Daylina, Torie and Carol show off their claddagh rings.

The origin of The Claddagh ring is not as clear cut as I was hoping it to be. When I received mine for my 16th birthday from ex-boyfriend Justin, all I knew was that my older half-sister, Davina, had one when I was growing up and so I wanted one too in my effort to emulate her. Justin, being Irish himself, though the gift appropriate and presented it to me with clear instructions:

“When you wear it with the bottom of the heart pointed towards your knuckles, it means you’re in a relationship. When it’s pointed toward your fingernails, it means you’re single.”

That’s one variation of it, anyway. Further digging told me that it’s a popular Irish wedding ring and that to wear it on your ring finger on your left hand means you’re married or engaged and to wear it on your right hand ring finger, with the heart pointed towards your knuckles, means you’re open to love and pointed towards your fingertips means you’re closed to love. What confuses me is how you’re supposed to wear it if you’re in a serious relationship that’s not yet made it to the level of engagement. For me, I choose to wear it on my right hand with the heart pointed towards my knuckles, where some girls might wear a promise ring (that’s a whoooole other topic.. isn’t an engagement ring a promise ring, really?) But in reality, different books and websites all give different ways to wear the ring.

Meaning

Let’s start with the meaning of the Claddagh ring which is, for the most part, inarguable:

The crown stands loyalty (fidelity), the hands for friendship and the heart for love. In essence, “Let love and friendship reign forever.”

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History- taken from Fantasy-Ireland

The Eagle and Margaret Joyce

One legend in Claddagh history tells of Margaret Joyce (no relation to Richard), who married a wealthy Spanish merchant named Domingo de Rona. When her husband died, Margaret inherited de Rona’s fortune. Unlike most people, who would fritter away new riches, Joyce instead put them to good work in building bridges and performing many charitable works in Ireland’s western counties. To reward her for her extraordinary kindness and generosity, an eagle dropped the original Claddagh Ring into her lap.

Gods and Goddesses

Going back further, some believe Claddagh history began with the ancient Celts. The mythical Beathauile is said to represent the Crown. Dagda, father of the Celtic gods, represents the right hand of the Claddagh Ring. Anu, ancestral and universal mother of the Celts, represents the left hand. In a Christian version of this Irish legend, the crowned heart represents God the Father and the two hands signify Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The Fisher Kings

Claddagh history merges with tales of the sea in the town of Claddagh, which is said to be one of the oldest fishing villages in Ireland. For centuries, fishermen from the area took to sea with the Claddagh crest on their ships and sails. The crest was used for identification – fishermen from outside the area fishing in their waters were chased away or killed. So the Claddagh ring is also an original symbol of the “Fisher Kings” of the Galway town of Claddagh, Ireland.

Unrequited Love

Perhaps the most fantastic tale claiming to be part of Claddagh history involves a king who fell in love with a peasant girl. Because of class distinctions between the two, the king could not marry the girl he loved. His grief was too much for him to bear; and he killed himself. But his dying wish was for his hands to be chopped off and placed around his heart as a symbol of his undying love. How gruesomely charming!

Conventional Wisdom – The Real Truth?

The most common – and most believable – tale of Claddagh history begins with a young man from Galway by the name of Richard Joyce leaving his true love to make his fortune in the West Indies. As he sailed toward his goal, his ship was captured by a band of pirates and he was sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith.

Through the many years of service to the goldsmith, Richard perfected the art of jewelry making himself, eventually becoming a master craftsman and earning the respect and admiration of his master. When King William III negotiated the freedom of the slaves in 1689, the Moor offered Richard the hand of his daughter and a healthy dowry on top of that. But Richard refused….for his heart still lay in Ireland.

Returning to Galway, Richard found that his sweetheart had remained true to him through all those years. In a fitting tribute to his true love, he fashioned the Claddagh ring. The two hands represented their friendship. The crown signified their loyalty. The heart symbolized their love. Richard wedded his beloved and presented the first Claddagh to her as her wedding ring. And the two lived happily ever after….never to be apart again.

This legend of Claddagh history is not entirely without basis. Indeed, the earliest examples of Claddagh rings bear Richard Joyce’s initials. So it makes sense that most scholars and everyday people believe the legend of Mr. Joyce to be the true origin of Claddagh history.

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Daylina’s Take

To me, it’s not so much where the Claddagh originated from or even how to wear it, but that you bring to every relationship the values that the ring embodies- love, friendship and loyalty.

Blarney Castle and Cork

August 17, 2010

After saying goodbye to Killarney, we once again trekked off via bus for one last day tour before heading back to the States the following day.

Blarney Castle

Mike drove us up to the Blarney Castle where the group wandered the grounds and inside of the ruins for a couple hours. We followed wall plaques around the rooms inside, connected by stony spiral staircases, and ended our journey at the top of the castle, home to the famous Blarney Stone. A lot of people mistake the purpose of the stone-thinking that to kiss it is to receive luck- but really, it’s to recieve the gift of eloquence. What better gift to bestow aspiring writers? (…and lawyers, Carol. I didn’t forget about you!)

