Ireland 2019: Little differences

I got to thinking over the weekend about the “little differences” that stand out when one visits a different country. Especially if you spend enough time in a particular place that you encounter grocery stores, doctor’s offices, and so forth, the differences are small but striking. As someone suggested to me, it’s all just different enough to make ordinary experiences a little more challenging–and just similar enough to make you feel a little disoriented!

The bathroom light switch is always on the outside.

No power outlets in the bathroom except a shielded one for an electric razor.

European keyboards are just different enough to be a little frustrating.

Irish water heaters a.k.a. “the immersion.” Even private homes have some version of this rather baffling system.

Lots of food products have these little cooking instructions on the packages. (“Hob” = stovetop.)

License plates (I think in Ireland they say “number plates” or “registration plates”): I didn’t take a picture of one but Irish reg plates go like this:


where the first part is the year plus “1” for January through June or “2” for July through December (so 192 doesn’t actually start for another week), the middle part is an abbreviation for the county (W is for Waterford), and the last part indicates that this car was the nth car registered in that county during that period. There would never be 12,345 cars registered in 6 months in County Waterford, but maybe in Dublin. The plate also shows the name of the county in Gaelic. Sometimes if you aren’t sure based on the abbreviation, you can figure out the country from its Gaelic name: L = Luimneach = Limerick. Sometimes it’s total confusion: MH = An Mhi = Meath. (It doesn’t help that I do not yet know all the county names.)


I love being in another country, observing these differences, and trying to put the pieces together to figure out why things are the way they are. I will never fully understand “the immersion,” but, I am confident, neither does anyone else!

Ireland 2019: Ring of Kerry

We returned Saturday evening from touring the Ring of Kerry, a 179-kilometer (111-mile) scenic/tourist/historical route around the Iveragh Peninsula in Co. Kerry in the southwest (Munster province). It’s probably the part of the country that I most wish my parents could have seen. They were always up for a scenic drive and subjected treated my brother and me to many of them as we were growing up!

From Waterford we headed west on Thursday morning toward our base of operations in Killarney, with a stop in Cork to break up the drive. I hadn’t been to Cork before–last year I missed this day on the program because of an emergency–and I wish I’d had more than a couple of hours to spend there this year. It’s bustling like Dublin but more compact-seeming. I just had time for lunch with colleagues and a very quick dip into a couple of stores (several of us went to Lush for bath bombs in anticipation of the bathtubs in our hotel rooms!) before hitting the road again.

I only took 4 pictures in Cork. I’m a good program director but a terrible blogger sometimes.

Had to capture the giant moka pot on the side of that building!

After 2 years enjoying the golf course views and occasional deer sightings at the Castlerosse Hotel on the outskirts of Killarney, we had to change hotels this year to get the dates we wanted. We chose the Killarney Towers Hotel, right in the city center, and were not disappointed. Killarney town is pleasant and walkable, with lots of places to eat, drink, and shop, and the hotel is very comfortable, especially after 4 weeks of dorm beds and cafeteria food. I can’t speak for anyone else but I slept extremely well and enjoyed my bathtub very much.

Friday morning we got the worst weather of the day out of the way in the first 20 minutes while walking to the bus. The rest of the day was excellent–blue skies and puffy clouds but not too hot. Touring the Ring of Kerry is one of the few times during the program when we really need good weather, so we were blessed to get it! We visited some towns and historic sites and just plain gorgeous views during the day:

Kerry Bog Village: a reproduction 19th-century peat cutters’ village.

This “Romany caravan” is not very different from what traditional Irish Traveller caravans looked like in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The remains of a 19th-century stone cottage whose owners left because of the Famine.

The Bog Village has two Irish wolfhounds. They’re enormous but smiley and eager for pets.

Getting photos at a scenic overlook.

Waterville, where Charlie Chaplin lived.

From Com an Chiste you can see to the Skelligs if the weather is clear enough. We could not see Skellig Michael a.k.a. the Star Wars island.

Our final stop was the Ladies’ View, so called because Queen Victoria and her ladies-in-waiting thought it was the prettiest place on the Ring when they toured it.

