Disclaimer: Sorry for the delay on my last blog posts. Once we started traveling, we had no time or wifi to blog! I will try to finish it up in the next couple of days.
Today (5/24) we were on the road EARLY to make it up to Giant's Causeway. We were a little disappointed when we got there because it was heavily fogged over. After about an hour, the fog slowly began to lift, and BAM! we were hit with the view. Amazingly beautiful! According to the Unesco website, Giant's Causeway consists of "40,000 large, regularly shaped polygonal columns of basalt in perfect horizontal sections, forming a pavement." It is magnificent! The pictures really don't do it justice. Besides the scenery, I loved learning about the legend behind Giant's Causeway.
Thanks to the Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre making their video public, you can watch the same video we saw while we were there! Click on this link to watch the video.
Beautiful coastal walk to start the day. Amazing rock formations and incredible fossils (brachiopods, bi-valves, and mollusks). We walked along the beaches, but also on a walking path that overlooked the water and took us to a "fairy bridge" and "wishing chair." I would tell you what I wished for, but then it wouldn't come true! We ended up above the surf spot that we were able to experience that afternoon.
Our next adventure was surfing in the chilllllly Atlantic! I'm not sure what was more difficult, getting in our wetsuits or the surfing, but it was totally worth the cold to give it a try. It was actually pretty warm until the icy water would go down your back. Brrrrrrrr. Slightly different than surfing in Hawaii! After surfing we had a private showing of Waveriders, a movie about how a Hawaiian Irishman named George Freeth spread the love of surfing. He spent most of his life in Hawaii and California, but stories of him surfing spread across the world and eventually inspired watermen to surf the monster waves off the coast of Ireland. It was beautiful to see one more connection that the Irish and Hawaiians share.
We ended our night with gorgeous Irish ballads in the pub. I have a new favorite song called "Caledonia." The version we heard here was even better than the original, because it had a local flair added to it. As the Irish say, it was "lovely, just lovely."
We started our day with a lesson on W.B. Yeats, and his place in Irish literature. He was a social, romantic poet who adored the Irish landscape in the area we are staying. He was heavily involved in politics, and it showed in his works. We learned about his greatest love Maud Gonne, the focus of many of his poems. We examined the symbolism in his poetry, and how he was reflecting the trials and hardships the Irish were experiencing at the time. People like Yeats (Protestant) gave the Irish Catholics a voice when they weren't able to have a voice because of the Penal Laws. The Irish weren't able to speak Gaelic, took away their land, practice ancient customs, etc. Queen Elizabeth even gave an order to kill all harpists, because it was a very strong symbol of the Irish culture that she was trying to dismantle. Eerily similar to what the Hawaiians experienced.
After our class we had a chance to go to Drumcliff to see where Yeats is buried. In the cemetery there is a round tower and a Celtic high cross with incredible engraving on it. On the drive there and back we passed the scenic landscapes that were mentioned repeatedly in Yeats' works. We stopped for lunch in the town of Sligo, and ended the day at a beautiful waterfall at Glencar.
There are a few pictures of a burial tomb, or Court Cairns, called Creevykeel. It is right along the road, so we couldn't pass up the chance to see it. It is from the same time period as Newgrange. Awesome to experience this special place.
Fun Irish fact for the day - The reason there are so many Irish in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee (and surrounding areas), is because the cheapest place to go during the time of the Famine was New Orleans. The Irish worked in the south clearing swamps, but they couldn't handle the heat and mosquitos. They ended up moving up into the hills, where many of them remain today. They are now affectionately called hillbillies. I always knew about Ellis Island, but I had never heard that about New Orleans. That's the reason there is so much fiddling in country music. Right now we are listening to Johnny Cash while we are having a pint in the pub. :)
This morning we had Irish language class. Not necessarily how to speak it, rather the origins and migration of the Irish people. It was an incredible feeling connecting the dots of my past. The Irish still have the ancient language and writing. The area that we are staying has the highest population of Gaelic speakers today. When the British took control of Ireland, they pushed the Irish to the westernmost coast. There are still small pockets of Gaelic speakers along the coast. There are also huge similarities between the the Gaelic and Hawaiian language revivals. Some of the same challenges exist between both cultures, but they have hope. Many of the speakers of Gaelic are under 12, speakers can get jobs, and there is strong state support.
After our class, I stayed to talk to the teacher Donnachadh Ó Baoill about my names. Two of my Irish names are Slattery and O'Connell, but I have one name that always confused me. My grandmother's name is Scoles, and it never sounded very Irish although I knew she was. When I asked Donnachadh about the name, his eyes lit up. He said it's not a very common name at all, and the Scoles (spelled Scholes in Ireland) is a family of stone masons from just down the road! I got tears in my eyes. There is a town called Letterkenny that still has Scholes living there. It was an awesome moment.