The castle was undergoing reconstruction, which makes for crap photos, but we snapped them nonetheless, enjoying the adrenaline rush that came from hanging over the castle ledge backwards to kiss the stone. The group met down near the entrance to the castle where most of us grabbed a bite to eat at the cafe and where I managed to not only get stung by a bee, but to drown one in my soup. I’m not sure what’s worse- Florida’s palmetto bugs or Ireland’s bees that swarm like flies.

Signs like this proliferate Ireland.

Inside Blarney Castle.

Atop Blarney Castle, looking at people kissing the Blarney stone for the gift of eloquence.

One of many stairways leading up into Blarney castle, home of the famous Blarney Stone.

USF at Blarney Castle

The watch tower.

Blarney Castle towering over the grounds.

Lauren, Emily and Laura following me into a cave dug out underneath the castle.

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Carol in Cobh

Carol seems happy to be standing in front of the very building in "Cobh where her great-great-grandmother stood before boarding the good ship Egypt and coming to America." Photo and cutline by Dr. Rick Wilber.

After the castle, Mike dropped us off at Cork while he and Dr. Rick took Carol out to Cobh to see the place where her great-great-grandmother departed Ireland for American during the potato famine. I can’t even imagine the emotion behind such an experience. If Carol is willing, I’ll post up a write-up of what she saw and felt that day.

Cork

Meanwhile, in Cork, I hung out with Lauren, Naomi and Torie and we did a lot of the same stuff we did in Dublin- eat, shop and watch street performers. There was this really fantastic Michael Jackson mural a guy was painting on paper taped to the sidewalk. I wonder how he feels when it rains and what must be HOURS of work just washes away into Cork’s gutters.

Michael Jackson mural on the streets of Cork.

Does he get frustrated when it rains, I wonder?

Guitar player in Cork.

...and another.

❤ Cork

Shopping abounds.

Mary Small plays us a bit from her new Irish flute. Music stores in Ireland are plentiful, unlike the United States. You see several on every street.

Getting ready to go home

After that, Mike rushed us to the train station so that we could make our journey back to Dublin and the airport we would be departing from the next morning. After a three hour train ride and a couple of buses, we were riding back through the city that first made us fall in love with Ireland. Our hotel near the airport was really nice and we all gathered one final time in the restaurant there for a bite to eat and a round of drinks to toast our final “Slainte!”

Torie and Carol laugh after I point out that the restaurant inside our Dublin airport hotel, named "The Brasserie," looks a lot like "brassiere."

Ireland…I already miss you.

Irish Weather- Cloudy with a 100% chance of rain

Today we got to really experience Irish weather for the first time.

Here, there is (supposed to be) this fine layer of mist that blankets everyone as they go along their way. A light rain is to be expected and people dress anticipating that. Here, layers of clothing, windbreakers, rain jackets and umbrellas come in very handy. But for the majority of our trip, we have somehow managed to escape that. Instead of days of rain, we have had occasional moments of rain. This has been great for us because 1. Everyone gets really cranky when they’re cold and wet and 2. It makes for much prettier photos of the scenery and no ruined digital cameras.

Today though, we experienced the wet and cold factors. Not that I’m complaining, you see.

Bicycling and horseback/cart riding

We started our journey this morning by splitting off into two groups: those who could handle the ups and downs of the mountains paths on bicycles and those willing to venture off into the Gap of Dunloe  in horse carts and horseback riding. The horse carts were interesting because most of us had ever been in anything comparable. They were small four-person carts lugged by a single horse. At a couple points, the hill was too steep for the poor horse to cart us up so we got out and walked for a few yards. Lauren and Laura started off on their own horses and we switched a couple times so that me, Emily and Torie got our turns in.

I forgot how painful horseback riding can be! Every time the horse started trotting downhill on the uneven road, I felt like my rib cage was going to shatter into my internal organs. I wasn’t directly doing much physical work but I felt like I’d been running a marathon. But Lauren’s pro horseback riding tips helped me keep balance so despite the soreness, I was thankful not to fall off the horse.

Horseback riding- Laura

Horseback riding- Emily

Horseback riding- Lauren

Horseback riding- Torie

Horseback riding- Daylina

...and the horse that pulled the cart.

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“I’m on a boat!”

The whole ride lasted probably a little over an hour. The cart drivers dropped us off at a little cottage by the lake where we grabbed a bite to eat; most of us had soup and hot chocolate. We met the other half our our group there and when lunch time was up, they headed back the way we came from and we headed out onto a 12-person boat with 11 people, plus the guide. The other guest turned out to be the lead vocalist for a popular tribute band here called the Kill Kennedys. It’s crazy who you meet by just striking up conversations with strangers.

On the boat we covered the span of the three lakes in Killarney National Park. The boat was small but didn’t have the turbulence of the ferries we’ve been on during this trip so no one really got sea sick. But we did get sprayed by the water rushing past the sides of the boat whenever we hit the crests of small waves. The fresh water was refreshing but being on a lake in the mountain means that the air is pretty cold. By the time the ride was done with, we were all human Popsicles and ready to clamor out onto dry land where we all rushed the the bathroom to fight each other for the chance to huddle under the hot air of the hand dryer.

