Sunday, 12 March: Cheers, Ireland!

Hey, everyone! I know it’s been quite a long time since I’ve written: I could blame the delay on any number of things, but mostly it was just a lack of motivation. Between my assignments from the Fund and all the necessities in planning trips on the weekend, I ended up shrugging off the responsibility of this blog for the last three weeks. My apologies! I hope to have this updated by next Friday at the latest; these posts will also probably be less detailed than past ones due to events fading from my memory. Now, on with the blog!

Monday was a pretty normal day. For my internship at the library, our topic of the week was holidays. Both sessions went pretty well, and that’s pretty much all i remember from the day. However, I also settled on my Lenten practice for the week. As you may or may not know, reader, I struggle with low self-confidence, often bordering on self-disparagement. I’ve made progress over the years, but I still tend to view myself negatively rather than positively, especially when it comes to social situations. Thus, I decided that this Lent I would “fast” from self-hatred as well as negative judgment of other people, something that tends to happen when one negatively judges oneself. Every Wednesday on my Facebook page, I would post one aspect of myself that I enjoy having, while every Thursday I would write a post about someone whom I admire and who, from my perspective, does not receive enough affirmation from others.

(Fun fact: ayuna is “fast” in Spanish. Thus desayuno, or breakfast, is literally “the undoing (des, as in deshacer, or undo) of a fast,” just like “breakfast” in English. Isn’t language fascinating?)

On Tuesday, I received news from my home university, St. Norbert College, about my courses here in Toledo and how they would transfer back to SNC. One of the main reasons I chose Toledo was that I could both finish my Spanish minor and receive credits toward both my history and theology/religious studies majors through the classes offered at the Fund. Unlike most college students, I finished my general education classes by the end of my sophomore year, due in part to the fact that the courses I took for my degrees also fulfilled gen-ed requirements (and also the fact that I took a college chemistry course in high school: thanks, Mrs. Ballard!). Thus, when looking at study-abroad programs, I had the challenge of finding ones that offered courses that would actually go toward my degree. Toledo was one of these programs. Thankfully, the email from SNC confirmed that my courses would be transferred to my official transcript in the areas I wanted covered; I simply had to email someone in the THRS department to get my theology course to count for my major.

This Tuesday was photo day at the Fundación. Everyone (or, rather, mostly everyone) gathered in the courtyard outside the cafeteria; we were arranged in rows of sitting on chairs, standing on the ground, and standing on tables from the cafeteria. It was a fun event for which I got to dress up a bit (something I almost always enjoy doing). It also allowed us students from St. Norbert College to get our own photo!

In the English workshops for the day, one of the members from the adult group came over to my group because there were so many people in the former. I was so glad that she did: she came from a small town called Valle de los Reyes that, like many Spanish towns and cities, has processions during Semana Santa (Holy Week) each year. The woman explained that these processions and the associations for those who marched in them (hermandades, or brotherhoods) are especially important in smaller towns like hers. Most people who grow up in these towns move to study and then live and work elsewhere, so the Semana Santa celebrations give an important opportunity to see and talk with old friends not seen for a year or more. The woman telling me all this said that she often stayed up entire nights in order to take advantage of the short time she had to catch up with others. She also informed me that each hermandad in a town has its own color in order to distinguish itself from the others.

For the first time in my internship, children actually showed up for the grupo infantil at 6:30 on Tuesday. It was definitely a surprise, given that no one had come for the last four weeks or so, but the three girls were, like the children in the Monday session, already pretty good at speaking English and attentive when it came to learning more about it and United States culture.

Wednesday was again a pretty normal day. In theology, we learned about the life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who, in the words of our professor (in Spanish, of course), “arrived late to things.” Ignatius was from the Basque Country in Spain and had earned a good name and career for himself as a soldier. While recuperating from a battle wound, however, he underwent a conversion experience and decided to dedicate himself completely to God. This decision would result in the religious order the Company of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. Ignatius also wrote Los Ejercicios Espirituales, or The Spiritual Exercises, a handbook for focusing oneself more on God that, though not a text of mysticism itself, had a profound effect on other mystics such as Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross.

