Thursday, July 7, 2011

You went to Scotland for your Long Weekend? Well I? I went to Cork.

Friday July 1
Did you know that I have never been on a legitimate train before? One that is used for actual, long distance travel and not just to get around a zoo or amusement park of some sort. (Or, if I ever was, I was far too little to actually remember anything of it. So I'm going to say that I've never traveled on a train.)
After a 3 and a half hour bus ride from Derry to Dublin, I boarded a train to Cork. Here is the train station. In the distance, down the little walkway on the right, is where my toe was broken. I'll just explain this. So, I've never been on a train. I got in the door and went "Wow. Where do I put my luggage." So I asked some kindly looking lady, who told me to follow her and she exited the door I came through to go through the far door of the carriage. So I backed up out of the door, but on my way down I bumped into someone. Lost hold of my luggage, which I was pulling out of the train and the step was two feet up. So the luggage, all 40 or so pounds of it, came falling those two feet to land on my pinky toe. Not only did the luggage land on my toe, but the wheel is what smashed that toe. Then there was pain. And I made a horrible face, the lady leading me was a bit freaked out and I limped behind her. Thanked her for showing me where big luggage goes, got to my seat, and sat. I could feel my foot swelling inside of my slightly restrictive boots, but then it went numb. Which was appreciated. By the end of the 2.5 hour train ride it wasn't numb anymore. Got a taxi, went to the Gresham, checked in, called people, then took about a two hour bubble bath. It was great.
Saturday July 2
I slept in! Got up at 11am, decided it would be a good day to spend at Cobh. Took a train from Cork to Cobh, walked along the beach while eating an ice cream, saw the monuments to the Titanic and Lusitania, and walked past a booth for a ferry ride to tour Spike Island. It was leaving in 6 minutes, and I decided, "Why not?" I bought a ticket and went over to the island.
There's an image of the island where I spent much of my day, but the image is of when I was leaving it. Spike Island is really very interesting, and has a great history in religion, naval, and detainment. Plus the star shaped fort on it is pretty cool. However, I don't feel like waxing poetic about this historical place (The Hill of Tara post was enough waxing poetics for a bit) so you could always look it up if you want to.
Ate dinner at a small restaurant right on the coast. I got a bit sun burnt and realized that walking tours are not the friend of your broken toe. Oh well.
Sunday July 3
Despite what the cab driver told me, I did go to Blarney estate. I'm a tourist. I had to go to Blarney. Went there and explored the castle, and kissed the Blarney stone. The kind old man I asked to take a photo for me was a bit late getting it done (but the people running the kissing thing are very rushed people, you have barely any time anyway) but here is a photo of me as I got back up from leaning back to kiss the stone.
I do have many other pictures of the castle and estate, but I don't feel like uploading them all.
After the castle I walked the grounds, including the Poison Garden. I noticed, belatedly, one of the plants they had fenced in was poison ivy. I was not amused.
Most of the other plants were all poisonous or used before in potions and have theoretical magical properties, which were all listed.
I closed my eyes and walked up then back down the wishing steps while thinking only of a wish I would like to come true in the next year. Then, today (the 7th of July) I realized I did it in the wrong order. The plaque had said to walk down then up the steps. I hope that doesn't adversely affect my wish.
Then I ended my trip to Blarney by chilling out in the Druid's Cave.
Also? It was now Sunday night at midnight and my toe was still swollen to twice the usual size and the bruises were a nice black color.
Monday, July 4
Happy Birthday to America!
I spent the birthday traveling. Got to Galway, met up at an American 50s Styled diner. Walked around the city.
Tuesday, July 5
Um. In class we met with Mary O'Malley. That was neat. Walked around the city some more.
Wednesday, July 6
Met with Thomas Conway, the literary manager of the Druid Theater Company. That was great, and he had some very interesting insights into Synge. The rest of the day I finished my final paper. Go me.
It's strange, since it seems like I've done so much less here than in the other places, but Galway is my favorite place out of everywhere we stayed, even despite the prison-esque lodging. (Really. Ask me about it later. I'll tell you all about them.)
Today: Thursday, July 7
We went to Inishmor, one of the Aran Islands. Expect a much more detailed post about this tomorrow, because today was awesome, but it's 11:45pm and I have class at 8:30am so need to do more productive things. I'll leave you with these photos:

