Posts Tagged With: travel

Finding Magic in Scotland

Scotland. The land of thick accents, plaid kilts and the Loch Ness Monster — the three main attractions that flitted through my thoughts on my 4 a.m. flight to Edinburgh. After four days in the land of the Scots, my three main attractions shifted drastically.

Main Attraction Number One — Magic.

Quite possibly the best realization I had while on this trip was Scotland’s connection to Harry Potter, and by default, magic. I had no idea that many of the scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed in Scotland or that the “Birthplace of Harry Potter” was in Edinburgh. What are the odds of my first international weekend trip being so closely related to Harry Potter? It was a dream come true!

We first went to Edinburgh Castle, which sits on top of a rocky mountain high in the sky overlooking the city below. Oh, and there’s a train station that runs just below it. It’s basically Hogwarts. As we went through the castle and saw the places where canons had once been shot off, where nobles had once sat, argued and played, and where horses once trotted along cobblestone streets. I think it’s safe to say I let my imagination run wild, and who wouldn’t in such an inspirational and magical place?

After visiting the castle, we made our way back down the intensely steep hill (one of many in Edinburgh) to a cafe called The Elephant House, which also known as “The Birthplace of Harry Potter.” Why, you may ask, has this cafe been given such a grand title? Well, this little cafe, with its walls covered in Asian art and its chairs in the shape of elephants, was the same cafe where J.K. Rowling began writing the Harry Potter series on just a napkin.

It was an amazing feeling to think that I could have been sitting right where she sat when she started the Harry Potter series. The nerd in me had a little freak out session, especially when we were seated right beside a window facing Edinburgh Castle. The view we had from our table made it look even more like Hogwarts than from any other angle. That view explained all of the inspiration for Hogwarts Castle in just a window view.

The Harry Potter attractions and references didn’t end in the coffee shop though. Oh no, they continued everywhere we went in Scotland. The three girls I traveled with and myself booked a Highlands tour for the Saturday and Sunday that we were there, and the magic just seemed to ooze from the countryside as we drove around Scotland. The views were absolutely breathtaking and our tour guide, Craig, was a hoot. He even had a “wand” that he carried around when we would stop at different places. He explained to us how he was indeed magical because it would rain most of the time we were traveling, but whenever we would stop, the sun would come out and the wind would stop, if only momentarily. He told us that he controlled the weather with his “wand” and I believed him.

Craig was great, full of stories and jokes, and he was all about the magic, so when we had some extra time left on the first day of our tour, he decided to throw in a surprise visit to a very magical place. He took us to the Harry Potter Train Bridge where the Hogwarts Express actually drove over the tracks and where they filmed the movies for a few months out of the year. It was amazing and I recognized the place instantly from the movies. Craig even waved his wand toward the stone bridge just for the fun of it and when he did, no joke, a train popped through the tunnel and made its way across the tracks. It was magical.

Once we arrived at our hostel that night, we decided to play Monopoly, but being in Scotland, it was a little different than the Monopoly we grew up with. The names were all different and very British and the pieces were a little off, but the best difference was the fact that one of the railroads was Kings Cross, where platform 9 and 3/4 is in Harry Potter. I was beside myself and had to buy it, no matter what the cost was.

Main Attraction Number Two — Movie Sets and Castles

On our tour, we had the chance to visit a number of castles including the castle where scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail were filmed and scenery where Skyfall was filmed. All of this on top of seeing where some of the scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed added up to a wonderful cinematic atmosphere.

We also visited Dunne Castle, which is one of the few living castles still in existence. What makes it a living castle? Well, the family who owns the castle and has owned it for a very long time, still lives in the castle. As we walked through it, there were portraits of older family members, then large paintings, old black and white photographs, Polaroids, and finally, normal, modern printed photographs of the family who currently lives in the castle. The parts of the castle that are open for visitors were well preserved to fit their ancient background, but it was so cool to imagine growing up there as a child in modern day. It would be like living in a fairytale, especially considering the fact that this particular castle was situated on a Loch and was surrounded by absolutely stunning mountains.

