The Book of Kells

angel of kells cropOur last field trip as a class was to visit one of Ireland’s cultural treasures, The Book of Kells, at Trinity College Dublin.  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.


This year we bought tickets in advance online and were able to jump to the head of this long queue.

kells long line

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.

students at trinity

We were also able to visit the Long Room at the Trinity library, the most beautiful library I have ever seen.

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This will be my last blog post from the Irish Experience 2015.  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 an appreciation of Irish culture and a solid foundation of understanding of Irish history. Thanks for reading the blog!

Walking Tour of Dublin

We arrived in Dublin on Sunday. We are staying on the campus of Dublin City University (DCU), which is about 3-4 miles north of the center of Dublin. Students are quite happy with their private “en-suite” rooms.

DCU entrance

Sunday night we had pizza in one of our common rooms and watched the 1996 film, “Michael Collins,” starring Liam Neeson. Monday we took the bus into Dublin and visited many of the actual locations from that film. DCU is on several public bus routes, and students received a bus pass, good for this week, and we oriented them to the routes back and forth to the Dublin city centre.

dublin double decker

On O’Connell Street we saw the General Post Office (GPO), the central site of action during the 1916 Easter Uprising. The façade still bears chips and holes made by British artillery.

class at GPO                                                  GPO front

We walked across the River Liffy via the Ha’penny Bridge.

on the haepenny bridge

 A classroom session was held in the churchyard of Christchurch Cathedral.

class at christchurch

 And we walked through the medieval Dublin City Wall.

medieval wall of dublin                                                                gates of city of dublin

We entered the courtyard of the Dublin City Castle. This was the seat of British government in Ireland for hundreds of years. Ask students about the poem about this statue of Justice here.

castle courtyard                                                    inside dublin castle courtyard

justice at castle

Then a visit to Dublin City Hall, and another statue of Daniel O’ Connell.

oconnell city hall

castle tile floor                                        shamrock tile floor city hall

This is the last week of our course, and students will be busy completing their learning journals and consolidating all the information they have taken in about Irish history and culture.  Tuesday evening we go the the Abbey Theatre to see Sean O’Casey’s classic play about the Irish War for Independence, “Shadow of a Gunman.”

A Full Day: Roscommon Castle, Strokestown House, and the Famine Museum

A perennial favorite day trip for Irish Experience students and faculty is to Roscommon Castle, in County Roscommon. This is an Anglo-Norman castle dating from about 1300. It’s a ruin, of course, but it’s open to the public and free. It’s a great site to explore, and students enjoy trying to climb the walls and photographing themselves among all the crumbling stones. It has great examples of classic Norman drum towers.

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The remaining intact drum tower has a narrow stone spiral staircase, but a locked iron gate keeps people from climbing the unsafe passage to the top.  Most years students rattle the gate and wish for a way to bypass it. This year we got an unexpected surprise.  A local historian happened to be at the castle and, after engaging in conversation with Mike and sharing some details about the castle he had gleaned from research, — ask students about the hidden owl sculpture and how Frank learned about it — he asked, “So, you want to go up in the tower?”  Apparently he had the KEY.

historian at roscommon

This was a delightful bonus.

Heading to the towertheman with the keysclimbing

The views from the top were lovely and many photos were taken.

crop group on top of roscommonMike at Roscommon On top of roscommonDSC03219


The walk down was steep and narrow.

the climb down
A short drive from from Roscommon is Strokestown House, built in the 1730’s by the Mahon family, members of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy. These were people who had been sent over to England, beginning in the 1600’s, to establish plantations and farm the land. They were given large tracts of land as rewards 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.

strokestown house left

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. Many were pushed out to the west of the country, where, as we’ve seen, the land was very rocky and difficult to farm. Others were forced to rent their own land back from the Anglo-Irish and became tenant farmers. Over time the Anglo-Irish, who were almost exclusively Protestant, came to own 95% of the land in Ireland. 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 ridiculously discriminatory laws about Catholic property ownership established by the British.

We saw several striking examples of how the landowners strove to keep their distance from their Irish servants, including the galleried kitchen.

strokestown galleried kitchen

The elegance of Strokestown House provides a great counterpoint to the Famine Museum that has been established in the former outbuildings of the manor house.

famine museum

It’s important to note that the Irish refer to the potato famine of the 1840’s  as An Gorta Mor, which is Irish for “The Great Hunger.” We spent time in class talking about the difference between the words “famine” and “hunger.”  Nearly a million people died in Ireland during An Gorta Mor, but this was not because there was not food in Ireland. It just didn’t belong to the poor Irish. The Anglo-Irish continued to export food – beef, dairy products, etc. – to other countries during the famine. One Irish politician of the period, John Mitchel, is quoted as saying, “The Almighty indeed created the potato blight. The English created the famine.”   The museum displays are extensive and compelling, and the complexity of the underlying causes and the response to this famine raise important questions still relevant today.

powerscourt quote on irish

Clonfert and Clonmacnoise: Medieval Christianity in Ireland

Tuesday’s field trip took us to two sites important to Medieval Christianity.

The first was Clonfert Cathedral. This church was founded in the 6th century by St. Brendan, often called “St. Brendan the Navigator.” According to legend he is buried here, although no one knows for sure. St. Brendan was a monk who traveled extensively. A book he wrote about his travels has been found 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 even had explored the coast of North American.