Naomi hiding under the tarp to avoid the freezing cold spray of lake water.

Daylina....on a boat.

John fighting against the wind.

Lauren and Naomi laughing over a joke that I missed, apparently.

Torc Waterfall

We met our guide, Mike, there to take us to meet the rest of the gang, who were returning their bicycles. Once we were reunited with them, we headed back into the park to explore the Torc waterfall. Since the rainfall has been limited lately, there was not as much water to be seen rushing down the moss and lichen-covered rocks. But it was beautiful nonetheless.

On the water to the waterfall, we encountered a mini-waterfall run-off. Josh and Aubrey dared to venture into the freezing water for a few minutes and came out shivering and covered in goosebumps. I went in to take a closer shot with my camera and slipped on one of the wet, mossy rocks. Thankfully, I’m pretty adept in the Art of Falling as I’m disaster prone so other than a scrape on the knee and a few bruises, I was fine.

Mini-waterfall before Torc. A great view, nonetheless.

Went in for the close-up and slipped on a mossy rock. Worth it.

Aubrey braved the freezing cold water for a quick dip.

Jessi chose to stay warm and dry.

...and Josh tempted the hypothermia gods.

Lauren and Emily pointing out Torc Waterfall, in case you didn't notice it.

Torc waterfall- beautiful but suffering from Ireland's lack of usual rain.

Shamrock patch!

One for luck.

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Dinner time!

After freshening up at the B&B, we headed over Bricins Restaurant for a three-course meal. I chose seafood chowder as my starter, lamb and vege boxty (a traditional Irish potato pancake cooked on the griddle with a  choice of fillings) as my entre and apple and blackberry crumble as my dessert. It was spectacularly good. Afterwards, Dr. Rick, Josh, Mike and myself all made little speeches and Dr. Rick gave us all shamrock pins in memory of our trip together.

Amazing food and custom made menus just for us.

Lamb and vege boxty.

Laura and Emily- very good at convincing us they're angels 😉

...and Daylina. Because dinner wouldn't be the same without her.

After dinner, Naomi, Lauren and I headed back to the park for a walk with Dr. Rick in the hopes of seeing the red deer. Aside from seeing them far off in the distance, we didn’t have much luck. But Lauren, known from here on out as the “cow whisperer,” managed to get a Kerry cow to eat grass from her hand. Then we headed over to Husseys to meet Mike, his wife Kate and his bother Dan for some drinks.

Lauren aka the "cow whisperer," "Captain Planet" and "Eliza Thornberry."

Tomorrow, we leave Killarney to explore Cork and Blarney Castle, then back to an airport hotel in Dublin to spend our last night in Ireland together.

Sad.

Our Day in Dingle

August 12, 2010

Sorry for the late post guys. We went our for Naomi’s 21st birthday and since I got back to the B&B later, I was too exhausted to write anything coherent.

Dingle and the Blaskett Islands

Yesterday, the focus of our trip was heading to Dingle, where we saw some amazing views of the beach, some mountains and the Blaskett Islands. We made a stop at the interpretative center there, where we saw a film about the islands, which were abandoned by 1953. During WWII, about 200 people lived on the island and maintained their own culture. When the film opened with the line “Mar na beidh an leit beidi aris ann” our tour guide Michael’s brother, Dan, explained to me that it meant “Our lives will not be there again,” which is essentially used to mean that at any given moment of time, life will never be like it is at that moment, in that place, with those people, again.

Daylina Miller overlooking the Dingle Peninsula and Blaskett Islands out in the distance.

Gallarus Oratory

The place of worship for early Christian farmers of the area. Shaped like an upside-down boat, the simple dry-stone structure has remained waterproof and in near-perfect condition to the present day.

The Gallarus Oratory was built and used by local farmers of the area at an early date, estimates of which generally range from the 6th century to the 9th century. But some scholars date it to the 12th century, based on the shape of the east window. The Gallarus Vistor Centre brochure gives a date of c.700 AD.

USF Bulls at The Oratory.

Ogham Stones

A few of us also made use of a stop at a jewelry store in Dingle that custom makes “Ogham Stone” jewelry that makes use of Ireland’s ancient linear script found inscribed on burial stones and commemorative markers. Ogham is the first known written language of this country and some Irish names make their first and sometimes only appearance in Ogham stones. The letters of the alphabet are written out using hash marks. A certain number in a  grouping denotes a certain letter. Letters that don’t exist in the language, like “y” are substituted with more phonetic letters. In my case, “Daylina” was, if roughly translated, spelled out “Dailina.” The letters are also read from the bottom up on the stones and therefore on the jewelry.

Real Ogham Stones, the basis for spoken Gaelic. This was the first known written Irish language.

Daylina Miller posing with an Ogham Stone. Wayyy cooler than posing with a celebrity.

Lauren's turn to pose with the stone! We are way too cool for words.

