Irish Studies 2010

The adventure of a lifetime…

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The Blasket Heritage Center at Dun Chaoin (Dunquin)

June 6th, 2010 · Blasket Heritage Center & Island

Today we visited the Blasket Heritage Center in Dun Chaoin (Dunquin). Although it is in the middle of nowhere, Dun Chaoin is one of the most beautiful places we have visited while in Ireland. The scenery is absolutely spectacular and the view of the water is amazing.

We got an early start, ate breakfast, and walked from our hostel to the Blasket Heritage Center which was right down the very narrow road across from us. When we entered the Heritage Center we went straight into the theater to watch a video which talked about the history of Great Blasket, the western island off of Dun Chaoin.

The sea plays a major part in the Blasket’s history. The sea was very rough at times but provided the people on the island with food. It is 2/3 mile wide and every field and cove has its own name. Even though this island is very small, it comes with a large history of writers and scholars. The video we viewed emphasized and explained the importance of some influential writers. Most famous were Tomas O Crimothain, Munris O Shuilleabhain (“The Island Man”), Peig Sayers (“An Old Womans Reflections”), Eibhlis Ni Shuilleabhain, and Sean O Crimtham. Each writer explored many aspects of life on and off the island. For them, the Great Blasket was home and the mainland was unfamiliar. All of their perspectives are greatly noted and they explored and spoke of different experiences they encountered.

The Great Blasket literally means “sharp reef”. It was inhabited in the Iron Age. It was leased to the Ferriter family until 1653. The population started to increase and Protestant missionaries created a school house. The famine in 1845 and the outbreak of typhoid led to the decrease of population on the island due to death and emigration to America. As better health began to emerge in later years, the population began to grow again. However, in 1953, the Great Blasket became abandoned.

The Heritage Center is composed of different rooms explaining about different aspects of the Great Blasket. One room illustrated the land of the Great Blasket and explored the various tools, boats and cropping tools used on the island. The next room spoke of the islands economy. The tending of milch cows and cattle greatly helped economy, as did the selling and exporting of major crops such as oats and potatoes. Another room talked about the sea surrounding the island. In this particular room a quote on the wall read, “For the Islanders the sea was not only a source of food but the object of fear and admiration”. The sea surronding the island was harsh but also provided a lifestyle for the islanders.

We ended the day with a boat ride to the Great Blasket where we walked around and sat on the beach admiring the beautiful settings around us. It was at this point that we got a first hand look at the island we had learned about earlier at the Heritage Center. Through exploring ruins and observing puffins, seals, sheep, and all the other animals present on the island, it is now easy to see why many travel to the Blasket Island to experience both it’s rich culture and astounding beauty.

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June 4th, 2010 · Skibbereen Famine Cemetery

Today we got up and got on the road. It was a really travel-intensive day as we set out to Killarney. We left Cork early in the morning with a full itinerary for the day. While we had spoken to a great degree about the atrocities of the Famine, nothing prepared us for what we would see in Skibbereen.

We made a short stop in town in town and then set out for our drive to the cemetery. Had the driver not been so keen, we could have completely missed the inconspicuous monument. It was a small cemetery built into the side of a hill. The monuments were small in stature and nothing compared to even the memorial in New York City.  Upon entering the graveyard, we could all feel a chill from the cold steel gates that separated it from the street.

We were greeted by small plaques that commemorated the loss of the victims of the Famine. The first and largest of these plaques had a poem inscribed on it that read

“Oh son, I loved my native land, with energy and pride till a blight came over all my crops and my sheep and cattle died. My rent and taxes were to pay, I could not them redeem, and that’s the cruel reason why I left my old Skibbereen.”

Initially, it appears as though the people treat this subject with a lighthearted approach. As we continued to the mass grave, we noticed that it was nothing. A plot of grass marked the space where 9,000 bodies were crudely thrown. This simple poem explains how droves of people came to this small town in hopes of finding relief, yet overcrowding and sickness demolished hope and killed many.

