On America’s Independence Day we visited one of Ireland’s cultural treasures, The Book of Kells, at Trinity College Dublin. We were also able to visit the Long Room at the Trinity library, the most beautiful library I have ever seen. The Book of Kells dates from about the year 800. It is a lavishly decorated manuscript created by Irish monks. One page a day is displayed for the public, overseen by pretty intense security. Trinity College is the oldest college in Ireland, founded in 1592. It originally admitted only Protestants. Catholics were first admitted in 1804; women began to attend in 1904. In 2004 it was the first college in Ireland to officially recognize learning disabilities and offer support services.
This will be my last blog post from the Irish Experience 2013. We are moving quickly to the close of the course. Students are reviewing their notes and course information in preparation for Friday’s exam. They are also putting the finishing touches on the ten-page learning journals that each student will turn in before leaving the country. It’s been a whirlwind tour of Irish history, and just a taste of all that Ireland has to offer, but we hope that all the students had a satisfying travel experience and leave with a an appreciation of Irish culture and a solid foundation of understanding of Irish history. Thanks for reading the blog!
We arrived in Dublin Sunday afternoon. We are staying at Dublin City University a few miles north of Dublin City Centre. It’s right on several public bus routes, and today all students received a bus pass, good for the week, and we ventured into Dublin. Our walking tour featured many historical sites, but the main narrative was the story of the Easter Uprising of 1916. We saw the General Post Office, the site of the most action. The façade still bears chips and holes made by British artillery. We walked across the River Liffy via the Ha’penny Bridge and had a class session in the churchyard of Christchurch Cathedral. We visited the courtyard of The Castle, the center of British power before independence, and explored the statuary and decorative arts inside Dublin City Hall. Class was dismissed for lunch and students were free to explore the shopping areas near Grafton Street or visit one of the many free museums. Tomorrow we will watch the film Michael Collins and discuss the Irish War for Independence and the Irish Civil War that followed.
Here are a few photos of the classroom we have been using here at NUI-Galway. The field trips are perhaps the most exciting part of our work here, but it’s in the classroom that Professor Hutcheson guides the students in connecting their experiences in Ireland to the historical context. Lecture, discussion, and activities such as creating timelines provide opportunity to consolidate and synthesize students’ learning. Homework includes weekly learning journals and term identification sheets.
Tomorrow we say good-bye to Galway and head to Dublin where we will stay at Dublin City University. Next week is a busy week as we learn about the struggle for Irish independence and visit sites related to the 1916 uprising. More work in the classroom, more field trips, and preparation for the final exam on Friday. It’s hard to believe we are at the end of Week Two already!
On Thursday we drove toward the middle of the country and visited Roscommon Castle, a ruin of an Anglo-Norman castle dating from about 1300. It has great examples of classic Norman drum towers. It’s open to the public for no charge, and today we had it mostly to ourselves. It’s a favorite spot for student photos.
Our next stop was Strokestown House, built in the 1730’s by the Mahon family, members of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy. These were British families, given land in the 1600’s as reward for their loyalty and service to the British crown. They built very impressive mansions and employed dozens of servants to help maintain their upper-class lifestyle. It’s important to point out that hundreds (thousands?) of Irish farmers were pushed off their own land and farms in order for these English to settle in Ireland. One interesting statistic: Catholic land-ownership declined from 60% of all the land in Ireland in 1641 to just 5% in 1776, due to the establishment of these plantations and the many discriminatory laws about Catholic property ownership established by the British.
We had a guided tour of the house itself, and got a sense of the lifestyle of these wealthy families. My favorite part of the tour illustrates the relationship the Mahons had with their Irish servants. In the large kitchen, there is a gallery or mezzanine that runs across the top of the room. Each day the lady of the house would walk out onto the balcony and drop down the day’s menus and instructions. This style of kitchen was designed so that the “upstairs” family could avoid having to actually enter the kitchen and be on the same level as the servants.
Some of the outbuildings at Strokestown House have become the site of the Irish Famine Museum, the first of its kind to document the history of the Potato Famine, or as the Irish call it An Gorta Mor or “The Great Hunger.” The museum and house have recently undergone renovations, and the President of Ireland himself was there on Monday for the official re-opening. The multi-media exhibits do a great job explaining the causes and effects of the famine on the people of Ireland. It’s quite an amazing story.
Our group at Clonmacnoise Today our field trip took us to the center of Ireland to two sites important to Christianity in the Middle Ages. Clonfert Cathedral was founded in the 6th century by “St. Brendan the Navigator,” and according … Continue reading →
On Thursday, we took a bus and then a passenger ferry (a two-hour trip each way) to the largest of the Aran Islands, Inis Mor. We visited a very impressive Celtic promontory fort, Dun Aengus, and students enjoyed the view down from the 300 foot cliff. We also learned a bit about the early Christian history of Ireland and saw the church of St. Kiernan. It was a fine soft day, as they say in Ireland, which means it was overcast and a bit misty, but without anything that could actually be called rain. The Aran sweaters and knit accessories on offer at the Aran sweater shops were quite impressive, and several students made purchases.
Today we visited a ring fort and learned a bit about fairies. We saw the oldest manmade structure in Ireland, the Poulnabrone Dolmen, and experienced the wild landscape of the Burren. Lunch was in Doolin, a little village tucked by the sea, and then we had fantastic weather for a walk along the Cliffs of Moher. Some ventured a little closer to the edge than others.