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Inch Beach

On the way there, we made a side trip to Inch, where we saw a beautiful beach. If Florida beaches were like this, I’d be more inclined to actually go. The breeze was cool and wafted the scent of saltwater up over the sand. The water was clear, shades of blue and green streaked alongside one another, and it looked like a scene off a postcard. I was intrigued by how many people donned wet suits and ventured into the freezing waters. There was even a portable surf school there, loaning out wet suits and surfboards for 10 Euros. I was perfectly content to enjoy the overcast weather, the sound of the waves pounding against the shore and just a slight dip of my toes into the surf’s edge. Mark and Mary showed off cartwheels and flips across the sand, laughing and clearly enjoying the fact that they could horse play on the beach without dying of heat exhaustion.

Mary Small doing flips on the smooth beach in Inch.

Mist hangs in the background over Inch Beach.

Naomi’s Birthday

Yesterday was Naomi Prioleau’s birthday so in celebration of the anniversary of her birth, Mike treated us to a round of our drink of choice at Hussey’s Pub, a very small, but very cool, pub just a few minutes walk from our B&B. What was nice about this place was it’s seeming lack of tourists, other than ourselves. Mike’s nephew was bartending and everyone seemed to know each other. We finally got a chance to hang out in a place with more locals than visitors. In the spirit of an Ireland birthday, Laura made a list of things Naomi was to accomplish before the night’s end. One of them was to be serenaded by an Irishman. So Mike sang her a fabulous rendition of “Black Velvet Band” and we all joined in on the chorus .

Mike, our awesome bus driver/tour guide/Irish singer/friend, and Naomi, the birthday girl.

Emily, Mary and Jessi at the pub in celebration of Naomi's 21st birthday.

Jessi and Priya, cute as can be.

All in all, a good day. When we get back from dinner tonight, I’ll tell you guys all about our horseback and cart/bicycling adventures through the Gap of Dunloe, our boat ride across the three lakes in Killarney National Park and our visit to Torc waterfall.

Cheers!

Today we woke up bright and early to have a traditional Irish breakfast- scrambled eggs, toast, beans, tomatoes, pudding (which is some sort of bread-like substance) and for me, banana pancakes- and to rent bicycles in town.

Joshua Van Den Berg enjoying the biking trip, one of the park's easier modes of transportation.

Carol and Dr. Rick Wilber bike up to a bridge inside the park. The cool air feels good on everyone's faces.

We biked about several miles through the park, enjoying beautiful mountain and forest scenery and stopping at a ruined monastery and cemetery. Now, I am usually the Queen of Macabre, but this place was creepy. A couple of the levels had long stretches of hallway that were really dark and dank. Never mind the spiders and other creepy crawlies scurrying about in the cracks and crevices of the old stones. Places like this make you think that the spirit of a tortured monk or a screaming banshee are going to run out at you if your group leaves you behind.

The ruined monastery feels like a place TAPS would want to investigate.

A Celtic cross adorns a tomb inside the old ruined monastery.

We stopped at a lake to take pictures, skip stones and do our best yoga poses on the rocks sticking out near the water’s edge. The mountains rose up in the background, a fine layer of mist trailing down their forested sides and providing us a mystical backdrop for our photos.

Aubrey, Daylina and Jessi practice their best yoga poses out on the edge of the serene lake inside Killarney National Park. Photo by Torie Doll.

Torie, Daylina and Carol encapsulate their friendship in a photo at the lake.

Then it was back to the trail, which for someone slightly out of shape and with bad knees-like me- was excruciating during the points of uphill cycling. I know how to work my gears and aside from them occasionally slipping, I struggled to get up the inclines because of the wear and tear on my knees. Most of the group members glided up and down the hills fairly effortlessly though and I trailed after them, wheezing and huffing.

The downhill cycling was worth the struggle though. There’s nothing that compares to soaring down a mountain trail with the cool breeze rushing over your face and fanning out your hair while your bike picks up speed. But having not been on a bicycle in a good seven or eight years, I had to make sure I didn’t face plant in the gravel and give my orthodontist more work to do.

Muckross House- decorated in Victorian era decor.

We met the bus at the top of one of the hills so that we could make our cycling group smaller. The roads leading down to our destination, Muckross House, are treacherous because the roads are narrow, the hills are steep, the cars speed and often don’t watch where they’re going and little room is given for bicycles to travel on, unlike the rest of Ireland. But a handful of cyclists single file is doable. I was one of the ones that clamored on the bus, my knees in agony, and happy to enjoy the scenery from a less tortuous distance.

At Muckross House, we went on a guided tour through a house built in 1843 for Henry Herbert and his wife, Mary, a talented watercolorist. In the 1850s, the family was given a six years heads up that Queen Victoria would be staying there so they house underwent some very expensive and elaborate redecorating. After an entire suite of the house was set up and ornately decorated for her, Queen Victoria stayed for two nights.

The house has had different families live in it, with different decorating tastes, up until the point that it became a museum. It has since been restored to its original Victorian age decor, with 70 percent of it being original to the house, according to our guide. The inside of the house was lavishly decorated with game that had been killed in hunts, tediously carved furniture and expensive drapery and pattered wallpapering. In stark contrast was the servants quarters, where everything was drab and pragmatic, tailored to the servant’s jobs as opposed to comfort.