Farewell to Northern Ireland

Monday June 27
Today we took a tour of the city walls. Which means, we walked along the wall that circles the walled portion of Derry. From a Royal Charter in 1613 the name was officially changed to Londonderry, and it remains the legal name of the city. However, nowhere in the Republic of Ireland is that used, and all the street signs I saw leading up to Derry had the "London" scratched off, painted over, or otherwise removed. This was even the case in about half of the street signs in Derry (and all of them on the Bogside, or Catholic side, really). Recently there has even been an in-city change to using only Derry, where people on the city council are slowly moving the "London" away. There was actually talk of writing and petitioning England to legally drop the "London" from the name. The walls only took about 6 years to finish, from the first to the last stones laid, built between 1613 and 1619. Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and I believe one of the only walled cities in Europe whose walls have never been breached. And it's not as if the walls of Derry weren't ever tested, there was a 105 day siege in 1689 but still the walls were not breached.This fact is a reason behind the nickname "The Maiden City"...referring to the fact that they are in essence "virgin" walls so the city is still a maiden.
From the wall we also saw some of the murals that Derry is famous for, although we did not take a tour of the murals. Which I found strange. Not so strange that I went and did it in my free time however. Seeing the murals from the wall where the Bloody Sunday (1972) events occurred was enough for me.
The picture above left is looking onto the gate where King James II, after being removed from his throne by William of Orange, came to expecting to gather support and forces in Londonderry. One guard tried to let him in, but was stopped and James was refused entrance, and was soon after thoroughly defeated at the Battle of the Boyne. (I was there earlier too! Look at me, doing history backwards.)
Tuesday June 28
Today we took a bus ride out to Belfast, and after we were there we took a "Black Taxi Tour" of the murals in Belfast. The murals in Derry, compared to those in Belfast, are entirely sedate. Perhaps the most famous mural is that of the gunman, a statement of protection for Protestant Belfast. The gunman is painted so that no matter where you are standing, he is aiming at you. What? You don't believe me?
While standing elevated and to the left? Yep. Looking and aiming at me.
But what if I move off to the center and then...Oh. Look at that. Still aiming at me.
Right then. I'll just move off to the right and...Oh. Hello again Mr. Gunman.
Fine! I'll show you! I'll just stand a foot away from the building so you can't possible be.... Hmn. Touche Mr. UFF Gunman, touche.
All the murals here are very interesting because none have graffiti on them. This is because the UDA (formerly UFF) has so much power in the area. Really, they have power in everything that goes on, and if they don't want the murals to be ruined? They won't be.
After our tour we had a two hour break, in which Claire, Rebecca and I found a lovely pub, and then we met the group again to go see a play. We went to the Lyric Theater to see the play Dockers by Martin Lynch. This takes place on the docks of Belfast, and is about the workers of the docks. The focus of this play is that there is a separate Catholic and Protestant union, so they're competing against each other which defies the point of a union. The main character gets election to being a union council member (or something) and he wants to get everyone united into one union, and to get everyone excited about what the union used to be and should be. His actions are not welcomed by the union leaders and big-shots, or by the older members (so there's a lot of faith and hope in the younger generation), and the ending is bittersweet, ambiguous, and...unfulfilling. But so wonderful. You should all watch it as well as Translations.
Wednesday June 29 and Thursday June 30
On Wednesday, other than class and homework, I didn't really do that much. We did celebrate Lara's 21st birthday, and that was fun. Thursday was our last day of classes before the long weekend, and we got out of class early. However, with the bus schedule I stayed in Derry all of Thursday. On Thursday Claire, Olivia and I did go out to walk around since we were all still in Derry and we went to an adorable cafe for some tea and pastries. It's name? The Boston Tea Party. This tea basically marked the end of my stay in Northern Ireland.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A(n) Historic Event

