From February 21st through March 2nd, I traveled with two friends for our week-long vacation from SKEMA. Because I crammed so much into this vacation, I’ve decided to post about those days in three parts. Starting with Ireland:
I’d always envisioned Ireland as very wet and very green, and this turned out to be a very accurate picture of the country (at least of what I saw of the country). My friends and I flew into Dublin and ate at a restaurant that uses all local and organic products, and only sells craft beers. Their menus were pasted into old books, they used Scrabble letters to spell out “RESERVED” on their tables, the tables were essentially giant slabs of uneven but smooth wood, they filled the various shelves above their tables with books, and they were playing quality music (a big change from the American pop that I hear in France…of course this is all a matter of opinion). Personally, I can’t imagine a better introduction to Ireland.
My first pint of beer in Ireland, a craft beer named Trouble.
The next morning we took a bus to Limerick to visit a friend of one of the friend’s I was traveling with. He took us to a café for breakfast where we had a cheap but genuine Irish breakfast. I made sure to put some beans on my toast, as the Irish do. While we ate my friend’s friend taught us about brown sauce (looks like brown ketchup but tastes different. Good with fries, bacon, and toast), bap (a kind of bread), and salads (this is the word for toppings in Ireland. But a salad can still be the salad I’ve always known it as). Afterwards we walked to King John’s castle, then drove to the Cliffs of Moher.
The Cliffs are absolutely stunning. We spent much more time outside taking pictures of them than we did in the visitor’s center, but I was able to learn a little bit about how they were made; that they’re composed of sand, silt and mud; and that they’re 200 meters tall. Only just remembered to see what that is in feet: 656.168 feet! I also learned that Burren, the region where the Cliffs are located, gets its name from an Irish word (the friend of my friend in Limerick said that everyone outside of Ireland seems to say Gaelic, but in Ireland they just say Irish) meaning “rocky place.” How creative!
The next day, Sunday, I woke up early and walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I’d had no idea that Jonathan Swift was a Dean there! I’ve had Gulliver’s Travels sitting on my shelf waiting for me to read it for some time, and now I want to read it even more. Swift is buried with his best friend, Stella, there. The left and right sides of the Cathedral are lined with statues and memorials to important Irish figures, many of whom helped fight for the rights of Catholics. The Cathedral was initially built as a church in the 12th century because it is said that St. Patrick baptized people at a well in that area. Since then it has been added to, and a member of the Guinness family funded a restoration project that made the Cathedral what it is today, which is beautiful.
Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
After leaving the Cathedral, I met up with my friends to visit the National Gallery. Our tour guide pointed out a painting by John Lavery that was inspired by Velázquez’s Las Meninas, which I’m happy to say I remember studying in AP Art History, so I could understand the reference. The Gallery housed paintings by many Irish artists who I hadn’t known before but am pleased to have learned about, because I really liked their works.
Next we went to the National Archaeology Museum, which I LOVED. Apparently the moisture in Ireland’s bogs is ideal for preserving ancient artifacts, so the Museum was filled to the brim with them. I saw a dugout canoe, called the Lurgan Boat, that’s 50 feet long! The middle section of the Museum was filled with gold artifacts. Archaeologists have discovered hoards of jewelry that have torcs (made by twisting gold), lunulae (flat, crescent-shaped gold necklaces), beads and other items that were of value to the Irish years and years ago.
Gold beads at Ireland’s National Archaeology Museum.
A torc necklace at Ireland’s National Archaeology Museum.
I also learned about the influences of the Vikings and the English on the Irish. The Vikings established the city of Dublin, which began as a trading post, but eventually developed into a city after they came to an agreement with the Irish king and began living together more peacefully with the Irish. Both the Vikings and English clothing and art styles influenced the Irish (the Irish La Trène style, which was characterized by its plant images, mixed with the Viking’s art style to include animal images). The English also led the development of a currency in Ireland.
The next day, our last day in Ireland, we went to Trinity College, the Guinness Factory and the Kilmainham Gaol (an old prison that’s been turned into a museum). The Trinity College Library is my new favorite place; I could spend forever there (especially if I was able to walk along the second floor!). The Book of Kells is amazing to see in person. The detail the writers put into the script and the artists put into the images is really impressive. The book is an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels that was made by monks around 800 A.D. They wrote in a script called insular majuscule using iron gall ink, and decorated the pages in blue, green, yellow, white, purple and pink. In addition to the Book of Kells, another illuminated manuscript called the Book of Armagh was on display.
Me in the Trinity College Library.
I was really impressed by the Guinness Factory! I guess my expectations hadn’t been very high. But the way the exhibition was organized across the seven floors was really neat. We learned about the ingredients (barley, hops (Guinness has more of this than most other beers), yeast, and water), how the beer is made, and how to properly pour a pint of Guinness.
A painting on one of the cells in Kilmainham by Countess Markievicz, who was a satirical political cartoonist who was jailed for her support of the Easter Rising.
The Kilmainham Gaol was a good Irish history lesson. I learned about various people who played key roles in the Easter Rising, including Pearse, who wrote Proclamation of 1916 declaring Ireland’s independence that I had just seen at Trinity College! The tour guide also informed us of the meaning of Ireland’s flag: the green is for Irish/Celtic culture and tradition, the orange is for English tradition, and the white is the peace that is meant to flow between them.
We had dinner and watched a comedy show at a great pub just outside the Temple Bar area in Dublin called The Stag’s Head, where I made sure to have an Irish coffee before leaving Ireland. According to one of the comedians, and to my friend’s friend form Limerick, the Irish enjoy messing with Americans when they visit the U.S., because of the stereotype that all Americans are stupid. The comedian told a story about how a friend of his convinced multiple Americans that Ireland didn’t have Wednesdays; the Irish decided the week was too long so they voted to remove Wednesday from the days of the week. One of the Americans was particularly concerned because he’d just bought a plane ticket to Ireland that was supposed to arrive on a Wednesday. Oh Americans….
My next post will be about Scotland, which I have to admit was my favorite place we visited during this vacation. However, I absolutely loved Ireland and am so glad I went. Below are some random observations I made about Ireland that I liked and that make me want to go back:
- The Irish seem very vegetarian friendly (no I’m not a vegetarian but I like my vegetables. Especially after living in France, where I’m constantly presented with all kinds of breads and cakes that are hard to resist eating).
- The Irish support local, organic, and sustainable food practices.
- The Irish dress in a style that is quirkier than the French
- The Irish seem to highlight women’s roles in their country’s history more than other countries I’ve learned about (particularly the U.S. and France, of course).