"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." ~ Henry Miller
The Spring 2010 trip to Ireland was definitely the trip of a life time, exploring
Ireland and Northern Ireland was better than anything I could have imagined. Ireland has always been a country full of tradition and a rich history, a history packed with so many different events that one could study Ireland forever and still never learn all the small Island has to offer. I was fortunate enough to be able to learn and experience the history of some of the great places in Ireland during our whirl-wind trip through a small part of the Emerald Isle. One of the reasons I was able to experience so much of the history of Ireland while I was there was because of the extensive background of Ireland that I learned before going over there.
Experiencing the History Siege of Derry 1688-89
While planning to go on this trip of a life-time I had focused much of my planning of what I had wanted to see in the Republic of Ireland, so when walking the walls of Derry intrigued me I was pleasantly surprised. The walls themselves were a lot larger then I was expecting, had it not been for the stairs in places a car would be able to drive around the wall. Despite the vastness of the walls I was amazed more by the way my view of the history changed.
Looking out beyond the walls of the city when our walking tour guide told us about the young boys who ran around the wall and locked the entrances, I understood so much better what that actually meant to those people who were locked inside. When learning about the history in the classroom I didn’t have much pity for the people who lived inside, they chose it. However when I was there and realized how small the walled city is I had a new found respect for the people who bravely survived the siege of Derry. Also it had never occurred to me that the decision had been made quickly; when we were learning about it I had always sort of believed that there must have been some sort of council meeting or something.
One thing that surprised me a lot while I was there was how much more moved I was by seeing the murals in person. As we stood on the walls of Derry and looked out at the murals I realized how long this city has been plagued with violence. The mural that gave me this perspective change was the one of the young girl with the butterfly that they are slowly filling with color as the violence subsides. That’s when I realized that the siege we learned about happened in the late 1680s and today in 2010 there are still issues, I couldn’t imagine living in a place where after 300 years there is still unrest.
Experiencing the History Easter Rising 1916
I’ll never forget the walking up to the post office in Dublin, and realizing where we were. It was after dinner on the 16th and Brian had taken the group of us that didn’t go to the concert on a walk through Dublin. The group of us was in awe as we looked inside the post office. All I could think about was the group of brave men that stood inside the post office that I now stood in front of and declared The Republic of Ireland independent from the crown.
Looking around the outside I was able to read the same speech that was made Easter Rising 1916. Looking down the street and watching people rush by the post office without a glance at what they were walking by it reminded me of when I visited Washington DC and all the people bustling by the places that I stood in awe. Yet this was one of the places that I experienced a perspective change, I was torn between understanding what it’s like to see something every day and passing by and believing that this place was too important to just pass by. When I realized I do it all the time when I’m home and I pass by all the “Historic Kingston” signs without if thinking of the history that happened there.
In addition to showing me a sight that I believe to be one of the most important places I will ever set eyes on, the post office gave me a chance to literally touch history. As I stood looking up at the columns that form the front of the post office Brandon nudged me and pointed to what I at first I thought was a smudge on the column but as I felt the impression realized was a bullet hole. Being able to touch the history of Ireland like that was incredible.
Experiencing the History Famine Memorial
Going to see the famine memorial is one of my favorite memories of Dublin; Joanne, Brandon, and I had decided it was something we just couldn’t miss (we prioritized). At first I was surprised that only the three of us met up with Professor Daly to go out to the memorial but once we set out I realized I preferred it that way. Since it was only the four of us we could look at everything on our own and then point things out while still having enough room to take in the feelings associated with such a memorial.
Seeing the memorial, it looked a lot different from what I was expecting, the statues for one were a lot larger. Personally I wish the memorial had only life size figures instead of these statues that toward over my head. Knowing what a horrible time period the famine was I believe I would have been more moved if the statues I was walking around weren’t as tall. Their height functioned as a safety mechanism to me, when I saw how small their arms and legs where I was able to rationalize that it would have been impossible for them to be that tall so I was able to save myself from imagining starving like that.
