“When I come out on the road of a morning, when I have had a night's sleep and perhaps a breakfast, and the sun lights a hill on the distance, a hill I know I shall walk across an hour or two thence, and it is green and silken to my eye, and the clouds have begun their slow, fat rolling journey across the sky, no land in the world can inspire such love in a common man.” ― Frank Delaney,
Opportunities During Orientation
University of Limerick does a superb job of integrating and welcoming their international students to campus. Each day we had seminars to inform us of the ways classes are scheduled and conducted or on last minute things we needed to complete before classes started. There were also amazing opportunities to experience a taste of Irish culture…
A Little Music
Last Thursday we were treated to a free performance by Celtic Steps, a traditional Irish ensemble, along with traditional river dancers (one was a 5-time world champion! -unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take pictures). All the international students sat in the concert hall and were hypnotized by the music and dance.
I cried as soon as the ensemble began. I was and am still convinced that there is no other genre of music that can capture emotion and the human soul the way Celtic music does. Later this week, I heard street performers in downtown Limerick playing Celtic music and I couldn’t help but stop and listen.
A Bit Of Partying
Our next cup of Irish culture came in a literal cup. Each Friday night, one of the pubs on campus has International Night, where they have a live DJ and all the international students (and Irish people who want to mingle) come and party. Two of my roommates and I had a very interesting beginning to our first Irish party–we walked 10 minutes to the pub and got to the security at the door and found out that we couldn’t get in without our student ID which we, of course, figured we didn’t need. We quickly walked back to our house, grabbed our ID, and ran back to the pub with a minute to spare before we had to pay 5 euro for entry. Fun times.
And they continued… I bought my first Guinness (not my first drink in Ireland) and actually enjoyed it. I danced with girls from France, Italy, and other states in the US. I talked with some Irishmen (a couple of twins came up and talked with me and we found out that our moms had the same Irish maiden name!). It was definitely a huge culture shock experience. Kids in college back in the states hide their partying from the police in the hot and sweaty basements of crappy houses… Here, the security let us in to go buy a beer at a pub on campus.
A Lot Of Scenery
This past Saturday we visited the Milk Market in downtown Limerick. All I could do was wonder what it would be like if my hometown had an open market like the one in Limerick every single Saturday… How many more people would feel included in their own community? How would the dynamic of my town change if we gathered at a market every single Saturday to buy good and FRESH food, coffee, and produce, listen to street performers, find the best deals on household goods and clothing and tools?
We also walked around to see a few buildings in town including St. Mary’s cathedral and King John’s castle on the River Shannon (which also flows right through our campus). The thing that blows my mind is some of those buildings, even a few of those houses, are older than my country. I will forever wonder what the people were like that lived in those places.
That next day I experienced a bus tour around the western coast of Ireland and I’m still trying to stitch my heart back up after it exploded with love (which I’ll probably be doing until I die). We left at 9 am and saw the beautiful rolling hills hiding in a mystical fog. We were so blessed to have a sunny day (usually it is foggy or raining off and on). I saw my first sheep in the countryside and almost started crying (I have a weird love for sheep–my name means “little lamb” in Hebrew and I refuse to eat mutton). I can now die a happy woman.
We drove an hour and a half to the Cliffs of Moher and I will never be able to fully believe I was actually there. The Cliffs of Moher are part of the famous west coast of Ireland, a 700 ft drop, where many people have lost their lives. I was able to jump the stone “fence” and walk right up to the edge (cue the adrenaline overdose–this was also only my second time experiencing the ocean on a major visit). There were stone steps leading to O’Brian’s Tower, but to get to the left side where the cliffs really were, we had to hike up a bit of a muddy hill (my floormate nearly wiped out a few times).
The rest of the day was spent driving around the magnificent countryside and visiting different sights. We saw the Burren, a large expanse of rocky limestone coastline (a karst landscape) that holds more than half of Ireland’s animal species, including a mean breed of crab that lives in the cracks called Scallywags. Interesting fact: History says people have inhabited the Burren for thousands of years and during the famine workers built miles of stone walls by hand for money, but these walls are literally separating nothing.
We were able to get out and walk along the rocky coast in the Burren. It was, again, an adrenaline rush to walk right up to the edge of the deathly drop, to sit and watch the Atlantic swirl and rush against the rock. Then we stopped at Ballyvaughan Pier, a beautiful view of houses meeting the coastline. Our last major stop was at Poulnabrone dolmen, a portal tomb to honor the dead dating back to the neolithic (4200-2900 BC) period. We had to be very careful walking across the landscape. The rocks are crazy thick, rugged, and unforgiving toward a lazy ankle or foot.
On our ride home, we watched the sun set as we rode over the rocky hills that rolled into farmland and the famous green patchwork landscape. I was extremely tired from all the walking and fresh air I got that day and wanted to sleep on the bus (and eventually did a bit), but I fought to stay awake and see what I could before it got too dark to see out the windows.
The fact that I have only a few people that are close to me here that have witnessed what I have witnessed this week feels peculiar. I can’t even begin to think what it will be like to go home to Wisconsin. And this is only the beginning!