This week we took a trip up to Northern Ireland to visit the Ulster American Folk Park. It was a really interesting experience. Going into it I expected to experience something similar to Plymouth Plantation. I thought that there would be a lot of period actors and animals roaming around but it was kind of different. There were a lot of signs at the beginning that gave you the background of Irish immigration. Not every house had somewhere there to talk to you either, you were free to roam. After we left and got lunch, Professor Silverman asked me if the park was more American or Irish. I felt like it was kind of geared towards the Irish visitors than the Americans. As we journeyed through the boat and transitioned from Irish portion of the park to the American, it felt like they were proud of their ancestors. The whole thing seemed like it was saying “We had to leave Ireland in order to live and thrive but look at how well we did and how in touch we stayed with our roots.” As an American with Irish ancestors though, I really did appreciate the journey that they took and that we kind of got to experience that on a deeper level today.
Visiting Howth Summit was my favorite class of the trip so far. We were lucky enough to go on a day with absolutely gorgeous weather. We walked along a beautiful cliff side path to the general area where Molly Bloom said “yes” in Ulysses. It is so incredible to be able to visit the actual locations that Joyce writes about. It brings such life to the literature and makes it much easier to immerse myself in the readings. Being able to see the beauty of Howth Summit first hand made Molly’s experience romantic and profound.
Without the opportunity to visit the places you read about, it is easy for the pages and stories to blur together. I highly suggest exploring places that you read about, there’s nothing else that can bring such depth and dimension into one’s own understanding of a piece of literature.
Today we are headed to Northern Ireland as a class. The only thing I am not looking forward to about this trip is the currency exchange. I have had enough of the pound sterling and how it drains my wallet. I am looking forward to a change of scenery from the city, no offense to Dublin, but it looks a lot like Boston. The professors wanted us to pay special attention to when we cross the boarder from Ireland to the UK, having taken a day trip to Northern Ireland last week I know the boarder is nearly invisible. There is no one there to check your passport, or to ask why your coming to the north. There is a sign, much like a “Welcome to Massachusetts!” sign. Crossing the boarder from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland is no different then going from state to state in the United States, which is odd because technically crossing the boarder means crossing into another country.
Talking to some lads from Belfast I heard more about the troubles and the way that the Irish (especially the northern Irish) saw the way Americans viewed the troubles. Many Americans have Irish heritage making them sympathetic to the IRA cause. So they supported them with guns and money. Most Americans don’t have a clue what the troubles were actually like. It was a terrorist war that the whole country paid for in blood and tears. Car bombings, kidnapping, executions, and shootings were common. Yet that isn’t how we saw it. We saw the scrappy underdog IRA fighting imperialist brits and we supported them. But neither side was right or wrong and there was blood on the hands of both sides, innocent blood. The point is that what we Americans saw as true is in no way true and we stuck our noses, our money, and our guns where they didn’t belong and people died because of it. But we are so far away that we could not see.
Americans simultaneously isolate themselves from the world and dominate it. Only about a third of Americans have passports. When we do go overseas we go on Disneyland-eque tours that are heavy on cliche, simplifying a country into a few stops at often irrelevant cultural sites. Countries are the people and we need to talk to them and learn from them before we act as we have in the past.
I have always loved sunsets. I think that all of the colors blending together in the sky is really beautiful. Sometimes though I feel like I don’t get to appreciate a good sunset because I live on the east coast. They’re nice back home, but eventually the trees block out the nice view. So last night you can imagine my excitement when our flight home from London was taking place as the sun was setting. As we flew back to Dublin I could see the most amazing colors and was thrilled that I had a window seat. I wanted to take a picture of it. I felt like it would be a good wrap up to all the pictures I had taken in London. However, I worried about what the strangers next to me would think. Would they think I had never flown in a plane before? Would they think that I was just some lousy tourist? I realized that worrying about what they thought meant that in a way I’m still uncomfortable with sticking out as a tourist- even though I’ve accepted that I am one.