I took advantage of the unusually warm weather of the day and had a nice walk; it was much like a day near the end of May in Wisconsin. My host mother also made a dinner of gnocchi and cheese that was even more delicious than the food she usually serves; she is the best! One of the less wonderful aspects of my day was finding and having to kill a cockroach (cucaracha) in my room at night. Apparently, cockroaches like to climb on the walls of buildings during the day and warm themselves in the sun, but they sometimes latch on to curtains or simply climb through windows and into houses. The one I encountered was about 5 centimeters long, meaning I had to psych myself up just to look at it, let alone stomp on it through a wad of toilet paper.

Thursday, my busiest day of the week, went pretty well, too. Toledo experienced unusually warm temperatures again, reaching the mid-70s. It was a good day to be somewhat lazy, and I actually had the opportunity to be so. None of my classes regularly require writings to be turned in or homework to be done; most of what I do is reading and preparing presentations. Compared to other classes at the Fund, mine turned out to be both enjoyable and pretty easy.

In España desde 1936 (Spain Since 1936), a Spanish history course, I had a presentation on the Catholic Church and Spanish society. Though it was a bit sad to present given that the Church, at least in the news, is often reactionary or in the midst of a controversy, the presentation itself went well. In my Christian, Muslim, Jewish art class, we visited the Convent of San Pedro Mártir, a sprawling complex that today houses one of the campuses of the University of Castilla-La Mancha. Thus, as we toured the complex, we saw (and were definitely stared at by, being foreigners) university students like us going through their school days.

As I’ve mentioned before, classes at the Fund have two sessions: one in the morning and one in the afternoon, usually on the same day. For the first time in Toledo, and, in fact, my academic life, I skipped a class! I had a flight to Dublin at 9:25 p.m. from Madrid, so in order to arrive on time I had to leave Toledo around 6 and skip the afternoon session of España desde 1936. Most of the classes allow two unexcused absences, so my missing class was no big deal. I made my way to Terminal 4 of Madrid Barajas Airport in plenty of time for my flight, especially given that it was delayed for an hour. The flight itself went smoothly enough, arriving in Dublin around midnight (1 a.m. in Spain time, an hour ahead of Ireland). I spent the night in the airport before leaving on a bus to Galway around 6 a.m.

Why a bus to Galway, you ask? To see the Cliffs of Moher, of course! Earlier in the week, I had bought a ticket for a tour bus that would leave from Galway at 10 a.m., pass through the countryside surrounding the Cliffs, stop for lunch in a small town, visit the impressive natural feature, and then head back from them at 4 p.m.

The bus to Galway itself was quite nice, with wifi, a bathroom, comfy seats, and hardly anyone else on it! I slept for most of the time but did manage to catch glimpses of the Irish countryside in the dawn. It was absolutely breathtaking: dew coated lush fields of grass and reflected the soft light of dawn. The bus from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher was also excellent, if much more crowded. I got to meet two other students from America on it, one studying in Limerick and the other her friend visiting for the weekend.

Our bus driver was also our tour guide for the day: he was an affable fellow, if a bit difficult to understand sometimes through the Irish brogue. We passed many castles, watch towers, and defensive works on our journey, and we even stopped at one better-preserved castle to take photos. We also passed by many “fairy circles” and “fairy trees,” groupings of trees or rocks believed in the traditional religions of Ireland to be gateways between the fairy and human worlds and abodes of fairies. Though Ireland is a deeply Catholic country today (and for quite a few centuries), most people still leave these areas alone and believe that disturbing them leads to bad luck.

After the castle, we moved into the geographic region known as the Burren. The Burren was formed by tectonic movements that uplifted and exposed an ancient sea bed. Long cracks called grikes split the limestone into isolated areas called clints. The area seems very barren at first sight, yet it is extremely biodiverse, containing 70% of the plant life in Ireland. The high areas of the Burren are owned by many individuals, meaning that people can often walk or hike through them with permission (or sometimes without it) from the owners.

