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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!