The rest of the day was filled with checking out an old folk village with traditional homes from the 18th and 19th century. Very cool, but dang they must've been short! Owie!
The last activity for the day was hiking a mile up the Sliabh Liag Cliffs. It was absolutely gorgeous. We was so beautiful that we really didn't mind getting pelted with ice cold rain the whole way up! Gorgeous lookouts all the way up, and we met quite a few woolly friends along the way as well.
Today we had our first formal class about the history of Ireland. Fascinating! We learned about Pagan traditions, how Christianity gently moved in, and how the British forceably moved in. It was very cool to hear that when St. Patrick and his missionaries came, they knew that in order to covert the Irish that they needed to respect and integrate their Pagan traditions. The Pagan gods were natural. They could be found in the water, the trees, the air, etc. We saw an interesting example of how the two religions were fused as one when we went to St. Patrick's Well in Ballyshannon. Right next to the holy spot was a tree where people would tie small bits of cloth or string to a tree while thinking about a loved one. This was a Pagan tradition that was still practiced by the same people that come to visit the holy well. It was very cool to see.
We also learned about how the Irish reluctantly surrendered to British control when we visited Dongal Castle. One half of the castle was the old Irish style, and the other half was a Jacobian style manor. When it was in Irish hands it belonged to the O'Donnell's, and then changed hands to the English Brooke Family. The Office of Public Works did a fantastic job restoring it and now caring for it (they also restored Knowth). At night we spent some time in the pub, but not doing what you would think. We had a talk story session with a lovely woman named Marion Rose. She is an artist, writer, expert on Celtic religion and mythology. We had a chance to draw, paint, and even facepaint traditional symbols. It was good fun. Busy day, but we learned so much! We only have a short time to blog, so sorry if it gets less witty with each post. ;)
Day 2 - First full day in Ireland
Knowth, bangers and mash, and crunchier sponge candy! Today was filled with driving, learning about passageway tombs and delicious food. We started our day with a traditional Irish breakfast which included: eggs, bangers, mushrooms, hash browns, blood pudding, croissant, and a very interesting yet refreshing broccoli juice to drink. We checked out of our Dublin hotel and headed north to County Meath to see the great Stone Age tomb of Knowth. This tomb is one of three passageway tombs in the area (Newgrange and Dowth are the others), built around 3000 BC. They made a point to say they are older than the great pyramids of Giza (2600 BC) and Stonehenge (2200 BC). The surrounding area called Brú na Boyne (bend of the Boyne) was a place of action and activity. It is located near the River Boyne. We visited Knowth, which is the largest passageway tomb in the world. It is an incredible sight. The passageway tombs were a resting place for the dead, performing rituals, and aligns perfectly with the spring and autumn equinox (March 21 and September 21). During those times, the sun's light shines down the passageway. Depending on the time period, bones of the dead were either cremated or left intact and placed at the end of the passageway, which was the most sacred part of the tomb.
After leaving Knowth, we headed to Bundoran. On the way we drove through part of Northern Ireland, so we stopped at the peace statue at the border where the intimidating border crossings once stood. We arrived in Bundoran at 8:45 pm, ate dinner at 9 pm (bangers and mash which I later turned into a replica of Knowth), played a couple of ice breaker games with our group and the group from Michigan, and then retreated to our apartments to write this blog for you wonderful people! Thanks for reading!
Day 1 - The Longest Day
Our first day included over 24 hours of travel to get to our destination. Not much excitement, but we had fun! The flights weren't bad except for the fact that some airplanes seem to be made for leprechauns. I introduced Molly to Potbelly sandwiches in the Washington Dulles airport, and of course she loved it. We were very relieved to reach Dublin and catch a taxi to our hotel. Our taxi driver must be an incredible Tetris player judging by the way he miraculously fit our suitcases in the back of his little car. Loved passing all of the cute flats with different colored doors.
Our hotel the first night was wonderful. Very comfortable, good food, and in a great location. My friends from France happened to be in Dublin, so I met up with them during our free (jetlag recovery) time. We checked out the Hairy Lemon pub, which looks much better than it sounds. Enjoyed a pint of Orchard Thieves cider, fish 'n' chips, and AMAZING desserts (salted caramel roulade and traditional bread 'n' butter pudding). Dear Lord it was to die for. We also caught some live Irish music in another pub called Fitzsimon's, right on the Liffey in the Temple Bar area. The people that worked in the pubs were super friendly, quick-witted, fun loving folk. They loved that "the Hawaii people" could sing along to the Irish tunes. Exhausting day, but incredibly fun!