Then we had a quick run-through of the nearby farm, where we got the opportunity to pet numerous farm animals, including pigs, donkeys and goats and see how farmers and their families lived back in the day.

Baby piggies!!!

Momma piggy is not happy.

Hee-haw!

Mother Goose sheds her bonnet.

Tonight, we had the special treat of meeting Irish author and journalist, T. Ryle Dwyer, author or many books on Michael Collins and Irish politics. Though half of his lecture (the back and forths between historical events and various politicians) completely escaped me, I enjoyed his discussion with us. He is obviously a wealth of knowledge about Ireland and world history in general is enthralling. But as it always is when I’m in the presence of very intelligent people, I feel like the more that I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. But ahhh, such is life.

Daylina Miller with T. Ryle Dwyer, a fabulous historian, author and journalist who has documented much of Irish history and politics.

Captivated By Killarney

August 9, 2010

Today, we made the bittersweet journey to Killarney from Limerick. But once we got here, we fell in love with the place and we suddenly weren’t so sad about leaving the university.

We are staying at this really nice bed&breakfast here called Kingfisher. The rooms are really nice and quite spacious. The door key is possibly the coolest thing about it though. It looks like an old-school skeleton key.

An eagle statue in town.

Dr. Rick gave us some time in town to acquaint ourselves with it  so we split off into small groups and grabbed a bite to eat at a pub then explored the little shops there. Naomi and I found the cutest little bookstore tucked neatly in between two other- much larger-shops. We perused through the different titles in the Irish literature and travel section, jotted down a few titles and had a nice conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of e-books vs. tangible books. Our conclusion was that nothing replaces the feel of a book in your hands and the smell that page very new and very old pages have.

After our time in town was up, we went back to the bus to drive up into the mountains and Killarney National Park. The view was spell-binding. As we climbed further up into the mountains- our tour guide, Michael, a pro with the big bus through the narrow roads- we became more and more mesmerized by the sight of the mountain rising up before us. It reminded me a little bit of the Ohio River Valley where I grew up, the Appalachians on all sides of me. Except here, the green stretches forever and the lakes are a deep, clear crystal blue color. Unlike some of our tourist destinations, I didn’t witness as much talking amongst the group members. I think they, like myself, wanted to bask in the moment and breathe the fresh air deep into their lungs, as I was.

Daylina Miller enjoys the mountain scenery and is dreading going back to flat Florida.

Daylina, Lauren, Carol and Torie enjoy the mountain view and their newfound friendships.

The problem with this is that it’s very difficult to do justice in my descriptions. I could read the best writer’s take, and see the best photographer’s photos, of the scenery I saw today and not have near an appreciation for it if I hadn’t visited it myself. The mountains are majestic and the lakes glitter like blue diamonds when the sun’s rays burst through the clouds. Like my experience walking along the River Shannon in Limerick, I felt magic in the air here.

The 2010 USF Study/Travel Tour to Ireland group takes a moment to face away from the mountains for a picture.

Group member Emily Wilson enjoys the picturesque view of the mountains inside Killarney National Park.

We also visited a stone circle where the fee to enter was based on an honor’s system. You put the money in the box and then proceed to enter. Everyone we saw paid the fee but I wonder how well the same system would work in the States. Not to sound unpatriotic but I have far less hope that Americans would be as honest.

Stone circle in Killarney. Farmers who destroy these and fairy raths or "forts" are believed to bring bad luck upon themselves and their families.

As we meandered back down the winding roads into town, through thick trees and foliage on both sides of us, I was reminded again of the fairy stories in Irish folklore and found it easy to believe that there are still many people who believe in faeries. Just walking outside here makes you an instant believer. And now, every time a bush rustles or a stick cracks in the near distance, my mind wanders to thoughts of the Good People and their world. It’s easy to envision Them following us through the forest and snickering at our touristy ways.

Tomorrow, we return to the captivating and charming sights of Killarney. For now, I’m off to dreams of faery folk and mountainous rendezvous.

Dia dhuit (hello) my blog readers!

I wanted to take a quick look back on our trip to London, England with a few EPIC pictures that a couple of my fellow travel tour members and newfound friends have submitted. I’ll let the pictures and cutlines speak for themselves. Enjoy!

Priya Jaishanker’s photos

A quintessential London image: the red telephone booth. Photo by Priya Jaishanker.

Statue surrounding the Victoria Memorial outside of Buckingham Palace. Photo by Priya Jaishanker.

A hunger strike takes place outside of the British Parliament House. Protesters who decry military involvement in Iraq and Afganistan. Photo by Priya Jaishanker.

Royal Guard. Photo by Priya Jaishanker.

A man plays the Scottish bagpipes as crowds hurry past the London Eye towards Big Ben. Photo by Priya Jaishanker.

Mark Luttmann’s Photos

Mark Luttman at the West Brompton underground stop on July 29th. " The pic with me with the train behind me I feel exemplifies my time there. I experienced a lot of aspects of a culture in a few days." Photo by Dr. Robin Wilber.

The London skyline atop St. Paul's Cathedral. photo by Mark Luttman.

