Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Day 2-- part 2!!

You will have to read these posts backwards! Or just read each site according to which pictures you like :-) I have posted out of order, but you don't really need to read anything in order... Anyway:

Reask Monastic Land

After the westernmost point of Europe, we went to the Reask monastic ground, which was home to the oldest parish of Ireland. It was originally a Druid ground, as you might think with all of the stone formation, but when the Christians came, they rearranged the stones and added some crosses, as well. The Irish name for this site is “Lathair Mhainistreach an Riaisc” (aka a mouthful)!

Gallarus Oratory

Gallarus Oratory is a cool place to go for two reasons: the first is that it was built 1,200 years ago and has never broken down or needed repair since, and the second reason is that Seamus Heaney wrote a poem about it. Heaney is a Nobel Literature winner, and teaches literature at Harvard right now. He is very famous and very, very important in the contemporary poetry world. Some people know him better for translating Beowulf (successfully). Anyway, the oratory, like the castle, was used both as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago and as a place to house monks. It fits approximately twelve (monks). While we were all standing inside of the oratory, Michael read “Gallarus Oratory” by Seamus Heaney, and it was definitely a magical moment. As with other places I have described, there is not simply a feeling of beauty that surrounds these monuments— there is a spiritual transcendence of both ordinary religion and the everyday movements of everyday people. Also, Gallarus, like many others, was a Druid holy site before it was a Catholic one.

Graveyard with Mary

After the monastic site we stopped at a graveyard called Kilmalkedar (Cill Maolceadair in Irish). At first, this graveyard looked like an old place where people were once buried a long, long time ago. First of all, in Ireland, this is just not true. If you have lived in a parish and have gone to church there, you are actually allowed to be buried at the parish, no matter how famous the graveyard may be. In this case, the graveyard was very famous and houses many important so-and-sos from long ago. However, the youngest grave was from two months ago and had not even been covered by stones (as the other ones were) yet. The most notable thing about it was the church that was inside because it still houses the “alphabet stone.” this is the original stone that monks used to use to teach young pagan Irish people the Latin alphabet on. Altough very hard to read, we could still read a few Latin letters of the alphabet which were on it. Apparently, the monks would go up and down the stone, pointing to the different letters until the kids understood what they were talking about.

Another notable part of the church was the “marriage needle.” The hole in the back of the church (in picture behind us) represents the needle that it takes to get into Heaven. However, allegedly if you actually go through the hole (and you are a single, unmarried woman), you will be able to marry the love of your life in twelve months. I personally did not go through the needle (although it was tempting to have that type of security)!

One of the tombstones on the cemetery have what some people believe is a sundial on the back of it. However, as there is no sun Ireland, this is just not true. Michael says that the dial could represent a period of time or a way of counting the days until the Judgment Day.

There are two significant holes at the cemetery. The first is in the above tombstone, and the second is in a straight pillar that looks like it could have been found in the Reask monastic site because it is straight up and down. The hole in this pillar apparently means that if two different people stick their fingers through it, it constitutes a deal that will stand up in Irish court. Bizarre.

One last thing. This cemetery also had one of the very first Christian crosses (pictured). It is a very simple, rudimentary cross, but considered one of the very first of its kind. Wow.

After such a day, most of us did not go out. However, it was not from exhaustion from rain and wind, but more likely because we had to finish all of our reading before our W&L professor came to teach us in the morning!!

Day 2! Dingle!

The Glen of the Mad

After the day at the beach, we took a trip to the Dingle Peninsula, the Westernmost peninsula of Ireland. Frankly, it was incredible and there is no

way that this blog is going to capture the amazing sites and natural phenomenons that we saw. But I will try so that maybe one day you too may come here :-) The picture on the left is what I thought we would be seeing- beautiful mountains, ocean, and other landmarks. We did. However, what makes Ireland more than just a beautiful place to visit is the folklore that seems to surround every single mountain, cemetery, and/or holy site. For instance, the valley that we are standing in front of in this picture is

pretty, but what makes it special is its name-- Gleann/na/Gealt (pronounced glauva-mc-gout), which means "Glen of the Mad" in Irish. The legend goes that the King of France, after the

battle of Ce/Ceann/Tro (pronounced “Cayaaane Tra”) battle in which he lost, was so distressed that he travelled to Ireland for its supposed soothing powers. Being nuts, he found himself in this valley (naked and raving) and drank from the waters there. They cured

him of his madness to the point that he put clothes back on, and ever since it has been a pilgrimage for people with mental illnesses. The valley became a valley for mad people long before the crazy French king. Long, long ago in this valley there lived a king with an adulterous wife and loose daughter who slept with the same man. Up

on finding out, the king was so enraged that he killed his wife and daughter, and then went mad from his own loneliness. There are many more layers for this single mountain valley, which is pretty typical of most Irish landmarks. Each place we stopped, we could have talked for hours.