As we drove through the countryside on the tour, Craig began to tell us stories of battles that took place in the hills we passed and warriors who gave their lives for their homeland. One such story was connected to William Wallace, the protagonist in the movie Braveheart. He told us the real story of William Wallace, how the royals of the time had burned down his house in retaliation to Wallace’s defiance. The soldiers didn’t realize that his wife was inside the house at the time.

Wallace took out his revenge by finding the nobleman who looked after his village and murdered him. The people in surrounding villages heard of this and joined Wallace in a raid against all noblemen in the country, attacking and murdering them one by one. Not too long after, Wallace was captured and the rebellion ceased. Wallace was tortured and given the most drawn out death imaginable.

Craig also told us the story of where the name “Braveheart” comes from. It has nothing to do with William Wallace at all. It is instead associated with a different warrior. The story goes that on his death bed, all this warrior wanted was to go on a pilgrimage, so he asked his best mate to cut out his heart, place it in a tiny silver coffin to hang around his neck, and take his heart on a pilgrimage.

The best mate obliged and carried his heart across the land until he was met with an opposing tribe. The best mate took off the coffin with the heart tucked inside, swung it around his head and into the battlefield and said to his men, “Follow the brave heart into battle!” This coffin necklace was discovered around the 19th century and is now on display in a museum in the U.K. Craig told us that human remains were found in this tiny coffin dating back to the time of this warrior, so they believe it to be the same “brave heart.”

Main Attraction Number Three — A Writer’s Dream

We continued our journey through the highlands, taking in the most gorgeous mountain views. There was inspiration all around us as we walked and climbed around the highland sites. Before arriving in Scotland, I was expecting it to be the same as Ireland, but it was so unique, so different than the Irish countryside I had grown used to in the past two months.

We even stopped at an overlook spot where there were hundreds of rock stacks situated to overlook the mountains and the loch below, so many that it was hard to walk without knocking one over. It reminded me so much of a friend of mine’s dad who used to make those same rock stacks in the Swannanoa River behind her house when we were little.

Those sights combined with the old feel of Edinburgh and our hostel that was once a church made Scotland an inspiration playground, a writer’s dream. Our hostel had such a cool atmosphere and the way it was set up was amazing. There were rooms set up throughout the main part of the old church and in each room there was a skylight, so you could see the top of the church from your room. It was magical.

And, on our last day in Scotland, I had the chance to visit the Writer’s Museum. It was amazing to see all of the Scottish writers and their works on display in such a cool location. It was especially cool to see the old printing press used to publish works such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Scotland was a magical place, and I can’t wait to go back sometime in the near future.

Edinburgh Castle

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The Elephant House

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The Hogwarts Express Bridge

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Scenery from the Bridge

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Kings Cross Monopoly

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The Monty Python Castle

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Skyfall Exhibit

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Dunne Castle

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William Wallace Statue

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The Amazing Views

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The Rock Stacks

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The Old Feel of Edinburgh

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The Church Turned Hostel

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Loch Ness

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Go To Hogwarts

When I was choosing where I wanted to study abroad, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking for Hogwarts. I wanted to travel to a far off land to a school nestled in the green countryside, surrounded by water where I could row into campus on a boat my first day, and most importantly, it had to be a castle. And when I found a university that fit all of those criteria, how could I pass it up?

So, I chose to study abroad at University College Cork where sitting on the quad is the West Wing, otherwise known as the castle where classes are held, where the River Lee flows through campus and the occasional currach (traditional Irish boat) will be rowed through campus, and where there is lush green scenery every way you look. I found my Hogwarts.

After over a month of living in Ireland and going to classes at UCC, the idea that UCC is Hogwarts has only been further and further confirmed. There are the little things like everyone having either a British or Irish accent, and during my Early Start program, which was deep rooted in the folklore of Ireland, I had an Irish professor who taught us about fairies and leprechauns, witches, legends and tales of the unknown. I think it’s safe to say that during my first month at UCC I learned about magic.

