Hello all! I hope everyone had a fun and restful fall break away from campus! I know I did, though I wasn’t too far away from campus. In fact, I attended the Spiritual Exercises at the new Joyce Contemplative Center (JCC) for the first time after years of wondering whether that would be something I would enjoy (spoiler alert: it was).
So, what exactly are the Spiritual Exercises? Well, in the 16th century St. Ignatius of Loyola created a series of meditations, contemplations, and prayers to help others deepen their relationship with God and understanding of their faith. The series is meant to be completed over the course of 30 days, but this retreat adapts it into five days of silent reflection, daily mass, and presentations from the college Chaplains.
I remember receiving an email from the Chaplain’s Office tailored specifically for seniors: “Seniors! Don’t graduate without doing the Spiritual Exercises!” I had heard about this retreat several times throughout the years, but I had always been too busy with a theatre production to take part in them myself. I suppose I was also a little afraid of giving them a try; I knew almost nothing about what the week-long retreat was supposed to be about except for sitting in silence. Nevertheless, I took advantage of the fact that I didn’t have to stay on campus to rehearse for a play as I usually do over fall break, finished my Fulbright application an hour before the deadline, and hopped on a bus to the Contemplative Center.
The construction of the JCC had just been completed while I was abroad, so I was glad I would be able to see it while it was still brand new. Located in West Boylston, the center sits atop a hill overlooking the Wachusett Reservoir, which harbors a fantastic view of the horizon. It is also just far away enough from civilization to have its own aura of peace and quiet. When we first arrived I was astounded not only by the view, but also by how much the center reminded me of a cross between a hotel and a ski lodge with its spacious accommodations and modern architecture and furniture. Was I on vacation or on retreat?
A breathtaking view of the Wachusett Reservoir from behind the JCC.
I was also surprised by how many other seniors were also at the retreat. At the same time, I felt a great sense of comfort knowing that many of my friends were there too, some for the same reasons I was there. We were able to bond over lunch before starting the period of silent reflection with one of many talks from one of the Chaplains. I found the silence to be unnerving at first; it was like we were attending a 5-day funeral for our future conversations rather than attending a 5-day retreat. However, it soon felt less like a funeral once we were given scripture and prayers to reflect upon throughout the day. When we weren’t listening to a talk, attending mass, or eating a meal, we were free to roam about the center and keep ourselves busy with journaling about our reflections, reading one of the many books available for us to read, or getting creative with the coloring and painting materials left for us to use. We were also able to talk to our spiritual advisor individually for a half hour every day to talk about what kind of progress we’ve made in our reflections.
My experience during the Spiritual Exercises was extremely personal and much more fulfilling than I expected. In the silence I discovered more about myself and my relationship with God than I would have on my own and without the guidance of the Chaplains. It was scary sometimes to confront these discoveries, but I wouldn’t have wanted to experience it any other way. It was also really comforting to know that all of us at the retreat were in it together; though we reflected on our own, I felt like we all reflected and grew together.
At the end of the retreat we were finally able to speak out about our experiences and collectively reflect on what we had learned during the retreat. Many of the comments reflected a desire to continue growing in this spirituality and in the joy and love we found in this community even though we didn’t speak a word to each other. Needless to say, when we were asked to share the sign of peace at the final mass, we met each other with joyful hugs and well-wishes, and the lunch we shared afterward was buzzing with warm conversations and laughter.
That said, I strongly encourage you to attend the Spiritual Exercises at least once during your Holy Cross career even if you haven’t prayed in a while or aren’t Catholic. The Chaplains do a wonderful job at helping everyone feel comfortable thinking and talking about Scripture and how we can relate it to our own lives, and the JCC is the perfect place to do so (also, the food is amazing and well worth staying for!) The Spiritual Exercises retreat takes place four times during the year, so watch out for announcements from the Chaplain’s Office about dates and registration! In the meantime, you can read more about this and other retreats at Holy Cross by clicking here.
I hope you consider attending one of the retreats and I hope reading about my experiences has given you more insight on what the retreat experience is like. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again soon!
Hello everyone, and welcome back to Mount St. James!
For those of you who are new to this blog, my name is Alison Christovich (Ali for short), and I’m a senior this year at Holy Cross. Last year I was one of the HC Study Abroad bloggers and I wrote a blog about my travels in Galway, Ireland. If you’ve been following me from the beginning, welcome back! I hope you enjoy a fresh yet familiar perspective on the life of a fellow senior.
When I returned from Ireland I was home for a couple weeks, and then I went to London for the theatre Maymester program. It was a blast; on top of seeing a total of 32 (yes, 32) theatre productions throughout London we visited a great variety of monuments and museums, including the British Library, British Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Tate Britain and Modern Museums, and many, many more. I think one of my favorite parts of London was seeing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theatre for the first time. Not only did we get to stand right in front of the stage as “groundlings”, but the show itself was a wild ride from start to finish, with Romeo and Juliet’s parents giving birth to coffins during the prologue and all of the characters wearing white clown makeup while occasionally dancing to bass-heavy pop music. By the end of it I was mesmerized beyond belief.
If you happen to be interested in attending this (or any other) Maymester program, feel free to contact the Study Abroad office for information about each program, or stop by Professor Ed Isser’s office on the 4th floor of O’Kane if you want to hear more about London. In the meantime, one of my friends who went with me to London made this awesome video montage of all the pictures we all took. Check it out here!
I spent the rest of the summer home with my family and friends in Jacksonville, Florida. I’ve been blessed to have the luxury of living close to the beach and close enough to Orlando that I can spend a weekend there with friends and even take a trip to Disney World if I wanted. So, naturally, that’s what we did. I’m sure you know the rest!
One of my favorite shots of Disney’s Festival of Fantasy Parade.
The fireworks show at the end of the day was fantastic!
I also had the opportunity to do some creative work for one of my brother’s teachers from my high school. Being a local published author, he often recruits past students and faculty from the school to help him with editing and designing before sending the book to an independent publisher. He reached out to my tech-savvy brother about designing a book cover for his next book, and he recommended that I would be a better fit for the creative components of it. I had already designed posters for the College Choir in the past, so I thought “why not”? And so for the next few weeks I got to work in my first commissioned experience in graphic design. It took a bit of trial and error, but I recently got a copy of the book in the mail and can’t wait to finally read it! I would highly recommend checking out this and the rest of his books, which you can buy on Amazon here. He was an incredible person to work with when it came to designing and I look forward to enjoying the fruits of his labor.
A new book by one of my high school teachers, the cover of which I designed myself. Can’t wait to start reading it!
My return to campus after being away from a year has been a whirlwind so far. I came back a week before classes started for Choir Week, a tradition where the Chamber Singers would spend a week on campus learning new music for the upcoming semester and preparing to sing at Mass of the Holy Spirit that weekend. This year came with a couple changes: not only did I get to meet the new choir director, Professor Allegra Martin, but this year we invited the entire College Choir for Choir Week. It was such a blessing (and still is!) to see so many fresh faces on the hill, many of them first years ready to join one of the most exciting groups on campus! I can’t wait to see the Choir’s progress during rehearsal and feel it unfold during performances. Mark your calendars now for the first performance on October 27th, the first day of Family Weekend!
Speaking of performances, as a theatre major I’m beyond excited to see what’s in store for the department and for A.C.T., aka Alternate College Theatre. For those who aren’t familiar, A.C.T. is the student-run theatre group on campus that puts on two major productions during the year and hosts several other theatre events, including Midnight Theatre and Cabaret Night. This year’s A.C.T. lineup includes Stop Kiss, a play directed by junior Alexis Rappaport, and the musical Legally Blonde, which will be directed by senior Emma Callahan. Professor Ed Isser will be representing the theatre department this fall by directing Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna, a historical Spanish play that will be performed bilingually in Spanish and English. Keep an eye out for emails and posters for each of these productions – they are not to be missed!