As we drove through the Burren, our driver told us about the Potato Famine and other parts of Irish history. We stopped about halfway through our journey to visit the Poulnabrone, a stone portal tomb from the Neolithic period (4200-2900 BCE).Before getting to the Cliffs of Moher, we stopped in the town of Dingle for lunch. It’s a small town but one that must receive a lot of tourist traffic, because the workers in the restaurant did not seem overwhelmed by the ingress of 30 or so people. I also stopped at a nearby chocolate shop and bought a delicious piece of fudge!

After lunch, which took about an hour, we headed to the cliffs, arriving around 2 p.m. The Cliffs of Moher are indeed spectacular, and what made the visit (and the whole day) even better was that the weather was relatively pleasant. Clouds were interspersed with sun throughout the day, and there was only a little rain: for Ireland, that’s pretty great! We had around two hours at the cliffs, so I visited the tourist center, the section of the cliffs run by the national government, and part of the walking path that stretches in either direction beyond this section. The existence of this path surprised me: one can walk from, say, Dingle, to the Cliffs and beyond using it. Its lack of fencing also surprised me, and made me be extra cautious as I stepped through the mud (the path isn’t paved) and took pictures!

Once we got back on the bus, we headed to Galway, making one more stop at a rocky beach to admire the sea and the coastline.

I had a bus ticket to Dublin for about an hour after the tour bus arrived at the station, but I was able to get on an earlier bus with it. Once I got to the airport, I met Griffin, a friend from St. Norbert College who is studying in Maynooth University, just outside of Dublin, for the semester. Griffin was extremely generous and hosted me in an extra room in his apartment for the weekend. He also showed me around Dublin and took me on a trip to Drogheda, so I cannot say this enough: Thanks, Griffin!

Since I arrived pretty late to Dublin on Friday night and got to Maynooth University even later, I slept in on Saturday morning. Griffin took me on a tour of the university’s campus. Maynooth University was established in 1997 on the basis of St. Patrick’s College, a seminary founded in 1795. Thus, it has a section with buildings from the 1800s and a newer section with the university’s residence halls and academic buildings. The older section is surrounded on three sides by a moat: historically, the fourth side was occupied by a large, grassy field. Griffin explained that these features provided defense for the site in the rather tumultuous past of Ireland, with the field giving an escape route to the priests at the seminary if things got especially hairy.

After the tour of the campus, Griffin showed me a bit of the town of Maynooth. We then went to a restaurant and sat down to a traditional Irish breakfast: sausage, thick bacon, egg, lots of toast, tea, milk, cherry tomatoes, butter, beans, potatoes of some form (mine was a tri-tater!), and blood pudding. I found blood pudding, a type of sausage made with pork blood, quite good! Compared to breakfast in Spain, this was much heavier, but I heartily enjoyed it.

After breakfast, we walked by and entered the local church. We found that confession was going on at the moment: apparently, it’s a harder sacrament to come by in Ireland, since any priest who sits down to hear confessions will get a huge line of people. Since I hadn’t gone to confession since just before leaving the States, I happily sat down in line for the sacrament. It was marvelous to receive this sacrament of reconciliation with God and of movement toward my best self, the person God wants me to be. It certainly didn’t hurt that it was in English, either!

After the visit to the church, we met with McKenzie, another SNC student studying at Maynooth for the semester. With her, we went from the Maynooth train station to Connolly train station in Dublin, and from there to Drogheda, about 50 kilometers (or 31 miles) from the capital. Drogheda is one of the oldest towns in Ireland, with monuments from the Neolithic period (4500-2000 BCE) and actual remains of a town as far back as the twelfth century. The city center today retains many medieval structures and remains, including St. Laurence’s Gate, Magdalene’s Tower, the Millmount Fort, the Buttergate, and even the corn market (“corn” meant general grain in Ireland in the past, so this was where grains were sold).