A Walk through Coole Park, where W.B. Yeats and other famous writers and poets came to relax and write.

Today was a pretty relaxing day. We took a day trip out to Coole Park, where William Butler Yeats penned some of his poetry on the estate run by Lady Gregory, a patron and friend of his. Two of his poems, “Coole Park 1929” and “The Wild Swans At Coole” are obviously written, at least partially, about the park.

There’s not much to see there in terms of tourist attractions or gimmicky souvenir shops but it is a beautiful park. There is this sense of relaxation wafting through the air. It’s no wonder that many a poet and writer came here for inspiration. I would love to come back someday and spend a day lounging about the park with a notebook and pen in hand, just capturing the free-flowing words and turning abstract ideas into tangible, inky ones beneath my finger tips.

The "Autograph Tree" at Coole Park. W.B. Yeats was the first of many writers to carve his initials into the trunk. You can see them there next to 10.

We did go see the “Autograph Tree” where Lady Gregory had some of Ireland’s best writer’s carve their name into a thick tree trunk. W.B. Yeats was the first of the group to do so. To stand where my favorite poet stood so many years ago was intoxicating. I was feeling the same wind in my hair, touching the same tree he touched and standing on the ground he walked. I was hoping that the earth captured at least a hint of his essence and that I could draw some of his poetic genius into me.

We also swung by Coole Lake, where Yeats would have observed the swans he wrote about as an allegory to aging. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any swans other than some carved into a stone so I guess I”ll just have to live vicariously through Yeat’s observations.

Vincent Mulvihill, a talented, young hurling player from Tipperary, Ireland that we encountered on our walk through Coole Park.

On the way back from the Lake, we encountered a budding young hurling player named Vincent Mulvihill from Tipperary, Ireland. He demonstrated to our group how a hurley stick was used to bat around the ball, called a sliotar. One of our group member asked us if he wanted to go pro and he nodded yes but in Irish sports, going pro does not mean what it does in other parts of the word. Hurling players, and players of other Irish sports, are not paid much money, if any at all, and usually hold regular jobs despite their long hours of practice and play. There can really be no other reason to do it but for the love of the sport and for the love of Ireland. That’s pretty admirable, if you think about it.

Our next destination was Galway, known as Ireland’s Cultural Heart (Croí Cultúrtha na hÉireann). Like Dublin’s Temple Bar and Grafton Street, there were a lot of street performers, shops and pubs. We had about four hours to comb the city and enjoy the cool air and sights and sounds of the culture.

We first had a bite to eat at The King’s Head pub, where we learned some valuable lessons about eating out in Ireland. For simplicity sake, I’ll list them out:

  • Never assume that a refill on a drink is free. One of my classmates paid nearly three Euro for a tiny glass of coke and was charged another three for a refill. They will not take the money off your bill if you didn’t know you get charged.
  • Condiments are not always listed on the menu with other ingredients in the dish. You may ask for a burger without cheese but they may put mayonnaise or a special sauce you didn’t know about on it.
  • Waitresses do not seem to be as concerned about tips as American waitresses are. Therefore, one does not get their a** kissed. If you’re fortunate enough to have your order taken shortly after you’re seated, you may not see your waitress for the remainder of your meal. They’re friendly but don’t cater to your every need, ask you how your food was or constantly check up on you.

The cultural heart of Ireland, Galway.

Craft fair in Galway, Ireland.

Aside from that, I enjoyed the meal. The rest of the day was spent wandering through various shops, stopping to take pictures of street performers and musicians and tossing change into their opened cases and flipping through books in the Irish literature section at a couple bookshops. My favorite part of the day was wandering down a  narrow alley where a craft fair was set up. People of various cultures and specialties were peddling their wares in temporary booths they set up. We found some great handcrafted jewelry and bags there. I got a handmade leather cufflet with a harp design burned into it.

Now we are back at the University of Limerick dorms, preparing for a casual game of soccer tonight and then packing up our suitcases for the trip to Killarney tomorrow. Our leaving is bittersweet. We are all excited to to embark on a journey into yet another unique and exciting part of Ireland but we know that the end of our trip is nearing. Many of us have grown attacked the the campus and to this country and the thought of going home to Florida is, well, sad. We all miss our family and friends, yes, but nothing there could compare to the adventures we have gone on in Ireland.

Pssssst! Some of the awesome street performers.

Irish traffic jam! Cows being herded off to be milked.

(Pssssst! Click on the words in blue for links to video.)

After going to bed early (11 p.m. hah!), I awoke well-rested and excited to go on a trip to one of the Aran Islands, Inis Oirr, the smallest and closest to shore (where the Cliffs of Moher are located) and incidentally, the one that fewest tourists bother to visit. It is said that the purest form of Gaelic is spoken on this island of about 300 natives, where English is a second language. On the bus ride back to the Cliffs of Moher, where the ferry departs, we encountered an Irish traffic jam. If you have no idea what this is, be sure to look at the picture.

