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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
Until then, take care and happy Easter, everyone!