There’s also the unmistakable Peugeot car that seems to crop up everywhere in Cork, and it’s almost always red. The symbol for this car is a lion on a red background, a.k.a. Gryffindor. And you can’t deny that Cork’s colors are red and white with the occasional yellow accent thrown in and the lion appears in the UCC crest. So I think it’s fair to say that Cork is Gryffindor.

Also, I can’t help but make the connection between hurling and quidditch. Both games are fast-paced and dangerous and they both fight for a shiny silver cup. Hurling, in my mind, is a blend of all of the quidditch positions, just on the ground, not in the air. In hurling, each player has their hurling bat like a beater’s bat, they use the bat to hit the ball like a baseball to score points like beaters would do with the bludger, they also pick up the ball and run with it in their hand and catch it in their hand like a chaser would with the quaffle, and of course the keeper is the same as the goalie. The only thing missing from hurling is the snitch.

Then there are the things in the city that are just too similar. Little things like the word “trolly” instead of shopping cart are of course part of the Harry Potter/European atmosphere, but it’s the larger things that really prove that I go to Hogwarts. One such thing is finding out that Treacle Tart actually exists in real life. My flatmate and I found a box at Dealz in the city and we had to get them. They taste absolutely delicious and made me feel more and more like I was in Harry Potter.

Another connection is the English Market — it’s a miniature Diagon Alley. Sure, the English Market only sells food and wine unlike Diagon Alley, but the entrance to the English Market is where I make the connection. The entrance is through a brick walkway that is closed off by a black iron gate when it closes. And, of course, it’s surrounded by pubs, any one of which could lead to the real Diagon Alley.

The largest connections I’ve made have been at UCC. The other day as I was walking to class I noticed about 10 children walking through campus with what looked like a teacher. They were all dressed in long black robes and each robe had a different crest sewn into it. They all were talking excitedly to each other in their thick Irish accents and looking around at the campus in awe, especially when they reached the West Wing, or the castle on the quad. This is where they stopped and stood in a line, while one by one they were called up by their teacher and given a piece of paper to which the rest of the kids clapped and cheered. I think some lucky 11-year-olds just received their Hogwarts letters.

And then there’s the inside of West Wing. It’s drafty, it’s stone, it has a dungeon, the door to each classroom is made like a castle door, but most importantly, there are dementors in the castle. They’re situated at the end of the long hallway with a dull yellow light shining on them. I swear, seeing them on my way to class makes my blood run cold every time I pass them. Although, this may have something to do with the fact that they stand right next to the door that leads outside, causing a nasty draft.

All in all, I go to Hogwarts, a school filled with common rooms, dementors, and of course, magic.

West Wing

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River Lee Flowing Through Campus

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Peugeot Car Logo

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UCC Crest

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Hurling

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Treacle Tart

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Eating Treacle Tart in My Ravenclaw Scarf and Cork Shirt

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English Market

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Kids Receiving Hogwarts Letters

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Dementors in West Wing

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Surviving Freshers Week

Freshers Week, the first week of classes at UCC, is a week full of frustration, long hours, colorful booths and a whole lot of yelling, chanting students with pints in their hands.

This past week I’ve had to start my college experience from scratch as a fresher just like I had to do when I first arrived at Carolina two years ago. It’s been really strange getting to know the library again, finding good study spots again, and joining clubs and societies all over again.

Thankfully, most aspects of being a UCC fresher are not all that different from being a UNC fresher, so although it felt strange going to Societies Day instead of Fall Fest, the two are nearly one in the same. I’ve known what to expect for the most part.

It’s the things that are so widely different that really throw me off guard and make me truly feel like I’m starting over my college experience as an out-of-stater or something. The first thing that’s vastly different is that there are two bars/clubs on the UCC campus, and not just on the edge of campus near the city, but right in the heart of it — The New Bar in the Student Centre and Old College Bar right beside the quad. And people go — in between classes, before class, just to grab a pint or to party. It’s a much different atmosphere than I’m used to.

Also, after every single club or society meeting the members go out to a pub or a club. It’s just so much part of the culture here that it really changes the college dynamic. And when I say they go out after every meeting, I mean every meeting. All of the society meetings I’ve gone to during the past week have all introduced their officers, and each group has an officer whose sole job is to plan going out after meetings. It’s just so different because here the legal drinking age is 18, so once you’re in college, you’re legal and college organizations can plan into that.

