To Ireland!

Top o’ the mornin to ya!

Live from American Airlines Flight #92, en route to Dublin, Ireland! This is the beginning of my Irish immersion; soon I will be cartwheeling through the moist rolling fields of the little island that is Ireland. Who am I, you ask? Victoria Renee Derr, San Diego native, currently in the process of getting a BA in English Literature/Creative Writing at Seattle University. This trip is a part of that process.

Ireland is a place of astonishing beauty, a place of speakers and writers, a place that has sprouted as many creative voices as fields of barley. The Writer’s Workshop in Ireland guides students through poetry, fiction, and our own writing to gain a sense of place while in a foreign country, to better enrich our own experiences through the written works of other Irish writers, and to hone our own creative voice. We’ll be visiting places such as the Martello Tower (the setting of the first chapter in James Joyce’s Ulysses), the Aran Islands, and the beautiful Galway near the sea. We’ll be studying Irish writers such as James Joyce and Seamus Heaney who are notable in the way their writing engages the place in which they are in their life. For example, Joyce’s relationship with Dublin is so intimate that walking around the city today, you can find brass plaques marking places or things Ulysses character Leopold Bloom comments upon.

Our focus is to gain a sense of dinnseanchas, a Gaelic term which translates to “place wisdom.” Poet John Montague translates it as a “sense of the historical layers and legends which give character to an area.” Ireland abroad-ers will be peeling back the layers to find what’s underneath, slipping into our work boots to dig into the rich earth of Ireland (possibly encountering some bog people on the way! click here to see what bog people are all about). With our guides, James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, and Paula Meehan, we, as students, travelers, writers, hope to explore the place that holds these rich layers and create a layer of our own.

And so it begins.



Putting the Peices Together at Dunn Aengus

Over the weekend our class went on a day trip out to Innis Mor, which is one of the Aryan Islands. The island is covered with rock walls built in the traditional Irish way. Instead of using any kind of mortar, rocks are chosen which naturally fit together. The island is one that feels as if it is back in time. There is only one grocery store on the entire island and it closes at 5 p.m. Most of the people who go there rent bikes to ride around the roadways.
The island features many beaches, some sandy and others entirely covered in smooth rocks. Many of us took advantage of the beautiful weather we have been having and spent time at the beach. As a class, we took a hike up to Dun Aengus and the Wormhole. Dunn Aengus is an ancient fort that sits at the very edge of a cliff looking out over the Atlantic Ocean. It is a prehistoric fort with parts of it dating as far back as 500 B.C. Now it is mostly a high rock wall situated on the side of the cliff. Parts of it have been restored over the years when rocks fell or broke away. The Wormhole is a rock formation created by the sea water coming up underneath the island and carving out a large rectangular hole.
Going to these places felt like becoming part of history. Dunn Aengus was fairly peaceful despite the many tourists that were there. It had amazing views of the jagged cliff side. Here you can go right to the edge of the cliff and look down, a terrifying experience for most. Waves crash far below you and there is nothing at all to keep you from falling from the edge. The experience of spending time in Dun Aengus and on the rest of Innis Mor is one that is difficult to describe in words. It really has to be experienced to be understood.

On the way back from our hike we stopped at an old monastery and graveyard on the island. This place was especially interesting because of the way that old merged with new. The old buildings of the monastery are still there as well as old gravestones that are too cracked and worn to be read. There are also newer gravestones made of entirely different types of stone that are colored or shiny. Despite these differences all of this is occurring on the same sight.
I really wish that I could drag people out to see this island. I feel like Innis Mor is Ireland as it is really portrayed in the United States. This is away from the big cities like Dublin and just honest pasture land and nature for miles. The place is just incredibly beautiful and raw with so little modernization. Going to this island is an experience that I wish everyone could have at some point in their lives.


One for the Ages

So we’ve finished out our week in Dublin, and I’m actually writing this from a hostel in Galway, but I have some final thoughts on Dublin first.

While we were in Dublin, we went to a lot of museums, and we saw a lot of places and we focused a lot on on a few specific Irish writers. All around Dublin there are statues, and old buildings that have been around for centuries. We had been sleeping at a college founded in 1592. We spent the majority of our days in museums, noting the people of the past, and the paintings of skilled artists. We saw old books, old buildings, the scribbled notebooks of W.B. Yeats, first editions of  famous works, and distinguished author’s typewriters. We saw all these remnants and memorials of people who are now seen as influential – but they all started where we are now.

