Study Abroad

In May, 2013, the University of Limerick’s International Education Division’s Summer School hosted our MOSAIC group, which consisted of students from Maryville University, Columbia College, and Central Methodist College in Missouri. We joined students from colleges and universities across the United States attending UL summer school. Students chose from six different courses taught by UL faculty, including classes in Irish Literature, Sociology, Law, Film and media, History and Creative Writing. The apartments they shared, each with private rooms and en suite bathrooms, were located in Cappavilla Village on the north campus, overlooking the River Shannon, and included full kitchens with daily breakfast service and housekeeping. Students were provided with vouchers for lunch and supper that could be used at any of the on-campus cafes and restaurants.

Excursions to major Irish attractions were provided by UL, including a trip to the nearby Craggenowen and Bunratty castles, Limerick Milk Market, and more distant excursions to the Burren, the Atlantic shoreline at Kilkee, the Flying Boat museum in Foynes, the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, and to Dublin, where students visited the Guinness Storehouse, Croke Park Stadium (home to the Gaelic Athletic Association), and the Book of Kells in Trinity College. Two of our MOSAIC students attended one of the World Cup 2014 qualifying matches between Ireland and the Faro Islands while in Dublin. We were also hosted with food and drink vouchers to attend the UL annual Party on the Plaza, celebrating the university’s accomplishments during the previous year.

Our MOSAIC sponsored excursions included a trip to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, the Aran Islands and Galway Bay, and the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. Students participated in a photography contest sponsored by the University. Our MOSAIC students, Gabrielle and Mack, took first and second place respectively. Gabrielle’s first-place photo from her trip to the Dingle Peninsula can be seen on the UL International Education, Summer School web site.

MOSAIC students also received credit for our Maryville University study abroad course, “Exploring the Culture of Ireland.” Examples of their essays and photo essays included reflections on The Troubles, GAA Irish sports of hurling and soccer, the fallout from the Celtic Tiger economic bubble, Bloomsday and the books of James Joyce, and the Irish diaspora. For 2014, UL will again offer courses in Irish Literature, Sociology, Law, Film and media, History, and Creative Writing, and they will add two new courses: Irish Myths and Legends, and Nursing.

Ireland is known internationally as the Land of a Thousand Welcomes, and the faculty and staff at University of Limerick demonstrated that sentiment every day of our experience there. I strongly recommend this study abroad opportunity for undergraduate students who want to earn 6 hours of credit and experience three weeks immersed in Irish culture. For more information, visit the MU Study Abroad web site: http://www.maryville.edu/globaled/study-abroad/

La Bloom 2013

June 16 began for my friend Mary and me in Dublin’s city center. We started our celebration in St. Stephen’s Green at the bust of James Joyce. The morning was sunny and cool. On Grafton, as visitors strolled the cobblestone street before the festivities got underway, the mood was peaceful. Flower vendors were busy setting up their stalls and the cacophony of Dublin’s street musicians had not yet started. We entered the park through the Fusiliers stone gates and went first to the central fountains. We’d hoped to spot some of the characters in Edwardian dress there but, true to Ireland, it was too early.

We visited the bust, near the bandstand, and paid homage to the man of the day. The park began filling with families and tourists. The celebration of Joyce’s Ulysses wouldn’t start until after noon.

We traveled back down Grafton, past Duke Street, and made our way up O’Connell to the statue of Joyce that stands on North Earl Street. Admirers were queued to take photos with the life sized likeness, snuggling up to the figure, and we did likewise. We passed groups of tourists being guided on Bloomsday walks, retracing Bloom’s route across the Liffey, through Temple Bar, and down the shore.

By one o’clock we made our way back to Duke Street for lunch at Davy Byrnes where we shared the back room tables with several Bloomsday regulars, some in full Edwardian dress. Many patrons opted for the Gorgonzola sandwich with a glass of burgundy but we were not so brave and instead chose cold plates. Fancy hats were in abundance on both men and women, and across the street, at the Bailey, straw boaters were distributed with black bands and red lettering that read, “Bloomsday at the Bailey, 2013.” The Bailey restaurant and bar is where the idea of Bloomsday was first born on June 16, 1954 by John Ryan and Brian O’Nolan.

Later in the afternoon, we visited the International Bar’s basement room for a series of performances by the Balloonatics where we heard interpretive readings from several chapters, including The Sirens and The Cyclops, accompanied by music. The room was small and tightly packed and the appreciative audience cheered the performers’ dramatizations. At the end, a hat was passed and coins were tossed in, in support of the three performers.

Throughout the afternoon we saw parades of costumed revelers and, as the weather continued to be fair, had plenty of opportunities to admire their sartorial splendor and fine millinery. The crowd on Duke Street grew larger and more vocal as the day wore on and the side streets all around Grafton buzzed with excitement. Some who’d spent the better part of their day engaged in pub crawls were more than a bit worse for the wear. Still, Bloomsday (or La Bloom, as the purists call it) 2013 was a smashing success.