In the meantime, as anyone might guess, I will be quite busy with my classes ahead. I’m especially looking forward to my directing class; I’ve acted in directing projects for other students in the class before, and can’t wait to take the reins myself. I actually had the chance to direct a couple projects back when I was in Galway, but now I’m ready to learn about different directing techniques and have real hands-on practice with them.
On top of that I will also be applying for the Fulbright scholarship to study a Master’s program in Theatre and Performance at Queen Mary, University of London. The Fulbright Program ensures full tuition and room and board coverage for almost any university around the world in which students might pursue graduate study and/or research. I’m interested in Queen Mary specifically because their Theatre and Performance MA is a mix of seminar and practical work, and many of the faculty members’ concentrations lie in social justice and mental health. I’m honestly a little nervous about going through the college application process again – especially for grad school! – but I truly feel that this will be a step in the right direction for my future, even if I don’t get the scholarship.
All business aside, I’m so thrilled to be back on the roster as a Holy Cross blogger and can’t wait to share the rest of my experiences with you! I hope you have a wonderful start to the semester, and I look forward to writing again soon.
Spoiler alert: I was not (nor did I ever feel) ready to go home from Ireland.
If you asked me what I loved most about being in Ireland, I wouldn’t be able to give you one straight answer. I loved getting to know the other HC students who also came to Galway. I loved meeting new people with their various Irish/French/German/Canadian/etc. accents. I loved taking classes outside my theatre curriculum and learning more about Irish culture. I loved finding new theatre and choral opportunities and getting involved in the community. I loved getting a feel for the pub scene and dancing on Shop Street with several talented performers. I loved sitting near the Spanish Arch and relaxing by the water as seagulls and swans went about their day. I loved every downpour of rain, and I loved every sparse sunny day when everyone in town went outside to enjoy the weather. I loved everything there is to love about Galway, and will continue loving it even when I come back to Holy Cross.
My Final Days
For the last two weeks I was in Galway we had the incredible fortune of having beautiful, temperate sunshine. Shop Street and Eyre Square were crowded with people walking around and running errands at all hours of the day. If there’s anything that brings Irish folks together, it’s a welcome change from the usual rain spells to an early glimpse at summer. It was a little disappointing to be cooped up in the library studying for exams when the weather outside was so nice, but as soon as exams were over I spent as much time as I possibly could outside.
I walked to Galway Cathedral for my last mass and took a final gander around the inside, which was filled with several shrines (including one to St. Therese, my late grandmother’s Confirmation saint) and displays describing the short yet elaborate history of the cathedral. I still find it hard to believe that such an iconic landmark is only about fifty years old!
I also took one last look at the swan that has made her home outside the cathedral. I haven’t seen any of her babies in person, but I did get a peek at a few more eggs underneath her as she sat on her nest. Meanwhile, her partner swan fended off some neighboring ducks and seagulls as a few passersby tossed their bread in the water for the swan. I’ve seen other swans take people’s food, but this swan would have none of it. I almost wish I took a video of the action, but I had so much of the city left to explore.
Galway Cathedral in the summertime.
If you look closely you can see several eggs beside the mother swan’s neck!
One of my favorite places in the city is St. Nicholas Church, the nearly 700 year-old medieval church where I rehearse and perform with the Choral Scholars during the semester. Every weekend they host a market where local vendors can sell their homemade wares and yummy food. You can find just about anything on the short road beside the church: from jewelry to paintings and from pottery to produce. I bought a couple magnets of paintings of Shop Street and of the Claddagh, the area in the west end of Galway from which the famous Claddagh ring originates, and had a nice conversation with the man who painted them and handmade frames for his paintings and magnets out of scrap wood. I would also highly recommend buying an 80¢ donut from Boychik’s Donut stand – 80¢ seems too low for a donut that is fried and covered in sugar before your eyes by one of the friendliest fellows in Galway.
A sign for the weekend market outside St. Nicholas Collegiate Church of Galway (PC: Aaron Katz).
Always a treat to see this guy on the weekends (PC: Laura Lippstone)!
After picking up a falafel meal from one of the other food carts in the market, I made my way towards the Spanish Arch. On my way down Shop Street I couldn’t help but hear jazz music playing in the distance. Sure enough, one of the local bars had left their doors open – inside a jazz band played some classic tunes while their audience sipped their drinks and swept their partners off their feet on the dance floor. It was almost as if I had taken a step back in time into a 50s sock hop, and I loved it.
Lunch was well worth having by the water before I ventured further along the coast towards Salthill. I passed by a huge flock of swans, a game of soccer, and plenty of beachgoers. I decided to dip my toes in the water, but it was much colder than it would be back home. It baffled me to see people actually swimming in it. Even so, it will be hard to beat the West Coast sea breeze.
A lovely view of the water from the promenade.
Seems that summer came early in Galway!
I walked down the promenade to a park I had seen in passing when coming back to Galway after a trip, but never actually got to visit: the Circle of Life. This is Ireland’s national commemorative garden dedicated to organ donors and their generosity. Inside is a lovely pathway around a pond and through some greenery, with stones from all over Ireland and from all over the world. At its epicenter lie five standing stones that all represent different symbols and stages in the journey of life. Of course, I had to take pictures.
A welcoming rock at the entrance of the park (fáilte means “welcome” in Irish).
Entrance to the rock garden in the center of the park.
The original cornerstone from Eyre Square!
A panoramic view of the park.
You can read more about the park and download a leaflet about it here.
I had plenty of time to make it home before sunset – which began around 9:30pm – but after a solid 3+ hours of walking I wanted to pick up a snack on the way home. So I made my way back along the coast and got a little something from a new ice cream shop that had just opened recently. Not only did they deliver handmade ice cream all the way from Dingle (a town in County Kerry, Ireland), but they had quite a tasty assortment: from Dingle Sea Salt to Caramelized Brown Bread. I got the chance to sample these and other flavors (the brown bread flavor was surprisingly yummy!) and bought a cone with Irish coffee and cookie flavors to enjoy in Eyre Square park.
A local treat from Murphy’s Ice Cream!
There’s always something fun to do and see around Galway, and no matter where you go or how bad the weather can get you’re bound to find great food and company as well. I was half-expecting a good Irish thunderstorm to bid me farewell, but I’m so thankful for those final, sunny days.
My Final Thoughts
It’s been a week since I came home from Galway. While I’m happy to be home in the Florida sunshine, I’d take another day of Irish rain in a heartbeat. I already can’t wait to come back someday.
Looking back on everything I’ve seen and experienced while studying abroad, to say that I’ve learned a lot would be a severe understatement. Not only have I learned so much about Irish culture and history, but I’ve also learned quite a bit about living on my own in another country for about nine months. I had to adjust to living in an apartment for the first time, attending the majority of my classes in huge lecture halls with students whom I’d rarely see around campus (much less around town), finding and having to say goodbye to new groups of friends, acclimating myself to the physical and social climate, and most especially trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life after Holy Cross. In other words, I faced a lot of challenges and anxiety that made junior year my toughest year at Holy Cross (or, rather, away from it).
But my time in Ireland also made it the most fulfilling. In my very first blog post I set out a few goals that I wanted to accomplish: stretch out of my comfort zone, meet new people, try new things, see more theatre, and so on. At the end of the semester I can honestly say that I’ve accomplished these goals to the best of my ability, and I’m proud of how much I’ve learned about myself and the Galway community. I sincerely encourage those thinking of studying abroad to explore your options and apply during sophomore year. Studying abroad – no matter where you go – is an experience unlike any other.
As much fun as it was to live in Galway, I’m already excited to return to the Hill for senior year. I’m also beyond excited for next week when I start a Maymester program in London! The Maymester, called “British Theatre in Perspective”, plunges us into English art and culture and London as we explore several museums, galleries, and exhibits and watch theatrical productions all over London. I aim to continue blogging about my experience in London and try my hand at writing theatre reviews for the shows we’ll see. Until then, here are a few parting photos from Galway.
