Tuesday, May 3, 2011


My birthday and everyone's favorite holiday (Paddy's Day, of course) seem like ages in the past, but end-of-term stress (let's be real - writing a few papers isn't actually that stressful...but I did pull an all-nighter at one point) and April travels have kept me from blogging about the month of March. So here's what happened on the Emerald Isle after February...

The semester slowly began to wind down, despite its never really getting started (by American college standards). I had a few papers due within the first two weeks of March, one of which was to be handed in the morning after my 21st birthday. Obviously that wasn't going to get written the night before (not that I've ever done that...) so I made sure it was ready to go long before the 15th rolled around. One of the frustrating things about the History department here (I had two History classes) is that you can't just bring your paper to class or slide it under the prof's door. You have to hike to the department building, where you fill out three forms, all requiring your essay title, your student ID number, your lecturer's name (I usually have no idea), and the due date; you rate yourself on your paper and explain its strengths and weaknesses; you wait in line with students doing the same thing; and as you reach the front of the line, the secretary staples, stamps, and gives you a pink receipt of submission. And when you couple these formalities with the fact that everyone in Ireland takes two-hour tea and lunch breaks, leaving no one at the front desk, it could take you a solid 30-45 minutes to hand in the stinkin' paper. Luckily, the Folklore/Ethnography department (I had two of those too) is far more lax about paper submission. AND they're speedier graders -- both of my papers in that department are ready to be picked up.

Anyway, my birthday came around and friends came from Maynooth and Bath (and right down the hall) to celebrate with me. Becca and Anna arrived on Friday and we spent the weekend hanging out and touring Cork together. I'm so lucky to have friends who are in my part of the world right now. Anna had to leave on Sunday, and I was sad to see her go. Becca stayed through my birthday and I went back to her neck of the island later in the week (more on that below). Spending my birthday without family was harder than I'd imagined it would be. I've been away from home on my birthday before but never this far away. My family had made me a movie of their well wishes, letters, and songs, and it made me cry. It is the greatest gift I've gotten. My best friend from home had balloons delivered to my apartment, which came as an incredible and appreciated surprise. I Skyped with my parents briefly before having API friends over for cake, and then we all went out to a few bars. I'm not a partier but any means; I prefer small, social gatherings with a glass of wine and a guitar to ragers. In fact, I don't think I've ever been to a party that would count as a rager. It was fun to get a little dressed up (basically how girls here look all of the time) and have a few drinks with new friends and a buddy from home. Our first stop was Captain America's, which might sound lame, but it was appropriate given the fact that turning 21 here in Ireland doesn't hold quite the same weight as it does in the U.S. Plus, they have cheap (but, we sadly found out, weak!) cocktails. Then we headed to Preachers, which is the small, cozy bar (can bars be 'cozy'?) we all went out to together during our first week in Cork. Last but not least was Old Oak, where we ended the night with "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Little Lion Man" -- two songs always played in pubs here. We didn't get home 'til 3 or so, I only paid for one of my drinks that night, and I remembered everything when I woke up -- that's a successful 21st in my book.

For Paddy's Day (that's how they spell it here), Becca and I headed up to Dublin and Co. Kildare. We stayed in Maynooth and went into Dublin in the wee hours of morn on St. Patrick's Day, thinking the festivities started early. The parade, we soon learned, technically started at noon, though we found out that that actually meant 1:00ish, leaning more toward 1:30. We had staked out a good standing spot at the gate around 10:00, and we didn't want to give it up, but that meant being on our feet in the same position for hours. I had been told not to expect much from Irish parades, but this one wasn't as bad as I had thought it'd be. There weren't as many floats as there are in American parades, but there were a lot of performers, each representing groups from different counties.
Check out some of their get-ups. Also -- who invited the kids from Michigan? If I remember correctly, they played American tunes. They were joined by another American high school band from North Carolina, I believe. Do Irish schools not have marching bands?
After the parade, Becca and I wanted to escape the tourism and hype of Paddy's Day in Dublin, so we took Dublin's version of the metro to Howth, a coastal town on Dublin Bay. We spent the afternoon walking around and taking pictures, seeing the lighthouse, and sampling fish and chips. It was an overcast day and it was a little chilly, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. It was a much better alternative to the Paddy's Day pub scene (filled with American tourists).

I headed home to Cork the next day bright and early. I met some American travelers on the bus who were looking for their hostel, and I accidentally steered them in the wrong direction. Oops. Guess I don't know Cork like I think I do.

Classes ended the week after my birthday, and to celebrate API took us to the Aran Islands off the Galway coast. It was our last excursion hurrah as a group and by far my favorite. Finally, we had an excursion that didn't include rain! We really lucked out. We got up early Saturday morning, picked up API Limerick on the way, and took a ferry to Inishmore. We spent our weekend hanging over cliffs, riding bikes around the island, exploring, and finding natural treasures. I'll let this array of pictures speak for itself.

I love our group! The one on the right should make the API viewbook. It would definitely make me want to study abroad with API in Ireland!

If I return to Ireland someday, this is where I'll go. I've never enjoyed the outdoors more in my life. The setting was incredible.

Vans took us around the island after lunch on Saturday, stopping for pictures every once in a while. The Iron Age fort we went to, Dun Aengus, was the most famous of the stone forts on the Aran Islands. The views from the cliffs surrounding the fort were amazing, and we were there just as the sun was beginning to set, which made it even more spectacular. That night, we went out for dinner as a group and hung out in one of our hotel rooms watching music videos together. It's times like that that make me realize how much I'm going to miss this group of friends when all of this is over.

On Sunday, we rented bikes and toured the island. It's not a very big island, though it's the biggest of the three Aran Islands ("Inishmore" literally means 'big island' in Irish -- how clever) so we saw a decent amount of the land. We started biking along the coastal trail and found the island's beach. The sand was white so the water looked teal -- it was beautiful. I ran right in, of course; I'm used to cold Atlantic waters. After the beach we headed inland a little to find The Wormhole, a natural tourist attraction, on the other side of the island. We took the road less traveled, which meant lots of twists and turns. I regret missing a shot of all of us weaving our way through the stonewalled fields -- we looked like the kids and Maria from The Sound of Music, and I wish I had stopped to take a picture. The Wormhole proved more difficult to locate than expected but we found it eventually, after enjoying the sight of waves colliding with the rocky terrain. The Wormhole (also known as Serpent's Lair) is basically a pool that fills up quickly as waves come in and drains quickly as waves go out. It's a naturally rectangle-shaped hole in the limestone. It was pretty cool, but I wasn't ready to go for a dip. It's like a more dangerous tidal pool at water parks. We ate lunch and sunned on some rocks farther down the coastline before biking back to the hotel to gather our stuff and head home.

And with that, March was over!

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