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Bloom’s travel timeline

I’ll be spending Bloomsday in Dublin and in preparation I’ve collected the essential places and events in Ulysses in a timeline. I don’t expect to visit them all. While some still exist, others have changed dramatically or are completely gone.

I’ve planned a good portion of my day on Sunday around the events in St. Stephen’s Green. Those include readings and reenactments. And, of course, a bite to eat at Davy Byrne’s pub.

8:00am,Bloom is at his home on Eccles Street and at the butcher shop nearby
10:00am, at the Post Office on Eccles Street, All Hallows’ Church, the chemists and public baths
11:00am, in Glasnevin’s Cemetery for Dingham’s funeral where he’s snubbed by Menton
Noon, in the newspaper office of Freeman Journal, buying ad space
1:00pm, visits Davy Byrne’s Pub on Duke Street where he eats the famous Gorgonzola sandwich. On the way there he passes Burton’s restaurant where he’s disgusted by the piggish eating behavior of the men he sees there
2:00pm, at the National Library, where he encounters Stephen Dedalus. This is the setting for Stephen’s explanation of his Hamlet theory
3:00pm, at Merchant’s Arch, buying a book, Sweets of Sin for Molly
4:00pm, near The Ormond Hotel, where he follows Boulan, his wife’s lover, and later, outside the Ormond, he finds Birdie, a prostitute
5:00pm, an argument ensues in Barney Kiernan’s pub over Irish nationalism, and outside the pub, Cunningham’s carriage pulls away and a tin is thrown at Bloom
8:00pm, on the rocks at Sandymount Strand, he encounters Gerty McDowell and masterbates behind a rock, then naps on the strand
10:00pm, at the National Maternity Hospital, waiting for news of Mina Purefoy’s baby’s delivery, then he follows Dedalus to the Dublin red light district
12:00am, at Bella Cohen’s brothel he chats with Zoe, another prostitute, and Stephen breaks a chandelier, running away into the street. Bloom pays for the damage.
1:00am, on Beaver Street, where he and Stephen encounter W. B. Murphy, a sailor, who tells them adventure stories, and afterward they walk together back to Bloom’s house
2:00am, at home, Bloom offers to let Stephen stay the night but he declines. Bloom finds evidence that Boylan and Molly have been together. He is resigned to her infidelity.
4:00am, Bloom’s wife, Molly, reconsiders her life with Bloom

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Ollscoil Luimnigh

university of limerick campus

Tomorrow, I leave for three weeks in Ireland. I’ll be traveling with three students from the Study Abroad consortium at Maryville University. We’ll make our home base at University of Limerick and spend more than half of the twenty-one days in Ireland on excursions.

We arrive on Wednesday and on Thursday we’re treated to the annual Party on the Plaza at UL. Under a white circus-sized tent they raise a stage and dance floor. Traditional Irish musicians, folk and roots musicians, and contemporary bands will play there and on both sides of the Abbey River. There’s a pig roast near the Music Department building and across the Living Bridge, on the main campus is barbeque. The UL Drum Corps will lead the procession across the bridge. There’ll be jugglers, unicyclists, and stilt-walkers. Beer and hard cider are generously poured all afternoon.

On Saturday is our first excursion to St. John’s Castle and St. Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick, and then on to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, just a few kilometers outside Limerick. The next day, we’ll take a bus trip to Adare, the loveliest village in Ireland peppered with thatched-roofed cottages and colorful gardens. My camera is ready.

Monday is a bank holiday and we’re traveling west, to the Cliffs of Moher on a PaddyWagon tour. We’ll travel through the Burren and see ancient ruins, testament to the timelessness so common in rural Ireland.

Friday, June 7, is our first trip to Dublin to see Trinity College and the Book of Kells. We’ll be treated to a living history walk through the city center. We’ll spend time in Temple Bar and visit the Guinness brewery, returning that evening to Limerick where Hermitage Green is gigging at Dolan’s.

Sataurday, June 8, is a chill day at the Milk Market in Limerick. Booths laden with handmade pastries and chocolates are plentiful, along with fresh farm produce and locally cured meats and cheeses. There’s a fish stall where mongers toss local catch from the Abbey and Shannon Rivers. Musicians play throughout the day and the flea market stalls just outside the tent can be a treasure trove of books, jewelry and other trinkets.

My students will travel to the Ring of Kerry on Sunday while I’ll join my friend Mary, an American who lives and works in Ennis, for a trip to the Dingle Peninsula. We’ve booked a B&B on the coast. I’ll return to Limerick on Tuesday, June 11, and the next day I’ll travel with the international students to Ennistymon and the Falls Hotel. This was Dylan Thomas’ favorite haunt when he was in Ireland. We’ll see LaHinch beach on the Atlantic coast during this excursion, too.