One of my favorite views of what’s called “The Long Walk”
So many swans!
Eyre Square in the evening.
Found a rainbow over one of the old structures near where I walk to class.
A painting of the Latin Quarter of Galway.
And of course, I can’t ignore the topicality of this video, which shows a good number of places in Galway that I’ve seen:
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my travels throughout Ireland and that you continue to enjoy your summer! Take care, everyone, and I’ll see you next semester!
In a little river by Galway Cathedral there’s a swan who has been sitting on her nest for the past few weeks or so, and her eggs are expected to hatch in a few more weeks. Here’s the odd thing about it though: the nest is in the middle of the river, and it’s close enough to the walkway that it can be easily seen, photographed, or hit by a tossed piece of garbage, much of which still litters the area. The area is so exposed that it seems like the least likely spot to build a nest. Still, that’s the spot this swan chose, and every now and then you can see a second swan near her foraging for food or additional brush for the nest.
I was really happy to see the priest bring up the swan in his homily during Easter mass last week. He reminded us that we are often stuck in an environment that might work against us or make us feel exposed, yet even in adversity we — like the swan — still have the capacity to create new life just as God gave new life to Jesus after His death. In celebrating Easter we also celebrate the opportunity to move forward from our struggles of the past and make the most of our present joys. I hope that now that the Easter season has begun you all have been able to celebrate these joys and opportunities.
The swan and her nest (PC: Aaron Katz).
My sincerest apologies for my inactivity over the last couple months; I’ve been taking care of personal matters while also getting involved in so many activities on and off campus, and I haven’t had much of a chance to write in the meantime. However, now that final exams season is upon us here in Galway, I have more opportunities to write during study breaks. So, without further ado, let’s get to it!
Irish Pride in the Classroom
If you ever get the chance to study abroad in Ireland (or in any country, for that matter), I would highly recommend taking classes about local culture. One of my classes, called Imagining Modern Ireland, goes beyond talking about the history of Ireland (from the Famine to the 1916 Rising and beyond) and opens the floor for discussion about English literature in Ireland, Irish literature, Irish film, Irish dance, and Irish music. In other words, it really brought into perspective the definition of Irishness and how people have interpreted it and demonstrated it throughout Irish history. I had gotten a taste of this last semester in my course on Irish theatre, but it was really interesting to see representations of Irishness across different disciplines as well. Whatever you’re interested in – fairy folklore, political debates, rural tradition, feminist perspectives, language differences – you’ll find it in Irish writing and music! If you’re looking for some poetry, I suggest reading some of the work of Eavan Boland; not only is she a talented writer, but she also raises questions of both national and feminine identity in Ireland and how they intersect.
I’ve also taken a Film Studies seminar, which I found pretty eye-opening. Most of the films we watched and discussed also displayed different depictions of Irishness, especially through fondness for the West of Ireland and for “the good old days” before modernization. The lecturer commented on one of the first films we watched, titled Flight of the Doves, as being a classic example of how filmmakers have taken some liberties in portraying true Irishness by playing with what would appeal to a foreign (mostly American) audience. For example, many scenes in the film show Ireland as being green, historic, and even mythical, without necessarily taking into account how modern certain parts of Ireland can be and how similar Irish culture can be to our own. There is also a scene where the main characters arrive in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day (of all days!) and find themselves swept up in a parade full of people from many nationalities, where everyone sings a song called “You Don’t Have to Be Irish to be Irish”. If you watch the entirety of the scene, you can probably recognize how the scene appears to pander to non-Irish audiences with corny song and dance. The lecturer made sure to emphasize this point and also noted how the scene seemed less realistic because not everyone in Dublin had a Dublin accent. Being the only American in the class, I sheepishly admitted that the pandering worked: I liked the song quite a bit, and I never would’ve guessed the differences in Irish accents (even though there really are too many of them to count).
Needless to say, I’m quite glad that I had the opportunity to take classes on Irish culture this year, and I would definitely encourage those looking to study abroad to take classes like these to get a sense of how local culture has developed over time.
On the Field – Watching a Hurling Match
Our advisor Kathleen also took us to see a hurling match this past March, which pitted Galway’s team against a team in County Laois (pronounced “leash”). Hurling is one of Ireland’s oldest and most popular field sports, and is played by hitting a ball (called a sliotar) with a stick (called a hurley). You score points by hitting the sliotar either through your opponent’s goalposts or past the goalkeeper into their net, in which case you will have scored a goal. As I watched the match I was reminded of a sort of cross between soccer, football, and baseball, and I was surprised by how intense matches can get. We witnessed a couple injuries over the course of the match, as well as a couple of small showers that quickly drenched the field and then instantly made way for the sunshine. We even saw a few rainbows as a result! Unfortunately, the youth hurling teams that played a short match during halftime also got drenched in the process. Still, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and Galway won with 31 points and 3 goals!
One of a few rainbows we saw at the match!
In the Streets – St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Now I’m sure everyone reading this is simply dying to know what a typical St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland might entail. As one might expect, I found it to be quite Irish: Shop Street was decorated with plenty of Irish flags and shamrocks. Many businesses that didn’t sell alcohol (which included the schools) were closed that day for the holiday. And, like on any other day in Ireland, it rained; and of course, as a nice holiday treat, it rained a torrential downpour. As far as I can recall, there hasn’t been a single St Patrick’s Day in Irish history that hasn’t seen at least a little rainfall. Even so, I braved the rain and wind to see one of the biggest shows of Irish pride walk down the streets of Galway: the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
It had been a good while since I had seen a parade and it was my first time seeing a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Of course, these parades are held everywhere in Ireland every year, but it was a treat to be able to see one closer to home. I loved seeing so many diverse community groups come together and show off their strengths and talents while friends and family – buried under their umbrellas and raincoats – cheered them on from the sidewalks. You can see more of my favorite photos of the parade below!
St. Patrick driving the “snakes” out of Ireland, followed by the Galway Polish Scouts.
An artillery company from Massachusetts representing the US!
Galway’s Filipino-Irish Community put on an impressive display of costume and dance!
The theatre group Macnas made a second appearance after the Halloween parade, and they brought the big owl with them!
The Wild [American] Rovers
After classes ended, we had a couple weeks off for study period and for the Easter holiday. Fortunately, my boyfriend Aaron was able to spend Easter and the week leading up to it in Ireland, and there was quite a lot I wanted to show him.
We met up in Dublin on a chilly Monday morning and we roamed its busy streets as I described some of the landmarks and sites I had seen the first time I had been in Dublin: the Spire on O’Connell Street, the Dublin Post Office, City Hall, and many more. We even met up with one of our friends from HC who is studying abroad at Trinity College, and they got us tickets to see the Book of Kells and gave us a brief history lesson on the book and the Long Room. By some miracle we didn’t see one drop of rain all day, so we took advantage of the sunshine and visited St. Stephen’s Green, a lovely park that is currently in full spring bloom, and Christ Church Cathedral, a gorgeous Gothic-style church with a haunting crypt underneath. It was lovely to meet up with our friend and spend the day walking around Dublin!
This panoramic shot of St. Stephen’s Green barely covers half the park!
A statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square, another park in Dublin City.
Outside of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin (PC: Aaron Katz).
Inside of Christ Church Cathedral.
One of many memorials in the crypt below Christ Church.
A “memorial” to the cat and the rat that were found in one of the organ pipes at Christ Church. In other words, a game of cat and mouse gone wrong.
The next day we took a bus to Kilkenny, where we visited Kilkenny castle and the Smithwick’s brewery and museum. The castle was built in the early 13th century by an Anglo-Norman family after the Norman invasion in Ireland and its ownership was eventually delivered to Ireland in the mid-20th century. Today, it remains as one of Ireland’s many iconic landmarks and the crown feature of the medieval town of Kilkenny. Inside the large, U-shaped castle you can see many of the original rooms and halls of the castle with descriptions of their functions, as well as some pieces from the National Art Gallery. Each room has a unique mixture of modesty, lavishness, and practicality in its design. Aaron and I loved getting a taste of medieval Irish history, and if you’re looking for places to visit in Ireland Kilkenny should definitely be on your list.
