewpub and a walk along the water.

Salthill

Salthill

After checking into our hotel in Galway proper, we wandered up and down Shop Street and, appropriately, did a little souvenir shopping before dinner and a quiet night in.

Continue on to Day 6

Tagged , , , , ,

Irish Travel Journal, Day 4

This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.

The group convened early for a walking tour of Derry. Our tour guide, Garvin, was fabulous.

The one and only Garvin.

The one and only Garvin.

Not only was he incredibly knowledgeable, funny, and gifted with impressions, but he had also lived through much of the history he was telling us about. As we stood at the Bloody Sunday memorial in the Bogside, he told us about his cousin who had been killed that day, and about the reactions of his family when they heard the news. Garvin was 14 when it happened, and his cousin who was killed was only 17. If Garvin himself had been only a few years older, who knows if he still would have been here to tell us the story.

The Bloody Sunday memorial in Derry.

The Bloody Sunday memorial.

Garvin began the tour by walking us through the events depicted on the many murals around Free Derry corner (the Bogside was also known as “Free Derry” because during The Troubles, the police wouldn’t go there).

While all of the murals have fraught histories, one story stood out as more tragic than the others.

"The Death of Innocence"

“The Death of Innocence”

The mural depicts 14-year-old Annette McGavigan, the first child casualty of The Troubles in Derry. In 1971, she was walking home from school when she bent down to pick up a rubber bullet in the street. Caught in the crossfire between the British Army and the IRA, she never stood back up. Her death was never investigated and no one was ever charged with her murder. The mural commemorating her was painted in 1999, although it looked different then than it does now. The rifle to her left was originally black and unbroken, and the butterfly over her right shoulder was black and white. In 2006, the mural was re-painted with a colored butterfly and a broken rifle, representing progress in the peace process. Garvin told us that after the mural was painted, Annette’s father would come every day and sit on the low wall across the road to talk to his little girl. He continued to do this until he died.

In addition to walking us through the heartbreaking history of The Troubles in the Bogside, Garvin took us up to walk to the old city walls of Derry.

His love for his city – despite its troubles – was both evident and infectious, and he truly brought all of the stories he told to life. His was one of the best tours I have ever been on.

The tour ended in a little tea shop, where we stayed for a pot of tea and a scone. Then it was time to get back on the bus and leave Derry for Drumcliff.

At Drumcliff, we stopped under the shadow of Ben Bulben (a table mountain in Sligo) to visit W.B. Yeats’ grave.

The final resting place of W.B. Yeats.

The final resting place of W.B. Yeats.

The location and epitaph of the grave are drawn from Yeats’ own poem, “Under Ben Bulben”, in which he considered his own mortality. Here is the final verse of the long poem:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

After paying our respects to Yeats (and eating a spot of lunch), we continued on to Mohill, in County Leitrim, where we would be spending the night in Lough Rynn Castle.

IMG_4208

The castle was, predictably, amazing. It looked more like a manor house than a bona fide medieval castle, which makes sense since it was built in the early 19th century. While there were no ghosts haunting the castle itself, its history was a haunted one. The 3rd Earl of Leitrim, William Sydney Clements, was a ruthless landlord and pitiless evictor who had a reputation for abusing the wives and daughters of his tenants. After several assassination attempts, he was ultimately ambushed at killed by 3 of his tenants in County Donegal in 1878. Hatred of the man was so intense that his funeral in Dublin was marked by riots, and none of the 3 murderers were ever convicted of his death. His murder was widely publicized in Ireland and beyond, with proponents of land reform using it to argue that tenants needed to be better protected from the abuses of tyrannical landlords.

Now, however, Lough Rynn Castle is better known as one of the best wedding venues in Ireland, topping the Castle division. That, I could certainly believe. Cigi’s and my room was spacious and beautiful, with a jacuzzi we never got a chance to use and towels folded into the shape of swans on each of our beds.

Swans!

Swans!

As beautiful as our room was though, Cigi and I quickly abandoned it to explore the rest of the castle. Our explorations quickly brought us to the bar, where the bartender offered to give us a tour. After walking through the blue sitting room, the reading room, and the library, and walking down to see the formal ballroom, we saw the honeymoon suite and the secret private balcony outside it.