All of these people are being remembered for something they did, and all the while I couldn’t help but think how many more statues will be added in the next hundred years. There are great people – writers, artists, thinkers, musicians – among us today, and I wonder if they’ll ever be placed besides these classic greats.

So we’ve been assigned all these writing assignments and poems, and we’ve been told to trust the process. And it doesn’t matter if what we write is really any good, or if it ever becomes something more. We just trust the process and it takes us where the words want to go. And although I’ve been faced with all these people who have achieved great things, I don’t feel like I have to compete. I don’t have to measure up to these great people, because they were where I am once too. I’ve realized that I only really need to measure up to myself, and try to become better than I was the day before.

I’ve got another video here… I want to tell you it’s slightly less organized than the first, as it isn’t all in chronological order this time and there is a whole day missing that I’ve set aside… and I want to tell you that I edited it on the train very quickly… but we aren’t allowed to give disclaimers or qualifiers in class, so I guess I should just present it as-is.

Best wishes, Alex

Free Day in the City

So yesterday our class got to do whatever we wanted for a day instead of just going where our professors took us. For me this did not mean wandering far from Trinity Campus because I spent most of my day with a visit to see the Book of Kells and the Library right here on campus.
The Book of Kells is an old Irish artifact. The book contains the four gospels of the bible and is written and illustrated probably by monks. If you look at the pages they’re very intricately done with smooth writing and pictures filling even the blank spaces in written pages. Over all I was not that excited to see the Book of Kells. It was neat to get to see the old book, but I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about for the most part. There were other items in the exhibit that excited me far more.

The room above the Book of Kells is called the Long Hall. It is a library room with a wide arched ceiling. There are shelves of books all the way up to the high ceiling. This room had a real impact on me as a writer. Here were the words of thousands of authors long dead, all together in a gigantic room. I sat there and wrote for a while to try and capture the flavor of this space. There is something heavy about a room so filled with dusty words.
In this room there are also several items on display that greatly interested me. One was a preserved letter from a servant. This is an incredibly unique find. He is writing about the experience of going abroad for the first time. I guess I just really connected his experience to my own.   The excitement evident in his head can still be seen all these years afterward. It was also touching to me that there is evidence that this letter was kept by someone and read over and over again. I feel like that just shows something that we’re missing in today’s world of email.

Another item in there is the oldest harp in Ireland. The harp is made of willow and has twenty nine strings. It is beautiful to look at. The harp is pictured in many different places in Ireland including the euro coin. I feel like people see the Book of Kells at the library and don’t stop to look at the other incredible things that are in there. The Long Hall and the items it holds are far more intriguing to me personally. It was a nice place to spend my free day in Dublin.


The City is Made to be Walked

Today marks my fourth day here in Dublin, and I’ve noticed a lot of things.
I’m not just saying that, either. We have been given class assignments centered around observation of the world around us and meticulous note taking. In order to get these notes, – which are sometimes vague, and sometimes more specific – it is encouraged that we not only actively pay attention during the activities of the day, but that we wander around for a bit on our own as well. So I’ve been doing a lot of walking.

Dublin is an amazingly walkable city.

Every museum, restaurant, theater, grocery store, or otherwise other attraction we have needed to visit has been within walking distance of Trinity college, where we are staying. I love being able to set out the gates of the school and be able to get anywhere I need to be by foot.

I love walking, it’s one of my favorite past times, I walk whenever I get the chance. But no matter how much I walk around back home, there is something infinity more intriguing about walking somewhere unfamiliar. There are new streets to learn, new shops to notice, new windows to browse, new people to watch, new shortcuts to find, and it’s fascinating how quickly I’ve become accustom to this new arena of sights, sounds and streets.

This morning I walked alone to a grocery store to pick up some things, and I realized that I knew exactly were I was going. I never once felt as if I might get lost. Walking there and back seemed like the most natural thing, in this city I’ve never seen before in my life. I think this is because when you walk a city, you get a feel for it you can’t get any other way. You encounter it first hand. You become a part of it.

During a lunch period yesterday spent wandering quiet side streets, we stumbled upon some faded words painted onto the walkway. The phrase that stood out to me most, and that stayed with me even after we had wandered on, was this:

“Walkers are practitioners of the city, for the city is made to be walked.”

And so with that in mind, I leave you with this video. A compilation of footage acquired while traveling to, and walking around Dublin. A first volume, I’m sure, of several videos to come.


Theater or Theatre?

