Skip to main content

Books, Boats and Bonfires!

Alyssa Santa Cruz from Arizona State University shares the story of her third week of the International Summer School in Irish Studies...

Alyssa at the Beach


Even though the time is still going by too fast, I’ve settled into my routine here in Belfast and have still been having so much fun!

Back to normal school business after the weekend, but we learned a lot of cool stuff on Monday! We focused the day on Poetry from Ireland. The first lecture was on W.B. Yeats. This was my first time really reading some of his work and was so excited to learn more about his life and writings. After that, we focused on Seamus Heaney, who was from Northern Ireland and wrote a lot about his hometown and the landscapes around where he lived (spoiler alert, we get to go visit a museum on him next week!). For our last class, we looked at some more contemporary pieces about Northern Ireland and Belfast. This was my favorite session of the day as the pieces on Belfast really gave a different perspective on the city. I was proud to say I recognized the references to the city itself and the culture! After class, I got a chance to explore a local bookstore near Queen’s called No Alibis. I’m a huge book nerd, so I was intrigued to see what books are popular here that aren’t available in the US. I also bought one of my favorite books, Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones with the UK cover! Later that night, we went down to Lavery’s for the first time to hang out and play pool. I tried one of the slot machines there and won 9 pounds on the first try (even though I had no idea how it worked)!

As the 12th of July approaches, we spent Tuesday learning about the holiday here in Northern Ireland. We started with a lecture about the history of the holiday and the significance of the parades we will be seeing the next day. There are so many drum and flute bands that will be in the parade, so we had some guest speakers come in and talk to us about the drums. They even taught us how to play too! Lastly we learned about the 11th Night and the bonfires that will be taking place around the city. It was so fascinating to learn about a holiday that is so significant here yet I had never heard about before coming to Belfast! Knowing a lot of places will be closed for the next few days in observance of the holiday, we decided to stock up on some groceries. We were not expecting that restaurants would be closed on Tuesday, but most business take the whole week off. To pass the time without the pubs to sit it, we went to the movie theatre to see Baby Driver. The theatre itself was slightly different than what we were used to in the states. The seats were not stadium style but all on the same level yet we were still able to see the screen. After the movies, myself and a few friends went down to the Sandy Row Bonfire to celebrate the 11th Night. I have never experienced anything like this before! The bonfire was enormous and when they lit it, the fire only caught on one side so after about 10 minutes it collapsed. Noone was hurt, and the fire kept burning until there was nothing left. Even from where we were standing, you could feel how hot the flames were. The light post beside of it got so hot you could see it leaning to one side! It was truly an experience I will never forget!

Alyssa Bonfire

The Twelfth Parade was today so we all met to watch it go by! There were so many Orange Lodges and over 60 bands! It took almost 2 hours to watch the whole thing, but it was worth it. During one of the breaks, I got to buy a flag for myself and talk to some of the people in the parade (they had two very cute and fluffy dogs walking with them, so I was happy to hang out with them too!) I was starting to get sick with a cold, but since everything was closed for the holiday, I took the day to relax!

On Thursday I was still feeling sick, but I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying our day at the Titanic museum! It was full of really cool and interactive exhibits and even had a ride! On top of learning about the Titanic, we got to explore two other historical ships: the SS Nomadic and the HMS Caroline. The HMS Caroline was my favorite. It is the only surviving ship from World War I’s Battle of Jutland in 1916. We got to explore the ship with an interactive audio guide and learn about the battle and how the crew lived on the ship. It was a really neat field trip and could probably spend an extra day or two exploring it all!

Alyssa HMS Caroline

Friday’s classes were combined with the Conflict Transformation Summer School as we learned about the Troubles and Post-Conflict Theatre along with documentary filmmaking in post-conflict contexts. After class, we went down to City Centre to go up to the Victoria Dome (it has been closed every other time we tried to go) and do some shopping around. We got dinner at Nando’s and then took a cab over to a bar in West Belfast as some of our friends were there and wanted us to join them. It was probably the best decision we made so far as it was a great craic! There were songs, singing, and dancing throughout the night and the energy in the bar was contagious. We didn’t know the words to the songs at first, but some of the locals were all too happy to teach us, and soon we were singing loud and proud with everyone else! They played a lot of the same songs over and over, because everyone kept requesting them. We weren’t complaining because it gave us a chance to learn the words more and really get into the songs! Overall, this was probably my favorite night out!

After sleeping in on Saturday morning, we took another trip to St. George’s Market to shop around before walking down Fall’s Road to the Irish Republican History Museum. It was a neat little museum with some cool information and exhibits. It was a nice day so after that we walked back to city centre to do some shopping. We walked back to the dorms and relaxed before getting dinner at the Eg and going out to see some traditional Irish music at the John Hewitt Bar. This was a cool experience as we got to see the ensemble play a wide range of instruments. There was an accordion, flute, guitar, banjo, bodhran drum, and a fiddle! We explored some of Cathedral Quarter stopping in some other pubs before coming back to the dorms.

On Sunday, we decided to take a day trip to Scotland! Stena lines offers some cool day trips by ferry so we had a early start to the morning! Our ferry left at 7:30 and it was a two hour trip. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the ferry was more like a mini cruise ship! They had a movie theatre, a game room, three restaurants, and lots of space to explore or rest while we made our way across the North Channel to Cairnryan. It was a bit cold out on the deck, but it was worth it to see the beautiful landscape as we approached the port. From there, we took a bus to the coastal town of Ayr. The drive itself was beautiful as we went right along the coast and got to see the shores on one side of the bus and the countryside on the other. We had brunch at The Meridian when we got to Ayr and then made our way to the beach. The beach was amazingly gorgeous with the green of the hills in the background and the soft waves of the ocean. The sand was interesting as it was shaped into these hard ridge-ripples by the tide. We didn’t have a map, so we picked a path and followed it around the small town, seeing the highlights before making our way to a war memorial and then back to the beach to relax in the sun. We spent about 6 hours in Ayr before we got back on the bus and headed back to the ferry.