As the trip drew near I had no idea what to expect when we reached Dublin, all the accounts of the city seemed to be dramatically different from one another. From Dubliners I was expecting a dark dreary city where depression was prevalent and everyone was trying to leave, knowing that the only way to have a good life is to leave Dublin and Ireland all together. The from reading The Commitments I was expecting a place where the first question you asked upon meeting someone was north side or south side? Yet I found Dublin to be nothing like either.
Instead I found Dublin to be an exciting city that had the mentality of New York City in the way that people had some where to be but at the same time felt so much smaller when you walked into little shops and pubs and the people working wanted to know all about America. There was only one time that I actually heard anything that sounded like the Dublin I expected, while walking through Dublin with Brian the night of the concert he pointed to the board walk along the river and said that it was built to get people to cross the river.
The one experience that I think sums up my view of Dublin would have to have been the night of St. Patrick’s Day. Joanne, Brandon, and I went out looking for a traditional Irish pub, and found Madigan’s .My idea of a traditional pub would be a small place with some Irish music playing, good Guinness, friendly bar tenders who would tell us all about what Ireland had to offer and some old men going on about the good old days and what we would have seen if we came to Ireland earlier. However this I learned was more a description of the traditional pubs of the past.
The modern traditional pub has some differences after enjoying a traditional Irish song like “The Fields of Athenry” a song by Lady Gaga comes on. Of course all pubs in Dublin have good Guinness and friendly bar tenders are a must, the bar tenders however may not be Irish. At Madigan’s Joanne, Brandon, and I spent the night talking to bar tenders from Beijing, Toronto, and a small Island of the coast of India that starts with a B, that none of us can remember. Madigan’s did have the old man however he had no interest about telling us of the good old days instead he wanted to know about America.
A foreign country?
Ireland an island home to two countries so beautiful yet so small that road signs have directions to places on all sides of both countries. At first the immediate answer to whether or not it felt foreign is yes. It’s hard to feel at home when the money in your hand looks like it fell out of a board game and everyone is driving on the wrong side of the road. However after spending some time getting to understand the money and getting used to people driving on the wrong side of the road, the answer is no.
Perhaps it’s the luxury of working at a gas station near the interstate but I meet people all the time who have accents from my own country that at times I have trouble understanding, and have customs that seem very foreign to me. Yet these people that I meet at work are just from different states. So if I had to describe the feeling I got in Ireland it would be more of being in a different state than in a different country.
Thinking about the question at first I was trying to find reasons for why it must have felt like a foreign country because I couldn’t understand how a foreign country couldn’t, but the harder I tried to find a memory that made Ireland foreign I found more that made it not. Finally however I came up with a few that made it foreign. Whenever I called my parents I had to use a country code before the area code, when I was given chips (French fries) they came with vinegar instead of ketchup and when I asked for ketchup the waiter replied “You’re from America?”, after I bought anything I had to ask for tax forms, and whenever I bought alcohol the person didn’t even look at me twice before deciding not to card me, at home I get carded when I buy scratch offs.
There was only one real moment that the country really felt a bit foreign it was in Dublin on the 18th and it was the second night that we went to Madigan’s. We were talking to the one bar tender about our lives back in the states and how different the views on alcohol are and how it’s harder to buy. Trying to explain to him what a liquor store was and that you can’t buy beer in a liquor store (I was just telling him about the laws in NY) but you can buy beer in a gas station was the most challenging thing I had to do throughout the whole trip.
I believe that a good part of the reasons why the country didn’t seem so foreign to me was the group of people that I went with. Even as we all split up and went our separate ways to see different things and explore different parts of the cities we stayed in, we all met back up at night and had dinner together; we were all like a makeshift family in the foreign country that made it seem more like home. One of my favorite memories is from the day we had the bus tour of Dublin after breaking up into different groups and deciding where we were all going after seeing the book of Kells; John, Brandon, and I ended up looking for cough syrup for John on Grafton Street. After finding some we were standing in front of a store as John took it and we saw Professor Daly walking up Grafton Street towards us, it’s hard to feel like you’re in a foreign place when you randomly run into someone you know walking up the street.