Eventually we returned to the bar, where Dean Killen made good on his offer to buy me a wonderful whiskey (Midleton!) as a thank you for rescuing us all from a passport disaster.

We stayed in the bar chatting until right before dinner – Cigi and I practically had to run to change and round up the freshmen.

After dinner, it was finally time for me to lead a discussion of Claire Keegan’s novella, Foster (you can read the original short story, which was published in The New Yorker in 2010, here). All of the freshmen crowded into a corner of the main room, tucked away behind the piano, and we began. Everything went smoothly, everyone participated, and the time flew by. Finishing up the discussion left me giddy and triumphant, and after hearing from the students how much they enjoyed it, I was practically jumping up and down.

After the discussion, it was time for a little Ragtime.

After the discussion, it was time for a little ragtime.

Continue on to Day 5

Tagged , , , , , ,

Irish Travel Journal, Day 3

This post is part of a series detailing my trip to Ireland. You can view the whole series here.

Breakfast at the hotel was wonderful. Fried eggs with runny yolks, sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, and baked beans. Plus porridge with a little whiskey in it! I obeyed the signs direction to “Try some Bushmills Irish Whiskey with your porridge.” With cream, a little honey, and a generous splash of whiskey, porridge was delicious! Something to try at home.

Don't mind if I do!

Don’t mind if I do!

The day began with a bus tour of Belfast.

Along the way, we saw Divis Tower, the only remaining building of a block of flats that was occupied by the British army during The Troubles due to it’s siteline over the city (for more information about what Belfast was like during The Troubles – and the way that history continues to be felt today – check out this incredible long read in The New Yorker).

During The Troubles, fighting was so bad around the Divis Flats that the British Army could often only reach their outpost at the top of Divis Tower by helicopter.

During The Troubles, fighting was so bad around the Divis Flats that the British Army could often only reach their outpost at the top of Divis Tower by helicopter.

We also saw the peace wall on Divis Road (so named because its obstructing presence kept the peace between neighborhoods), which was full of murals, and reminded me a bit of the East Side Gallery in Berlin.

The driving tour eventually brought us out to the Titanic Museum (the Titanic was built in Belfast).

It was one of the best-designed museums I have seen in a very long time. It was similar to the Guggenheim in New York in that the architecture of the museum propelled you through the exhibits in order. The exhibits themselves were very hands-on, and designed to appeal to learners of all types – there were text panels, images, dioramas, video, objects, interactive touchscreens, quizzes, audio recordings – and even a Disney-style ride that took you through the experience of working in a Belfast shipyard (complete with heat from the furnaces).

The museum began with the greater context of the history of Belfast and the shipping industry, and then moved through the construction and furnishing of the Titanic, the lives of the passengers, their daily routines, and then finally to the sinking of the ship and its aftermath – the collection of the bodies, the experiences of the survivors, and finally depictions of the tragedy in popular culture and the search for the wreck itself.

After the Titanic Experience, we left Belfast for our next destination – the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. The views (and the wind!) were incredible.

From there, we hopped back on the bus and drove out to Giant’s Causeway, which was fascinating from both a geological and mythological perspective. The unusual hexagonal flat stones of the Causeway were formed when hot lava shot up from the bottom of the sea and cooled incredibly quickly, before the hexagonal columns had a chance to melt and lose their shape.

Possibly the only time I will ever be excited about basalt.

The only time I will ever be excited about basalt.

More interesting to me was the story that rose up to account for the geological oddity. The area is called Giant’s Causeway because, according to legend, it was once a bridge all the way from Ireland to Scotland. A Scottish giant, Benandonner, once used this bridge to walk over to Ireland, with the intention to fight the Irish giant, Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn McCool). Knowing that he would not be able to defeat Benandonner in physical combat, Fionn asks his wife Oona for help. She advised him to dress as a baby and sit in a cradle. Then, when Benandonner arrives, Oona tells him that Fionn is out but will be back shortly. Eyeing the “baby” of considerable size before him, Benandonner reconsiders his ambition to fight the father, so he high-tailed it back across the causeway, breaking it up behind him so that Fionn couldn’t follow.

After spending some time exploring the beautiful, fascinating basalt formations and enjoying the sunny, breezy weather, we reluctantly headed back to the bus for the ride to our next stop, Derry.

