Alyssa Santa Cruz from Arizona State University shares the story of her second week of the International Summer School in Irish Studies...
I can’t believe how the days are flying by, but I am having so much fun in Belfast! Here is a summary of my amazing second week!
Monday was our first day splitting into the two strands of Literature & Culture and History & Heritage. My strand (Literature & Culture) went on a field trip to the city of Armagh to see the Robinson Library, which was built in 1771. It was weird to be in a building that is older than your own country, but it was a beautiful place! After some of the best tea and scones I’ve had so far (thank you to the wonderful staff at the library) we looked at some of the books they had and discussed the works of Jonathon Swift. The library is home to Swift’s copy of his famed novel Gulliver’s Travels and it even features some of his own notes in the margins of the text. We then went to the No. 5 Vicars’ Hill Museum for a tour and had a quick lunch before exploring St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The city of Armagh actually hosts two St. Patrick’s Cathedrals- one of the Church of Ireland and one Catholic. I was lucky enough to be able to visit both as our amazing caterer for lunch offered to drive me to the Catholic cathedral after hearing me say how much I wanted to explore it and get a rosary for my Mom. It was a beautiful building and I am so happy I was able to see it. After walking back to meet up with the rest of the group, I got to see the other cathedral and go down into the crypt while we learned about the history of the cathedral. After returning to Belfast, I got some shopping done, including getting another Queen’s Jacket before getting dinner at the Parlour.
We continued our studies of Irish literature on Tuesday with a lecture on literature and the British Empire in the morning, followed by another discussion on Jonathon Swift and reading some excerpts from Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent. It being the 4th of July, I was feeling a bit homesick without the usual festivities that take place for America’s birthday. However, we went to a Pub Trivia night at the Botanic Inn that night. It was so much fun, and with the trivia being Disney themed, I was in heaven! Our team, which we named the Craicheads, did pretty well and ended up placing 6th out of the 32 total teams playing. While only the top 5 teams got prizes and we were only 3 points behind, we had a blast playing!
We started off Wednesday by exploring the literature of Belfast in our first lecture followed by a session about Charles Dickens and his views and writings on Ireland and the Irish people. I have always been a fan of Dicken’s work and it was interesting to learn about how he described the people and culture here. We also learned about how he would tour and do readings of some of his novels, which was something I didn’t know he did. Our last lecture of the day was about the cultural history of the Titanic. To be honest, I never was really that interested in the Titanic (the movie was too long and sad) but our speaker, Professor Foster, taught me so much about the history of the ship, which was built here in Belfast. We also explored some writings on the Titanic and I was so intrigued that I even researched more into it after class!
Thursday featured another field trip in the afternoon to Stormont Parliament Buildings, but the day started with some lectures. Our first session was about Joyce’s Dubliners, some short stories he wrote about Dublin life, and our second session was about the female Ulster novelist Janet McNeill. This lecture was fascinating as McNeill wrote her novels set in Belfast and was a writer that was largely undiscovered until our speaker, Dr McWade, focused her PhD on her life and work, recovering her stories for the public to enjoy. We then went to Stormont for a tour of the building and committee chambers, had some tea and delicious treats, and ended the trip with an interesting discussion panel with representatives from the political parties in Northern Ireland. Later that evening, we had a film night screening the documentary ‘The Boys of St. Columb’s” and we were able to ask the filmmaker himself some questions afterwards. It was a great introduction to our Friday field trip to Derry/Londonderry.
Our next field trip was to the historic city of Londonderry (or Derry). The city has such a rich history filled with conflict but it was an amazing trip. We walked along the 17th century walls around the city while learning a bit of the history before going to the Cathedral, a few museums, and seeing the famous Bogside Murals. Listening to our speakers talk about their personal connection to the past events, especially Bloody Sunday, was so interesting and I really had no idea how much history this city held. We had some free time to explore a bit of the city on our own and I wish we had more because it was such an amazing place to be in. Too soon, our trip had to end with our return to Belfast, however my friends and I planned a trip to Dublin for our free weekend, so we grabbed our bags and headed to the bus to go down to the Republic!
On the first day of our free weekend, we joined Finn McCool’s tours out to the West of the Republic of Ireland. We started our journey with a trip to the city of Galway and had some time to explore the city centre and shop around. I was especially excited to see Galway as it is the birthplace of the famed Claddagh ring. As a little personal background, I have always loved Irish culture since I was young and got my first Claddagh ring when I was 12 after first learning about what it meant. When I turned 16, my parents got me a really nice Claddagh ring for my birthday that I’ve been wearing every day since then (evident by the distinct ring tan on my finger) so visiting Galway was a special treat for me. We then went on to see the Burren and what our tour guide called ‘the baby cliffs’. It was an amazing landscape that you would not expect in a place as green as the rest of Ireland. Looking over the cliffs, it was a spectacular view and you could see jellyfish in the water! This did not compare to our next stop at the Cliffs of Moher though! These famed cliffs were so pretty and it was a beautiful day to view them! We had plenty of time to walk along the paths there too, so it was a great experience. Our last stop on the tour was to the ruins of an old monastery that was pretty cool to explore. Getting back into Dublin, we were tired but were able to stop at this great place called O’Neills for the best meal I’ve had on this whole trip!
Our last day was spent exploring all that Dublin has to offer. We started the morning with a Mass at a local cathedral before a quick brunch while working our way to the city centre. We went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, and Grafton Street. We opted for walking around the city instead of taking a tour bus, so we were able to see a lot of the streets and shops along our way. I went to Trinity College to see the Zoological Museum and the Science Gallery, which were both amazing and very fun to visit. We took a bit of a break at Costa before walking across the river to take a tour of the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. While I personally thought that the whiskey was gross, it was a fun and interactive tour that had some cool special effects that explained the distilling process and history of the company. We continued to walk around, but as it was Sunday, a lot of places closed early so we just relaxed until the bus ride home.
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