On Sunday, I went on a tour to see the Cliffs of Moher. They were absolutely magnificent. Lush green grass sprouted from the cliffs, along with several pretty purple flowers. The designs of the rocky cliffs were so intricate that it was hard to believe that they were created from the natural cycle of Earth’s land movements. I stood hundreds of feet over the vast oceans of Ireland, but I felt no fear of falling. This was partly due to the fact that I was standing at a safe distance from the edges of the cliffs (unlike some people who were doing handstands near them) and also because the ground was solid enough to make me believe that my footing was secure on the cliffs.
It is important to reflect on the fact that countries offer so many different things to see. There are ancient buildings that reveal much about Ireland’s cultural history, there are beaches where people can swim and get a nice view, there are rolling green hills that expose the rural country spirit of Ireland, and there are sites like the Cliffs of Moher, which show travelers just how majestic the nation of Ireland can be. When travelling to a foreign country, it is important to explore all of its different qualities in order to get the most out of the trip.
Last night, our class went to an Irish soccer game. The teams that were facing off with one another were the Bohemians and the Irish Rovers. Since these were teams that I knew nothing about, I just decided to root for whoever the professors were rooting for, which were the Bohemians.
Although I am not hugely into athletics, I found this soccer game (or football game as they would call it in Ireland) to be rather enjoyable. It was interesting to see how the culture of Irish soccer compared to how I pictured American soccer to be like. The Irish teams seemed much more aggressive than I would have pictured them to be. They had mini fights when they were at odds over a certain play, and they held and pushed each other back in order to get their hands on the ball. There were even some injuries, though those seemed more accidental than intentional.
The supporters of each team sat in separate rows of bleachers and taunted one another. The passion that the soccer fans had for these teams was intense, because every time someone scored, everyone was up on their feet, cheering madly, and slapping each other high five. It was very interesting to think about how each country placed value on different sports. In America, most people I know are either really big American Football fans or Hockey fans. Soccer is popular in America, but it does not appear to be a fan favorite. In Ireland, however, the fans of the soccer game had as much passion as any Bruins or Patriots fan that I had ever seen. Also, just from what I have observed of Irish society during my stay in Dublin, soccer seems to be one of Ireland’s most popular sports.
Bohemia ended up beating the Irish Rovers by two points, and as I left the soccer stadium, I came away with a new understanding of how different cultures put their enthusiasm into different sports.
Earlier today, I visited the American Folk Museum in Northern Ireland. Inside the main building were pieces of art and several trinkets that were supposed to show a connection between Northern Ireland and a nineteenth-century America. Those items were all well and good, but the truly amazing exhibits were outdoors. Old colonial buildings were re-created on the outskirts of the museum. Some of them were models of old Irish buildings, and others were attempts at old American buildings.
Both sets of architecture were extremely authentic. When I stepped into the Irish colonial cottages, they looked just like the ones I would see in the Plymouth Plantation back home in Massachusetts. The cottages had minimal living conditions, stone walls, wooden roofs, and a cooking fire burning in a pot (which gave off enough smoke to suffocate me). It made me realize that although each country has a different culture, they all pretty much start at the same place. As time has progressed, people are able to make lifestyle changes that suit the identities of their cultures, but back in colonial times, everyone had the same limited resources. Survival was the main priority, and overall, it is important to realize that most people in that time were probably going about it in the same way.
The American houses were really interesting too. They looked more like old western houses rather than colonial houses, but their designs were still very engaging. I never knew that the bedding of an old bed was suspended by tight ropes. I had thought that there was at least some sort of mattress available back in those times, however primitive it may have been. Nevertheless, it is important not to take these model houses at face value, for even though they could be very authentic, they do not have a completely American perspective on the designs, which could have led to some inconsistencies. The blend of cultural perspectives is always interesting to observe, which is why I am glad that I was able to see the sights presented at the American Folk Museum.
On the second day of my weekend break from class, I went on a day tour to Castle Blarney. It was nothing short of awesome! The castle was a very tall tower that had an incredibly narrow staircase. The stones that Castle Blarney was created from gave it a Medieval feel, and every room of the castle (such as the kitchen and the bedrooms) had no furniture or décor in them. These details made it seem like more of a fortress than a castle, for it looked like it would be better served as an impregnable hideout for soldiers, rather than as a comfortable dwelling for kings and queens. However, Castle Blarney was still great, and I had no shortage of fun while exploring it.
