I know that I have gotten behind in my blog posting–as I am writing this from back in the United States–but I want to continue to document my semester abroad and reflect on my experiences.
My last day of classes at the University of Edinburgh was on Thursday November 29th, and I had a little more than a week off until the exam period began. During the end of November, I had celebrated Thanksgiving with friends, written three 3,000-word essays, and attended my last lectures. While some of my closest friends from Georgetown headed off to visit Italy during our ‘reading’ week at the beginning of December, I was in Edinburgh, and it was during that time that I decided to plan one more trip! I had wanted to go to Dublin because I’ve never been to Ireland before and I have relatives who live in Dublin, but I had not made the wish happen until the beginning of December. With the help of my brother who studied at Trinity College in Dublin and my dad and my uncle John who had the contact information for my cousins in Dublin, I arranged my three day trip to Dublin! I got in contact with my distant cousin Conor who lives in Lucan, outside of Dublin, and planned my trip for December 12-15.
I was so excited that I had planned this trip, during which I was going to meet several distant cousins, tour Dublin, and learn more about my Irish roots. I arrived in Dublin in the evening of December 12, and I met my cousin Conor when he picked me up from the airport. Conor and I headed back to his home in Lucan (where I was staying on my first night in Ireland), and when we arrived at his house, we enjoyed delicious lamb stew that his wife Tracey had made. Tracey and Conor are in their forties, and they live in a development of comfortable homes in Lucan, which is about 30 minutes away from the city center of Dublin City.
The next morning Tracey made a full Irish breakfast–black pudding, rashers (Irish bacon), sausage, and a fried egg. I had never tried black pudding before (and I was a little nervous to!), but I liked it and enjoyed my Irish breakfast. Conor and I went to Newgrange, in County Meath to the north of Dublin. Newgrange is a prehistoric monument and tomb that is about 5,000 years old; its even older than both the ancient pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge in England! Newgrange is a large circular mound that has a passageway and central chamber inside and that is covered with grassy and earth. There is much mystery that surrounds the creation and purpose of Newgrange, but many historians have presented that it was used as a burial tomb and that it was used as a place for religious meaning. One of the most fascinating aspects of Newgrange is that it is perfectly aligned with rising sun on the winter solistice, when the light floods into the central chamber and illuminates the chamber. In the picture of Conor and me in front of the Newgrange monument, you can see the small opening which is called the roof box, through which the sunlight enters the monument on the shortest days of the year–the days around December 21st, or the days of the winter solistice. I had not known about Newgrange before my visit to Ireland, but I enjoyed learning about this ancient monument (and the mysteries associated with its creation and purpose) during my day trip with Conor. Conor and I entered the central chamber with a tour group, and we were able to see the ancient artwork of geometric shapes (and 17th- and 18th-century graffiti, before the monument became a national site).
After we toured Newgrange, we enjoyed a cup of Irish tea and drove further north; Conor took me into British Northern
Ireland to the city of Newry. We walked around the shopping malls and central streets of Newry, and Conor told me more
about the history of violent and bitter aggression between the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland. Thankfully, the relationship between these peoples today is much, much improved, but up until the 1990s, the resistance between these Irish peoples was strong and bitter.
That evening, Conor, Tracey, Conor’s mother Alma (who was first-cousins with my dad’s mother), and I went to Handel’s Messiah at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. I had listened to some pieces of Handel’s Messiah before but had never been to see and hear an orchestra perform it before. That was such a treat! The music was absolutely beautiful, and the singers were very talented. I thought it was wonderful that I could enjoy this special oratorio during the Christmas season.
That night I stayed with my grandmother’s first cousin, Alma, in Lucan. In the morning, I took the Luas (the above-ground train system) into the city center of Dublin, which was a quick and easy 15-minute ride. I decided to do the hop on/hop off
bus tour of Dublin that day because I wanted to become familiar with the city and see many of the tourist attractions in the day and a half I had left in Dublin.
One of the stops I hopped off at was Kilmainham Gaol, or the former prison that is in the western part of the city. The prison was first built in 1796, and it possessed the newer model of prison cells intended for single occupancy. This prison housed many, many Irish poor during the famines in the 19th century, and this prison was the site of numerous hangings and executions of leaders of Irish rebellion movements. Alma told me that a few of my ancestors had been in the Kilmainham prison.
Later that afternoon, I stopped for a cappuccino and a mixed berry scone at Bewley’s Coffee on Grafton Street, which is one of the main streets for shopping in Dublin City. The Irish company was established in 1840 and exports coffee today to many countries around the world. I enjoyed my cappuccino in the cafe area of the store, and I purchased some coffee beans to give to my mom back to the States. After my stop in Bewley’s, I walked around on Grafton Street, wandering into different stores. Two of the Irish department stores that I browsed in were Dunnes and Brown and Thomas; Brown and Thomas is a beautiful store with extravagant products and high-end clothing, and I enjoyed admiring the merchandise and the magnificent Christmas decorations in the store.
