Monday, March 29, 2010

long overdue post about the CIEE trip to Mayo

I guess I can finally update about our field trip to western Ireland! The first weekend in March Dona and Martin brought all 35(ish) of us to County Mayo in the west. The main focus of the trip was to learn more about the potato famine and its effects on the country, especially because the troubles of the famine were felt most there. We left on the Wednesday morning- which really sucked since Dan was still here but I didn’t have to go to my 9am class which was nice.
Our first stop was the Strokestown House and National Irish Famine Museum. Strokestown House was the residence of a wealthy landlord during the famine days. It was a great stop because unlike most museums where everything is roped off and behind glass, the house was left just how it was when the last family members lived in it. It turns out, a local truck-company owner had wanted to buy a portion of the property when they were auctioning it off but it was an all or nothing kind of deal and so he bought the whole thing- including the house and everything inside. It was so cool to walk around inside because it was filled with all the original furniture, old toys, and even a first edition Charles Dickens book. And we were allowed to touch stuff, which was a surprise since normally like I said, stuff is roped off. We also went to two famine museums. One was just a quick walk through next to Strokestown- the man who bought all the property turned the barn into a museum. And the other was the Museum of Country life which showed how people lived before during and after the famine especially in County Mayo where the famine hit the hardest. Then we went to our hotel in Westport. The town was really cute had a nice center to walk around. Everyone just explored a little bit before going to dinner (best meals I will eat here- 3 course meals!) and then going to a couple pubs.
The next day we visited Croagh Patrick, the mountain where Saint Patrick fasted for 40 days, built a church, and banished all the snakes from Ireland. We also learned the importance of the shamrock to Ireland and how St Patrick used it to teach the native pagan Irish the concept of the Holy Trinity. The mountain was beautiful and we lucked out with weather. We didn’t walk very far up but we found out that every year on Reek Sunday (last Sunday in July) thousands of people take a pilgrimage and climb the mountain barefoot! We also went for a hike (more of a brisk walk with a slight incline) in Connemara which was beautiful.
On Friday we went to Achill Island (yeah that’s what it’s really called) and drove around the countryside to see all the famine memorials (there are a lot). The famine is still very much in the memories of the Irish- there was much more to it than what we learn in the states. One of the most interesting places we went was an old famine farm house. The guy who ran it actually grew up there and lived there until the 1970s. Behind the tiny house the man had created a more extensive famine museum, collecting artifacts from people all over and giving a good idea of what life really was like in Co. Mayo during the famine.
Then on Saturday we headed back to Dublin and I was very shocked to find that Dan was still there :) So then we went to the food festival and just hung out and enjoyed his last day in Dublin! I hated having him leave but really glad he got to visit.

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