Minard Castle

Our next stop was the Minard Castle, known to the Irish local was "Minairae," w

hich is Minard in Irish. The countryside we are staying

in right now is so rural that many people still speak the Irish language as their first language, and English as a second language. It is not uncommon to here "locals" conversing in Irish, which is really cool. Every sign here is also written in Irish first and English second, so you might pick up some Irish in the progress of this trip! This castle is also one of the oldest remaining in Ireland, and was once three stories hight and the site of a great

massacre. Apparently, the British troops were (as usual) trying to take over the castle and agreed to put their weapons down if the Irish soldiers within would come out peacefully. The soldiers came out peacefully and were of course massacred by the British on the spot. The castle was also a rest spot for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago hundreds of years ago, when it was still in use. The picture of the left is the inside

of the castle.

Tobar Eoinn

Next, we visited Tobar Eoinn, which means Well of John, referring to

John the Baptist. In Irish Eoinn, or John, actually is the same as the names John, Sean, and something else that seemed really random. The well is said to have medicinal powers, and hundreds of p

eople come to it worldwide, especially on the 29th of August to celebrate John the Baptist. Because he

was beheaded, people walk around the well for twenty times and throw in blackberries that grow along the well. The blackberries turn the river around the well blood red and are supposed to symbolize John’s blood after he was killed. They are supposed to absolve him for Herrod (or something like that- since he wasn’t really in the wrong). Elderly people come here to drink the water for its healing powers. Of course, many of us had to drink the water, as well (just in case)!

Dingle Town

Our next stop was Dingle Town for lunch. It is right on the water, and we ordered delicious fish

and chips. A lot of the town’s shops are decorated with dolphins because the town has a resident dolphin—Fungie—who comes right into the harbor and visits with two hundred or so of his friends every day! I bought an authentic pair of sheep gloves and a sheep’s wool hat there (made in Ireland, of course) because it was soooo cold outside. It rained all day, and the wind occasionally felt like it was picking us up from where we stood. However, the wool hat and gloves made all the difference.

In the picture of the town in front of the mountain, you will notice a tomb/ tower looking monument standing on top of the mountain. This tower is an example of one of the work orders that the British made the Irish do during “the Starving Time,” (The Famine) in which the Irish would climb up the mountain every day to construct the tower for a bowl of food per day. There are also some roads over the mountains that lead nowhere for the same purpose, called “Famine Roads” because they were constructed by the Irish for bowls of food.

The Westernmost point of Europe!!

After lunch, we continued travelling and made it to the Westernmost point of Europe, which also happened to be a very treacherous cliff that we climbed to. The winds were blowing so hard that I had an actual fear of being blown away as we climbed, but it was completely worth it. We stood on one side and looked for Ellis Island on the other side of the Atlantic, but I guess that the cloud cover from the rain was too much for it! By the time we had climbed down the mini-mountain and back to the bus, we were completely soaked, but it was absolutely amazing. It is also much, much higher up than you can see in this picture (please note sheep cap, too!)

Ireland Day 1!

Hello again! Because I am a bit behind on Internet, I will probably be a day behind posting per day. But don't worry, I will be sure catch up :-)

Day 1: Exploring Tralee!

Dear family and friends, hello from Old Eire! The past few days and settling in have been breathtaking so far. As I go through my notes, I can’t believe we have spent less than three whole days here!

This is the first view of the town that I saw after walking down from Kilteely House, the B&B where we are staying. We live right off of this mountain, and every day there is a different view because of the cloud cover, sunlight and rain. Speaking of, it rains all the time here!! One moment it will be cloudy and the next moment we are drenched! I love it!