Today when we stopped by the canal I had the same worry- that I would stand out as a tourist if I took a picture. I didn’t have any of these worries when I was taking millions of pictures of Big Ben and the London Eye though. I think that when I’m in a place that’s full of tourists, like the London Eye, I feel more comfortable because everyone is doing it. In a small, intimate place like a plane however, I feel more awkward and am reluctant to stand out. However, I did take a picture of the sunset and the canal anyway so I suppose I am getting over my fears and caring less about what people think. Besides, the people next to me on the plane seemed British so if they were going to Dublin they were tourists too.
I am writing this post on the plane back to Dublin from England. Three of us from the Dublin study abroad program spent the past two days we had off from class in London. The first day, Saturday, we took an extremely early flight into Gatwick, England. Once we landed we checked into our guesthouse and took a train from the town we stayed in, Horely, into London. In London we did everything any other tourist group would do. We got off the train, wondered around a bit, and hit all the major attractions. Our first stop was the London Eye, but on our way there we saw West Minster Abbey and Big Ben. For those of you who do not know the London Eye is a giant ferris wheel that provides you with a grand view of London’s city landscape. Once we got our pictures we hopped off and headed to Buckingham Palace. The next day, unwilling to spend the money to go back into London we spent the day in a neighboring city, close to the guest house we stayed in the night before. Tired of being tourists we had a normal day of eating Burritos and catching a movie at the cinema. All and all our trip to London was fun, I really enjoyed it.
It’s interesting how fast friendships form and dissolve. Much easier to end a friendship than start one but I find I make more friends than I lose. So far I’ve made a few good friends— friends whom I’m sure will remain my friends for a long time. I have lost a friend as well but considering we were really only friends for a few days I don’t mind so much. Of course I apologized and was forgiven but in the beginning friendships are so fragile that they aren’t easily mended once broken. At least she was American. I should hate to lose those Irish and foreign friends I’ve made so far.
The way I see it people are like particles, bouncing around the world. Some never achieve enough velocity to escape the place that they were born. Some are so energetic that they cannot remain in in place. Some particles attract each and others repel one another. Some particles, separated by time and circumstance, never cross paths. That is why one should value the unlikely friends, the rare and the beautiful souls who you might never have met if circumstances were different. Besides, though all people are different those who share a country are more alike than not. Surrounding yourself with reflections of your own thoughts and views does nothing to grow the soul. It only makes it rigid and inflexible.
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.
For myself, Gerilyn, and Emily this weekend will be spent exploring London. It is incredible to me how a place that has always seemed so out of reach was so easily accessible once I was already in Europe. It is as cheap and easy (if not cheaper and easier) to travel within Europe than it is to travel within the United States. My round trip plane ticket from Ireland to England cost half as much as my round trip ticket from Massachusetts to Georgia last month.
We haven’t even begun our touring of this city and already it seems overwhelming. To cover a city so large in only two short days will be interesting. So far our list of attractions to visit are The London Eye, The Globe Theater, Big Ben and other sites of that nature. I hope we’re able to delve into the punk culture a bit as it was born here decades ago.
Pictures to follow!
Today we traveled to Sandycove to visit the James Joyce Tower. It was a very scenic train ride to the tower and the walk there was lovely too. While we walked along the coast, we even saw two seals! I’ve only ever seen seals at an aquarium before so it was really cool to see them swimming around in the harbor. It was very cool to have an experience like that here in Ireland. I know that I could see some seals swimming along the Massachusetts coast one day but to experience that for the first time while I’m also experiencing this country for the first time makes it feel more special.
The tower was really cool, too. I particularly enjoyed all of the first editions of Joyce’s work that they had on display. It was interesting to see how the printing styles have changed since the original publication. The views from the top of the tower were amazing too. Getting back down from the roof was a bit harder than climbing up though. However, it was a fun adventure. The narrow, winding stone steps were something that I pictured when I pictured Ireland so to experience that at least once was satisfying.