Aaron wishing he owned this castle.
A view of the garden from the top floor of the castle.
One of the main dining rooms inside the castle.
A child’s nursery inside the castle.
Later we went on a tour of the Smithwick’s Experience, which entailed a tour of one of the oldest breweries in Ireland (by over 300 years!) and a description of how the beer is made. Our tour guide was very easygoing and informative, and the tour also included some impressive dramatizations of the Smithwick family and monks of St. Francis’ Abbey, where the ale was first created. Not to mention the beer-tasting after the tour was also a nice treat before we caught a bus back to Dublin. In my personal opinion, I’d take a pint of Smithwick’s over a pint of Guinness any day!
Outside the Smithwick’s brewery (PC: Aaron Katz).
We returned to Galway the following day to rest before embarking on a two-day tour to Connemara and to the Cliffs of Moher. We rode a coach to Connemara to see the beauty of the mountains and the historic Kylemore Abbey and gardens, and neither of us was disappointed. Luckily the weather remained favorable, so we were able to enjoy spending time in Kylemore gardens and taking pictures of the mountains and lakes from the roadside along the way. I think my favorite part of the day was seeing so many sheep and lambs in the field, even more than the number of sheep I had seen the last time I was in Connemara. You could tell that some of the sheep were newborns because of how they wobbled a bit when they walked and how their wool was not yet tagged with paint like their parents’. Ironically, that didn’t stop us from enjoying a rack of lamb for dinner at McSwiggans, one of my favorite restaurants in Galway.
One of my favorite shots of the mountains in Connemara.
Kylemore Abbey in all its glory.
So many sheep and lambs!
Just two sheep casually walking alongside the road. You can tell the lamb must have been born recently because it doesn’t have any tagging paint on it.
On Good Friday we took a bus tour to see the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren, which is a region full of rocky landscapes that are as old as the glaciers that once went through the area. It’s certainly a unique atmosphere compared to the grassy hills and lakes we had seen in Connemara the day before. While in the Burren we got to visit Aillwee Cave, one of the oldest caves in Ireland and a quite fascinating one at that. Our tour guide explained all of the different rock formations – some of which were at least a thousand years old – and she showed us an area where a bear had dug himself a small nook for hibernation hundreds of years ago. Though we could only go so far in the cave before reaching a pathway blocked by boulders, I loved seeing the small waterfalls inside and the interesting rock formations that had evolved because of them.
When we finally arrived at the Cliffs, the wind had picked up significantly. Thankfully there was only a little rain, but Aaron and I took extra care not to walk too closely to the edge. I’ve always found it both humbling and thrilling to stand by cliffs like these and see the neighboring cliffs and ocean below, and I’m so glad I was able to share the experience with Aaron as well.
A view of The Burren from higher ground.
This photo doesn’t do nearly enough justice to the majesty of the Cliffs of Moher.
Even so, it was just as wonderful to stay in Galway for Easter Weekend. I got to show Aaron the highlights of the city – the Spanish Arch, Eyre Square, the cathedral, and so on – and the magic of Shop Street. I showed him my favorite bookstore, my favorite places to grab a coffee, and a shop called Dungeons and Donuts that sells both nerdy games and accessories and nerd-themed donuts – from Game of Thrones to Pokemon and everything in between, if you want it they’ve got it (check out their website to see all of their amazing donuts)! I also introduced him to one of my favorite lunch and tea places called Cupan Tae (Irish for “cup of tea”), where we enjoyed lunch and tea served on beautiful china plates and teacups. I think the best part of this place is that you can order their tea online and have it shipped anywhere in the world for a fairly low price. I would definitely recommend you check out Cupan Tae’s website and tea selection here, and perhaps order a bag or two for yourself!
A selection of donuts from Dungeons and Donuts. Note the Cookie Monster donuts on the top left and Pokeball donuts on the bottom shelf.
I had a chuckle seeing the Game of Thrones-themed donut named “The White Walker”.
Lunch at Cupan Tae: so pretty it had to be put on Snapchat (PC: Aaron Katz).
And of course, how could I forget the small petting zoo that happened to be in town that weekend? I’m pretty sure I could hear Aaron laughing at me as I joined the small group of children trying to pet the sheep and baby goats, but with animals as cute as these, how could you not?
Apparently the mama sheep wasn’t a huge fan of people, but she let me pet her anyway.
These goats, on the other hand, loved being pet and gently nibbling on people’s fingers (mine included!).
Enjoying the sights of the city and attending Easter mass in Galway Cathedral were the perfect way to end the week of our tour around Ireland. Even though I won’t be seeing Aaron again until we start our next semester at Holy Cross, I’m still so happy and thankful that we were able to spend time together in my home away from home.
Obligatory selfie with a Snapchat location filter (PC: Aaron Katz).
Well, since I’ve been away from the blog for so long and have so much to talk about, I plan on writing more frequent entries before I return home from Ireland in May. Within the next week I’ll be writing about all of the theatre and choral experiences I’ve had the past couple months. In another post I’ll be writing about the theatre I’ve seen, especially since last week was Galway’s annual Theatre Festival. All I can say about it for now is that there’s a good reason Galway’s been named the European Capital of Culture for 2020!
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and have started the New Year off on the right foot! I know it’s now the beginning of February 2017 – making my first blog post of the year well overdue – but I hope to make up for the gap between posts by talking about everything I’ve done the past few months: from visiting Germany for a few days before bumbling my way through finals to traveling home to Florida to spend time with family and friends at the beach (as Floridians are wont to do), then heading back to Ireland to start class and visit Dublin for the first time. Let’s get to it!
Trip to Germany
I wasn’t able to travel a lot outside Ireland last semester because of my accident, but I was fortunate to be able visit my boyfriend Aaron in Bamberg, Germany just before the finals period began. We stayed in Bamberg most of the time I was there, but we also traveled to Nuremberg and Munich for a day. Not only was it a huge plus to be able to travel abroad with a fellow HC student, but it was an even bigger advantage to stay in a foreign country with someone who could act as your personal translator. Before I got to Germany I had no idea what to expect; I didn’t know very much about the country or its history apart from what I’d learned in school. In a way I suppose that made the trip an even bigger and better surprise.
I was absolutely blown away by the architecture and how old many of the buildings were. We passed by several churches that were hundreds of years old, and the first dinner I had in Bamberg was at a brewery that was originally established in 1405. Walking through the streets felt like walking through a fairy tale – if you’ve ever seen any adaptations of German folk tales (this includes stories by the Brothers Grimm!), you might have noticed how many illustrations draw influence from the original, Gothic style of German architecture. Needless to say, it was certainly a treat to see this style – among many others – stand the test of time to the present day. One of my favorite sights in Bamberg is of the Old Town Hall, which is detailed with magnificent painting and carvings that make it a true German icon. In Nuremberg you can check out the Nuremberg Castle, an impressive landmark as old as the Holy Roman Empire. Munich, the biggest of the three cities we visited, has an incredible central square (called the Marienplatz, or “Mary’s Square”) with a massive and intricately-designed town hall that is definitely worth seeing!
A shot of the gorgeous New Town Hall in Munich.
The level of on Munich’s town hall building is astounding!
A view of Nuremberg Castle from one of its towers.
The outside of the Schlenkerla in Bamberg, a 600 year old brewery famous for its smoked beer (which, oddly enough, tastes a little like bacon)! (PC: Aaron Katz)
A view of the Town Hall in Bamberg from one of the bridges (PC: Aaron Katz)
I love the painting on the side of Bamberg’s Town Hall!
A Lego model of Bamberg’s Town Hall found in one of its shops.