After, I hopped back on the bus tour and went to the Guinness Storehouse.
During the tour, I learned about the history of Guinness and about the brewing process. I learned about the precise procedure to create the product, which includes four ingredients–water, barley, hops, and yeast. I also learned the official way to pour a pint of Guinness–a six step procedure that bartenders around the world supposedly learn. The Guinness family and producers certainly care about their Irish product! After pouring the pint of Guinness, I got to enjoy the pint that I had successfully poured, and now I’m certified to pour Guinness. (I have a certificate to prove it!)
That night I met more of my Irish relatives, because three of Alma’s five children came over for dinner at Alma’s house. I was happy to spend time with Conor and Tracey, Alma’s daughter Levon, and Alma’s son Ronan (and his family). All of Alma’s children live in the Dublin City area, and I’m glad I was able to meet three of them during my three-day visit to Ireland! Ronan has four cute children (three daughters named Nieve, Alva, and Maeve, and one son named Dermid), and Ronan’s daughters told me a lot about their hobby of competitive Irish dancing.
On my last day in Ireland, I took the Luas from Alma’s house in Lucan into the city center to continue my touring. First, I headed to Trinity College, which was the first university of Dublin and was founded in 1592. Trinity was modeled after Oxford and Cambridge in England, and it is Ireland’s oldest university.
Today, Trinity College is surrounded by Dublin City, of which it is situated near the exact middle. My older brother Sean studied abroad at Trinity two years ago, and I was excited to see the beautiful academic buildings that he had told me about. Today, Trinity College houses the Book of Kells, which is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin that was created by Celtic monks around the year 800. The exhibition was located in one of the Trinity College’s libraries, and the exhibited displayed two of the Gospel books during the day of my visit. I was amazed at the detail and colors of the artwork and the beautiful handwriting of the Gospels.
After walking around Trinity College, I continued to tour Dublin. There was so much I wanted to see and do, and I wanted to use every last minute of my trip to see Ireland! From Trinity College, I headed to the River Liffey, which divides the city of Dublin.
One of the things I did while walking along the River Liffey was cross the Ha’penny Bridge, which is officially the Liffy Bridge. Before this bridge was built in 1816, ferries were the main source of transportation across the river, but this bridge allowed pedestrians to cross the river at the cost of a ha’penny toll. Turnstiles on either side of the bridge allowed the collection of the toll to be enforced, and the toll even rose to “penny ha’penny” before the toll was abandoned in 1919. Therefore, I walked free and easy over the bridge and back, at no charge.
In the early afternoon, Conor and Tracey met me for lunch in Temple Bar, an area at the south bank of the River Liffey which is known as a central spot for nightlife. We went to Gallagher’s Boxty for lunch; my brother Sean had advised that I find Gallagher’s Boxty but I hadn’t seen it yet during my trip. I was so glad Conor and Tracey showed me where it was (for the photo opt) and that they took me to lunch there. I enjoyed a lamb boxty and a glass of Murphy’s. During that one meal, I had food from Gallagher’s and drink from Murphy’s–which are both family names of mine; my dad’s mother was a Murphy, and obviously my dad’s dad was a Gallagher.
In case you have never heard of a boxty before (as I certainly had not), a boxty is an Irish potato pancake that surrounds meat, veggies and other ingredients. The ingredients in the lamb boxty that I had at Gallagher’s Boxty in Temple Bar were Irish Lamb, cooked with cumin and carrots and topped with tzatziki, and the boxty was very tasty!
After lunch, Conor and Tracey took me to The Brazen Head, which dates back to 1198 and is the oldest pub in Ireland. Many famous Irish writers including James Joyce dined there, and also many Irish revolutionaries including Robert Emmet (who was held at Kilmainham for his involvement in the Irish nationalist movement in the late eighteenth century). I was happy to see another famous site in Dublin, and I tried a Bailey’s coffee at The Brazen Head at the suggestion from Conor and Tracey. In my three day visit to Ireland, I had tried several Irish beers (like Guinness and Murphy’s) and whiskeys (like Jameson and Baileys) but I liked the Bailey’s coffee least of all my samplings. I was glad to spend my last afternoon in Dublin with Conor and Tracey who was excellent tour guides, extremely hospitable hosts, and very friendly Irish! While we enjoyed one drink at The Brazen Head, Conor and Tracey told me that they sometimes go out to The Brazen Head on weekend nights to enjoy the live Irish folk music that is performed there.
I had a wonderful three-day trip to Dublin! I enjoyed meeting my Irish relatives, touring the capital city of Ireland, seeing some of the Irish countryside, learning about my Irish ancestors, and dining on Irish traditional foods. I’m very glad I planned this last trip. I definitely look forward to visiting Ireland again in the future. There is so much in Ireland I want to see, and I would love to visit with my relatives in Dublin again.