Drinking is just such a big part of the culture here, especially for college-aged students, and I’m not saying that it’s not that big or even bigger at U.S. colleges, but here, it’s just more accepted, more relaxed. There’s no need to sneak around or coax older students to buy the alcohol and more importantly, there’s no need to get completely wasted when you drink here because you can get alcohol whenever you want if you’re over 18. I feel like in the U.S., once people have alcohol who are under 21, feel like they have to go all out because it’s a treat that they have alcohol and they usually have to get rid of it as soon as they get it to “hide the evidence.”

To that effect, I’m not trying to say that Irish college students don’t occasionally go all out and get completely plastered. They do, especially during Freshers Week. The first week of classes is designated to getting drunk at the college bars and encouraging freshers, or first-years, to do the same, hence welcoming them to college. During classes, I could hear many chants and people yelling drunkenly as they marched through the quad to Old College Bar around 4 p.m. on a Tuesday, my professor trying to teach over their shouting but failing miserably.

There is a reason behind why all of the going out and getting drunk during Freshers Week works so well though. Registering for classes is vastly different than it is in the U.S. What I’m used to is signing up for classes about two months before classes even start, online, and having about two weeks for an add/drop period, to which you can add or drop your classes online.

Things are run much differently here. The first week of classes, Freshers Week, is a test week. Students go to different classes to test them out and see if they like them. Because the people in the classes will change all during that week and no one has committed to taking the course, no real teaching is really done that won’t be gone over again for the inevitable newcomers during the following week when real class begins. This leads to mostly just freshers going to class during the first week while the upperclassmen go out and party because they know which classes they want and they don’t need to test them out.

After we’ve decided which course we want for sure, then we have to fill out a paper registration form and go to each department in person to register for those courses and then, for me, hand in the form to the international office for final approval. Then, we have to wait about two weeks before we have access to those classes on Blackboard, where all of our class materials and readings are kept.

To me, it seems like a very complicated and outdated process, but I have to say, I really did appreciate the one week grace period because I went to a lot of different classes and found the ones I really wanted. And, I know I couldn’t have done that back home because we start learning the first day.

So, far classes have been an experience and feeling like a fresher again has made my time here feel more and more like a fairytale. Hopefully when the week of exams and final papers comes around, I will have a happy ending.

Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Day Trip to Dingle

Last weekend, my flatmate and I went on a day tour to the Dingle Penninsula. We made a few stops along the way to Inch Beach, Killarney, different places in County Kerry, Dun Chaoin, and on to Dingle. The weather was absolutely gorgeous for our trip, which made the sights look even better than we ever thought they could. It was a gorgeous day and a wonderful trip, so for this post, I think I’m going to let the photos speak for me because I can say only so much about the blueness of the ocean and the sky, about the white surf that crashed against the gray rocks, and about the warm sun that peeked through the clouds in Dingle. Enjoy!

Cork Early Morning

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Killarney

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Inch Beach

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Roadside Pit Stop

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Dun Chaoin

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A Famine House

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More Pit Stops

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Dingle

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cobh: The Last Port and Call of the Titanic

A couple of weekends back, my flatmate and I went on a little day trip to Cobh, which was previously known as Queenstown, the last port and call of the Titanic. We hopped on the train and talked during the 25 minute train ride from Cork to Cobh, taking in the blur of the Irish countryside as we passed castles, greenery, and water.

Once we arrived in Cobh, we took to the streets, absorbing the warmth of the sun as we walked along the harbor. As we walked, we came across the Titanic museum, which was built in the original ticket office for the White Star Line. We took the tour, learning more about the tragic day that the Titanic was lost at sea, but we also learned a great deal more about the Irish perspective.

There were about 130 passengers that boarded the Titanic in Cobh and almost all were in third class. There were only seven survivors out of the ones who boarded in Cobh, the last stop before heading to New York. Before the tour began, we received a Titanic ticket with a name of one of the real Irish passengers that got on the Titanic. At the end of the tour, we found out our fate. I was fortunate to have the ticket of a survivor, even though she was a third class passenger.

