I have always said that I want to visit all of the places I read about. Today that happened! Professor Hinds and Professor Silverman took us on a walking tour of the neighborhood James Joyce writes about in Dubliners, specifically the second story of his childhood “Araby.” We walked down North Richmond Street which is mentioned in the very first line of the story. The first sentence in “Araby” is “North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free.” While we stood on North Richmond Street it was quiet, then a few minutes later the school across the street was let out. The boys filled the streets and it was quite the coincidence that we experienced the same thing Joyce wrote about in 1905.
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.
As great as it appears to spend the nights wiling away over a pint at a pub making friends, it is hell on school work. I honestly have no clue how Irish students manage it. Probably the same way American students manage it but with twice as much willpower. The university brings together a diverse crowd of people. Last night I drank with two Frenchman and an Englishman. I think the Frenchmen spoke better English than the Englishman did by the end of the night.
In any case I am caught up in the mix of cultures and nationalities. It all seems so cosmopolitan (a drink I must resolve to try while I’m still here). It is sobering to think that john, Thomas, max, and I never would have come into each other’s lives if it weren’t for this trip. Now I don’t know if we’ll be bosom buddies for life, but for complete strangers we had deep conversation. We considered the nature of free will (I don’t believe in it) and whether it will be ethical to download information straight to the brain (I think it will be). I can’t even have that kind of conversation with friends back home. They’ll get bored and want to gossip about this or that person and all sorts of silly surface level BS. I’m afraid I will miss this place very much when I leave.
Ireland is a country like no other. Of course, the same could be said about any other country but not to the same degree. The Irish identity has been forged in uncountable conversations over a pint, in a history older than many know, and the long struggle to maintain an ancient culture against foreign invaders. Revolution is in the air in Ireland. This is a people used to speaking their minds and exercising their natural rights against all adversaries. Throughout history the Irish have been accustomed to the fine art of disputation, on and off the field of battle. It is little wonder that a race so familiar to strife should be so adept at enjoying themselves. The land has been filled time and time again by foreigners imposing their culture on a people who do not welcome such intrusions and time and time again the Irish people adapted to foreign occupation then expelled those who try to rule a land that is not their own.
The mythology that the rest of the world has created to describe the emerald Islands is endless. The reality is much more prosaic. The Irish are not leprechauns or drunks or ruffians. They are on the most part ordinary peopling who want to live ordinary lives. This is reassuring to travelers, who may not realize that most people everywhere share the same hopes and dreams. What they hear of foreign places is the lurid and the bizarre and from those odds and ends they construct a place that does not exist. Take for example the referendum on gay marriage. The foreigner will see Ireland as a very devout catholic country—that is the stereotype presented to the public. In reality, the Irish saw that homosexuals deserved the same chance at a normal happy life as everyone else. They wanted to have families. And so the Irish people voted to allow gay marriage, an exercise in popular democracy that the American public could learn from. We imagine foreigners to be thoroughly foreign and are surprised to find they are just like us.
However, one of the most revealing aspects of my journey to Ireland is not the world of Ireland opening up to me. It is the new view of American that I can see through the windows of my fellow travelers. Foreigners abroad share a kinship completely unlike any kinship they can find back home. Surrounded by the vast mass of fellow Americans we forget those beliefs and experiences we share through our common culture. Abroad, we band together, forming rafts of familiarity fast amongst unfamiliar seas. We share with each other, safe in the unfounded notion that we will never see each other again afterward. We are ones who might never have met if we had not gone to another country. Indeed, freed by the anonymity of distance we act not as we acted at home but as we wished we lived our lives. The opportunities an unknown land offer are dangerous.
Although this is a Dublin based trip, one of my favorite days was spent in Northern Ireland. I took a bus tour wit three other students to Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, Giant’s Causeway, and Belfast. As soon as the bus crossed the border out of the city, the landscape changed entirely and the story book Ireland that I was waiting for appeared.