We walked through the town through the afternoon and saw these sites. We also stopped at a local crafts fair and talked with some locals! In addition, we stopped at and entered into almost every church we walked past. Despite the long Christian and specifically Catholic history of Ireland, most of its churches are from the 19th century. Beforehand, the ruling power of England had pursued a policy of suppressing Catholicism and favoring Anglicanism in the form of the Church of Ireland. After the laws against Catholicism were relaxed or repealed, Catholic churches sprung up all over the island. As a result, most churches in Ireland are relatively “modern” by European standards, with many built in the Neo-Gothic style. My favorite consequence, though, is that the majority of churches are heated. It was a nice change from the near-total lack of church heating in Spain and other continental countries!

In Saint Peter’s Church, we saw the relics, including the head, of Saint Oliver Plunkett, an archbishop who established the first interreligious school in Ireland and was eventually martyred. The inclusion of the head was a bit of a shock, even for a cradle Catholic like me!

We headed out from Drogheda late in the afternoon and returned to Maynooth. Before going to the university, we stopped at Pizza Dog, a fast-food restaurant popular with local students (as fast food restaurants generally are). We picked up a pizza that was, I must say, pretty delicious!

On Sunday, Griffin took me to a cemetery outside of Maynooth in which sit the ruins of an old church. It was a beautiful and tranquil location.

 

After the cemetery, we took the train to Dublin for a tour of the city. We first went to Mass at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, the episcopal seat of Dublin and a Greek-Roman revival building.

After Mass, we made our way to the city’s main street, O’Connell Street, and walked past the Dublin Spire, past statues of famous figures in the history of the country, and over O’Connell Bridge, from which we could see the more famous Ha’penny Bridge.  From there, we went to Trinity College, where we bought our tickets to see the Book of Kells, one of the most famous and beautiful pieces of medieval manuscript creation that still exists today. It was fantastic to see this treasure in person and a treat on top of such a gift to walk through (and take pictures of) the old library of the school.

From Trinity College, we walked further through Dublin, past the statue of Molly Malone and to Dublin Castle. A castle certainly did exist on this site, but only one section of it remains today. Most of what is seen today is a palace from the British in the 1700s. Griffin and I bought tickets for a tour of the castle, the church connected to it, and the older remains underneath it for later in the afternoon.

Before the tour started, I walked a few blocks away to the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, usually called Christchurch, one of he main churches of the Church of Ireland. I arrived just before the choir of the church began Evensong, an afternoon service of prayer and music similar to Vespers in the Catholic Church. It was incredible to sit in the pew and listen to the beautiful voices of the choir members raised in prayer to God.

I left Evensong early to make the tour of Dublin Castle. It was quite good, informative but also engaging and even entertaining. The buildings themselves were quite fascinating in and of themselves, too.

Just behind Dublin Castle is the Dubh Linn garden, a circular green that sits above the pool of water formed by the River Poddle, the “black pool” from which the city takes its name.

After the gardens, Griffin and I walked to and through St. Stephen’s Green, one of the largest parks in the city.

We also visited St. Teresa’s Church on Clarendon Street. It is a lovely church of the Discalced Carmelite Order dedicated to Saint Teresa of Ávila, the founder of the order along with Saint John of the Cross. I enjoyed visiting this building connected with the saint I have been studying so much over the semester.

After all of our walking, we settled into a well-deserved dinner. Once dinner was done, Griffin guided me to a stop for the bus to the airport, and I was soon on my way there. My flight was for early Monday morning, so I would be spending another night in a terminal. After such a fantastic weekend, though, I was willing to do so.

I know that if I ever get the opportunity to visit Ireland again, I will definitely do so. Its history, its landscapes, its food, and its people enchanted me. My visit was made even better by the knowledge and generosity of Griffin. It was great to see him and McKenzie, catch up with them, and learn about about their experiences of life abroad. To Griffin and McKenzie, my sincere thanks and best wishes for the rest of your semesters!

That’s all for this week, reader! Thanks for your patience in waiting for these posts (and in reading them – I know how long they are!).

Leave a Reply