As we went along, we also got the chance to see the original dock of where those last passengers boarded the titanic. Even though the dock was in shambles, it still brought images of teenagers dressed in 1910s garb, covered head to foot, to my mind. As we finished the tour, I couldn’t quite shake the reality of the lives that were lost on the Titanic. It seems that the Titanic has become a subject that many people talk about, almost always in relation to the movie, but I think people seem to forget the actual lives that were lost that day. They had families, lives, and they each had a reason to head to America.

After we ended out Titanic tour, we were getting a bit hungry, so we unpacked our peanut butter sandwiches and apples and found a great little spot by the pier to eat. It was so sunny and peaceful, and it seemed like there was some sort of festival going on because there were tents set up all over the little park, selling food and what not. It was the perfect afternoon to be in Cobh.

After lunch, we set off to explore more of the city. First, we went to St. Colman’s Cathedral, which is the focal point of the town because it can be seen from just about every angle. The thing about Cobh and getting to the cathedral though, is that it’s up a very large sloping hill. I literally felt like I was walking horizontally for a bit, but seriously, right after being in the world of the Titanic, I felt like I was walking up the Titanic’s deck when it was rising up to fall in the water.

We did get to pass by the “Pack of Cards,” which is a very iconic and picturesque view in Ireland of a line of houses sloped on this hill and from every angle, they look like a pack of cards. They were so cute and colorful and they had the greatest view of the ocean, but I’m not sure I could climb that hill every day.

Once we made it to the top, we walked a little further to the cathedral. It was absolutely stunning inside and out, and the large wooden doors on the inside of the cathedral reminded me so much of Hogwarts doors because they had black iron locks on them just like when they are closing the school in Harry Potter.

As we were leaving the cathedral, we met three very nice people who were asking us about our stay in Ireland and were just chatting away with us. One was from Ireland, but the other two were from Columbia. The Irish man spoke to us the most, telling us places we should visit and talking to us about our studies. We even had a long conversation about Cold Mountain because he had just watched it the night before, and when I said I was from North Carolina, he was all about talking to me about the movie. It was so great to meet such wonderful people.

Near the end of our conversation, he told us about this hidden Bible Garden up at the top of the city that we had to see, so we thanked him and we were on our way. We stayed on course per his instructions and found the most beautiful deserted little garden with amazing views of the town and the ocean. It was breathtaking.

After visiting the Bible Garden, we headed back down to the main part of town to explore a little more. The only downside to our trip is that there weren’t many places that were open. Only restaurants and pubs were open. I’ve found this to be true of all of Ireland so far, that all of the shops close down by 5 pm every day and they are closed all together on Sundays, aside from restaurants and pubs.

As we were winding down a bit for the day, we headed back to the harbor to take in the ocean views until our 4:30 pm train. As we approached the little park by the sea, we were met with awesome music coming from under the little gazebo in the center of the park. There were fiddles, tubas, trombones, flutes, everything a little town’s band needs. Listening to them play and seeing them all dressed in almost 1950s style pinstripes made me automatically think of Gilmore Girls when the Stars Hollow band would play in the gazebo.

Overall, it was a great day full of color, sun and surf.

Original Titanic Dock

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White Star Line Ticket Office

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Titanic Pose

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Cobh

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Pack of Cards

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St. Colman’s Cathedral

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The Harry Potter Doors

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Bible Garden

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The Gazebo Band

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

According to Legend…

…a saint was born in a Fairy Fort while his mother was to burn at the stake, a prideful outlaw became a hero by telling off the British, and children that were “gone with the fairies” were buried in unmarked graves at crossroads under the cover of the night.

Last weekend’s field trip was all about legends of saints and fairies. We visited a number of places all of which were off the beaten path including a ring fort with a fairy field, a stone circle, an abbey-turned-graveyard and an unmarked children’s graveyard.

