After the first few weeks in Ireland, I felt like I had been here my whole life; but now that our time is coming to an end, I have realized how fast three months could fly by. This really speaks volumes of Ireland’s nature as an amazingly welcoming and friendly country. Walking down the city streets and rural fields alike, there is an overwhelming feeling of belonging. I have had such a fantastic time studying in Ireland, I know I will cherish all the memories these past three months have given me, especially this past weekend.
For our final trip, our class visited two very magical sites. The first being the Hills of Tara, where we learned a little about Irish folklore. While famously known for being the home of leprechauns, they also have a long history with fairies. In the Hills of Tara, we saw two trees decorated with shiny ribbons, hair bands, and other miscellaneous items, which are referred to as “Fairy Trees”. This is when there is a lone tree in the middle of a large field and is believed to be a meeting place for fairies. For good luck you just have to touch a branch and can leave something behind for the fairies, I chose to leave a shiny five cent coin I found in my pocket. While you might just write this off as a fun little thing for parent to tell their children, some people take this very seriously. Once when a road was being constructed, they realized a Fairy Tree was in the roads path and instead of cutting the tree down, they curved the road around it. The famous Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, even wrote about fairies and how widespread their belief is in Ireland especially among the peasants because it would add more excitement to their everyday mundane lives.
After the Hills of Tara, we visited the Newgrange Stone Age Passage Tomb. I was shocked I have never heard about this place because the tomb was built in about 3200 BC, making it older than both the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge. Since it is so ancient, there are no records on who built it, leaving a lot of mystery and theories surrounding the tomb. For starters, there is a rectangular opening above the entrance. This opening may seem odd and almost accidental for most of the year, but when the sun rises during the winter solstice, its rays shine through the rectangle, lighting up the inside of the tomb for seventeen minutes. Some people believe this was part of a calendar system and that the solstice would mark the new year, but others theorize that these people believed that the spirits of the dead were still alive in the tomb and the sunlight would help purify them. Another topic of discussion is the many stone carvings inside the tomb. Again, without knowing anything about the people who built the structure, like their religion, the circular swirling carvings in the stones could represent anything from the sun, water, or eternal life. It is a little frustrating that we will never have definitive answers to all our questions surrounding the Newgrange Passage Tomb, but I feel like the mystery adds to the mystic feel of rural Ireland.
While I cannot wait to be back in America, the Hills of Tara and Newgrange really helped solidify my feelings for Ireland. Living in Dublin city has been so exciting; there is always something to see and has even made the fifteen-minute walk to class in the morning fun. No matter how much I loved Dublin, it does not compare to how breathtaking the rest of the country is. I swear, Ireland has the greenest grass I have ever seen!
I am so thankful for the Mounts study abroad program because without it I probably would never have been able to have this transformative experience. Not only was I surrounded by beauty, but by learning more about Irish culture and history I was able to learn about my ancestors and the struggles they had to go through in order for me to be here today. Coming into the trip, I ignorantly assumed Ireland wa not rich with history simply because the only thing I knew about their past was that there was a potato famine. I quickly learned how wrong I was and how long and hard Ireland had to fight for their independence from Britain. Just like how I fell in love with Ireland, I fell in love with the people who fought to preserve their culture.
No matter how many times I’ve already said it, I don’t think I’ve said it enough. I love Ireland and never want to leave. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll come back to live in Ireland to raise sheep, no dream’s too big, right? On behalf of all 21 students I am on this trip with, I’d again like to thank Mount St. Mary’s for giving us the opportunity to study and travel around Ireland. This has been an unforgettable semester and I am so happy I was able to share it with all of you!
Ireland, you have my heart. Until next time, sláinte!