Fifth Email- Short trips and Northern Ireland

Sent 2.11.05


I guess since I haven't written any big papers yet that I can continue to write these weekly emails, although they are starting to wear on me. This one won't be quite as long as the last, and as I don't plan on doing anything mind-blowing this weekend, I probably won't be rushing to get another one out on the schedule we have been following. In addition, I have been told that I have been sending many duplicates of my emails. I apologize for this, I don't think everyone is getting the extras; however, when I get an error message that says "Message undeliverable", I assumed that it actually meant that. Apparently not. With those things said, here is the email.

On Fridays I am done with class at noon, so I decided to take advantage of the bus and rail pass I have here and took a train as far northwest as I could go for 'free'. This brought me to the small town of Maynooth which is about 25 kilometres outside of Dublin, or about 15 miles. It is actually the closest thing to a university town you will find in Ireland, as it is the home of NUI Maynooth, or National University of Ireland Maynooth. It seemed like a nice college campus after walking through it, and is relatively modern and a lot more architecturally thought out then UCD where I go (pretty much a concrete jungle). There is also a 200 year old part of campus, which is known as St. Patrick's College, originally established as a seminary for Catholic priests, and it became one of the biggest producers of priests in the world. I also walked around the rest of the town looking at some of the older buildings, the trails, and the canal that runs through town. I really knew nothing about the city before I went, but it was a fun little trip to take for a day and get out of Dublin. I did put some pictures on the website.

I also had another free day Saturday which I had ambitious plans for. I was even planning on getting up relatively early in the morning and going for a run. The whole plan for the day was turned over when I woke up to rain pounding on the window of my room. I decided to forgo the run, but I did eventually decide the rain was not going to completely ruin my day. I bundled up and put a raincoat and winter hat on, and set off on another 'free' train as far as I could go north this time. This took me to the seaside town of Balbriggan. It was a nice little town, even with the rain coming down. They actually had a beach that could be very nice during the summer and a lifeguard shack there to boot. The harbour was quite funny when I saw it, as it looked like every boat was beached because of the tide being all the way down. After about an hour there, I took the train back south a bit further to Malahide, and was planning on going to see the castle located there. I made it up to the castle grounds and the rain and wind couldn't have gotten much worse, so I decided to trek back into town, get a nice warm hot chocolate, and wait out the rain a bit. I then headed back into Dublin to meet some classmates from ND to do one of the cooler things I have done yet.

Our professor at the ND Keough Centre, Kevin Whelan, was able to get some free tickets to an Inter-provincial Gaelic Football game being played in North Dublin. Most of the ND kids decided to go and we met up in city centre with Kevin before heading to the game. It was still not the greatest weather, but it wasn't pouring rain like earlier. Once we got there, we got relatively good seats right near the half line and waited for the start of the game. The first half was a good way to get introduced to the game, as Kevin had just explained the rules to us before the game started. I could explain them to you, but without seeing the game in action, it wouldn't mean a whole lot. The second half was quite a bit different than the first half, and five times as exciting. We were actually getting quite into the game, and it came down to more or less some last minute plays to secure a come from behind win for Leinster, the local team. If you really want the rules, your best bet is to head to where you can also see the rules for hurling as well, which is another cool sport to watch.

I should have pictures of these Saturday activities up sometime, so check the site sometime near the end of the week and they may be up.

On Sunday we (the ND kids studying here) started our second group trip, this time to Northern Ireland. We even got the benefit of an extra hour of sleep the night before because of daylight savings time. Our first stop on the weekend was in Belfast for lunch, and we had a little over an hour to eat. This gave us some time to walk around the immediate city centre to see some of the Northern Ireland capital. Keep in mind that Northern Ireland is actually part of the United Kingdom; thus, they use pounds for their money and the people are also British citizens. I could probably write about 10 pages or more on what I learned on this trip about the whole Northern Ireland issue, but that would be quite the long winded piece to read, so I'll spare you from that.

After lunch, we headed to Giant's Causeway, which is a very interesting rock formation located in the North Sea between Ireland and Scotland. There is an interesting story that goes with the Causeway, which leads to the name it currently has. It is quite an impressive sight to see and seems too perfect and/or weird to be naturally formed. Look for yourself in the pictures. After being down on the causeway, we walked around a cliff path which always leads to many beautiful views, and this was no exception.

We then headed to a small little castle or fort named Dun Luce, which was built right on the sea on a hard to reach rock formation. It was impenetrable, or, as Kevin put it, "until the invention of gunpowder". After the fort, we headed to our hostel in the nice but very little seaside town of Ballintoy. We had another wonderful meal here at a nice restaurant, and then went across the street where we formed teams of three or four based on our home states and had a 'pub quiz', where the winning team got free pints. The 50 questions were about anything and everything, but our team's score of 41 couldn't bring us home the beer, as we took second to a 42. It's an agonizing defeat when you could go back and wish you had only decided the other way on a few questions that you had two answers for. After this quiz, there was some proof that it is a small world. I knew some other people from my dorm were going to Northern Ireland for the weekend. How they happened to be staying in the same hostel as us and come to the same pub is pretty weird (well, the second part isn't so hard to believe in a two pub town). It was cool though talking with them for the night and listening to the live music in the pub.

The next day was an early wakeup to head back to Belfast for sightseeing and a visit to the Northern Ireland Parliament building at Stormont. It wouldn't be Irish weather if it was sunny, so halfway back to Belfast the rain started. This put a damper on our walking tour of Belfast, so we ended up doing a lot of touring in the bus, which didn't turn out as bad as it would seem. However, it did keep the picture opportunities to a minimum, which means it is hard to explain all the murals and everything else you see in Belfast. I've really never seen anything like it-this isn't your average street graffiti, but is very well drawn art meant to convey a message. Both the nationalist and loyalist causes have their murals in the respective parts of town. Another thing that many people do not know about Belfast is the current existence of a dividing wall in the city. Located in East Belfast, this wall has existed for some time and will continue to exist for the foreseeable future, far outliving the Berlin wall. It divides the mainly Catholic areas from the mainly Protestant areas in this relatively poor section of the city. To realize that even in civilized Western culture we still have these tense divides is quite crazy. I wish I had more pictures of the murals to show you, as this is one of the more interesting things I have seen. I'll ask some others from my dorm if they have any pictures I can use. I also plan to go back to Belfast sometime in the spring, and hopefully the weather is more cooperative and I can show you some pictures.

Our final stop before coming back to Dublin was Stormont, the location of the Northern Ireland Parliament if it was in session. We were able to have a tour of the building, which is not open to the general public, but I guess our professor knows the right people to get us in. It was a very interesting building to see, and hear the original reasons for its construction. After the tour, we had lunch in the cafeteria there and then listed to a talk from a Democratic Unionist Party member. This was eye-opening in many ways, as most people in Ireland would sympathise with the nationalist cause and not the unionist one. His talk really didn't make me feel otherwise, it was one of the bigger spewings of propaganda I have heard. Although he did make some valid points, the general feeling that he did not want Catholics/Irish/Nationalists to play a role in government seemed to stick out. After the talk, we headed back to Dublin, and that was the end of the three day bank holiday weekend.

Side notes: I finally played Euchre this weekend on the bus for the first time in probably six months, and managed to go 7-3 on the weekend. John Leyhane, congrats on your Sox finally winning the World Series.

That email ended up being longer than I thought.

Keep in touch,

Dan McGee
Mobile: +353 87 056 4163