Remember how I said my blog won't let me edit posts once I've posted them? Yeah. Well. I forgot to put in something that really should have been mentioned earlier.
On Saturday June 25 we arrived in Derry for a historic event. A pedestrian bridge called The Peace Bridge opened just half an hour before we arrived that connects the Catholic and Protestant sides of Derry. There was live music, food and game booths, hundreds of people out crossing the bridge, important community figures, goodwill gestures, and fireworks at sundown.
I apparently missed getting a picture of the symbolically colored fireworks: Green and Orange going off simultaneously and creating a wonderful picture. But I did get a few nice firework photos. Enjoy this one:

There Appears to be a Path, That Must Mean We're Allowed There.

June 26
After class was over today we took a bus ride to Grianan Aileach and to the Inishowen Peninsula.
Grianan Aileach is a series of monuments in county Donegal, but we only went to one fort. Spent about half an hour goofing off, climbing precarious stairs, messing about on the ridge of the fort. It sat atop a hill an provided magnificent views of the countryside and of the bay. Look at me, sitting on the edge. We were going to play around with a picture looking like we were balancing and about to fall, but I decided that would be unwise.
...Shhhh. Souvenirs. Didn't really intend for it to happen, but when I was running my hand over the wall this small piece came off. I rather spend my time climbing about on forts/mounds and traipsing through stone pathways. Though for this particular place I don't have all that much to say, nothing compared to my talk about Tara (mostly because I didn't even read the placard outside of this fort).
After this we got back on the bus and went to the Inishowen Peninsula, though our hour or two hike was scrapped because of possible inclement weather. I don't know if it's that visible to all of you, but there's a tiny bridge to the little island in the picture there. I decided that's where I wanted to go to, even though everyone in the group turned to go up the mountain rather than go near to coastline.
That's as far as I got though. Apparently it was decided it was unsafe for people to go to the mini-island, I suppose partially because of the little fort thing on the island that people could lock people into. They've no trust in the tourists.
They really shouldn't give such an obvious pathway if they don't want people to go down there..... There is a path. I guarantee you that.
And it really was much clearer than this picture makes it seem.
There were even metal rods alongside of part of it, and a bit of a fence left.
There were also rather a lot of what you see to the right. If you cannot tell, those are some viciously thorned plants. They aren't even flowers, or a part of a whole. They are independent, thorned stems...and that's it.
Still, they weren't much of a deterrent now were they?
The answer is no. No, they were not. Because I still walked as far as I could and contemplated going down the steps to the little island anyway. I only didn't because the professor called for us to get back on the bus to go through some entirely terrifying, narrow, steep, rocky mountain paths on which the bus temporarily stalled to get to the....Famine Village.
To the left is literally the only picture you will get of the Famine Village. I honestly don't know what I think about it, not the picture--I find the picture quite quaint and cute. But that is misleading. The entire tour of the village was...super depressing. Now, I know, I know. It is a famine village. I did expect at the very least a somber experience. But this? There were signs all throughout it that were a huge guilt trip (We spend $$______ on our pets/weapons/Mars Bars each year while millions starve to death! And many, many others) and the entire time our tour guide kept detailing how a large percentage of the world is just as bad or worse off as the Irish were during the potato famine. He also kept asserting that Ireland is this close to falling into such a terrible position once more. And that was a huge downer of a way to end the day.

You Got Kicked Out of Where?