Even more beautiful and mind-blowing than the cities themselves was the Christmas markets within them (or Weihnachtsmärkte, as they’re called in Germany). I had heard from a friend that they were much bigger than the one we had in Galway, but I wasn’t prepared for how massive they truly were. Even in Bamberg, a smaller town than Nuremberg and Munich, the streets were lined with local vendors selling handmade goods, sweets, bratwurst, and glühwein, a kind of mulled wine exclusive to the Germans. I had never seen a city so alive with music, lights, and tourists and locals alike enjoying the holiday season despite the bitter cold.
Munich Christmas Market.
Munich Christmas market during the day
Christmas market in Nuremberg (PC: Aaron Katz)
Christmas market in Bamberg during the day.
Aaron and I walked through all three cities and all three markets for hours, and it truly was an incredible experience. In fact, I plan on visiting again in the spring when the weather will be slightly warmer. For now though, I still have lots of traveling left to do within Ireland!
Finals were a pain – as they usually are – but I got through with them in time to enjoy the holidays with my family and friends back home. We didn’t go on any vacations – living in Florida, where the weather can be 72° and sunny even on Christmas day, is a vacation in itself. I got to spend quality time with my family at home and even went on a bike ride to the beach with my sister. It wasn’t the first time I’ve come home to my family after being away for a few months, but being away in Ireland made the homecoming even more meaningful.
I also got to spend time with my best friends the week after Christmas. After some much-needed catching up and lunch at Panera (one of many American restaurants I’ve missed!), we went to see an event the beaches area holds every year called “Deck the Chairs”, where the city center is filled with holiday decorations made entirely out of lifeguard chairs. In my opinion, it’s the best way to make use of them during the off-season!
(PC: Lauren Hawley)
(PC: Lauren Hawley)
(PC: Lauren Hawley)
This Harry Potter-themes setup was sponsored by our local library (PC: Lauren Hawley)
This massive tree — the pièce de résistance of the event — had lights that changed colors and patterns with the music that was playing. Definitely my favorite! (PC: Lauren Hawley)
But of course, all good things must come to an end. I’d be lying if I said I was ready to return to Galway, but it was time to start a new semester.
Back to my Second Home
My second semester started off in a far less confusing manner than the first one did: I didn’t have to apply for any classes this time, so I could get right into two Classics courses (one about Roman Architecture, the other comparing the Roman author Seneca to Shakespeare), two English courses (one about Drama and Theatre studies, the other a Film Studies seminar), a psychology course on theories of personality, and a course on basic Irish studies of literature and history. I’ve just finished my fourth week of classes and so far everything is going swimmingly!
I’ve also taken on a couple theatre projects for the beginning of the semester before I start Choral Scholar rehearsals again towards the end of February. I was chosen to direct an original one act play titled Good Morning Kindergarten!, a hilarious play about kindergarten students putting on their very own news show, during the Drama Society’s theatre week from February 22-24. It’s the first time I’ve ever led a project like this, and after two days of auditions I’m excited to get rehearsals underway soon! In addition, I’ve also signed on to help with a project orchestrated by the NUIG Career Development Center, in which we intend to stage skits of what not to do during a job interview, that will also take place at the end of February. Needless to say, February is going to be quite a busy month for me.
Trip to Dublin
Just over a week ago I went on a brief weekend trip to Dublin with our advisor Kathleen and with a group of other Holy Cross students. After having dinner at a Mexican restaurant, the next day we went on a walking tour of the city and saw many historical and cultural sites, including the City Hall and Dublin castle. We also took a stroll down the streets of Merrion Square, where we saw Oscar Wilde’s house and noted the unique 19th century Georgian style of the buildings. We even got to see inside one of the houses that had been recently refurbished with wallpaper and furniture corresponding with the original style. Some of the flooring and fireplaces were still intact as well!
This seagull was photo-ready as it perched alongside the River Liffey
One of my favorite pictures from inside Dublin’s 200+ year old city hall!
Oscar Wilde’s house in Merrion Square
The inside of another building in Merrion Square. The furniture is new, but the style is close to original!
What can I say? I’m a sucker for antiques.
Afterward we went to visit Trinity College, which reminded so much of Holy Cross with its stonework and vines. There we got to see the Book of Kells, which is a fantastic manuscript of the 4 Gospels in the Bible that was created in an Irish monastery around 800 CE. The Book is encased in a glass box in a small museum that describes the history of the manuscript and the types of inks and papers used in this and other manuscripts throughout history. I was particularly excited to read about the history since I had just taken a class last semester about the transmission of Classical texts. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures of the document directly, but I was able to take pictures of a part of Trinity library known as the Long Room library. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a long room full of old books and busts of famous authors – from Greek philosophers to English playwrights, and everyone in between. It may not sound like much, but I can assure you that the inside was absolutely breathtaking. I felt like I was walking through the Hogwarts library, and was silently hoping the busts would start chatting quietly amongst themselves.
A first look at Trinity’s campus.
The Long Room inside Trinity Library
Once again, I plan on visiting again when the weather outside is slightly warmer!
I won’t be doing quite as much traveling as I have done the past couple months, but this month marks a new start of not just the semester, but the start of more exciting adventures in Ireland and beyond. I will certainly keep you up to date on new developments on my theatre projects and post pictures of new things I see in and outside of Galway. Until then, I hope everyone has a great start to the second semester! Take care!
Long time no see, everyone! First of all, I’d like to apologize for my lack of activity in the last month. I actually had the unfortunate luck of being hit by a car on Halloween afternoon, and while I did not have any immediate injuries I took the week off from classes just as a precaution. A week later I fell dangerously ill and had to be taken to the emergency room. The brain injury that I had received from the accident — small as it was — triggered a delayed reaction in my pituitary gland that caused my sodium levels to drop to a level so low that it made me very sick. Thankfully, one of the doctors at University Hospital Galway specializes in these types of injuries, and she knew exactly how to treat it. I stayed in the hospital for a week under the close watch and care of wonderful doctors and nurses, and I was officially discharged after that week with a clear MRI and normal test results. I will be taking medication and seeing the doctor for the next few weeks to make sure everything remains stable, but my health has essentially (and miraculously) returned to normal. My mother flew in from home and my boyfriend flew in from Germany to see me after it happened, and for that I am incredibly fortunate! I am also extremely lucky to have had the help and support of my friends and family, as well as of NUIG and Holy Cross facilitating my transition through classes and finals in the coming weeks. I was even given the option to come back to Holy Cross next semester if I should so choose. I do intend on staying in Galway next semester as planned, but it is truly a blessing to know that I have such a wonderful support system behind me. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers!
Now, on to the rest of the blog post!
An Educational Experience
Not long after my last post, I went on a trip with my Exploring Indigenous Arts Class to the National Museum of Ireland: Country Life in County Mayo. There we learned the history of how people lived in rural Ireland in the 20th century through the house items they made and the festivals they held. We even got to see a timeline of how Irish life was portrayed in film and professional photographs compared to what life was actually like at the time — it wasn’t all red hair and cute sheep! In fact, it was so much more.
Handmade baskets made from several different types of wood and brushes
Children’s clothing in Ireland in the early 20th century
Dolls made from straw depicting masked performers called “Mummers”, who staged shows around Christmastime
A bouquet of paper flowers made by a traveler woman in Ireland in 1994
While in the museum we learned how to make harvest knots like these, which were traditionally given as gifts from teenage boys to girls they fancied at harvest dances. If a girl kept a knot, she was more likely to marry the boy who gave it to her!
After our tour of the museum we got to hear from a guest lecturer about how the Irish celebrated holidays like Halloween, Christmas, and Easter. They also have a tradition of making crosses out of straw or brush on the first day of February, which is known as St. Bridgid’s Day, in order to invoke her blessings and protection in the coming year. It was a real treat to see the number of household items and artifacts and the cultural significance behind them, and you can learn more about the museum here.
