Visiting Galway was the absolute highlight of my trip! We were lucky enough to have been in Galway around the same time that my two friends at Saint Mary’s are studying at the Ireland’s National University for the semester. So of course, it was only appropriate that we met up with them and explored the amazing city, along with their good friends from America as well. Galway is definitely like Ireland’s version of our San Francisco—plenty of activities, shopping, great food, fun night life, tourists from all over the world, and friendly locals. By far the best city in Ireland!
by Father Tom
My favorite part of our class this January 2013 was spending each day with all of you. To see the responses on your faces, to read your blog entries, to read your papers, to experience the various ways you interacted with the people of Ireland, the way you engaged with the texts we read, the interest you had in noting the differences between urban and rural Ireland, and between South and North, and the new appreciation and understanding you showed for the major historic places we visited, mentioned in our texts but altogether unique seen face to face; you deepened my conviction that our travel course to Ireland educates the mind, heart, and spirit in the best liberal arts tradition. Even in the bitter cold of Carrowmore you could appreciate that where you stood, trying in vain to keep warm, placed you in front of the gift of our megalithic ancestors as they honored their dead asking you to think about what of you might remain 6000 years from now. You are ‘award winning’!
What follows are some thoughts about aspects of our course. The stories of the heroines and heroes of Ireland buried at Glasnevin awakened us to the ever-present past that shapes the lives of the Irish. “The Dead” of Joyce’s invention brought us in contact with the memory of dead Michael Furey who made Gabriel alive to a past he wanted to forget. Peter McVerry’s work with those whom many want to forget or think better off dead made us realize how essential it is ‘not to give up on anyone’. The events of the “1916 Rising” as the women involved shaped them brought us in contact with the current research on the role of women in the “rising”. 2016 will mark a hundred years since the rising and the execution of its leaders at Kilmainham Gaol. We stood in that gaol yard at the place where they died. Only in that isolated place could we appreciate the contrast between the expedience of the British government’s act of execution and its stirring the otherwise uninvolved Irish people into determined rebels: “…all changed, changed utterly,/ a terrible beauty is born”. (Yeats)
Little did we know that we would come face to face with those changes that in the North still cause “trouble.” We’ve read about ‘the troubles’. We’ve studied the history of the British involvement in Ireland but only in our journey to the North could we experience just how close to the surface of the lives of people the past and the present lie in uneasy relation. ‘They’re just young kids spurred on by hooligans,’ some say. Whoever ‘they’ are, since early December peaceful protest marches have turned to stone throwing and petrol bombing on the streets of Belfast and then in Derry. The government decision about how often the British flag should fly at Belfast City Hall unraveled years of a process that was beginning to bridge the past/present divide that separates the Protestant and Catholic communities in the North. Our class reading of the past “troubles” suddenly brought us face to face with the present ‘troubles’. Though we knew we were far from any danger, Philip, our bus driver, deliberately steered us away from any chance of becoming a target with “Cronin’s of Cork” emblazoned on the side of the coach. Yet we could not leave Belfast without standing beside one of the many ‘peace walls’ that separate Protestant and Catholic neighbors. The memorial at Bombay Street beside the Falls/Shankhill wall made us painfully aware of the ‘terrible’ cost of all the “troubles”. There enshrined are the names of some of those who have died in the recent past struggle to achieve equality. None were the ‘copyboys’ of Fiona O’Rourke’s “Wrong Whiskey” but each wound up where boss Doyle wound up, witnesses to the struggle to right past injustices as they responded to their present reality.
The present and the past took us to the top of Ireland and the Giant’s Causeway, where the 60 million year old basalt, polygonal-shaped deposits that formed from volcanic eruptions put us in contact with the process of history as old as the earth. Not far from it, the striking ruins of Dunluce Castle and the story of its owners brought us back to the “troubles” of another time, when the Irish chiefs, the MacDonnells, and those who conquered them decided who was free and who was slave, and what was just and what was unjust.
