My responsibility was to go out to another country, observe what I could, and process my experiences into useful lessons. I needed to learn. Some of what I learned relates only to Ireland. Some relates to the differences between Ireland and the United states. Some relates only to the united states.
I do not think I want to live in the United states longer than I have to. It is not a good country. several times in my trip people I had just met took it upon themselves to list out the United States war crimes and atrocities. The funny part was that I already knew about them. I had heard about what we did in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan but the reality had stayed in the back of my mind. they told me about the US funding the troubles in Ireland and supplying guns to terrorist groups and dictators all over the world. Hearing about these crimes from the mouth of another, telling me about it because I am american, made me see all this evil as my responsibility. If I was not actively involved, my inaction still makes me culpable.
Coming back to America I saw the country in a different light. The lines at border security weren’t making us any safer. the TSA lets in 80% of weapons during security tests. The lines were to make us accustomed to a military state. The pictures of the president on the wall reminded me of North Korea and their pictures of their “great leader”. When I got back home I watched the Guy’s choice awards by Spike TV. The awards ceremony was filled with soldiers. It reminded me of the awards ceremonies the Nazi’s used to have.
I’m not sure what can be done for my country. mainstream media broadcasts a view point I’m not sure I agree with, spouting platitudes like support the troops or god bless america. Politicians are bought and sold by corporate interests. Democracy and free thought are dying. our schools are under performing. our prisons are overcrowded. racism and prejudice are stronger than ever. We poison our beautiful country to support an unsustainable energy infrastructure to enrich the select few. We oppress the rest of the world to manufacture cheap trinkets that suppress our spiritual decay for just a few moments.
I don’t know what can be done.
Today, for our last day in Dublin, Gerilyn and I were going to go into the city to buy souvenirs for our friends and family. Around ten- two hours before we were going to go- the skies opened up and it started to pour. At first I was really disappointed that it was raining on our last day here. As I looked outside at the rain I thought to myself, “It’ll stop in twenty minutes.” Sure enough it had stopped raining about twenty minutes later. Although it remained overcast, we didn’t get rain for the rest of the day. Looking back on it, I am very pleased with myself for making that assessment of the weather. I feel as though it shows that I’ve really adapted to the environment here. I feel like I know Dublin and am familiar with it now. I’m excited to go home and see my family but I feel like I have a really strong connection to Dublin. Hopefully I can return soon.
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.
This is my last blog post for the Umass Lowell study abroad program. We leave Dublin in the morning on Thursday. As much as I love Ireland I am excited to go home and see the familiarities of my hometown, family, and of course my cat. I spent my last free weekend in Europe traveling to Spain. Two of us from this program flew into Madrid and stayed the weekend. We explored the city as tourists, drank sangria and ate tapas. Madrid is an incredible city, but I think I prefer the streets of Dublin. I strongly suggest to anyone considering doing a study abroad program in Europe to take advantage of opportunities to travel between countries. It is affordable and you won’t regret it.
Today we went to visit the book the Book of Kells which is an illustrated book of the four gospels of the New Testament. It is believed to have been made around 800a.d. This was my second time visiting this attraction. This book is just as impressive the second time around. We spoke a lot about how the book was made, which is very interesting. The book’s pages are made of calf skin and the ink for the colorful illustrations are made with different minerals or berries. Coming from an Irish Catholic family I am happy to be able to say I have seen this book twice.
Today we spent a few hours in the classroom (the longest stretch of time during this whole trip) listening to and discussing Irish music. By Irish music, I mean music written by Irish people or about Irish things or even just in the style of traditional Irish music. When I saw the packet of lyrics I was pleasantly surprised to see a handful of songs that I grew up on, songs by the Sex Pistols, Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, and Morrissey.
Before this class, those songs had just been tied to memories of riding around in a conversion van with my friends listening to our favorite tunes, but I learned there was a lot going on beneath the surface of these songs. One of the songs I found most interesting to learn about was Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. On the surface this is a very light-hearted and innocent song about a boy’s crush on a girl. What I learned today was that this song was released in the midst of the Troubles and it was an expressing a desire for normalcy in a time where life was anything but. We had an extremely interesting class today!
Today I visited the Cliffs of Moher. I was really looking forward to the visit. With less than a week left of our trip, I was starting to feel as though I hadn’t seen enough of the “big attractions” that everyone who’s been to Ireland says you have to see. I’m glad that I picked the cliffs for today because it was one of the most beautiful days of the trip so far. Today was really nice because we got to take our time admiring the glorious cliffs and not get soaking wet and freezing cold. After we got back on the bus after being at the cliffs for an hour and a half, our bus driver made a joke about Americans. He said, “Us tour guides always bet that if there are American women on the trip, they’ll take pictures of the cows. Well ladies?” I thought it was a funny joke because of how truthful it actually was. As I took a few pictures of the cows I noticed other American women doing the same. I think the humor behind his joke is that it’s not as though I’ve never seen a cow before. Perhaps some of the other American women were from city areas and this is the first time they’ve seen them. I can drive less than ten minutes from my house though and see cows so what made these ones so cute and special? I feel like it might simply be the quantity of them. There are cows everywhere in Ireland, even at the tops of the Cliffs of Moher apparently.
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.
Yesterday was one of the most interesting days we have had here. We visited the National Museum of Ireland and saw the “bog bodies” exhibit. The bog bodies are actual people that were buried and preserved in the bogs of Ireland. These types of corpses have been found in other bogs around Europe as well, however the three bodies we examined were found in Northern Ireland. This exhibit was so fascinating because of the state these people were found in. The bogs preserved them so well that not only did some have a full head of red hair but one also had a beard. Their skin looked leathery but easily identifiable. This has been my favorite museum experience so far. We also went to Ireland’s Museum of Modern Art. This trip was not as interesting as bog bodies but I enjoyed some of the paintings and the conversation we has about them. After dinner there was a rival soccer game Bohemians vs Shamrocks the shouting of insults and hustle and bustle of it all was very exciting. Unfortunately I left this game at half time and do not know how it ended.
Tonight, after a long day of visiting museums, we got to go to a Bohemian Football Club game. It was animated to say the least. Nothing feels more authentic than cramming into a stadium and watching a game of “football” (soccer) and listening to the cheers, swears, and songs of the animated crowd. It was definitely a fun and interesting experience that I would recommend to anyone visiting Ireland.
The museums that we visited before the game were the most interesting ones that we’ve been to so far. My favorite part of the museum portion of the day was the “bog bodies” exhibit. These are mummified and preserved bodies that have been uncovered from bogs around Ireland. It was quite incredible to see the details and features that were conserved since 300 B.C. Some of them even had a full head of hair in tact!
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.