A Fascinating (And Slightly Terrifying) Halloween Experience
What I didn’t realize before coming here is that the Irish really like to celebrate Halloween. October 31st is also considered a bank holiday Ireland, so we didn’t even have class that day! The weekend before Halloween, a performance company known as Macnas put on their annual parade which this year was called “Savage Grace”. On their website, they described it as “a restless ballad, a deliriously dark and delicious waltz between love and loss”, filled with “[f]oreboding rhythms and musical laments, packaged in rhyme and riddle, [that] herald the arrival of Baba Yaga, a formidable figure defined only by her striking ambiguity”. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it: the performers all wore elaborate costumes, masks, and makeup, and the parade floats were much more intricate and complicated than any I had ever seen in a parade before. Some of the younger children around us were frightened by some of the characters and floats! Feel free to check out Macnas here and take a look at the highlights of the parade below!
A Holy Cross Thanksgiving Experience
Once Halloween was over, Christmas decorations went up almost immediately. It was a little confusing at first, considering November had only just started, but then it hit me – Christmas is the only major holiday after Halloween because Thanksgiving simply doesn’t exist here. We weren’t able to go home for Thanksgiving, but our advisor Kathleen was gracious enough to treat us to dinner Thursday evening at Brasserie on the Corner, a popular restaurant and bar here in Galway. The Irish might not be huge fans of turkey, but we were certainly fans of the huge meal we had; I had a personal pot of steamed mussels as an appetizer with stuffed chicken as my entrée, which were simply delightful. Needless to say, it was a wonderful occasion to get together.
The Holy Cross gang about to have Thanksgiving dinner! (photo courtesy of Kathleen O’Connell)
Speaking of wonderful occasions, I hope you’re just as excited as I am to hear about the next holiday we’ve been celebrating here.
A Spectacular Christmas Experience
Galway is known for their annual Christmas market, which I’m told has been growing bigger and bigger every year. This year it started on November 18th and lasts until December 22nd, and is held in Eyre Square in the center of town. Not only does it boast of a variety of handmade ornaments, toys, trinkets, and treats, but it also features a giant Ferris wheel that will run for the entire month the market is in town! I’ve yet to get to the top of it myself, but when you can see it all the way from your apartment it’s hard not to be tempted by it! The Christmas market is one of my favorite things I’ve seen in Galway so far, and I hope I’ll be able to find an equivalent of it at home next year. For now, I am thoroughly enjoying the abundance of decorations, food, and Christmas cheer!
A small portion of the Christmas market, which included a Ferris wheel and a carousel! The sign on the arch says “Merry Christmas” in Irish
A gingerbread house on the lawn of Eyre Square!
Some of many wonderful decorations in Eyre Square
It can get quite busy here on a weekend!
Looks just as jolly at night as well!
A New Theatrical Experience
And if that didn’t satisfy your need for all things Christmas, I hope this next video will help. A little over a month ago I stumbled upon a local theatre group known as The Theatre Room Galway (check out their website here!), which hosts several small productions performed by local actors and directors in local venues. Their most recent project was known as “Skype Monologues”, in which a selection of monologues was broadcast to individuals all over the world via an internet call on Skype. I was selected to direct an original monologue titled “Deer Santa” – in the monologue, a young girl has a Skype call with Santa Claus in lieu of writing a traditional letter to him. This was my first time directing a piece, and it was a bit of a challenge since the audition and rehearsal period took place during the time I was recovering from the accident. Thankfully, both the writer and actress I worked with were very accommodating, and it was a great pleasure being able to take part in this project! On the date of the performance, we performed this monologue for three different Skype callers, and we also recorded it live on Facebook. You can view all of the performances on the group’s Facebook page, and you can view “Deer Santa” right here.
Classes for this semester at NUIG officially ended yesterday. Monday is the start of our week-long study period, followed by two weeks of final exams. Most of my classes require final papers in lieu of written exams, so I will only be sitting for one exam this semester, but I still have a lot of work to do between now and the end of exams. Thankfully my professors have been extremely helpful with giving me enough time to complete my final assignments after the accident, and I am confident that I will be able to complete them in the time allotted.
In the meantime, next Tuesday I will be leaving on a trip to Germany to visit my boyfriend Aaron for a few days before the stress of finals week kicks in. It’ll be a very long day of travel there and back, but at least I will have plenty of time to work on my papers and still enjoy my visit! Rest assured, I will travel safely and take lots of pictures, and I hope that once finals are over I will be able to take even more trips abroad!
I’ll leave you now with a few more of my favorite street performances I’ve recorded in the last few weeks:
Before you panic: no, I did not meet a stranger on Tinder and travel halfway across the world with them in hopes of finding romance only to find myself kidnapped and taken to Nigeria where my only means of escape was smuggling myself through a shipment being sent from one of the largest Guinness breweries in the world, all while disguised as a sheep. Wouldn’t that make for a great blog post, though?
All joking aside, I’ve been fairly busy with midterms and choir as well as helping with a short play about Tinder called “Swipe,” one of several plays currently being produced by the NUIG Drama Society (a.k.a. DramSoc). I also got the chance to see a local performance of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (an Irish playwright!) in one of the smaller theatres here in Galway. In the midst of all the drama, I’ve learned a lot about Irish music and singing, especially a particular form known as sean-nós singing which I will explain later in this post.
Setting the Stage
When I heard there was a need for a props master and assistant stage manager for one of the DramSoc shows, I jumped at the opportunity. I had auditioned for several of them at the beginning of the semester, but unfortunately did not get an acting part. “Swipe,” the name of the freshers play for this semester, had just recently been cast with first-year students (or “freshers,” as they’re called here) when I first heard about it. It was written by two drama students and follows two groups of students reacting to an accidental swipe right on Tinder. Hilarity ensues, resulting in a short but uproarious comedy laden with teen angst, some juvenile sexual humor, and chicken sandwiches.
Fionn (second from right) seeks advice from his friends after matching with one of the girls at school on Tinder. (Cast from left to right: John Rice, Daniel Farris, Noel Minogue, Cian Ó Baoill. Photo credit: Adrienne Walsh)
The girls roll their eyes as Megan (second from left) makes another cheesy joke. (Cast from left to right: Edel McGrath, Mary Claire Teahan, Áine Cooney, Rachel Gilmore. Photo credit: Adrienne Walsh)
With only a few weeks of rehearsal, the gang really delivered with their execution of jokes and dedication to the show. I really enjoyed watching everyone’s characters develop with each rehearsal and how each individual in each friend group brought their own personalities and humor into it. It was such a pleasure working with this lovely cast on this fantastic show!
Venturing off campus, I was really fortunate to have stumbled upon — quite literally, in fact, as I was walking around town and happened to notice its bright red door — the little gem that is Nun’s Island Theatre. Although it only seats 80, the theatre hosts many different events, concerts, films, and of course performances from both professional companies and from Galway Youth Theatre — all sponsored by the Galway Arts Centre (you can read more about it and the theatre here). It just so happened that they were showcasing a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest the very weekend I found the theatre, and for €8 per student ticket no less! In case you’re not familiar with the plot, the play revolves around two bachelors named Algernon and John who like to take on different identities when they visit the country, especially when they try to win the affections of the women they love. As one might expect, their deception lands them both into trouble, which turns into a comical conflict between the men, the women, and their guardians. I loved how intimate the theatre became with its small size and fairly simple set, which consisted of a couple of flats and some furniture for the living room in the first act and a couple pieces of outdoor furniture and flowers for the backyard in the second and third acts. The characters were dressed in aristocratic fashion with quirky pastel and lavish gold and maroon colors, and the actors did a wonderful job playing on the eccentricities of each character. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any pictures of the performance, but I can assure you it was quite the local treat!