We climbed the snow-covered Slieve League rising 1,962 feet out of the Atlantic. We celebrated our arrival with a snowball fight. What a delight! Yes, snow on Slieve League, a first for me. Likewise, the snow that softened the path of our ascent of Croagh Patrick, another first for me, made our descent all the more tricky as snow hardened to ice and then melted to slush. The impenetrable thick misty fog alone prohibited us from reaching the chapel atop that holy mountain that from Celtic times to the present attracts pilgrim climbers. Two days previously the piercing cold wind and a bright winter sun welcomed us to another holy place, the 6000 year old passage tomb cemetery in Sligo, Carrowmore. The “Neolithic Project” in that valley brought us face to face with the tensions of two human cultures of the past, the hunter-gathers and the farming tribes. The 6000 thousand year old stone passage tombs brought their past to meet us in that ice cold present. As I stood in that windy valley I thought back to the sixth day of our class. We were then standing beneath the 5200 year old exquisite corbelled ceiling of the passage tomb at Newgrange in the Boyne valley. Walking the ocean cliffs, the volcanic formations, a holy mountain, the stone monuments of our ancestors made the past and present of Ireland uniquely present to us, even as you enthusiastically wrote about them.
Our voyage to Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, brought us face to face with people whose native Irish language ties them to their Celtic past and to those Irish in a few other places in Ireland where the Irish language is still the common means of communication. Whatever the Irish is for ‘fear of heights’ Dun Aonghasa, the bronze age fort on Inis Mor built right at the edge of a 328 foot drop into the Atlantic, never fails to test our acrophobic tolerance. Some of the pictures you took at this ancient place of worship brought out its splendor and its precarious position. I wonder what Saint Enda and his monks made of the place? I must find out if he or any of the monks made mention of it. He certainly knew of it as he established one of the first monastic settlements not far from the fort. Walking the ruins of Enda’s monastery grounds, ‘the seven churches’, we certainly could appreciate the discipline it took just to survive in that place, let alone study and pray. Yet Enda and his followers helped to preserve and hand on the ancient Greek, Latin, and Christian text that shaped Western civilization, as Thomas Cahill reminded us. The Book of Kells we saw in Dublin at Trinity College on our second day, written long after Enda and far from Inis Mor, brought us face to face with the high point of manuscript illumination in that 9th century art work celebrating the gospels.
You will remember our meeting with Mary Munnelly who introduced us to the work of her life. With the Book of Kells and other Celtic symbols as her inspiration she designs and produces Irish crystal stemware and decorative pieces rivaling the finest made. She took herself to Germany to learn glass making. She completed a Ph.D. in Celtic spirituality to investigate Celtic life and culture, studied design, and put all this together in 1972 and founded Celtic Crystal just outside of Galway city. She has maintained the quality of her work since 1972 because of the craftsmen she employs to execute her designs. A twelve year apprentice program is offered to Irish youth who complete an honors leaving certificate in art and design. From the making of the glass to the final cutting, polishing, and displaying of it for sale we experienced how Mary Munnelly and her associates keep alive the Irish art of glass making and original design. At near eighty years of age she inspired us with her energy and dedication.
The energy and dedication the members of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Templeglantine made us get up and dance with them as they made Irish music come alive before us. The video clip on the blog and your pictures and comments about our night in Templeglantine assure me how important it is as a unifying moment of the class. My cousin Tadhg Mulcahy who welcomed us as he has welcomed Saint Mary’s students for many years gathered together the families of his native Templeglantine who love to make music together. Seven year olds and eighty year olds together allowed us to participate in a form of the ‘rambling house’ gathering of the Irish of long ago. Then it was the dirt floor of a Irish cottage at the crossroads, now, on 26 January anyway, it was the polished floor of the Devon Inn pub we knew something of what it was like to have our spirits lifted by the jigs and reels of Irish country music.
