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/

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The Real Emerald of Ireland

The Connemara Region lies in the West of Ireland and consists of both breathtaking coastline and inland wilderness. The vistas along the coast are unparalleled. In fact, the word Connemara means “Inlets of the Sea,” and the region is best known for its coastal villages.

Still, my most vivid memory of our experience in Connemara was the beautiful landscape of the inland – the peat bogs, valleys, waterfalls, and black lakes. Last spring, during my month in Ireland with the MU Study Abroad program, I experienced the Irish-speaking Connemara region during a day-long excursion to Galway, Kylemore Abbey, and the Killary Fjord in the heart of Connemara.

Here is where you find the largest concentration of Gaeltacht Irish – those who speak the Irish language. Their Irish-speaking radio and television stations are located here, as is the Irish language newspaper, Foinse. Traveling through the region, we heard people speaking Irish fluently. Sometimes, it made for some awkward exchanges, especially when we made purchases. They seemed to have as much trouble understanding our American dialect as we did with their Irish-influenced English.

Killary Fjord is one of Ireland’s three glacial fjords and its terminus is located in the village of Leenane, a place best known as the locale for filming of The Quiet Man, in 1952. The road we traveled to Kylemore ran alongside this scenic fjord. Most noticeable were the long strings of mussel pots strung like ribbons for miles along the fjord. Mussels and salmon are the major resources for this part of the Republic. I loved seeing the quaint fishing villages that squatted on the fjord bank.

Further inland, we encountered the peat bogs that provide turf for heating. In the moors of County Galway and County Mayo we spotted the turf being cut and transported. The peat cutters are called tuskers and the peat carriers are called currachs. It’s challenging to fully describe the sensory experience of a turf fire. They don’t exactly burn; rather, they smolder, and the smoke has a distinctive smell, not universally appealing. In fact, some say that peat fires reek. But the aroma grew on me. On one wet evening in Kenmare, at a pub where Live Trad performers were playing, there was a peat fire burning in the main room. The combination of traditional music and the musky aroma made for a cozy, welcoming experience.

I look forward to revisiting this part of Ireland when I return in May and June. I’ve heard Connemara referred to as “The Real Emerald of Ireland.” I agree.

Gentlemen of the Road Stopover

I was pleased to see the news of Mumford & Sons’ Best Album win last night at the Grammy Awards. I became a fan just last summer, having fallen hard but late-in-the-game, for their 2010 debut album and its infectious song, Little Lion Man.

I was reminded of the crush fans, both Irish and American, at their appearance last June near Galway, Ireland, which occurred while I was teaching in the Study Abroad program at University of Limerick. I didn’t attend the festival but I saw the photos and heard about the performances and after-parties. Huge crowds were expected and, indeed, there were upwards of 20,000 visitors in Galway that weekend. Three of my students were able to get tickets to the sold-out show.

On June 9, 2012, Mumford & Sons headlined a mini-festival that included several acts on two stages in the seaside resort area of Salthill Park, just outside Galway proper. Transportation was tricky that weekend because a football championship semi-final was also taking place in Galway on June 9. All of the hotels, beds & breakfasts, and hostels were full. But my students were determined to be part of the festivities.

They took off early that Saturday morning on Bus Eireann for Galway and, once there, they walked quite a distance from the bus stop to the venue. Their intention was to find someone else at the festival with a room they’d be willing to share – if needed. Their hope was that the after parties planned in and around Galway would last into the wee hours of the morning and they could sleep on the bus back to Limerick on Sunday morning.

As it turned out, they found a guesthouse that was not great but tolerable and stayed in Galway through the weekend. After the festival closed, Galway’s pubs and nightclubs jammed with concert-goers and yet people still got served. In fact, a few who’d been overserved could be seen on Sunday morning sleeping along the fence that had enclosed the concert venue in Salthill. My students were quick to tell me that they’d been responsible drinkers, and the fact that they returned on Sunday relatively unscathed was proof enough for me.

They heard Mumford & Sons perform Little Lion Man live that day. When we talked about what it meant to them, each had a slightly different take. The song is pregnant with possibilities as to its meaning. The final verse speaks loudest to me:
Weep for yourself, my man,
You’ll never be what is in your heart
Weep, little lion man,
You’re not as brave as you were at the start
Rate yourself and rake yourself
Take all the courage you have left
Wasted on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head

Their Grammy win reminds me, too, that time has come for me to get to know the current album of songs, Babel, better.