The ferry ride took half and hour was a tad tumultuous. Mary, Aubrey and I stood out on the lower, front deck to watch our ferry make it’s way through the Atlantic waters. We got soaked in the process but it was well worth the view. But after the second big wave, I called in quits in fear that my camera would get damaged and headed into the inside cabin.

When we got onto the island, most of us headed to the pub for a bite to eat. I got a bowl of delicious seafood chowder, with whole pieces of mussel and big chunks of various kinds of fish and sea-life and vegetables. A sign on the wall read “When I die, bury me under the pub so my husband will visit me 7 times a week!”

After that, we all headed into our own separate directions. Some people rented bicycles for 10 Euros, I chose to walk. The island is quiet and aside from the occasional chatter of the locals and tourists that you overhear, the only sounds are birds chirping, the wind rushing in your ears and gravel crunching under your feet. Speaking of the ground, there was no soil here originally, only rocky surfaces. Soil was

The stone walls used for penning in livestock.

made by pounding rocks and sand into fine grains and mixing it with seaweed and animal manure to, over the years, create dirt suitable for growing plants and crops in. Can you even imagine the work involved? As a Floridian, I appreciated it, especially since we don’t have real dirt back home. Only the sandy “wannabe dirt” soil that sticks to everything.

I wandered up to the ruins, situated on one of the higher points on Inis Oirr. To get there, you wander up a winding paved road, surrounded by low walls made of stone. If you look out into the fields, you can see these walls crossing the entire island. The parts of the field sectioned off by the walls are generally where animals like horse, sheep and cows are kept.

As you continue to walk, the Caislean Ui Bhriain (O’Briene Castle) comes closer into view. I can only imagine that it was majestic back in it’s hey day.The O’Brien family, who owned the island until 1585, built the three-story tower house. It was partially destroyed by Cromwellian forces in 1652.

A little further up the road, you come across the Signal Tower, built in 1804.

Torie, Laura, Lauren, Dr. Robin, Naomi and Carol in front of the wreck of the Plassy, a small freighter washed way up on the rocky beach years ago in a huge storm. Photo by Dr. Rick Wilber.

There are numerous other ruins, cemeteries and things to see, like the Plassy Shipwreck, that I didn’t personally walk because I lethargically followed the winding path for quite some time, enjoying the cool breeze on my cheeks and the smell of fresh hair and the countryside. i got sidetracked and lost track of time and had a few other things  wanted to check out.

I popped in to a few Bed & Breakfasts’ to inquire about the cost to stay there and was met with friendliness. At every place I stopped into, I had my camera out snapping pictures, a notepad and pen in hand and paused only to ask questions of people while they worked and no one regarded me with suspicion. Back home, I get questioned all the time about what I’m writing, why I’m taking pictures and what angle I’m taking with my story. None of these people cared about those things. They just went about their day and let me get my “reporter groove” on.

I stopped into a craft shop on the way back to the dock and met Dr. Robin, Torie, Carol and Naomi there. The shopkeeper there chatted with us about Gaelic and wrote  down a few phrases for us. He grew up on the island and said he has no desire to live anywhere else. Growing up, classes were small- just five or six students most of the time. I bought an Aran Islands t-shirt and a messenger bag handmade from wool sheared from local sheep.

We met back at the bicycle rental area and sat down at a picnic table to discuss the day while we waited for our ferry. Michael O’Connor discussed more about the Irish language with us:

  • “Le mor gra” (with accent marks above the o and a)= “With much love.”
  • “Ta me ngra leat” (with accent marks about the first and second a’s and first e)= “I love you”
  • A lot of money is spent on translating public documents, signs, etc. into both Gaelic and English
  • Words are often made up for things that didn’t exist at the time the language was developed. A lot of words are made to sound like the words for the object in other language.
  • A lot of Gaelic seems to be spelled out phonetically, even if there is a proper spelling for it.
  • Gaelic and Irish= same language.
  • Just about everyone on the island speaks Gaelic as their first language, English as their second

Shortly before the boat pulled up, Dr. Rick noticed three men rowing a traditional-style canoe up to the beach. The small boats are made of tarp and tar. I sprinted to grab some video of them rowing up. Click here to view it.

The ferry ride back to shore made everyone a little nauseous since we had to wait our turn to dock during ferry rush hour. But we had a beautiful view of the cliffs the entire time that we bobbed up and down on the deep blue water. Dr. Rick even saw a big sea turtle gliding by that he pointed out to us. Very exciting stuff guys. That blew Lowry Park Zoo out of the water. I can no longer enjoy the sting ray tank.

The Caislean Ui Bhriain (O'Briene Castle).

Aubrey standing on top of the remnants of the castle.

Mart enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze atop the ruined castle walls. She was in no rush to climb down.

Lauren climbing down the steep, rocky steps of the castle wall. much harder to climb than the watch tower.

A gate in the stone walls lets farmers come in and out of the penned in area.

The Signal Tower was built in 1804 and the remnants can be seen from quite a distance.

The Inis Oirr beach. Very cold water but a lot of children in wetsuits.

I stumbled across two or three tea houses in my walk around the island. The tea is delicious and cheap and the people are friendly.

Daylina, Laura and Lauren gazing out into the ocean, waiting for the ferry to pull up.

