The Book of Kells: Thursday, July 4

Book of Kells group

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!

Walking Tour of Dublin: Monday, July 1

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.

In the Classroom

DSC01772 DSC01771Image 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!

Roscommon and Strokestown House: Thursday, June 27

Famine Museum

Famine Museum

Gallery Kitchen at Strokestown

Gallery Kitchen at Strokestown

We just missed him!

We just missed him!

Front of Strokestown House

Front of Strokestown House

Approaching Roscommon Castle

Approaching Roscommon Castle

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.

ImageWe 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.

Medieval Christianity in Ireland: Tuesday, June 25

donaghue coach group clonmacnoise

Our group at Clonmacnoise
Wishing Tree near Clonfert

Wishing Tree near Clonfert

Sea Monster in the Cathedral

Sea Monster in the Cathedral

Clonfert Doorway

Clonfert Doorway

Mermaid in Clonfert Cathedral

Mermaid in Clonfert Cathedral

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 to legend he is buried here. St. Brendan was a monk who traveled extensively. A book he wrote about his travels was translated into many languages. He writes about visiting places that seem likely to be Greenland and Iceland and, many believe, Labrador in North America. This was before the Vikings had explored the coast of North America.

Clonfert cathedral is most well-known as an outstanding example of Romanesque architecture, and the front doorway is of particular interest, with its seven layers of arches and elaborate decoration. Things are repeated in patterns of 3 and 7, both numbers with religious significance. Inside, it’s interesting to see motifs not usually associated with Christianity but with seafaring journeys, such as mermaids and sea monsters. In his journals, Brendan claims to have encountered both.

A short walk from the Cathredral, on a shaded path, we visited a special and somewhat mysterious site. At the base of a very large beech tree (perhaps 150 years old), dozens and dozens of objects have been placed. These included inhalers, prescription bottles, infant objects, photos, rosaries, mass cards, articles of personal clothing. Coins and articles of jewelry have been wedged inside the tree, which in many cases has begun to grow over them. Clearly this tree is being used as some kind of special shrine or site of supplication.

In the class we’ve learned about both the pre-Christian spiritual beliefs of the Irish as well as how Christianity was brought to the island. The early Irish had a strong belief in animism, the idea that all things – even those we would consider “inanimate” – have a spirit. St. Patrick, who came to Ireland in 432 A.D. and is credited with converting the Irish to Christianity.  His approach was particularly effective here because it is said that instead of trying to stamp out non-Christian beliefs and practices, he incorporated them into his explanations of Christianity, as if to show the Irish that their beliefs were not wrong, just incomplete. The classic example is his use of the shamrock, which resembles the three-part spiral design common in Celtic design, to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. The tree at Clonfert seems an excellent example of how the modern-day Irish continue to draw on and incorporate pre-Christian spiritual beliefs (that this tree has a special spirit) even as they practice Catholicism.

Our afternoon was spent at Clonmacnoise, one of Ireland’s most important medieval monasteries. It was established by St. Ciaran in 548 A.D. at the crossroads of Ireland in County Offaly. The river Shannon is the largest river in Ireland, running roughly north to south down the center of the country. At Clonmacnoise this is crossed east to west by the Eskar Riada, a natural raised mound of earth and gravel created by glacier movement thousands of years ago. In a wet and boggy land, this natural roadway was a major route of transportation, as was the Shannon. Between the 7th and 12th centuries monks from all over Europe came to study and work here, with as many as 2000Image living in this community at its peak. It has some of the best examples of Irish high crosses that still exist. These were built of sandstone and were used to mark the boundaries of the holy ground, as well as for storytelling and education purposes. They are covered with detailed carvings depicting stories

Just outside Clonmacnoise we saw the remains of an Anglo-Norman fort that had been quite effectively destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in the mid 17th century.

A Day on Inis Mor: June 21, 2013

Group on Inis Mor three atop dun aengus aran sweater market Climbing Down

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.

The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher: June 18, 2013

Image

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.

Welcome to Landmark College Study Abroad in Ireland

From June 15 – July 6, 2013 we will be studying in the Republic of Ireland with two Landmark College faculty members and a group of 15 students.  This blog will be our way of communicating to family and friends and the larger Landmark community.  I am Sara Glennon, Ireland Program Director, and I will be the primary blog author, but I’ll also be inviting students to share photos and writing.