Setting the Mood
Speaking of local treat, one of my favorite parts about the culture here in Ireland is the music and traditional Irish song. Through my Indigenous Arts Exploration class we learned about a type of Irish singing called sean-nós, which is Irish for “old style” or “old way.” Performers of this style sing without any instrumental accompaniment, and they often sing words using several notes at a time rather than singing one note per syllable as most contemporary singers do. Most of the songs are in Irish (though they are also sung in English), and are often about love or local pride. What’s really fascinating about this kind of music is how personal and even meditative it can sound; when a performer starts singing, whether they are on stage or in a pub, their audience sits quietly captivated while the performer appears to be off in their own world. Sometimes, if the song is well-known, people will sing along with them. When I listen to these performances I feel a warm calmness and a sense of community unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a capella music. Even though I can’t understand the Irish language, I can connect very easily to the emotion and nostalgia that these singers express through such a unique form of music. I would highly recommend you look up some examples of sean-nós singing on YouTube, and I hope the links below are a good start! In the second video is Dr. Liam Lillis Ó Laoire, a lecturer at NUIG who came to our class and talked about the history and structure of sean-nós singing.
This semester seems to have flown by already! Hopefully I won’t be too swamped with papers and assignments in the coming weeks. I won’t be going on any wild escapades with Tinder matches , but I am making a few travel plans in the coming months. For now, I’ll leave you with a few videos of my favorite performances that have taken place right on the streets of Galway:
Until next time, enjoy the music and take care, everyone!
When I told any of my non-American friends that my 21st birthday was coming up, their first response was usually something along the lines of “Nice! Now you can drink legally back home! Too bad it won’t matter that much here, since everyone here drinks when they’re eighteen,” followed by a an awkward chuckle, then a casual warning to not drink too much, and then “Happy birthday.” So no, the drinks I bought that night were not technically my first legal drinks — I’ll have to wait until May for that. But I still got birthday messages from my parents and best friends that morning, even though it was late at night EST when they sent those messages. I still wore a cheesy dollar-store button that said it was my 21st birthday. My boyfriend even sent me flowers in the mail (all the way from Germany!), and my housemates gave me gifts of cupcakes and chocolate. Legal drinking age or not, it was still a pretty great birthday. Did I mention that I got to spend it in Ireland of all places?
The day of my birthday actually started off as a bit of a downer: I had to wake up bright and early to make my appointment with the Garda (the Irish police) to register myself as a visiting student in the country for the year. I was a little anxious at first, as I had no idea what to expect beforehand and really didn’t want to start my day off on the wrong foot. The process turned out to be fairly straightforward, to my utter relief: I showed up with the necessary paperwork, paid a fee via debit/credit card, had my picture taken, then got fingerprints taken and a stamp on on passport saying I’m legally allowed to stay in Ireland through the school year. Plus I only had to wait for five minutes to be seen. Simple enough.
Once that was over, I really wanted a cup of coffee, and what better place to go for coffee on your birthday than Starbucks? So what if I had to walk a half hour across town to the only Starbucks in Galway? A free pumpkin spice latte is a free pumpkin spice latte! I’m sure you can imagine the disappointment I felt when the barista at the counter told me that the American free birthday drink voucher wouldn’t work there. I’m sure you can also sympathize with my buying and enjoying the coffee anyway — it was just as good as the American version.
The week of my birthday was special for a few reasons: first, not only was it my birthday, but two other girls from HC also had their birthdays that week. The whole group decided to have one night together where we shared dinner and birthday cake — two cakes, in fact — before going out to one of the clubs. That same week, we went as a group to see a play at the Town Hall Theatre called The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh. The show was spectacularly performed by the Druid Theatre Company, a Galway-based company that’s well-renowned both locally and abroad. They’ve done several shows in the U.S. as well, and will be bringing this particular show to the States this December through March. I highly encourage everyone to check out the play for themselves! You can also read more about Druid here.
After a month of auditions, applications, waiting, and still figuring out which classes were right for me, I can finally say that my schedule for this semester is set! As I explained in my last post, classes have been a bit tricky compared to how they would be back home, but at least I am able to take a greater variety of classes. I am also taking two classes specifically for visiting students: one is on Irish theatre, in which we are learning about Irish history and how it has impacted theatre (and vice versa); the other is called Indigenous Arts Exploration, and it encompasses beyond what the name implies. Part of the curriculum for this class involves attending different events sponsored by Arts in Action, a program designed to inspire and engage others through a wide variety of artistic media, from music and dance to poetry readings and dramatic performances (you can read more about the program here). The first event showcased two Irish contemporary dancers, Magdalena Hylak and Sibéal Davitt, whose works showed powerful displays of emotion through performance, video, and extraordinary sound design. In class we also addressed the topic of culture and language by watching a short documentary titled Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom (Irish for “My name is Yu Ming”). In the film a man from China decides to quit his job and move to Ireland, and after finding that Gaelic is the official language of Ireland he spends months learning the language before the move. He is shocked to find that most of the people he meets in Ireland speak English, a language we might be glad to hear in foreign countries. I honestly found it fascinating how our treatment of different languages (especially those as old as Gaelic) can be taken for granted over time, and I can’t wait to hear and participate in more discussions about particular cultural differences like these in the future.
Speaking of hearing and participating, I am also proud to announce that I am now a member of two chamber music groups! The first is a coed a capella group known as the Sing N’ Tonics, which reminds me very much of HC’s Fools on the Hill. The second is a choral scholar group, which focuses not just on singing liturgical music, but also on increasing the musicianship of the performers in the group. It’s a lot like singing with the HC Chamber Singers, but this program also offers occasional workshops, masterclasses, and musicianship classes outside of rehearsals specifically tailored to different members’ skill levels. As much as I miss singing with the choir back on the hill, I am incredibly excited to continue singing with both groups and to build up my singing skills over the year!
Busy Day in Cork
But I’ve said more than enough about what’s happening in Galway; Ireland may be small, but it is certainly not that limited! A group of us took a day trip to Cork to visit the Blarney Castle, which is famous for the Blarney Stone and a plethora of germs from the people who have kissed it/touched it/etc. If you don’t know the story of the Blarney Stone, legend has it that those who kiss the stone will be given the “gift of gab,” or gain better speaking ability. But here’s the catch: to get to the stone, you have to climb several narrow, winding stairs all the way to the top of the castle, wait in line for your turn, then have someone else bend you over backwards so you can kiss the bottom of the stone below where you just stood. Definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Still, whether you decide to kiss the stone or not, Blarney Castle is a beautiful destination spot that’s well worth visiting.
I never realized just how massive this castle is!
Blarney Castle has lots of rooms still intact, including this narrow passageway to what was once a dungeon!
As part of an art installation by the Cork Textiles Network, many of the trees in the castle garden were dressed with ‘scarves’ like this one
In case you were curious as to how to kiss the Blarney Stone (yes, that’s me in this photo). The sight of the ground below can be a bit intimidating!
I know in my last post I said I would be writing more often, but it has been a bit difficult to do so in the last month because of birthday fun and schedule complications. Now that all that has been settled, I do plan on blogging on a more regular basis while keeping up with all my classwork and extracurricular activities. After all, Halloween is coming up in just a few weeks, and the Irish are no strangers to the spooky festivities that come with the fall season! Sadly, the changing of seasons isn’t quite as apparent here as it would be back at HC: we have much more falling rain than falling leaves. At least the grass is always green!
Well, I have an assignment for English I still need to write, so I’m signing off for now. I hope everyone back on the hill has a restful Fall Break next week! Take care, everyone!
I heard a little boy ask his mom this as we were getting ready to take off on our flight from Boston to Shannon airport.
“Not yet,” I thought. “But soon we will be.”
From the boy’s perspective, we were in heaven for about 6 hours. As for me, I’ve been in heaven (read: Galway) for much longer.
Hello everyone, and fáilte go Gaillimh (welcome to Galway)!
When I got to Logan airport around 5:30pm I was relieved to find half of the group from Holy Cross (there are currently 12 of us here in Galway) waiting for me at the gate. We got to know each other over sandwiches at Potbelly’s — one of my favorite places to eat at the airport — and then we got settled on the Aer Lingus plane. About six hours (including an hour or two of turbulence) later, it was already 6:30am in Ireland. So much for sleep! Despite the rough flight, we found our way through customs and to the Galway bus station without too much trouble.