Friday and Saturday, June 14 and 15, is my trip with Mary to the Wicklow Mountains. Another B&B; more amazing photos. Then, on Sunday, my students will join us in Dublin for Bloomsday where everything Joyce is celebrated. Look for us in St. Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square. I’ll say goodbye to Dublin on Monday, June 17, and return to Limerick where, on Tuesday, UL hosts a farewell luncheon for all of the international students. More great food. Tearful goodbyes. This will be our last full day in Limerick. We’ll hit the pubs for one last hurrah.

Wednesday, June 19, we fly out of Shannon Airport leaving as most visitors do a little piece of ourselves in the auld sod, which makes us ever eager to return.

When the Luck of the Irish Ran Out

I read this book last spring, prior to my first trip to Ireland. It was an easy read for someone with a passable understanding of finance. It included just enough history to put the events of the last two decades into perspective. It also gave me insights into what I’d find in a place that had risen meteorically and then just as quickly, fallen hard.
The subtitle of Lynch’s book reads, “The World’s Most Resilient Country and Its Struggle to Rise Again.” I understood how well this description fit the Irish after spending five weeks in Limerick, Dublin, Belfast and the West, reading their newspapers and seeing the national and local news programs, and meeting the people.
The impact of the Celtic Tiger era of prosperity and growth, from about 1990 through 2007, was transformative. The hard choice for young, educated Irish to either emigrate and embrace opportunity or remain in Ireland and accept little opportunity seemed to disappear. Standard of living improved to a point where many Irish were living better than their British counterparts. But growth was spurred in large part by politicians, bankers and developers whose misbehavior and malfeasance occurred on an epic scale. Irish culture itself was re-shaped by the rapid and dramatic changes that took place during the era.
Lynch’s book is enlightening on several fronts. He exposes the people in power who lived lavish lives on borrowed money along with the ordinary Irish men and women who were victimized by their misdeeds, but who also turned a blind eye as evidence mounted that the Celtic Tiger, like an Easter candy treat, was hollow. He focuses also on the growth of materialism, something quite foreign to the collective Irish identity of the past where having material things was associated with being British, not Irish.
Having read When the Luck of the Irish Ran Out I was better prepared to understand Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart. It prepared me to ask questions of our Irish hosts about emigration as jobs disappeared along with the money speculators collected as deposits on housing and industrial developments. I read with interest about the ongoing effects on Irish banks.Along with trips to see the beautiful countryside near Killarney and Connemara, I visited the skeletons of buildings left unfinished in Limerick and Dublin. I read in detail the terrible impact of these poisoned mortgages on banking in Ireland. I saw the neighborhoods where poverty remains – not so different from those troubled times before the Celtic Tiger when so many Irish were on, as Lynch describes it, “the losing end of history.”
This spring, I plan to see more of Ireland than I did last year – to travel to the Wicklow Mountains, for example, and to spend the day in Dublin during Bloomsday. But I’m also curious to see what has changed in the last year with employment, housing, politics and education. And to gather as many stories as I can from my Irish friends.

The Lonely Voice

Frank O’Connor’s study of the short story landed in my mailbox this weekend and I dove in during the Snow-pocalypse on Sunday. Not sure how I missed this story writing guide for so many years. First published 50 years ago, The Lonely Voice is based on O’Connor’s master class in fiction he taught in 1961 at Stanford University. Among his students were Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, and Larry McMurtry. According to Russell Banks, who wrote the introduction to the reprinted versions in 1985, few of his students praised the workshop that accompanied O’Connor’s master class. Mmmm.

Frank O’Connor, who died in Dublin in 1966 at the age of 62, represented one of the best of the Irish Renaissance and his ideal short story, as he explained in The Lonely Voice, gives the reader “precisely enough information.” Unlike novels that tell the reader everything, the short story’s elements of exposition, development and drama tell just enough.

And there’s the puzzle. How does a writer decide what constitutes precisely enough information? This question has dogged me for a very long time, as long, I daresay, as I’ve been writing short fiction. And if I hoped that reading The Lonely Voice would provide clear-cut answers to that question, I was misguided. What I learned from O’Connor (so far) is to disregard word counts and proclamations about length. The form of the short story, he tells me, is not determined by its length. Rather, the length is given by the form.

How do you judge precision when it comes to your stories? Let me hear from you short story writers, especially if you’ve found other wisdom from Frank O’Connor’s book.

The Gathering

This year marks a national family reunion of sorts in Ireland. It’s called The Gathering. Towns, villages and cities across the republic will hold meetings, fairs, genealogy events, and celebrations to welcome the Irish diaspora back to the country of their origin. This month in Dublin, the great Aussie homecoming is planned. On March 16th, Limerick’s St. Patrick’s Festival will host an international band parade, including marching bands from the United States, and a thoroughbred race at the Limerick Racecourse. Family gatherings are planned throughout the counties. October, 2013, features the West Kerry Genealogy Gathering where the Walsh clan is recognized as having their roots.

If you’re curious about what other families and communities will be welcoming their long-lost relatives, here’s the link to those events – by date, by county or by a map of Ireland: http://www.thegatheringireland.com