Friday the 24 of June was our last day in Dublin, and after class we had the entire day free. Dina and I went to take a tour of Trinity College since we hadn't done so yet (and the rest of the group had). The main attraction to this tour was to go see The Book of Kells, but really for the Long Room. Stepping into the Long Room was like stepping into the library from Beauty and the Beast (only a bit less magical and with a distinct lack of cursed princes). Pictures, of course, were not allowed. Google has a lovely selection of images though.
That night we had another pub crawl, but this one was a musical pub crawl...and we got the teacher to use some of the discretionary money from the program to pay for it, because we had a Dublin music paper to do. So it was educational. Or, helpful, I suppose. At O'Neils we watched and listened to the Galway Girls performing, though I already had my paper done before the pub crawl so I didn't really pay much scholarly attention. The one thing that is most interesting about this night, however, is that I now get to say the first time I've been kicked out of a bar was in Dublin. Sure, it was one person from our group that resulted in everyone being told to leave. But still. I don't really feel like getting into the entire story at the moment, so I'll just summarize it with the statement "Don't mess with the bouncers." Which is something I thought everyone just knew and understood, but apparently not. And they understand it all less as the night goes on. For a bit I felt kind of like a baby-sitter, so that was fun.
June 25
Travel day. 3 hour bus ride up to Derry-Londonderry. Arrived at Saddlers House and said hello to the resident welcoming committee. His name is Bertie. That's about all I have to say for today.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

It's Ancient History (June 23)