Daylina Miller posing near one of the larger rocks at The Burren.

So… what exactly is The Burren? Unlike most of the other sites we’ve visited during our journey through Ireland, this is one I’d never heard of before. It’s easy to drive through without really knowing what you’re looking at.

According to myguideireland.com, “the Burren, situated in north-west County Clare, covers over 300 square kilometres and is of extreme importance to geologists, botanists and archaeologists from Ireland and beyond. As the largest karstic limestone area in Western Europe, the Burren is an anomaly in the Irish landscape and continues to fascinate geologists who come to study its limestone patterns, underground rivers and grykes (cracks). The Burren is home to rare alpine plants,  gentians, mountain avens and maidenhair ferns, amongst others. Those interested in the ancient history of Ireland will find a wealth of material in the Burren – megalithic tombs, Celtic crosses, a ruined Cistercian Abbey and more than sixty wedge tombs.  Walkers on the Burren enjoy a route along dry, hard limestone paths with spectacular views north towards the Aran Islands and Galway Bay.”

Our guide, Michael O’Connor, stopped the bus for us so that we could climb over the rocks and take stunning pictures of the Atlantic Ocean and of the Aran Islands, which we will be visiting tomorrow. It was a bit windy and chilly up on the hillsides and we pulled our jackets more tightly around us as we clamored over rocks and posed for each other’s cameras. THIS is what we pictured when we pictured Ireland. Fields of greenery, natural landscape, and of course, cows and sheep. I feel confident speaking for everyone to say we all enjoyed it.

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match. Find me a find, catch me a catch...

On the way there, we passed through the famous matchmaking town of Lisdoonvarna. According to MatchmakerIreland.com, the name Lisdoonvarna comes from ‘Lios Duin Bhearna’, which means the lios or enclosure of the fort in the gap. The town developed into a  tourist centre as early as the middle of the 18th-century as people traveled to bathe in and drink the healing mineral water there. Rich in iron, sulphur and magnesium, the waters  were said to give relief from  the symptoms of certain diseases, including rheumatism and glandular fever. So many people were going there that a tradition of matchmaking couples sprang out of it. In October, there is a big annual matchmaking festival there. I bet that’s a sight to see.

Then on we traveled to the Cliffs of Moher. The pictures I Googled did not prepare me for the breath-taking beauty of the cliffs. When we first drove up, it was difficult to fully appreciate them. But once we climbed the steep stair walkway to the top of the cliffs, it was mind-blowing. The cliffs are steep, treacherous beauties of rock, plant life and wildlife. When you look over the barriers into the Atlantic, you can see the tides rushing to the base of the cliffs and crashing against the rocks, spitting up white foam and salty water. At the top of one side of the cliffs is O’Brien’s tower, built in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien as a viewing point for visitors who flocked to the cliffs. Castle-like, it stands guard over the cliffs, 175 years of history of watching people from all over the world gaze in wonder at the natural beauty of the Cliffs of Moher.

The Cliffs of Moher speak for themselves.

Past the "warning" barrier, overlooking the edge verrrrry carefully.

O'Brien's Tower. Castle-like, methinks.

The wind was very chilly and tried to rip the jackets and scarves off of our bodies. As you ascended higher onto the cliffs, the force of the wind moved you sidewalks and even holding up a camera for a quick picture was sometimes a struggle. On the cliffs opposite O’Brien’s Tower, you can only traverse so far before being warned about the dangers of the cliff eroding and careening down into the frothy and freezing ocean waters. And like many young rebels before us, we ventured over to the edges. We didn’t come this far to have regrets. And none of us were lost to the Atlantic.

Lahinch Beach in Ireland.

Laura posing like, according to Torie, a "Sport's Illustrated model." A very classy one.

On our way back, we made an unscheduled trip to Lahinch Beach. It has a gorgeous rocky coastline and a chilling temperature, very unlike our hot, sandy beaches. Laura bravely took off her shoes to dip her feet into the freezing waters as the waves crashed up against the walkway and surfers skillfully hopped on their surfboards in the distance.

Lahinch is  a blue flag beach, a voluntary eco-label awarded to over 3,450 beaches and marinas in 41 countries across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean. It’s awarded to clean safe beaches by the independent non-profit organisation Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).  Dr. Rick Wilber pointed it out to me and explained why it was flying so proudly against the overcast sky.

On my way back to the bus, I caught three young, female surfers dressed in wet suits gazing out into the water, obviously enjoying the site. They had taken a two hour trip from West Meath, Ireland to surf here. Rebecca Doolin, Muireann Rygh (her first name means “of the sea”- how appropriate) and Orla Connaughton took the time to chat with me and grab a surfboard, courtesy of Ben’s Surf Clinic, to pose with.

I caught Rebecca, Muireann and Orla staring out to the ocean on my way back to the bus.

Rebecca, Muireann and Orla pose for a picture with a surfboard from Dan's Surf Clinic. The girls took a two-hour drive from West Meath, Ireland to come out to this beach. Interesting, as the USF group members all live within 30 minutes of the beach in Florida and I doubt most of us visit often.