Dr Patrick Wadden and twelve of his Irish Studies students chronicled their recent trip to Ireland for spring break. Many thanks to the donors that made this enriching and memorable experience possible for them!
Dr. Patrick Wadden
The Stone Age passage tomb at Newgrange, Co. Meath (click for larger image).
We went to Ireland to study Irish history hands-on, and we wanted to visit sites that represent the different eras in that history. Fearing what the Irish weather had in store for us, we brought raincoats and umbrellas, but, most unusually for Ireland, the sun shone every day! Before we left, the students didn’t know each other that well, but, by the end of the week, we had all become close friends, with a host of stories and shared experiences that we will remember forever.
We started in Dublin, where we got to taste modern Irish culture and to learn about the city’s history. Dublin was founded by the Vikings so we visited the original Viking settlement and saw Viking artifacts in the National Museum. We also visited the medieval cathedrals and saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College, one of the greatest surviving treasures from the Golden Age of the medieval Irish Church, when Ireland was the “Island of Saints and Scholars.” No trip to Dublin would be complete without a visit to the Guinness Brewery and we also had a night of traditional music in a local pub. A real treat for some of the students, who are involved with the Abbey Players, was our attendance at the Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre, where we saw a production of Sive, by John B. Keane.
After three days in Dublin, we headed to Galway on the west coast. On the way, we visited Newgrange, a Stone Age passage tomb that is 5,000 years old – older than Stonehenge and the pyramids at Giza! From Galway, we took a ferry out to Inis Mór and spent a day cycling around the island. We visited the Iron Age fortress at Dún Aonghasa, the early medieval pilgrimage site called the Seven Churches, and heard the locals speaking the Irish language.
After leaving Galway, we drove to Wicklow in the “sunny southeast.” We visited the medieval monastery at Glendalough, where a round tower marks the spot where St Kevin built his hermitage in the sixth century. The monastery was once one of Ireland’s most important, but was shut down during the Reformation. In Wicklow Town, we visited the Black Castle and Wicklow Gaol, which housed many of those Irish rebels who fought in the 1798 Rebellion before they were transported to Australia. On our final evening, we watched the Ireland rugby team defeat France to win the Six Nations competition – a suitably celebratory ending to a wonderful week.
Biking through the lush green hills and around the coast [of Inis Mór], surrounded by buildings whose ages ranged from 2,000 years old to only a few centuries old gave me a sense of peace and awe that I have never experienced anywhere else before. I felt this before at the ruins of the Seven Churches. It was so humbling and incredible to stand where thousands of pilgrims had come to since the 8th century. Just being there strengthened my faith even more, for the Seven Churches are a testament to the rich, ancient history that our Church has! It was quite awesome and overwhelming to see and experience that at first hand.
Overall, our trip to Ireland lifted me up in every way possible: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. It was so enlightening to experience another culture, and see how different Ireland is from the United States, and how similar it is too.
Travel has always been a great passion of mine. There are many things I love about travel, the beauty of a different country and landscape, learning the history of the country, and experiencing the unique culture of the country. I got to experience all of this during the week in Ireland. It was an amazing week which I have found difficult to stop talking about.
It was difficult to have true favorite spot in Ireland. Everything we did and everywhere we went was as amazing as the last place we saw.
Everywhere we went we saw Ireland’s past, like the Black Pool and castle ruins. We also saw Ireland’s present through its people and culture. … Overall, the trip left me with countless memories and new insight. For years I wanted to travel and see the place that some of my ancestors called home. I truly valued the fact that I was able to learn about Ireland and did not have to wonder aimlessly. I didn’t feel like a typical tourist who would take everything they were seeing for granted. And I was able to have a better understanding for the country than most tourists. The castles, people, cities, and landscape all combined to make this a trip I won’t soon forget. And most importantly I was able to cross “visit Ireland” off of my bucket list.
This trip was one of the greatest weeks of my life. I would go back in a second if I could, because it was life changing.
Some people asked me how I enjoyed Ireland when I got back and there are truly no words for me to describe that beautiful homeland, besides green. I had the greatest time venturing off in the distant cities of Dublin, Wicklow and Galway and understanding more culture and tradition than I ever experienced in my life. There wasn’t just one thing that caught my attention but it was what all we did and we saw and experienced that I truly enjoyed. Ireland is the country of my ancestors and when arriving there the first day it was a treat to breathe in the Irish air and step on Irish soil.
The Ireland trip was such an amazing experience, and I’m so grateful to have been able to be a part of such a wonderful group of people.