The entire week we had been learning about fairy folklore in Irish tradition, and fairies are not what you might expect them to be. Fairies are meant to be evil in Ireland, only coming to the human realm to steal people, especially children. There are many theories behind why they would steal children, but all come back to the fact that the fairies want red blood because their blood is white. They want the red blood, either by drinking it (vampires) or by mating with humans, to “redden” their bloodline.

One theory behind this is that the fairies are really fallen angels. They are stuck on Earth, but are not human, so they see “reddening” their bloodline as their ticket back into heaven. Another theory is that the fairies used to be gods, and the Irish fought them in battle and won. The truce then stated that half of Ireland would go to the humans and half to the fairy gods. But, the fairies had been tricked by the humans. The humans took the top half of Ireland, while the fairies took the half that was underneath the earth.

Because fairies are known to steal children and take them to the fairy world, the fairies would then replace the children they steal with fairies or changelings. The whole idea of changelings really caught me off guard when we were on our field trip. Changelings were meant to be fairy children that had replaced the human children.

But the reasons for a changeling were quite disturbing, as well as the ways in which one could check to see if someone was a changeling. Basically, if a child was born out of wedlock, with a deformity, was sick, or was different in any way, they were declared a changeling, and therefore, a fairy. So, to get rid of the fairy and to get the human child back, parents would leave their babies in manure heaps outside overnight, hold them over fire or place them on a hot shovel, leave a hot iron over their cribs, and so much more because fairies are afraid of iron, fire, and anything dirty.

The changeling idea doesn’t stop with children though. Any adult who was different or on the outskirts of society, whether they were deformed, sick, homeless, or had diseases like Alzheimer’s, were also considered to be “gone with the fairies,” or as changelings.

In some even more tragic cases, wives were being accused of being a fairy, and once they were accused, there was no turning back. This was the case of Bridget Cleary. Her husband was unhappy that they had been married for around 6 years and had no children, so once Bridget came down with bronchitis and wasn’t exactly herself, he accused her of being a fairy. He then, along with most of Bridget’s own family, took to the procedures of getting rid of a changeling to bring back their dear Bridget.

Some of these rituals included throwing urine over her because fairies don’t like anything dirty, feeding her a “fairy cure” to see if she could keep it down (she couldn’t because it’s poison), placing her over the fire, and making her eat bread. When she couldn’t keep the bread down, her husband was convinced that she was a fairy because fairies can’t eat any food from our world.

After seeing this, he threw his wife into the fireplace and watched her burn to death. This was only about 100 years ago, which is pretty scary if you ask me. Everyone knows that this was a tragedy, a man either using fairylore to kill his wife or actually believing in what seemed to be harmless stories by that point in time. That’s the scary part about folklore sometimes – what happens when adults start to believe in the legends and use the stories as excuses for murder. There are many accounts like Bridget Cleary’s, but none that made it past the early 1800s.

One of the sights we visited on our field trip was to a children’s burial ground, where all of the children and people who were considered fairies were buried. If you don’t know it’s a graveyard, it would be hard to point it out as it looks just like a patch of grass at the crossroads. I listened to my professor as I stood on the bones of unwanted children and people, realizing the full impact these stories had on people in the past. How could someone kill their child just because it wouldn’t eat or it had a deformity?

We also visited the largest ring fort, or fairy fort, in all of Ireland. A ring fort is basically a circular patch of land surrounded by two rings of ditches. In folklore, these land patches were considered portals to the fairy world and where all of the children were taken. Historically, people lived in these forts and had the ditch system to keep their cattle from being stolen or running off. Kings were also inaugurated inside these ring forts.

The legend goes that St. Finbarre was also born in the middle of the ring fort that we visited. His mother, a slave, was supposed to sleep with the King, but when the King arrived, she was nine months pregnant with the blacksmith’s child. When he found out, he ordered them to be burned at the stake inside the ring fort, the usual place for burnings. According to legend, St. Finbarre, from inside his mother’s womb, made it rain so they would not burn, and was born right there in the middle of the fort, talking and with a ring of light around his head. In the words of my professor, “This kid was meant to do something. He was special. I mean, he spoke from his mother’s womb — of course they made him a saint!”