Clonfert Cathedral: The Cathedral of St. Brendan

Clonfert cathedral is most well-known as an outstanding example of Irish-Romanesque architecture, and the west doorway is of particular interest, with its layers of arches and elaborate decoration. Things are repeated in patterns of 3 and 7, both numbers with religious significance.

group clonfert

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.clonfert mermaidclonfert sea monster

Down the road from the cathedral, along a path into the woods, we encountered a very large horse chestnut tree, perhaps 150 years old, which was an example of what we’ve called in the course a “sacred space.”

It’s clear that this tree serves as some kind of special shrine or site of supplication. Dozens and dozens of objects have been placed at the base of the tree: 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.

shrine tree greenberg photo        Photo here by Peter Greenberg

clonfort wish tree

These trees are often called “fairy trees” or “wishing trees.”  This is a great example of the way that pre-Christian beliefs still hold sway in Ireland (the idea that a tree has special power) and are often integrated with more traditional religious beliefs.

We stopped for a carvery lunch at Flynns in the sleepy little town of Banagher, and everyone got plenty to eat.

flynns banagher

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 300 living in this community at its peak.

clonmacnoise panorama

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 from the Bible as well as beautiful Celtic patterning. At Conmacnoise the high crosses are such valuable artifacts, and the sandstone deteriorates so easily, that they have actually moved the original crosses indoors to a museum, and have replaced them with reproductions outdoors. After our guided tour the students enjoyed walking around the grounds and enjoying the fine weather.  In Ireland that means it was not raining.

three at clonmacnoise                        four at clonmacnoise

guide clonmacnoise

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

man of aran sign approaching kilronan on the boat 1 on the boat 2 on top of the boat

Thursday we had a great outing to Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands, off the West Coast of Ireland.  A one-hour bus ride connected us to a one-hour ferry ride, and we were in Kilronan, the largest town on the island. After a quick stop for lunch supplies at the one grocery store on the island, our mini-van driver took us out to the small village at the base of Dun Angus, a 3000-year-old Celtic fort, built at the top of a stunning 300 foot cliff. The climb to the fort was rocky.climb to fort 1climb to fort 2atop dun angus good best from cindy dun angus   students on dun angus 1 windy lecture 2

After some browsing in the small craft shops at the base of the fort, we were off to the other end of the island for a visit to the smallest church in, well, let’s say Europe. (Our driver claimed it was the smallest in the world.)  Teampall Bheanain sits atop a hill with sweeping views of Galway Bay. The real rain held off long enough for a discussion of the early Christian missionaries in Ireland and what life might have been like for these monks, living here in the 11th century. group at temple bheanain inside temple teampall bheanain sign temple on a hillaran cottagearan sweater marketfour great sweatersGroup at Market Cross

First day trip from Galway: The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher

On Tuesday’s all-day field trip, the students got to see some spectacular landscapes, and the weather did its part to provide a particularly Irish atmosphere. The Poulnobrone Dolmen is one of the oldest man-made structures in the world, and it sits atop the wild limestone of the Burren.


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The day included a visit to an earthen ring fort, also called a “fairy fort.”


After lunch in the seaside town of Doolin, the walk along the top of the Cliffs of Moher was refreshingly breezy and WET.

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First day of class: Walking Tour of Galway

On Monday, we met briefly in our new classroom, and then set out on a historical walking tour of Galway. This was a test run for students, allowing them to practice the skills of listening and taking note in the “field” or in the streets, as was the case today. It is summer in Galway, and the streets are full of locals and tourists, some doing historical tours such as ours. Here is our classroom building at NUI/Galway: . nui-galway-classroom-bldg Students learned about the founding of Galway, the “City of the Tribes,” and saw a great example of how the Irish sometimes find compromises between respecting and preserving the past and modernizing the nation, at the Eyre Square Shopping Mall. Ask them about this.IMG_5678 IMG_5682                                                           IMG_5704 IMG_5689IMG_5675                                                IMG_5670 Galway is a great city for buskers and street performers, of all types: DSC03036                             DSC03038 IMG_5697

Safe Arrival in Galway

After an uneventful overnight flight, and 0 – 3 hours sleep, we arrived at Corrib Village, on the campus of NUI (National University of Ireland), in Galway this morning.  We had a brief orientation tour of the campus, students unpacked and rested, and then we had our first group meal at the Skeffington Arms in Galway.  Students have been advised to get to bed early in order to re-set their clocks and be ready for our first day of classes tomorrow.

Our 2015 group: 11 Landmark students with Landmark faculty, Sara Glennon and Mike Hutcheson.

Our 2015 group: 11 Landmark students with Landmark faculty, Sara Glennon and Mike Hutcheson.

On our way tomorrow!

burren classroom_2013

Irish Experience students!  This will be our classroom one day next week!  If we’re very lucky, we’ll get at least that much blue sky.  The weather the past few weeks in the west of Ireland has been very consistent. Highs around 64 degrees, with cloudy skies.  But the sun should shine for us occasionally, and it is all the more appreciated when it does.

Share this blog with parents, family, and friends who want to get updates on our travels around Ireland.  There is an option to follow and get emails when there is a new post.  Welcome to all followers! Thanks for sharing in our adventure.  We fly overnight from Logan airport in Boston on July 4.