In the country chapel of Saint Bridget’s, Duagh, Co. Kerry another Irish gathering of people made us feel welcome. The people with their pastor Father Pat Moore encouraged us to pay attention to the moment we are living now. My cousin Betty Canty helped us appreciate the moments we shared together after Mass. We enjoyed her home cooked food that she and Sister Kathleen provided to make sure we wouldn’t leave Duagh parish hungry. Professor Mary McAuliffe of University College Dublin and a native of Duagh fed our minds with stories of the women of the area, including her own grandmother, who were instrumental and active participants in the “rising” and the war of independence. At Roche’s pub in Lyreacrompane just south of Duagh in the Stack Mountains Joe Harrington explained the history of the place where my father was born and raised. Jimmy Roche treated us to a few songs and we met some of the locals including my cousin Pat Canty, husband of Betty whose cooking was so satisfying. Check out the website. We’re famous in Lyreacrompane, http://www.lyreacrompane.com/.
Anam Cara, the Irish for soul friend, is also a writer’s retreat on the Beara Peninsula of County Cork near Castletownbere. Sue Booth-Forbes and teacher/poet Paddy O’Conor stirred our creative juices with their welcome, their food, and writing exercises. Your blog entry recorded your delightful poetic expressions. Thinking of Paddy O’Conor makes me think of the other Irish writers met, the Sligo Dermot Healy and in Killarney Claire Keegan who drove five hours from Wexford to share her insights with us. Dermot spoke of the importance of listening to people and taking down long hand what they say. It engages you with the other that tape recording does not. Claire explained that writing is based on time and a desire that moves from here to there. Healy’s reading of his own poetry and from part of his autobiography and Keegan’s reading from her short story “Foster” enabled us to move with them deeper into the cotemporary Irish soul.
The Dingle Peninsula in south west Kerry holds Neolithic and early Christian treasures well preserved because of the remoteness of this part of Ireland. We had time to see just a tiny bit of those treasures. One, a series of beehive dwellings, is preserved on land owned by Mary O’Houlihan who welcomed us with joy. Holden’s picture with her says it all.
“…A terrible beauty is born” Yeats wrote in his poem about the consequence of the 1916 Rising. Together we have a small glimpse into the meaning of those words because of our study and travel through Ireland. We have stood under the 5000 year old corbelled ceiling build by people engaged in their own ‘rising’ from hunter-gatherer to farmer. We saw firsthand ancient history’s anger erupt again in the streets of Belfast. We sat with Cyril Brennan, Deputy Director of US Affairs of the Irish Foreign Ministry as he candidly outlined the scope of the problem and the difficulty of finding a solution. We danced and sang and knew we were in the presence of truth when Father Peter McVerry explained what keeps him going, that ‘God doesn’t give up on anyone, and neither can we.’ Thanks be to God for all of you and the gift of our Irish days together.
by Desmond Vanderfin
As we stand once again on American soil, it seems as though I have left my heart in Ireland. Ireland gave me the chance to discover new lands while living old traditions. I was able to see where my grandmother grew up. It gave me the opportunity to learn new history and opened creative gateways in my mind. I have always believed that my education should be used to make myself a more complete and interesting person. Undoubtedly Ireland has done this for me, but above all Ireland has given me new friends and lasting relationships, and for this I am forever indebted.
This trip to Ireland was a unique and life changing experience that I am very thankful to have been a part of. From the breathtaking scenery to the amazing people, Ireland provided me with a new appreciation and broadened my understanding of the world. My favorite activities would have to be climbing Croagh Patrick and dancing in Templeglantine.
Through the shifting mists and emerald oceans of grass, I immediately felt an unknown longing within me satisfied as we traveled across Ireland. From the action in the Book of Kells to the broil of conflict in Belfast, history has never come to life the way it did here. As we leave, I am already overcome with a sense of longing–a longing to return to a country that became, in just 24 days, a second home. This too-short adventure has been, by far, the best month of my life. Good bye, Ireland; I’ll miss you.