Saturday we returned to Waterford by way of Blarney Castle. I continued my tradition of NOT going into the castle or kissing the stone. It was a particularly good day for not kissing the stone, because the place was packed and the queue was massive–up to an hour and a half wait. Luckily, the grounds and gardens are beautiful and it’s a great place to walk around and take photos. I never feel like I am missing out by not going in. The Blarney Castle “campus” is also the home to Blarney Woollen Mills, which bills itself as the biggest Irish goods store in the country. If you want a souvenir of Ireland–from a €3 plastic leprechaun to a €3000 piece of Waterford crystal–you can find it there. The number of Blarney Woollen Mills shopping bags that came back with us on the bus Saturday afternoon was . . . considerable.

What’s not pictured in my Ring of Kerry pictures is the time we spent riding the bus between “places.” The journey is at least as good as the destination; the point is definitely not to get there but to be there. And the views from the jump seat on the bus are spectacular! Just remember that cars go clockwise on the Ring and buses go counterclockwise (anticlockwise if you’re Irish). In a fair few spots the road is only about 1.25 lanes wide and someone has to move aside to let someone else pass. The Ring would not function if buses had to try to pass each other. Even with everyone moving in their prescribed directions, there’s always a BMW driver who thinks he can play chicken with a bus and win. I gotta give a shout out to our bus driver, Tony, who was doing the Ring for the first time and crushed it. He got us through Beemer encounters, hairpin turns, narrow tunnels, sections of road that were obviously paved-over cow paths (the Irish word for “road,” bóthar, literally means “cow path”), and a narrow escape from our hotel Saturday morning after a food delivery truck blocked the bus lane. I hope he had a really restful Sunday!

And now it’s Monday afternoon and we are officially on the short countdown to departure for home early Thursday morning. Already???

Ireland 2019: An Rinn Gaeltacht

Believe it or not, yesterday (Tuesday) was our last “regular” field trip. This program is flying by so fast! Everyone is starting to talk/ask questions about our departure back to Georgia, which is a week from tomorrow. Don’t ask me yet if I’m ready to go home! Yesterday we explored the part of Co. Waterford called An Rinn–loosely Anglicized as “Ring” but usually not Anglicized at all because An Rinn is a Gaeltacht: an Irish-speaking region. There are seven Gaeltachtaí in Ireland with An Rinn being the farthest east. We visited Coláiste na Rinne, a secondary school where all instruction is carried out in Irish, and met a couple of its administrators before setting off on our tour with one of them. Even the tiny bit of immersion we were in contact with by spending an hour there was interesting. It’s disconcerting to be in a school and realize you can’t understand the intercom announcements or the conversations between the staff members. But the existence and popularity of the school (which offers summer intensive programs as well as regular academic instruction) demonstrates how important the Irish language still is. I will say that after 3 years coming here, a tiny bit of independent study, and generally paying attention, I can recognize a few words in basic Irish and figure a little more out from context. So at least I am learning something. And I had a great conversation with our guide Martín about how new words are coined in Irish, using “mobile phone” as an example. It turns out that there are 2 terms for it: “fón póca” (pocket phone) and the more properly Gaelic “guthán soghluaiste” (phone that moves around).  Googling suggests that “fón póca” and “guthán póca” are more common. The other example I suggested to Martín was “transgender” but we didn’t get around to that one, unfortunately.

The first stop on our tour was the famine graveyard in Ardmore, which is the final resting place–in unmarked graves–of a thousand or more victims of the famine in the late 1840s. Between deaths and emigrations, Ireland’s population was cut in half by the famine and still has not recovered.

These places are sad but I am glad they still exist and people still visit them. Ireland’s history is still so present for its people–it’s something Americans could learn a lesson from.

With a few short stops along the way we arrived in the town of Ardmore where we set off with Liam, the former headmaster of Coláiste na Rinne, to tour some sites associated with St. Declan and take the Ardmore cliff walk. St. Declan lived in the 5th century and founded a monastery in Ardmore; he is considered at least locally to have preceded St. Patrick in bringing Christianity to Ireland:

This church window reminds viewers (in Irish) that “Declan is the Patrick of Waterford.”

St. Declan is said to have come here in a boat by following a mysterious floating stone.

Liam shows us this altar near St. Declan’s well in Ardmore.

The cliff walk itself is 4 kilometers and a little strenuous (but only a little), but well worth it for the amazing views:

The walk ends at the last St. Declan site, where he built his monastery and where he is buried:

The medieval round tower at the site of St. Declan’s monastery.

This field trip is great because all the students start out panicking about the walking distance and end up dazzled by how beautiful the cliffs are. Liam and Martín are great guides, too. Their pride in where they live and its history and culture shines through. Makes you want to be Irish or at least learn to speak Irish!

