Ireland...Part 2

 

In my last article, I spoke about my anticipation to travel to Ireland, my favorite places we visited and the lifelong lessons I learned along the way. For 30 days, my class and I traveled to five places within the country of Ireland.  I had one month filled of waking up in different cities, not knowing what I’d find as I walked around. With each place, I found a different part of myself.

The first stop was Belfast. I knew absolutely nothing about Belfast’s history before this trip.  I was excited for this new location and the things I was going to see within the next couple days.  Our first stop was Giant’s Causeway, a beautiful site with hexagonal rock columns formed from a volcanic fissure eruption. We learned of an ancient legend that said the causeway was built by a giant named Finn McCool. By climbing over rocks and going up a few stairs, we were able to view the Causeway from above, as well as look out into the beautiful ocean.  Although this was our first stop, I was already blown away with the beautiful sights of Ireland. The grass looked greener and the ocean had a certain crispness to it that I’ve never seen before.

Our readings focused on the struggles during the Troubles, a conflict between the Irish Republicans and the Ulster Loyalists in Northern Ireland. Learning about this conflict that had happened, and is still happening,  was surprising because I personally I had never learned about the Troubles in school. We were able to take a Black Cab Tour, as well as a Prisoner of War Tour, in which we were shown and given two different sides from two prisoners of war about what occurred. Belfast was very interesting because of the Troubles. We were able to see where the walls were still standing and walk through the gates that close every day at 7 p.m.  I felt like I was walking through two different countries when I was on separate sides. One side hung the Irish flag while the other had the Union Jack up. We were also left wondering what the best solution to resolve the conflict would be. Although peace agreements were signed, I questioned if it was really over. I saw it like this: If both sides feel they’ve reached an end, why would they continue to close the gates every day? But then part of me counteracts that question by also asking this question: what would happen if chaos was to start up again if the walls and gates were taken down? Personally, I might need to do more research on my own to fully determine what I feel would be the correct solution. Although I may never know, I was very happy to see and learn so much history in just a few days.

For Cork, we focused mainly on food. We also focused on speaking about the famine, in which the Irish had to leave Ireland in order to survive. We spoke to professor Regina Sexton at University College Cork, speaking on foods such as butter, grains and meat products.  We also compare different foods as well as how cultures influence our diets. We then visited the English Market. The English Market was something I have never seen before. There were different vendors selling meats, fresh eggs, produce and seafood. We had visited another market while in Belfast, but this one was much larger and focused mainly on food. We learned that the market had been open since 1788, and how it is known for it’s fresh produce.  I liked being able to walk through and see the difference in food cultures, such as buttered eggs, a method by which farmers rub butter on freshly dropped eggs when it is still warm and soft. It was also cool knowing that we were walking in a place where Prince Charles would be visiting a day after we left Cork. Although I would’ve liked to see him, I cannot even imagine the traffic or chaos the city of Cork was in. Another thing we saw was the Rock of Cashel. I found myself laughing at the legend of how the Rock of Cashel formed.  It was also fascinating walking through the Cormac’s Chapel, as well as the Cathedral. These buildings were formed during the 11th century, and they also served as memorials for people who have passed.

Lastly on our trip, we visited Dublin.  Personally, Dublin felt like a very small New York City. We focused heavily on identity, while also visiting museums that touched on Ireland and Irish heritage. I enjoyed learning more about my heritage, just because I did not know too much about being Irish or the struggles the Irish went through. Our first journey in Dublin was visiting Trinity College and the Book of Kells. I almost didn’t believe we were on a college campus because it seemed nothing like Kutztown University. The cover and pages of the book of Kells were absolutely beautiful, and it was amazing to see the different talents that were put into making this book special. I especially loved the Long Room. To some, it might’ve looked like a giant library, something out of Hogwarts. I couldn’t get over how each book was handwritten or how one of Shakespeares’ books were in the room. During one of our free days, a couple of us visited the Kilmainham Gaol. If I could include one thing to add to the itinerary, it would be for the whole class to see this historic building. It was completely mind-blowing to think 5-year-olds were thrown into jail for selling food due to being hungry. Some felt it would be better to be in jail, instead of being starved to death. My favorite class day was visiting the General Post Office and  the EPIC museum. I know a lot of people in my class felt the same, as other classmates in different classes made sure to visit this museum as well on their free day. I couldn’t get over how just walking in the General Post Office, we were standing in an area that was once blown up and attacked. The EPIC museum also stood out because it showed the work of many Irish Travelers and what they have accomplished around the world.

It is hard to believe that it's been four months since I've been home. With my brother's 21st birthday set in June, I'm trying to convince him to go to Ireland. It is more than just a drinking country or being proud to be 'Irish.' It's the history, the culture, the different ways to engage with people and walking through the streets getting lost. It's letting the country take you and wrap you up with endless opportunities. If I could give anyone advice throughout my life, it's to travel passionately. Ireland opened a part of me that yearns to travel more around the globe to see what this world offers us all.