As I scaled the stairs of the ancient castle, I eventually reached its roof, which contained the legendary Blarney Stone. Folklore says that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone will be granted the gift of efficient flattery. However, the process of kissing the stone could turn some people away in fear, for one has to lean back over a large gap in order to reach the stone (the gap has guardrails, but there are always those people who fear heights no matter what). I decided to take up the Blarney Stone challenge. At first I was a little nervous, but when I kissed the Blarney stone, I didn’t even feel like my position was precarious or unsafe. Whether I will gain those skills of flattery, however, only time will tell.
Once that process was complete, I did several other interesting things during my visit to Castle Blarney. I looked at its garden which contained nothing but viciously poisonous plants. I also explored the castle’s labyrinth-like and somewhat inaccessible dungeons. Finally, I got something to eat, went to the Castle Blarney gift shop, and made my way back to the tour bus. The Castle Blarney Day Tour was truly an experience that I will never forget, and I highly recommend it to my peers for when they have their days off.
About three days ago, our group ventured into St. Audoen’s church. It is one of Ireland’s oldest existing churches, having been founded over 800 years ago in the late 1100’s. The experience was amazing. I have been to several ancient and historic places during my time abroad over the years, but sights like these never cease to seize my utmost appreciation.
Aside from the modern museum-like atmosphere that had been added to St. Audoen’s, stepping into the church felt as if I was stepping back into the era of the Crusades. Stone walls seemed to keep me stuck in a time that wasn’t my own. The artistry of this church was different than most of the pieces of modern architecture that I’d seen in Ireland. St. Audoen’s contained many mysterious passageways that could have held many interesting things at their end. However, most of those passageway were blocked off by security gates. It was interesting to discover that the church had crypts which contained people who had died over 800 years ago. Stone tablets marked their graves, and I could not help but think back to the film of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In one scene of the movie, Indiana is searching for a stone tablet in the crypt of an ancient knight. The parallels that my journey was having with Indiana’s sent a thrill of excitement through me.
Visiting St. Audoen’s reminded me why I love to travel so much. I get to see amazing sights that many people would only dream of encountering, and I am able to feel as if I am experiencing the same kind of grand adventures that heroes throughout fiction and history have endeavored upon.
Two days ago, Professor Hinds invited our class over to his house for dinner. When we arrived at the residence, I walked through Professor Hinds’ front door and was somewhat surprised by what I saw. The interior of the professor’s house was very similar to that of an American house. In fact, if I did not have any context regarding my situation, I would had some trouble determining whether I had ever left to go abroad. Apart from the interior walls being made from stones, I was really not sure what I expected to see in an Irish house that was different from an American house. If I were to pinpoint why I thought the two types of architecture styles would be so different, it was because I pictured foreign countries as completely different worlds in my head. Movies and books present romanticized and stereotyped images of these countries inside my head. They have made be subconsciously believe that as soon as I stepped into another country, I have entered a completely different way of life and structure.
However, that is not entirely the case. Of course, houses in other countries would have some interior designs that are unique to their respective nations, but at the end of the day, there are only so many ways in which one can build a house. Spending time inside of Professor Hinds’ house not only brought me great company and good food, but wisdom as well. The experience taught me that although there are many differences between nations, there are also many similarities as well.
I was walking down the foreign and intriguing streets of Dublin yesterday when something unexpected caught my eye. Four small palm trees were firmly planted in large pots in the center of the sidewalk that I was strolling along. I asked Dr. Hinds about the nature of palm trees in Ireland, and he said that there were plenty of them in the country, especially in the southern parts of Ireland.
I was fairly surprised about this development in my understanding of the country. Of course, practically speaking, the odds of there not being at least a few palm trees in Ireland were very high, but I was not thinking about that at the time. I pictured Ireland as a land with rolling green hills mixed with large patches of forestry. Whenever I think of palm trees, my mind travels to a completely different environment. I generally picture any environment with palm trees to be hot and tropical.
This sighting has reinforced the lesson that the perceptions that one has regarding a country are not always completely accurate. I was under the impression that Ireland would not have been a warm enough place to be able to harvest palm trees, but I was certainly proven wrong on that account. Making these types of discoveries is why I am beyond glad to have chosen to study abroad in Ireland this semester.