It was interesting to note how man could be so inhuman in times of need. Bodies crudely stacked without a marker and raw iron crosses marked graves. This small plot of grass was in direct contrast to what we had all expected. In America, these would have been a grandiose monument dedicated to these victims of hunger, yet here it was just one section of a still active cemetery.  Amazing.

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Cobh Heritage Centre (Queenstown)

June 3rd, 2010 · Cobh Heritage Center

We woke up at 7 am in Waterford, ate breakfast and then got on the bus to the Cobh Heritage Center. When we arrived, we quickly got off the bus and entered the heritage museum. The museum has many exhibits that highlight the Irish emigration experience, mainly from the port of Cobh, to countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia.

The first exhibit had a model and diorama scenes of a coffin ship, which was used in the earlier years of immigration. These ships were very small and uncomfortable, and as a result disease spread rapidly among the passengers. These ships were called coffin ships because many of the passengers never made it to their destination alive. In this exhibit, there was also a plaque that talked about “American Wakes,” which were going-away parties for people emigrating to America. They were called wakes because it was seen as the end of their life in Ireland, their home country to which they would never return.

While in the earlier years the Cobh was used as a port for emigration for coffin ships, this started to change around the later 1850s as a result of the invention of steam ships. These steams ships brought about tighter regulation for the traveling conditions of the passengers and a shift to higher-end travel out of the port. These ships had different seating areas so the rich could travel in style. While there were still lower-class seating areas, the restrictions prevented conditions from being as poor as the coffin ships.

As we exited the museum, we saw a giant cruise ship and it reminded us of the shift that the port of Cobh has made over the years. It changed from being a port for poor passengers seeking a better life in America, to the last stop of steam ships headed to America, and currently a stop for cruise liners.

The port was also famous for the Titanic and the Lusitania. This port was the last stop for the Titanic before it sank. The Lusitania was torpedoed 25 miles off the coast of Cobh. The survivors and bodies were brought to Cobh and treated at a nearby hotel.

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Mark Bylancik’s latest blog post on Irish Fireside.

June 2nd, 2010 · Irish Fireside, Travel

Mark Bylancik, one of the students traveling on this years trip is writing for the Irish Fireside Blog and Podcast and has just posted his second piece.

Check it out here and be sure to leave a comment for him!

“Ireland, a Spiritual Place Indeed” –

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June 1st, 2010 · Martin McCrossan & Derry City

On Sunday, we left the Ulster American Folk Park residence center on our bus to go to the town known as Londonderry. Our class had watched the movie “Bloody Sunday” in preparation for this particular part of the trip. We were all eager to finally start the tour–especially after such a long bus ride. When we finally parked, we were greeted by a man named Martin who gave a short introduction to what we were about to see. Soon after, we filed off of the bus and looked around at the very urban surroundings. Our tour guide, John, opened up with a few jokes about us being sleepy and then herded us into town. We started across from a small coffee shop known as “Java”. The whole tour was centered around the event known as Bloody Sunday.

John started off very briefly by talking about the potato famine and how many Irish people left in mass exodus during that time. He described how people went all over the English-speaking world and even made a quick joke about why people wanted to go to America. (They were let down when they got there and realized, “The streets were supposed to be paved with gold. When we got there, we discovered they weren’t even paved. We had to pave them.”) Then John led us up onto the city walls that let us look over the entire beautiful city. He went onto discuss the political and religious rivalry between Protestants and the Catholics. He even pointed to a church that earned the label as the “building most bombed by the IRA.” Then John started talking about one aspect of history that we were very familiar with, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He talked about how Dr. King inspired many to make peaceful protests in the effort to gain civil rights for Black people. Moved by the efforts and struggles of Dr. King, a man named Ivan Cooper decided to organize his own peaceful protest. On January 30, Ivan gathered many members of the community to march for Irish people’s right to representation, housing and jobs, as well as to protest internment without trial.