I've had multiple people point out how horrible I am at keeping my blog updated, which I have reasons for, so I figured it was about time for me to update.
On Thursday the 23, we did not have class. Instead we boarded a bus to go on a tour of Newgrange and the Boyne Valley, a tour that lasted from approximately 9am until 5pm and that was one of the things I have been most looking forward to.
Our first stop was to Newgrange, one of many archaeological sites in the area. This is the one excavated mound, very few others in the area have been touched (and there are about forty mounds) due to a complete lack of funding. There have also been issues with the possibility of losing the land, and once the sites were recognized as important historical features and effectively became property of the state it was still often very difficult to get to them. Why? Because although the state owns the mounds themselves so they cannot be destroyed, the land around them are still owned by farmers. And archaeologists, geologists, other government officials traipsing through the land and not really informing farmers of what exactly they were doing or what was going on has created a contentious relationship. As such, farmers have, can, and do refuse entry through their land. I suppose it would be more unfortunate if there was available funding for excavation. It's still rather a shame.
Newgrange is built with a specific orientation of the sun or moon in mind, as are many other structures. Newgrange has a small upper window above the door that actually ends up being level with where you stand when you go all the way into the mound (since it is at the top of a hill and on an incline). This small window aligns perfectly with the rising sun during the winter solstice and allows the sun in for about 15 minutes. The structure is absolutely amazing, the stones piles up meters thick and the earth mound built over it. Inside there are three rock basins, where what was left of cremated bodies were found. 5-6 different bodies were located in the mound when excavated, but the number that was actually in there through time is questionable due to grave robbers. What the structure was truly used for remains a complete mystery (it was created 5000 years ago and has no helpful drawings on the walls) though there is an abundance of educated guesses. Our tour guide seemed most fond of the idea that the structure was used during the solstice in some type of ritual, where everyone would gather around and tribal elders would enter the mound. It is thought they would bring the cremated remains of their ancestors or important people who passed and place them in the basins. Then the rays of the rising solstice sun would somehow interact with the spirits of the ancestors and the guarantee that days would lengthen once more and winter is ending would be ensured. (Or something along that line. It was a bit complicated and I'm sure I did not do the best job communicating the theory, but it was a bit more in depth than I feel like going into at the moment.) They rather made me think of Cahokia Mounds, and while taking a stroll along the path outside of Newgrange (waiting for my turn to tour inside of it) I had a nice conversation with my Professor on the subject.
Then it was off to a tourist center to learn some more information about the mounds, their possible uses, theories of those that inhabited the area, watch a short film about the importance of the sun and seasons that had a really creepy background soundtrack. I had a lot of great views of the Boyne River, where the Battle of the Boyne occurred (obviously) but couldn't manage a good picture. I was too short and my arms not long enough to get over the trees on the pathway. There's a bit of it though, between the trees. After a bit of time to explore the path we came to a place that I got oddly fangirl-y about visiting: The Hill of Tara.
I know, I know. "Why are you so excited about a hill?" It's not just any hill, it's an awesome hill with an abundance of interesting facts and historical importance. Really, it is...and allow me to tell you about it! (It also provides absolutely amazing views. You'll notice my facebook profile picture has me with wonderful scenery behind me, and I'm on the Hill of Tara there. Just so you know.)
(To the left you can see the sloping trenches that are abundant on the hill, as well as the corner of my umbrella. It doesn't look it, but it was fiercely windy and rainy at that time.)
Now, there are many different facets to the importance of Tara and some are more mundane than others. I'll start with one reason steeped in myth and lore. Now, Ireland plays an important role in the origins of Halloween. October 31 marked the end of the Celtic year, and the night was considered the time of year when the spirit and mortal worlds were closest together. This was celebrated by the Druids and those dwelling there by Samhain, in which masks were worn to hide your identity and to protect from harmful spirits while the spirits of family and ancestors were honored and invited home. This masked gathering with the druids? Occurred on Tara. Still to this day people gather at Tara to celebrate. On a more personal note to Ireland Tara was the location where the the pre-Christian Kings had their coronation. It was, perhaps, an even bigger deal than later coronations because Kingship was not determined by primogeniture but through consensus or battle. Tara is also home to the Stone of Destiny, which is said to roar/cry out when touched by the true King of Ireland. (Whether or not stories say it has ever roared? I do not know. But I'm not the destined ruler of Ireland.) St. Patrick also came to Tara in 433AD, to preach and I assume for other reasons as well. On the hill there is another interesting mound structure, named Mound of the Hostages which dates to around 2500 BC. The name comes from the custom of kings to take important people hostage, and one of these kings was known as Niall of the Nine Hostages. Our tour guide said it wasn't known whether anyone was actually held hostage in the mound, or if it is just an unfortunate mistranslation or misunderstanding. However, it was used for burials and there are an estimated 250-500 bodies found (most cremated).This mound is built so that it is illuminated inside during the Spring and Fall equinoxes. This is also one of the only two excavated areas of Tara, even though it is over a thousand feet in length. Another interesting tidbit about Tara was that in the early 20th century a group of Israelites came to Tara believe that the Arc of the Covenant was buried there. They dug in the Mound of the Synods in search of the Arc but, of course, did not find it. However, circles of post holes were discovered which indicated structures being present in the past (though there are none left). Unfortunately, no geophysical scans have been done so the extent of the buildings that once existed on Tara is unknown at the moment. Hopefully it'll happen though...and hopefully the construction of the M3 and other motorways won't compromise Tara. (M3 had already been halted before because of something that was excavated during it's construction in another location. Though I do not know that status of the M3 construction at the moment, and am too lazy to google it right now.)
As anyone who knows of my trip to the Cahokia Mounds knows, I have problems not climbing things that are not to be climbed. (And certainly that should not be jumped upon.) Such as the Cahokia Mounds. And the Mound of the Hostages.
After this we took the bus back to Dublin and had free time, which I used to independently walk around in downtown Dublin, mail some post-cards, and sit at the statue of Parnell to read. Then we went and saw the play Translations by Brian Friel which was a very good play to read and to see. It was about the process of the British coming in and renaming the Irish landmarks and areas with English equivalents, and how carelessly it was done. It was a statement about the necessity of preserving the Irish identity, especially the Irish language. There was also a lot of humor, especially in the Irish characters that spoke Latin, Greek and Irish but not English while the English characters spoke only English and yet viewed the Irish characters as ill-educated. It really was a very good play, I suggest reading it. Or at least asking me about it later when I can give a good recap.
Well. Now that it's almost 3am (on July 3rd) here I think I'm going to go to bed. Expect an abundance of posts/information tomorrow about the other 6 or so days I have things to write about.