Ireland 2019: Wexford and Tipperary and hurling, oh my!

We had such a busy week last week! Kind of thought it would be mellow after Dublin but we kept things moving right along as we passed the halfway point of the program. Classes on Monday and Wednesday as usual, plus two cool field trips on Tuesday and Thursday:

Tuesday we visited three places in Co. Wexford, immediately northeast of Waterford along the coast. Wexford has the special distinctions of being our consultant Jonathan’s home and the 2019 Leinster hurling champions. Our students watched the Leinster final with intense interest–and, I suspect, some money on the line. When Wexford pulled out an unexpected victory, Georgia EC (as we are known here) got pretty excited! It was fun to go to Wexford right after the win and see the team colors flying everywhere around town.

We went to the 1798 Rebellion Centre in Enniscorthy, an interactive museum about–can you guess?–the 1798 rebellion of Irish insurgents against British troops. Although unsuccessful, the rebellion is considered important in the overall history of Irish independence and in linking Ireland with the revolutionary movements of the United States and France.

Students listening to a weapons demonstration

A quick lunch stop in Enniscorthy, which is small but pretty . . .

. . . and we went on to the Irish National Heritage Park. Here is where I admit that I did not take the tour this year, having done it three times already. But if you have a chance, you should go. The park reconstructs 9000 years of prehistoric and early Christian Ireland so you can get an idea of how people lived all those millennia ago. It is fascinating and worth seeing–at least 3 times.

“Program director privilege” is the right to skip the tour and sit in the café overlooking the back of the park instead.

We finished the day at the Dunbrody in New Ross. The Dunbrody is a reconstruction of a 19th-century famine ship and they do an interactive tour that describes the experience of crossing the Atlantic on such a ship.

The Dunbrody visitor center also has a great restaurant where we always eat dinner after the ship tour. It feels a little funny to learn about a famine and then have a nice meal, but the students love it.

Wednesday afternoon after classes we got to go over to the WIT Arena to learn the basics of how to play hurling. We get to do this every year and it is always a highlight. My colleague Paraic Fanning, who handles a lot of the logistical arrangements for our program, has been involved in hurling all his life and is actually manager for the Waterford senior hurling team this year. So he arranges for a couple of WIT GAA players to come and teach us the basics. Some of the students were surprisingly good!

Thursday was our trip to Co. Tipperary, which might be my favorite field trip day. We made 4 stops; the first was the Swiss Cottage, a 19th-century cottage orné (think of the Trianon at Versailles) built by the Butler family (like seemingly everything fancy in Ireland) and restored in the 1980s after some years of abandonment. No photos allowed inside but the outside is beautiful:

Next door (so to speak) in Cahir is Cahir Castle–the Butlers who built the Swiss Cottage were the 10th Baron Cahir and his wife but I don’t think they ever lived in the castle. It is great to look at but would have been expensive to furnish and heat.

We had lunch in Cashel at the Brú Ború Cultural Centre and enjoyed a mini performance of traditional Irish music and dancing that, it being the 4th of July, culminated in a surprise performance of the Marine Corps Hymn by one of the musicians who had been in the U.S. Marines. I’m not sure who was more delighted–us or the musician! After Brú Ború we had time to meander all over the Rock of Cashel and enjoy the amazing views. The Rock is a huge limestone outcrop on which a cathedral was built in the 13th century. A late-18th-century archbishop had the weird idea to move the cathedral to a different site and removed the roof as a first step. The plan foundered after that and the cathedral–probably the most impressive in Ireland if it had remained intact–has become a ruin. Even as a ruin it is dazzling:

The view from the Rock is amazing as well.

Finally, on Friday night the faculty took the bus to Dungarvan–about 45 minutes away on the coast–for dinner at the Tannery, a restaurant owned by Lords & Ladles chef Paul Flannery. It was a great experience: outstanding food and drinks in a gracious (but not intimidating) atmosphere. I had:

Heirloom tomato salad to start.

Imam bayildi (had never heard of it; delicious) as the main course

Chocolate mousse served with lemon sponge for dessert

And Dungarvan looking gorgeous at sunset when we left the restaurant to catch the bus back:

I’m finishing this entry fresh off the U.S. women’s World Cup victory, which we watched in the local pub in good Irish style. Congratulations, USA!  Ready for another big week to start tomorrow.