The town: We are living in Tralee, which is the capital of Kerry, the county that we are staying in. The town has more pubs than any of the other stores combined, and is a great bustling place with a diverse array of stores and mountains in the background. To get to know the town a little better, Dorothy, Eleanor and I decided to have lunch in a cute French café (pictured above). We quickly learned that everyone here drinks tea with cream and sugar, like you would put in coffee- but much more delicious!

For class (because he could not figure out how to use a projector), our instructor from Ireland, Michael, took us to two amazing sites just outside of Tralee. First, we went to Ardfert Abbey, which was built shortly after the Druids converted to Catholicism and was once the Diocesan Center of Ireland. As with many sites in Ireland, the ground has been considered a Holy Ground for literally 1,000 years, and then when the Catholics came over, the sites were converted from Druid to Christian sites. This is one of the only peaceful religious conversions in the history of the world.

One of the trends we picked up pretty easily is the amount that these churches were also used as forts- from other churches as well as invaders. This particular church had battlements on top, and walls that come out at the bottom like a fort because one of its purposes was to withstand attacks from competing Catholics sects.

After going to the Abbey, Michael took us to the beach, as it was one of the only days that hadn’t rained at all. The weather is still extremely chilly, but in the sun, we were able to wear shorts.

Not only did Dorothy and I climb sand dunes (which were really cool!!), this beach has a historic purpose. In the back of the picture of the ocean, there is a “u”-shaped island and this island was the site of the Easter Rising of 1916, which catalyzed the official war between Ireland and Britain. It is hard to imagine that such a seemingly peaceful place was also the site of the beginning of Ireland’s greatest tragedy and strife.

After leaving the beach exhilarated, Michael took the class to a pub, and we all ordered Guiness (which apparently you have to do in Ireland). I am glad that I tried it once, but I’m definitely never doing it again because it is really, really gross. I’m sure that there are people who would disagree, but this is my blog and in my blog, Guinness is disgusting. That night, the whole class also went “pubbing.”

The pub culture in Ireland is such that you are supposed to go from place to place until you can’t walk anymore. While many people are great at this, my friends and I went for the experience, but turned in early (I know, boring) because we had a big day coming and because alcohol is both expensive and Guinness is gross!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ireland Trip, Take 2!

OK. So Dorothy and I did not get to go to the epic first part of our journey because of the Icelandic Volcano. This is of course very sad, and we hope to complete this course of travel one day :-( I have gotten to do some great activities here in the U.S., however. Sparing you the mundane details of a college student on an average spring break, I have in fact visited Red Robin in Maryland, helped Chad find a new cat (!!), learned how to use a Wii, and even visited Dorothy's cattle farm in Georgia! We also went through some beautiful Antebellum neighborhoods driving back from the airport. The break has been very relaxing, and its great to see my friends' homes. Not quite Italy, of course-- but we are only considering that trip on hold!!!!!!

As of right now, we should be going to actual Ireland on Saturday and getting there on Sunday. To prepare for the trip, I am reading:
Object Lessons by Eavan Boland (the Irish poet I will be writing my thesis on next year)
The Aran Islands by J.M. Synge (a famous Irish nationalist playwright-- its about the islands we will be visiting later!)
The Complete Poems of W.B. Yeats
Cosmopolitan Magazine (just kidding, ha ha)

In the mean time, stay tuned!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Welcome to Catherine's Irish Travel Blog! I got the idea to keep y'all updated from Sarah's Travel Blog (, and hope to make it as cool- but no promises :-) It looks like a great way to check in and keep a recorded diary of what we do every way while still keeping everyone else updated so that they don't have to look at the thousands of pictures to see what my trip is like :-) Here is the schedule for the next 9 weeks:
  • now to April 18th: attempt to finish finals at W&L and go home to pack frantically
  • April 18th: meet Dorothy in D.C. and fly to EUROPE!!!
  • April 19th-21st: visit Sarah in Florence and possibly visit Lucca, where my mom's mom's family is originally from.
  • April 21st-23rd: leave Sarah (sad) and take the traint to Geneva, Switzerland
  • April 23rd-25th: take the train to Paris and stay with Dorothy's friend from high school
  • April 25th-May 22nd: start actual classes living in Tralee, Ireland ( and tour the Dingle Peninsula (!
  • May 22nd-June 5th: the class moves from the countryside to the city-- Dublin!
  • June 5th-June 13th: Class ends, and my family and I are off to live in the English countryside for a week and a half :-)

Stay tuned!