On my third day of being in Ireland our class went to the Abbey Theatre to see the historical place that several important authors helped to create and sustain. Here in Ireland the word is spelled Theatre rather than Theater, something that never fails to confuse me as I jot it down in my notebook. The words mean exactly the same thing. In America the spelling, theater, is just what is preferred while everywhere else uses theatre.
The Theatre is located not far from Trinity College. It’s founders created it to be a national theater. This means that the goal of the plays that are performed there is to represent the actual culture of this nation. Originally this was to present more positive interpretations of Irish people  instead of others of them that were shown in plays in Britain. The Abbey Theatre is not in it’s original location, but it’s not really the building that is famous, but the group themselves.
We got to take a tour of the Abbey, which meant wandering through backstage stairways and seeing all kinds of behind the scenes action. The stage was set for the play, Shush, which we saw after the performance. It was incredible how the set had been created to look like a house that was lived in. It included newspapers, candy wrappers, and a worn out computer. Some of the parts of the set are so small that you might not even notice them from the audience, but it really helped to create the sense that you really were in a house.

There is art everywhere in the Abbey. In the lobby a gigantic mirror that is shaped much like an old shield hangs on the wall. It is believed that this mirror and three others were commissioned by Yeats. They were made by Irish fisherman who did metal work as a sort of second job. The other mirrors vanished after the Abbey caught fire, but whether they were taken by someone or destroyed in the fire is unknown.

Before coming to Ireland I had done some research on the Abbey Theatre because of a presentation I am giving on Lady Gregory. Lady Gregory and Yeats were two of the founders of the Theatre. For some reason I thought that it would be a lot bigger since it is after all the national theater. I imagined it being more of the size of the Paramount in Seattle. Instead it only seats about 400 people. When we went to see Shush our seats were in the second and third rows of the theater. I thought it was amazing being so close to the action.

Shush is a play that centers around the issue of divorce. This is a relatively new concept for the Irish because divorce was only legalized in 1996. The play is a comedy and it was quite funny, though there are jokes that someone who is an outsider to the culture couldn’t possibly understand. Several times I felt confused as to why other people were laughing. Strong Irish accents also made it so it wasn’t always simple to understand what the actresses were saying. Over all I greatly enjoyed the play.

Going to the Abbey Theatre made me feel as if I really got a glimpse into current Irish culture. I think the theater’s goals are worthy and that they are doing a great job of trying to present Ireland through plays. The history of the great Irish people who founded it and new cultural concepts merge here, creating an interesting contrast of past and present.


Cheers from Ireland!

Hey y’all!

I’m on my third day in Dublin and I’ve yet to introduce myself. My name is Beca Piña and I’m studying abroad in Ireland for about three weeks. Since being here I’ve met some interesting travelers. My first night I stayed in a hostel near Trinity College, at dinner I sat next to American travelers who had been in Ireland for several weeks. They recounted their stories involving the streets of Ireland and the glamour of backpacking through the countryside. Also at dinner I met three gentlemen from Belgium who were starting their journey across Ireland. We ended up playing a card game until midnight. Needless to say my stay at the hostel was great. The next morning I met a woman from Ballard who was staying in the same room as me, thus proving that we definitely live in a small world.

Later that morning I checked out of the hostel and into the dorms at Trinity College. I found some of my classmates who had just gotten off their planes, so we went wandering out to find something to do and a place to eat lunch. When it came time to meet up with the rest of our classmates under the Trinity Bell, we ventured out into the city again. However, this times we were being led by our professors as they showed us their favorite parts of the city. We walked through parks, through Grafton Street, all around Trinity College and by a lot of shops and eateries.

After the tour some of us went to eat at this restaurant named Nando’s. Where we spent a good portion of the evening laughing and getting to know one another. Later that evening we went to the student-run pub on campus just to hang out some more before calling it a night seeing as how classes were today. This morning we all met up to have class in our professor’s apartment on campus. It was a little unusual, but the vibe of a classroom was still there.

We headed over the National Library of Ireland and explored the Yeat’s exhibition. There were plenty of fun facts and nifty artifacts donated by his son and friends. I learned that Yeat’s was really into the supernatural and was really old when he got married. Basically it was a museum for literary nerds, and I was completely thrilled to learn that I may not have the worst handwriting ever.

Afterwards we went to this exhibit with some really fascinating pieces. I wanted to touch everything! I restrained myself because the prices on some of them were expensive. I fell in love with these giant shears and a tiny airplane. I wanted to take them home with me, but I don’t think I have enough room in my carry-on for them.


Well, until next time!