The little rock walls that separated the different plots of land were fascinating to see because it actually deals directly with my family history. I always knew that my family in Ireland was very poor, but I never knew why. However, we learned in class that the Catholics were greatly persecuted and many restrictions were put on their land. In terms of explaining the rock walls, a father had to split up his plot of land amongst all his sons, and his sons had to split up all of their land amongst their sons. This caused the plots of land to get smaller and smaller for each generation, thus causing the Catholics to become increasingly poor. When we talked about this in class I was so fascinated because I always wondered why my family had been so poor in Ireland.
Both my great-grandfather and great-grandmother were Irish and moved to the US when they were very young. My great-grandmother was only sixteen, but she moved to the US hoping to have a better life here. My Irish family history is very mysterious to all of my family because my grandmother won’t talk about it, so anytime I can learn anything about the history of my family I’m very excited. This is why seeing all those small rock walls all over the island was so interesting, and became one of my favorite things that we saw. Even though the walls affected my family hundreds of year ago and my great-grandparents moving to America was a slow result of that, it was amazing to look at a piece of evidence that is a clue to understanding my own heritage.
My favorite things about Ireland included both historical and cultural things, especially every Irish person we met or talked to who took pride in their Irish heritage and tried to show us the best parts of the country that they love. Seeing that pride within the people made the experience of visiting and learning about the country so much more worthwhile. I was grateful to have had such an incredible experience, to have made so many new friends while doing it, and to have learned so much about the country and its history in such a short time. So sláinte, Ireland; may we meet again soon.
Dún Aonghasa on Inis Mór in the Aran Islands. It is an Iron Age fortress overlooking the Atlantic Ocean (click for larger image).
The Irish are proud of their nation and of their culture. Those I talked to were very concerned with making sure I enjoyed my experience there and learned what the “real Ireland” was like. I was impressed with their interest and enthusiasm in listening to my experience. They sought to share what Ireland meant to them and what it is in its nature, which is more than pubs, beer, and four-leaf clovers. They introduced us to the rich culture and their deep love for their motherland. Thanks to the people themselves, I have a true concept of the Irish.
Once again, I feel that my words do not even remotely do justice to the beauties of Ireland, nor the incredible experiences we encountered in our Irish adventures. The amount I learned in so few days was incredible. I hope one day to return to Ireland, as I know I will only love it more and there is still so much more to see and learn.
Anna Maria Roy
Ireland: Quite Possibly the BEST WEEK of My Life
Ireland for me was a vast array of beautiful moments, stunning sights, reflections on history, authentic brews, joys of companionship; and all of these highly concentrated into seven days.
The day we spent biking around Inis Mor was enchanting. Dun Aonghasa is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been to – I wanted to camp there for a week at least. I felt close to the mystery of God, and the fragility and smallness of my life became clearer, as I watched the seagulls fly below, so small and far away, and the continuous rolling and crashing of the waves beneath me.
At the ruins of the medieval monastery of Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. St Kevin established a hermitage there in the sixth century, it grew over time to become a great monastery and survived until the dissolution of the monasteries in Ireland under Henry VIII in the sixteenth century (click for larger image).
My time in the Emerald Isle was marked by new experiences beyond my wildest expectations and every day brought with it a new adventure I could never have predicted.
As I felt the carving inside [the Stone Age burial mound at Newgrange] with my hands, I felt an immediate connection with whomever made those marks. I felt as if I was part of history, I felt a connection with the people of the past. If there are words to describe what this really felt like, then I am sad to say that I do not know him or her; I was left speechless, and not for the first time.
The opportunity to walk within the walls of the old churches and monasteries [at Glendalough] and see the walls with my own eyes and feel them with my own hands brought them to life in ways I cannot describe, but I will remember until the day I die.
The trip to Ireland was a cultural experience that provided knowledge and friendships that could not have been discovered any other way, and it was one I would not trade for the world. It was the trip of a lifetime, and there were so many aspects I enjoyed enormously. I could go on for pages and pages. I am so incredibly grateful to have been able to go on this trip with such a great group of individuals and such an adept knowledgeable professor. The experiences I had on this trip could not have happened had I been in any other circumstances. I sincerely hope it is able to be repeated and other students re able to have such a wonderful and educational time.
I would find it nearly impossible to describe all of the noteworthy aspects of my trip, for there were too many to count. Everyday I was enjoying new experiences in Ireland at locations that were in fact quite old.
Over the span of one week that I spent in Ireland, I feel that I was blessed to take part in the most memorable aspects of cultural and historical significance.