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!