Nothing but green speckled with cows and sheep for as far as I could see. I had my phone ready to take pictures to send him but it didn’t seem like any photo I took could capture the vastness and beauty of the land. It is so unfamiliar to me personally to spend hours passing through land that is so untouched.
Our first destination on the tour was my favorite, the rope bridge. Before we got to the bridge we walked a little less than a mile along a coastal cliff. The view was unbelievable. It was a clear enough day that we could even see Scotland from where we stood at the edge of the cliff. The exhilaration of the hike and then crossing the rope bridge itself is a sensation I’ll never forget.
Today began with Professors Silverman and Hinds sending us on a mission. They told us to find The Secret Book Store. We were pointed towards the street that the store was off of and then they left us. At first I thought that it would take us awhile to find it. However, I kept my eyes peeled and we found it rather quickly. It was an interesting task to be assigned. So far during this trip we’ve been led through the city by our professors. We haven’t had to find something completely on our own. Doing this was interesting because it made me think a lot about what it would be like to be a tourist here instead of a student.
Later as we walked around the city, we found St. Audoen’s Church. It is the oldest church in Dublin and was built somewhere between 1181 and 1212. It was free to go inside so we decided that it would be cool to look around. As we were looking at the old stone walls and crypts, Professor Silverman commented on how interesting it was that we were in such an old historic place after being in a “hipster café” for lunch only a few hours earlier. I felt grateful that we’ve come so far that we can enjoy the modern amenities like cafés but still have such wonderfully preserved places that can allow us to look back and see how far we’ve come.
Today I took an all day tour of Northern Ireland with Emily, Mikayla and Connor. We left Dublin at 6:30am, the bus took us to the tip of Northern Ireland to tour the “Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge.” Before arriving at the rope bridge, we stopped at a small gas station for coffee and snacks. This gas station was only a few steps away from the boarder from the south to north part of the country and already things had changed. After paying for my hot chocolate with euro, the change given back to me was pound sterling. It felt strange to have changed currency, it was an eye-opening experience. Before this I never gave much thought to the fact that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, are two very separate and different territories.
After our visit to the rope bridge the weather got pretty ominous. The bus took us to Giants Causeway were we hiked around the cliffs and walked on the basalt columns. Although this trip was extremely windy and rainy I enjoyed the hike. My better pictures are from the rope bridge which is what is shown above.
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.
So far my favorite part of the trip has been Phoenix Park. The rich green field with the mountains in the background was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen (on this trip and in general). Although cricket was not the most riveting thing to watch, it was really nice to just sit in a quiet place and enjoy nature and the many sounds coming from the Dublin zoo. It was the first time since Thursday that it felt like I was in another country. It is easy to spend time in the city of Dublin and pick up on all the similarities between there and Boston.
After we returned to our rooms on Thursday, I posted this picture that I had taken while we were in the city on Instagram.
I really liked the picture but as I was about to post it I realized that it’s hard to immediately tell that it’s in Dublin. So as a caption I wrote “Ireland is pretty cool.” A little while later, one of my friends wrote a comment on the image that said, “Totally thought this was Boston at first.” I agreed with her that my picture wasn’t really uniquely Dublin. So when we went to class Friday and today, I tried to notice differences between my home and this place that is my temporary home for the next three weeks.
It is surprising to me that a city that is so far away can feel so familiar. However, I think that I finally got enough sleep to be able to absorb the differences. For instance, yesterday we went to Professor Hinds’ house for dinner. On the way there I got a feel for what a rural Irish neighborhood was like. Their neighborhoods were set up a bit differently from ours. We also saw James Joyce’s house on our way there.
Today we went and watched a cricket game at Phoenix Park. Cricket was weird and hard to follow but there were quite a few spectators there who seemed to be enjoying the sport despite the cold weather. Although the sport was strange, that kind of atmosphere was familiar. I think that there are definitely going to be much more unique experiences as we continue to explore Dublin. It felt nice though to arrive in a foreign place and feel almost at home.