As a tribute to this class, I made this video as well. Hope you enjoy!
By Holden Altaffer and Ann Boyd
Although the Dingle trip was planned on the syllabus, the idea was not well received by a few members of the class. The dissenters were granted a horseback riding option. I am ashamed to say that I was at first aligned with them at Milano pizza, rallying for a lazy day before the anticipated four hours to Dublin and the flight back home. I would have to say that the landscape is what converted me. The views from the bus were stunning. You have the vibrant green hills, the jagged coast, and castle ruins all sitting together in antiquity.
We stopped in a pub in Dingle to use their bathroom and to have a chat. The place was empty, save for a couple and I believe two bar-keeps. The place for some reason had an array of police department patches from all different places tacked up on the fall. The place also had paper currency mounted to the woodwork with notes from travelers. It was suggested that we post our own message below the one the dollar that came from Gonzaga. I don’t think the bill was posted because I think it is a federal offence to deface American currency.
I don’t think any of us had prior knowledge of what was going to happen on this trip, and so when the bus stopped in front of a private house overlooking the sea and Father Tom proceeded to the front door, we were puzzled. An old woman squinting from the strong sea breeze, welcomed Father Tom and he waved us off the bus. He said we have permission to look at the honeycomb houses in her yard. The structures did resemble honey comb and had a similar construction to New Grange; they were made of dry stone and the ceiling was of staggered flat stone. The houses sheltered people during the famine, but now they are storage space for the woman and two maybe more cats seem to be letting the space from the woman. The woman’s name is Mary O’Houlihan and I got a photo with her.
The other Notable figure in Dingle is Fungie the Dolphin. He is a long-time and voluntary resident of the Dingle Harbour. He is a bottle nose dolphin. He also has a bronze statue in his honor. John and I got a picture atop of it. The town offers morning tours to see him, unfortunately we arrived in Dingle towards the end of the afternoon.
We stopped at various points along the coast, taking in the breathtaking views. We saw The Sleeping Bishop, one of the islands along the coast with a silhouette that perfectly mimicked its namesake. Our group also made a stop at the site of the ruins of a 12th century Romanesque church known as Kilmalkedar. The coastline however, was the main attraction–on a clear day, we were able to see the sparkling blue water and the massive white spray against the cliff thrown up by the pounding waves. There were a few harrowing moments on the bus ride for those of us with vertigo, with the edge of the road and the edge of the cliff giving passengers a view of the sheer drop to the churning ocean below.
We stopped at John Benny’s Pub in Dingle for some much-needed lunch after a hard day of photography and walking in the sun and sea breeze. After refreshment we headed back, feeling lucky that we went when we did as the sky clouded over and the sea turned from blue to murky grey. Getting some sunlight and seeing the greens of the countryside practically glow in the light was a beautiful change from the typical winter weather we had been experiencing, and made for a truly wonderful last day out.
Throughout this journey, I’ve visited places I never would have been able to see had it not been for JanTerm. I’ve learned countless facts about Irish history and culture, but more importantly, I’ve been able to experience a life of travel that many do not experience in a lifetime.
By Ann Boyd
It’s pretty close to impossible to pick one favorite thing about the trip. I found I enjoyed the cities and wilderness in equal measure, and I only wish I had more time to experience both. I enjoyed Dublin and Croagh Patrick the most, I think, and I feel so incredibly lucky to have been able to explore both.
My favorite part about being in Ireland is being able to actually live in a different country for a month and learn about its history. I have done stuff that I have never thought I would be doing such as climbing a mountain in snow and rain, visiting landmarks that are thousands of years old and getting the experience to live in the country side.
This course has truly been a once in a lifetime experience for me. I loved the sites we saw, the people we met, and the culture we learned. My favorite thing about the trip was all the amazing scenery we witnessed, it was breathtaking!