A landscape with grandeur.

A landscape with grandeur.

On the way, we passed through the village of Bushmills, where Bushmills whiskey is distilled. Apparently, the word “whiskey” comes from the Irish words uisce beatha (“iska-bah”) meaning “water of life” – just like eau de vie or aqua vitae. In fact, it’s where the concept originally came from! Once Christianity – and with it, Latin – reached Ireland, the term was translated into the Latin, which then evolved into Italian, French, and so on.

Once in Derry, we checked into the hotel, ate dinner, and headed out into the town for our first evening out. Cigi and I spent the evening pub-hopping and talking to everyone we could. One of the most interesting conversations of the evening was with a bouncer outside of one of the pubs. When he asked where I was from and I said the US, he seemed surprised. “But you sound English!” he said. “No offense meant.” I was far from being offended by not being immediately perceived as American, but it was a fascinating cultural moment to understand that merely calling someone English on the Catholic (and therefore Republican) side of Derry could be an insult.

After that, Cigi and I wandered further afield to see what else was out there. Eventually, our wanderings took us deep into the Bogside (the neighborhood in Derry where Bloody Sunday occurred), and murals depicting scenes from The Troubles stared down at us.

The Bogside by night.

The Bogside by night.

It was a very different experience coming across them without context, in the middle of the night, than it was seeing them during the day as part of a tour group, as we would the next morning.

Continue on to Day 4

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Irish Travel Journal, Days 1-2

This post is the first installment of my Irish travel journal. You can view the whole series here.

I’m starting this journal on the plane from St. Louis to Newark, about to embark (or perhaps already having embarked) on my second FOCUS Ireland trip.

The morning began when I met up with the professors and students at Wash U. I was in charge of checking passports before letting people on the bus, and fortunately I took the role seriously – Dean Killen nearly left his behind in the copy machine! To thank me for saving the whole trip a lot of bother by realizing that before we got to the airport, he promised to buy me a really nice glass of whiskey once we got to Ireland.

At the airport, we herded the crew inside, wrote out baggage labels, and checked in. Despite the best efforts of the gate agents, we managed to get (at least) one set of boarding passes for everyone.

From there, it was off to Ireland.

The flights were mostly uneventful, although there was some excitement toward the end when my seatmate accidentally spilled all of the sticky syrup from a breakfast fruit cup right onto my pants. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long before I got my bag (and the rest of my clothes), at baggage claim. Unfortunately, I had only packed one pair of pants. This meant I got to make my victorious re-entry into Ireland in my pajamas.

Ireland in Pajamas

At least I brought cool pajamas?

This was somewhat fitting, since we arrived at approximately 6am Dublin time. By the time we made it through customs, recovered our bags, and drove up to Newgrange (a Stone Age tomb famous for the illumination of its interior chamber by the sun on the winter solstice), the Visitor’s Centre hadn’t even opened yet.

After watching the informational video, meandering through the exhibit and having a spot of breakfast (lunch? dinner?), we caught the bus out to Newgrange itself.

I call this one "Sunrise Over the Isle of Man."

I call this one “Sunrise Over the Isle of Man.”

IMG_3719Our tour guide at Newgrange looked and sounded exactly like a supervillain, from his black hood and monotone voice to his walking stick and dead-eyed stare. He was also incredibly knowledgeable about the site and its history, and gave an excellent tour. In fact, his supervillain ethos merely contributed to the aura of magic and mystery about the the area (especially once we entered the chamber within the mound).


After Newgrange, we got back on the bus for the long (by Irish standards) drive up to Belfast.

When we arrived, my roommate Cigi and I explored the city for a bit before stopping back by the hotel for a pint at an historic pub, The Crown. We even managed to snag a snug (small private room)!

The Crown Bar

The perfect place for a pint.

While there, our bus driver and tour guide Rory told us all about the sexist history of snugs. Apparently they were first created to keep women from drinking in the open bars with men, and that that system wasn’t entirely abolished until the 1960s. Yikes! But however they started out, snugs are a wonderfully cozy place to have a drink with a few friends.

Dinner at the hotel that night was delicious, but since we had all been awake for almost 48 hours, the conversation at the table was a little slow, and the time between the courses seemed very long indeed.

Continue on to Day 3

Tagged , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: