Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Literature in Ireland

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November 28, 2008

Visiting Belfast Illuminates Much


John Henry '10 - First of all I must say Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home.  Today has been one of my favorite days on the trip for many reasons.  We began our day very early around 6:30 AM to take the train to Belfast in Northern Ireland.  The trip was about two and a half hours via train and immediately after getting off the train we were off on a tour bus to have a historic tour of the city. 

The relevance to our class could not have been more pertinent, as we traversed the city.  Much of Joyce’s writing is steeped in elements of the Irish struggle for independence. Belfast brings to life this struggle through its still strong division and hundreds of Nationalist and Loyalist wall paintings, commemorating heroes from the struggle. Many of the men involved in the fighting were in their twenties and it was hard to imagine that these young men died for their country and its independence while we already have these freedoms.

The city still has many of its dividing walls separating the Catholic and Protestant sides of the city from one another.  These walls are around fifty feet high and yet still could not contain the violence and indiscriminate killing that occurred on both sides during what the Northern Irish call the “Troubles”.  Even within the city itself people fly different flags and although Northern Ireland is currently possessed by the UK, there were many flags of the Irish Republic being flown across the city.

After our tour we took the bus further north to what is known as the Giant’s Causeway.  This geological formation is directly on the ocean and was formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.  It is a collection of some 40,000 hexagonal rocks neatly organized to form what truly looks like a massive causeway.  The area is steeped in Irish legend.  The Causeway was formed completely naturally, which makes it all the more impressive. Scotland can also be seen across the Irish Sea and the massive cliffs with their vegetation set the scene.  I have never seen anything that combines so many of the most beautiful elements of nature, rock, earth, vegetation, sea, and distant mountains all in one area. 

We headed back into Belfast to have our Thanksgiving Dinner at an American restaurant called Springstein’s.  Ironically enough there was a carved Indian next to our table sporting an American flag.  Not quite a typical American Thanksgiving but one I will always remember.  We are all about to head out into the Dublin nightlife and enjoy one of our last nights here. 

A Day Trip to Galway in Ireland

Nick Whoehler ' 09 - Today’s adventure found our heroes venturing away from the great city of Dublin and travelling to the west end of the country to Galway.  Getting up early, we hopped a tram to the Hueston Train Station and got to see some authentic Irish countryside on our three hour trip.  Having only been in the city up until this point, it was a refreshing to see some wide open spaces (and, of course, lots and lots of sheep).

When we arrived in Galway, we travelled to the downtown, got our bearings straight, and went our separate ways for a couple of hours.  The group I was with sought out the Galway City Museum where we saw exhibits detailing the history of the city, JFK’s visit to the city, and art from various Galway artists.  Afterwards we sought out a cheap, quick lunch at Supermac’s (a chain-restaurant a lot like McDonald’s out here) and all met together for the highlight of our trip, Nora Barnacle’s House.

Nora Barnacle’s House was opened especially for our group (normally it’s a seasonal exhibit, but they made an exception for a group of enthusiastic Joyceans).  There we learned about the history of Nora Barnacle, James Joyce’s wife, and how the story of her first love was poetically rendered in Joyce’s short story “The Dead” (from Dubliners), which we had read for the class earlier in the semester.  I think I speak for everyone when I say that having read the story gave us a much deeper appreciation for the tour as all the little piece of Joyce’s life seemed to be coming together and syncing up with his writings.

After touring the house, we were given more free time to explore the city.  A few guys and I went out to see St. Nicholas’ Cathedral, which was absolutely stunning.  After leaving the Cathedral, we followed the maze of the city and the labyrinth that is suburbia to wind up on the coast.  Just as we got to the beach, it stopped drizzling, the clouds parted, and we got to enjoy a breathtaking view of the ocean. 

We walked along the shore for awhile and then began our trek back to the city.  Along the way, we encountered a man feeding swans, pigeons, ducks, and any other local bird the allure of bread would attract.  It was a pretty awesome sight as the birds let us get right up next to them to take their pictures.  We headed back, bought some souvenirs, and then jumped back on the train to enjoy the three hour return trip.

November 27, 2008

Learning First Hand About Yeats

Jack Reuter '09 - Today we visited the National Library and William Butler Yeats exhibition followed by a tour of the Guinness storehouse at St. James’ Gates. It was incredible to not only observe one of the settings from James Joyce’s Ulysses in the upper reading rooms of the library, but, in regards to the Yeats exhibit, see first hand the notes and writings of such an influential poet and author.

I was already familiar with Yeats’ writing having closely studied his work in English 340 last year. It seems that when one observes the genuine hand-written poems right there, inches from your grasp, the poetry takes on a whole new relevance. It’s like, “Wow, at one time William Butler Yeats actually leaned over this scrap of paper and composed some of the greatest poetry ever written.” On the other hand, I also wonder how he ever read it since most of hand-written pieces are no better than chicken scratch. From a biographical standpoint, the exhibit had quite a few personal effects in their collection that had been donated by Yeats’ family, including several distinct articles including his glasses, a lock of his hair, and certain items from his association with the cult organization, Golden Dawn.

The tour of the Guinness storehouse was also a great experience. Not only because I have a personal fondness for the sweet nectar of the gods, but I hadn’t realized just how much Guinness has been an iconic cultural fixture for almost 300 years. Approaching the storehouse, we were greeted by the sweet aroma of roasted barley and, upon entering, encountered massive old machinery and accouterment left over from the earliest days of the brewery’s first production of arguably the world’s most famous beer.

Amongst other things, we got to learn the processes of brewing through the aid of electronic presentations set in a variety of old brewing tools and barrels, observe Guinness memorabilia collected over the years, see the 9000 year lease signed by Guinness himself, and of course got to sample a taste of Guinness to cap our experience.

The Fine-Line Dichotomy between Tourist Dubliners, Native Dubliners, and the Irish

Alex Avtgis '11 - Perception is King. Throughout my short time here, I’ve acquired a destructive habit of searching for the elusive native. Where doth the Irish reside in Dublin? My Caliban, as Nick points out. I’m swarmed by the high flying euros, the flashy neon of advertisements, trite double-deckers, and a dark commonplace genius that is Guinness.

Don’t get me wrong. I love throwing back pints, touring a fresh city on buses, and window shopping in the Dublin context. At the same time, I’m quite confused – how those touristy enjoyments must confine my thoughts, limit my horizons, destroy my understanding. Yet –and this is a scarier thought – might this be the way someone lives in the city? Or is the pricey allure and Dublin glamour forcing true Dubliners to bear through and grit their teeth in order to continue?

And that’s not the least of my worries – is Dublin even Irish anymore?

At this time, however, I acknowledge that my story is already taking a horrible turn – I’m stereotypifying the Irish, forcing them to uphold and live by the culture I place on them.

So, I’ll just describe the Wabash day for you: 

We awoke at 8:45 (John, Arschel, Nick and myself) to rendezvous with Dr. Brewer on the Dublin Tram down to the Kilmainham Gaol, a political prison for the many who suffered in obtaining the freedoms enjoyed by modern Ireland. We winded through the museum and restored hallways morose, each bearing individual unanswerable questions: How could a group of people bear so heavy a burden as decades of political and social oppression? How did that burden come strictly from other similar human beings, who could have at any point shifting their thinking accordingly? Reflecting on these questions turns my stomach; yet, I numb myself again, remembering that oppression is a beast of past and we have truly ‘learned’ from the errors of our ways.

 Later on, after a sobering lunch, we took on another depressing task: trudging through the seventh chapter of Ulysses, our class discovered each and almost Dublin business establishment referenced by Joyce to be either renovated or no longer operating. Gentrification at its finest. At this point, I’ll shout-out to the Wabash Alumni: it would be quite interesting if any Joyce enthusiast could buy out the properties previously mentioned and restore them with their culturally significantly tenants. How grand that would be!

Enough. I leave you to catch up on sleep.

November 24, 2008

Seeing What You've Learned is Powerful

Chuck Summers '10 - After a much-needed chance to sleep in a little bit this morning, we met up at Trinity College to catch a glimpse of one of the oldest texts in the Anglo history, the Book of Kells. The ancient text itself is held in the old library of the college, the same place where great writers like Jonathan Swift once spent their time studying while they were students at Trinity. What was incredible to me was the elaborate, artistic design of the letters themselves. I can hardly imagine the time and effort it took to write out and color each letter with just ink and a crude pen. 

After a small break to eat, we traveled to the Irish National Museum of Archeology and History. There were many incredible artifacts to see like weapons and jewelry from the Vikings who settled in the area now known as Dublin thousands of years ago. The most amazing, if not a little disturbing, thing I saw there were the “bog people,” a few eerily-well preserved bodies found in Irish peat bogs. These bodies dated as far back as 400 BC and were believed to have been thrown in the bogs after being ritually sacrificed, a common practice in the culture of ancient Irish people, as well as most others across Europe. I found it incredible how scientists could do things like tell what kind of diet they had by analyzing their fingernails and just how much they were able to find out about these men who lived so long ago. Nothing connects you to history like getting to know the common people who lived in that time, and I have never learned more about the culture of ancient Ireland like I have learned today.

After that, we went to Collins Barracks, an enormous old military barracks that now serves as a museum. A huge portion of the museum focused on the Irish rebellion against Britain, most notably the Easter Rebellion of 1916. To imagine that, in the very same streets I had been wandering through, there were once violent gun battles was surreal. Through the different artifacts on display in the museum, I was able to contextualize the rebellion and violence that makes up Irish history, something I have learned much about. 

Today’s activities really sum up what this immersion trip is all about. You can read all you want about an ancient culture, but you can’t truly learn about it without physically seeing the things they wore and the tools they made. By being able to actually meet and mingle with people in the pubs and physically see the places that make up the Irish history I have read about, I have able to really experience Irish culture, and I can’t wait to see and learn more.

First Day in Dublin Amazing for Students

November 21, 2008 - This date marks a turning point for me as an individual. Today was my first trip overseas. Naturally, my expectations were high as I had heard so many wondrous things about other Wabash students going overseas and having the time of their lives.

Oh My God!!! If you are reading this blog and have not taken a trip abroad with Wabash, what are you waiting for? I have only spent a day here and so far, all of the stories have lived up to the hype. Granted our plane ride over could have been better so I ended up staying awake for almost a good 24 hours, but whenever I slept for 10 or so minutes when I had a chance, I fell asleep with a smile on my face. Why you ask? Because we’re in Ireland baby!!!

Every session of our James Joyce class has been leading to this event. Our journey started us off landing in Dublin after a 6-7 hour flight. Wow, was I blown away by the scenery. I do not think I have blown through so much memory on my camera getting a snapshot of every single statue, landmark and random Irish native. Pretty much, I was a walking person labeled tourist. My camera never stayed off for very long.

Our primary event of the day was a guided tour through southern Dublin and seeing various landmarks such as The Spire, which gave me reverse vertigo just looking up at it; the court house, which featured several statues and works of art plus an amazingly designed glass ceiling; and Dublin Castle, where some events shaping Dublin’s early of history took place.

Our tour guide had plenty of information to tell us and if he could have kept the tour going for more than two hours, he would have. Our first day closed with our first dinner at an Irish restaurant called Nude, which made some delicious sausage. Finally, we passed through a few small pubs and witnessed some well played, old fashioned Irish music, which you can see via the link below.

We have finally arrived in Dublin ladies and gentlemen, and the fun has only just begun.

In photo: The tour guide shares knowledge of the Dublin Castle behind him.