We reached the end of the wall and walked off on to a grassy hill which overlooked several elaborate murals that referenced the Bloody Sunday massacre in the Bogside. At this point, John delved into the darker parts of the incident. He talked about how midway through the march, the protesters were fired upon, and many people were killed by British paratroopers. We then approached the sign that read, “You are now entering Free Derry.” First, we looked at the mural of a young woman, Bernadette Devlin, holding a megaphone with a few of her peers standing behind her. Then John told us the tragic story of “The Loss of Innocence,” which illustrated a little girl who was sent by her parents to pick up a few groceries and was shot twice in the head on her way home while caught right in the middle of crossfire between the IRA and the British Army. We looked at a few more murals and finished with a painting that showed three boys carrying signs. Each boy was representative of the three kinds of people who died in The Troubles. We finished the walking section of the tour in front of a memorial which listed people who died in the incident. The most common age among the victims was 17 years old. It was a very solemn note to leave on.

Ivan Cooper, the legendary leader of the tragic civil rights march and former Member of Parliament, met us at a local cafe for a cup of coffee. He made a very brief opening statement before opening the floor to questions. Quite a few questions were about the movie, “Bloody Sunday,” for which he was a primary consultant. “Do you think the movie properly represented the incident?” “Do you think the movie properly represented you?.” Ivan surprisingly said yes to both questions, excluding the romantic scenes with his future wife. He said that the events of the movie and his character were excellently portrayed. One member of the group then asked him if he felt guilty for the terrible way things turned out. Ivan did not take one moment to think. He immediately said, “Yes, certainly.” He talked a lot about seeing young and old men who were shot and murdered right in front of him. Ivan let us in on other insightful details about that tragic day and then talked about the future. More specifically, Ivan talked about June 16th, when the results of the second inquiry into the events is supposed to come out. Ivan said that he would not be satisfied unless the British army was held completely responsible for the whole incident. When asked if he was sure if it was completely the army’s fault, Ivan said, “I only know what I saw, and I saw British soldiers gun down innocent civilian protesters.” After a few more minutes of talking, Ivan had to depart and we gave him our warm thanks and went our separate ways.

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Ulster American Folk Park

May 29th, 2010 · Ulster American Folk Park & Centre for Migration Studies

Today we visited the Ulster American Folk Park. We started out in an exhibit that reflected the timeline of Irish immigration to America from Ulster, Ireland. It had various stories of immigrants who were very successful in America, but the museum also touched on how some immigrants were not as successful and were forgotten over time. It told many stories of why the Irish left Ireland.  During the famine, Irish emigrants tried to escape hunger and persecution by leaving their homeland and travel over to the new world. Landlords would also ship people to America because they could not afford to take care of their tenants and land.  Another factor was that the oldest son had the rights to the land after the father had passed, so the younger children were forced to pursue opportunities in other places such as America, where they had the chance to own land and prosper. There were not many resources in Ireland and living conditions were very harsh. There was no sign of an improvement in the economy and living conditions any time soon. Eventually, 21% of Ulster’s population emigrated to America after the famine.

After the museum, which was very interesting, we went to the outdoor portion of Ulster American Folk Park that had various living exhibits. These exhibits gave us insight into what both Ulster and America were like during these times. We first saw various tenant-class Irish homes which were very small and had very few tools for both living and eating. These houses were also meant for ten-person families and sometimes larger. Conditions were very harsh for these Irish people and the exhibits and their living historians portrayed their despair quite well. We then moved on to see a typical ship that Irish people would take to emigrate to America. These ships were given the name of “coffin ships” because of their awful conditions. The trip to the new world would take anywhere from six weeks to sixteen weeks. There was no form of bathing on the ship, only one meal a day, and extremely cramped quarters. Many Irish people would perish on the way over due to these terrible conditions.

We then moved on to exhibits that showed how Irish people would live and work in America. Reaching America was not the end of the journey. These Irish people then had to find jobs and a home. Success was not guaranteed, and many Americans were resistant to help the Irish during these times. We then saw a typical house and a general store where Irish people would shop for goods and other products.