A street sign inside Shannon airport. As you can see, we’re quite far from home (4655km to be exact)!
Fun fact: most signs in Ireland are bilingual (English and Gaelic)
The day we arrived proved to be quite busy: we met Kathleen, the student coordinator of our group, who brought us to our residence and showed us where we could buy food and bedding for our rooms. Needless to say, most of the day was spent stuffing groceries and other necessities into reusable shopping bags (European stores typically don’t bag groceries at the counter; you have to either bring or buy your own bags). Thankfully the closest shopping center is only a ten minute walk away from Cúirt na Coiribe (pronounced Kurt nah Kurbah — don’t worry, it doesn’t make sense to me, either), one of NUIG’s student accommodation complexes and my home for the year.
Our apartments are fairly standard: we have a common space with couches and a TV; bathrooms with electric showers; a kitchen space with an oven, sink, fridge, freezer, microwave, plenty of cabinets, and a dining room table with chairs. What I find particularly exciting about our kitchen is how we’ve been supplied with most of the dishware we’d need to cook, including glassware and silverware — this is a huge time and money saver. So far I’ve spent a good deal of time in the kitchen figuring out how to upgrade my meals from grilled cheese sandwiches to baked chicken and pasta dishes, and have made considerable progress. My favorite dish so far is baked chicken and potatoes seasoned with garlic powder and several other herbs, and it was surprisingly easy to make! Hopefully I will be able to branch out even further with my cooking skills and test out a few Irish recipes as well (I am googling ‘recipes with potatoes’ as we speak).
Though we have a great shared kitchen, we also have our own rooms in the apartment. I live with four other house mates/fellow NUIG students: one from HC (Emily), two from Ireland (Keri and Nikita), and one from France (Camille). It was a little odd at first, seeing lots of doors to different rooms and having one of those rooms for my own, but all of us are getting along quite well so far!
Getting Started with Classes
International student orientation began our second morning in Ireland. To get there, we walk alongside a busy highway and across a bridge that has a lovely view of the River Corrib. It’s usually a very pleasant walk, but the wind can get a bit more intense when crossing the bridge. Still, it certainly beats walking up and down several hills to get to class!
A view of the River Corrib on a slightly less cloudy day
Orientation went swimmingly: over the course of two days we learned about what classes were available to us and how to register for them, as well as what opportunities are available to us as new students at NUIG — from academic resources we can use to clubs and societies (or what we would call sports and clubs, respectively). The number and breadth of societies is enormous: they have everything from volunteering societies to dance societies, and even societies for Harry Potter and Doctor Who! I’ve already joined quite a few societies myself: the Drama Society (or DramSoc), the choral society, the musical society, the traditional music society (or TradSoc), and the baking society. I’ve also auditioned for some of the plays DramSoc will be putting on this semester as well as for the musical Urinetown.
As for classes, my situation is a bit unique: even though I’m a theatre major, the exchange agreement between HC and NUIG won’t allow me to take any drama classes at this time. While that may seem counter-intuitive, I’ve decided to make the most of the opportunity and take courses in other departments that I’m interested in: I’m currently registered for a class in the classics department about ancient texts and their adaptations, a philosophy class on aesthetics and the philosophy of art, an introductory psychology class on positive psychology, an English seminar on Victorian-era plays, and an Irish theatre course specifically for visiting students. I’m still waiting to see if I got accepted into an Indigenous Arts course also for visiting students; hopefully I will be able to take this one as well!
One thing about classes here compared to HC is the odd flexibility with classes in the first month: students aren’t expected to be fully registered until towards the end of the month, so we’re encouraged to drop in and out of classes we may or may not be interested in until we find the ones we wish to take. The dropping in part isn’t too difficult, considering most classes take place in large seminar rooms that are easy to hide in. Waiting in agonizing anticipation to see whether the courses for visiting students I applied for while trying to build my schedule around having (or not having) those classes, however, was just a little bit stressful. Thankfully I have most of my schedule solid at this point, with the exception of the Indigenous Arts class. I’ll definitely keep you posted!
Getting a Feel for the Culture
We picked a fantastic time to be in Galway: the city was actually just named the European Capital of Culture 2020! This means that we will be seeing the beginning of a great showcase of Galway’s rich and unique culture that will build up to and beyond the year 2020. You can see the pride in everyone’s faces and on the bright blue flags and banners that are strewn throughout the city. I can’t wait to see it all unfold in the coming months!
Last week NUIG offered walking tours of the city during the weekend, which were both fun and informative. We got to see many of the major hotspots in the city, including the Galway Cathedral, the Spanish Arch, and several fun places to have a pint like The King’s Head and The Crane Bar. We even found a place called Dungeons and Donuts: a game shop that doubles as a delicious donut shop (check out their website here, I promise you won’t be disappointed). I’ve fallen in love with the small-town feel of Galway and how nice everyone is. My favorite part about walking through town is that not only can we walk to the center of it from home within fifteen minutes, but no matter what time of day it is we are bound to find at least a few street musicians!
Galway can be quite busy both during the day and at night!
There are so many individuals and groups who play music every day!
A view of Eyre Square (pronounced “Air Square”) in the center of town. The flags you see here all represent the original clans and families of Galway
But the fun didn’t stop there. After the walking tour, I sampled a couple local brews with a friend at a bar called The Salt House, then went to dinner with the HC group at a lovely Italian restaurant called Da Roberta at Salthill, which is on the sea coast of Galway. Afterward, we walked through a good deal of rain and wind to get to the Galway Bay Hotel, where we attended a popular event known as ‘Trad on the Prom’ — a spectacular show of traditional Irish music and dance on the promenade. We weren’t allowed to take photos or recordings, but I will never forget the beautiful and irresistible foot-tapping music (one woman in the group played at least ten instruments!) or the incredibly quick and intense Irish step dancing. In fact, the majority of the group performing was all from one family. I’d never seen so much talent from a family like this!
This past weekend was actually just as breathtaking: we took a day trip to the Aran Islands, which are a set of islands just west of Galway Bay. We went to Inishmore, the largest island, and got to see more than our fair share of stone walls, old churches, Aran sweaters, and goats. The two highlights of the trip were eating Guinness Beef Stew at a cute, family-owned cafe on the island, and walking to the top of Dun Aengus — the biggest fort on the island. The walk wasn’t too far or too steep, but making it to the top and watching the waves crash against the massive cliffs was beyond exhilarating. We did our best to keep our distance from the edge of the cliff, though I did see a few other travelers sitting with their feet dangling over the edge and still others trying to take selfies with their phones in slightly dangerous positions.
The roar of the waves against the cliffs was magnificent
Close (but not too close!) to the edge
All of us together at the top of Dun Aengus! (Photo credit: Kathleen O’Connell)
Speaking of slightly dangerous, there is a pier in Salthill from which a few locals like to jump into the ocean on a warm sunny day. Naturally, we just had to try it for ourselves when the usual clouds decided to stick around in another part of Ireland for the day. It was low tide, so we could only jump from the lower part of the pier, and the water was actually quite cold compared to what I’m used to in Florida around this time of year, but the jump was absolutely worth it!
After experiencing such a warm welcome these past couple weeks, I can’t wait to explore more of Ireland and see what the rest of this year has in store. My schedule is still a little confusing right now, since I’m still waiting to hear about the Indigenous Arts course while figuring out my extracurriculars. In the meantime, I will be taking more pictures and I will attempt blogging more frequently so I don’t end up writing massive posts like these every couple of weeks. Maybe I’ll post a little poetry or drawing. Maybe I’ll buy that Aran sweater I’ve had my eyes on for a few days. Maybe I’ll go grocery shopping for the second time this week. Who knows? Until then, take care, everyone!