The entire Ulster American Folk Park displayed the times of 18th and 19th century Irish people extremely well. It was a very insightful visit, and everyone enjoyed the tour and were very intrigued by all of the culture that was offered. Our tour guide, Walter, also did a very good job of showing us around. He had an extensive knowledge of the time period and was quite hilarious as well. The whole experience at the Ulster American Folk Park was very insightful and one which no one on the trip will forget.

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Strokestown House and Famine Museum

May 28th, 2010 · Famine Museum at Strokestown

After beginning the day well before 7 am and loading tiredly onto the bus by 8:15, we unloaded in front of a large building made uniformly of gray stone. Soon after disembarking, we walked to the front entrance of the house where we met our tour guide, a woman with a thick accent and traditional Irish geniality. The tour began in a foyer with high ceilings and white walls adorned with various mounted antlers. As we progressed through the house, we were introduced to all the customs that defined daily life for the landlord class during the time of the potato famine. The house included amenities such as beautiful drawing rooms and libraries, several bedrooms, a large dining room and kitchen, and a playroom and schoolroom for the children of the house, all furnished with elegant wooden furniture pieces that demonstrated the relatively extensive wealth of the family. Despite all the beautiful aspects of the house itself that showed how nicely the landowners lived, other aspects of the house highlighted the great disparity between the working and wealthy classes. One example was a tunnel that ran below the house through which all servants were expected to travel. Similarly, the beautiful gardens behind the house reflected a similar hierarchy. The servants who kept the grounds so magnificent were forbidden to be present there at the same time as the family. In this way, these too were set up with the family’s comfort, rather than logical convenience, as the most important aspect of maintaining the area. But even more than either the house or the gardens, the museum portion of the estate showed how different life was for those who were far less fortunate during the time that the blight plagued the island.

The museum provided tremendous insight into the shocking hardships that dominated the time of the famine, especially how difficult every aspect of daly life was for those who didn’t own land. Landowners essentially held the fates of their tenants in their hands. Perhaps the most potent example were the boats which are now remembered as “coffin ships” for the high death toll that arose from their horrible conditions. When landlords found that they could no longer support their tenants, they paid their passage on these grim emigrant ships, destined for the US or Canada. Many passengers never survived the voyage. Another enlightening image that came out of the museum as the juxtaposition of pictures from the Irish famine next to those that depict modern famine. These two aspects of the museum seem to exemplify the lessons that we are supposed to take away from this exhibit–the famine was a distant tragedy, but today we have to work to end it in any part of the world where it still exists.

We finished our visit with a walk through the gardens of the estate and lunch at the small museum cafe before getting back on the bus and beginning the trip to Omagh.

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Mark Bylancik writes for Irish Fireside Blog and Podcast

May 20th, 2010 · Irish Fireside, Travel

This year Irish Studies has teamed up with the Irish Fireside Blog & Podcast to spread the word about Irish Studies, Ireland, it’s history, culture and what it’s like to be a student traveling abroad.

Mark’s first post, “Restoring One’s Spiritual Batteries in Ireland“, looks at how he hopes to connect with Ireland from both a sentimental and spiritual perspective.

Read Mark’s post here:

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Posts to come…

December 10th, 2009 · Blasket Heritage Center & Island, Cobh Heritage Center, Famine Museum at Strokestown, Martin McCrossan & Derry City, Skibbereen Famine Cemetery, Ulster American Folk Park & Centre for Migration Studies

Keep an eye out for post to come for all of our “Areas of Study”

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Information Meeting – 12/10/2009

December 10th, 2009 · Travel

There will be an information meeting on December 10th at 7:30 p.m. in the Upper School Library.  Parents and student interested in the Irish Studies Program, the course requirement and May Term travel option should attend.

There will be information regarding the trip available and deposits for travel will be accepted at the meeting.

There will be a question and answer session at the end of the presentation.

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