On the fairy side of things, the legend of the fairy fort began long ago, but was reinforced when a young girl was seen playing by the ring fort. She went missing that same day and no one ever saw her again, so people said that the fairies had taken her. Many years later, her body was discovered underneath the fairy fort, buried from a cave-in. But that just goes to show that fairies were the perfect solution to a lot of life’s problems back then. By saying, “It was the fairies,” people were given some closure to the unexplained.

On our travels we also visited the Kilcrea Abbey that has been turned into a graveyard over the years. It was only an abbey for a few years before it was turned to ruins in battle. After that, it became a graveyard for one family, the McCarthy’s. This lasted a little while until the Irish potato famine, when there just weren’t enough spaces to bury all of the bodies, so they were literally dumped into this graveyard, left to rot.

My professor informed us that he used to play in this graveyard when he was a kid, finding enough bones to put whole skeletons together because it had become a boneyard more than anything else. It wasn’t until the 1970s that people started to clean it up a bit, and we still found a few loose bones as we walked through the graveyard.

It was also very strange seeing gravestones inside old fireplaces and under the ruins of old windows. It was like having a graveyard in your house. As I walked from room to room, I started to picture the hustle and bustle that would have been going on when it was still an abbey, now with the spirits of the dead taking over the common room, the study, the great hall. It was all very surreal.

In this graveyard, a very special figure is buried, Arthur O’Leary. He is known as the man who told off the British in the 1700s. He rode his horse into town with a sword slung across his waist. A member of the gentry then came up to him in town and told O’Leary to give him his horse. O’Leary basically told him to “piss off,” something no one did at the time, and he was made an outlaw. A few days later, O’Leary rode back into town on his horse just to show off his Irish roots a little more, but this ride cost him his life. He was shot and killed, but remains a legend to this day.

After visiting a few graveyards, we made our way to Clonakilty for lunch. It was such a cute little town full color and excitement. There was even a little train that rode through the streets while we ate lunch.

After the break we headed to the Drombeg Stone Circle. It had the most gorgeous view of the ocean and the breathtaking Irish hills. While we were there we learned more about the stone circle itself, about how over 2000 years ago, people used these circles to sacrifice Kings or Chiefs when the land wasn’t doing well or when they disagreed with his leadership. Our professor even told us how he was part of the archaeological team that found a human skeleton in a capsule buried under the circle.

Near the stone circle, there were also remnants of a house and of a cooking station. The cooking station was a horseshoe shaped place with a rectangular opening in the ground. Our professor told us how people used these rectangles to boil water by placing large stones in a fire that would heat up for the entire day and then placing the stones one by one in the water until it was boiling. Then, they would place meat and vegetables into the rectangular boiling “pot.”

The boiling pot’s function didn’t end there though. It was also used as a way for soldiers to bathe. They would strip down by the pot, revealing their battle scars and fresh wounds and then they would use the animal fat that had come off of the boiling meat as soap to wash up. I could just imagine warriors standing around this rectangular boiling pot, recounting battle stories and laughing at their own luck to have survived. It was a very cool place to visit.

After a day of graveyards, warriors, and fairies, we ended our field trip at a beautiful harbor in Glandore. It was absolutely breathtaking and it reminded me so much of my time in Maine as well as The Little Mermaid. It was just so beautiful. And of course, it wouldn’t be a folklore trip without a few rusty, sunken ships nearby.

Overall, it was a day of reflection and of storytelling, visiting sights not for tourists, but for locals, not for the light-hearted, but for the strong-stomached. I saw where history met folklore and the effects stories can have on people, way back when and today.

Children’s Burial Ground

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Entrance to Fairy/Ring Fort

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The Ditches/Rings

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The Middle of the Ring Fort where St. Finbarre was Born

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Clovers in the Fairy Fort

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Kilcrea Abbey

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Loose Human Bone (Lower Right Corner)

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Arthur O’Leary’s Tomb

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Clonakilty

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Drombeg Circle

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The Cooking Area

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Fun at the Circle

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My Folklore Class

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Glandore Harbor

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kissing the Blarney Stone

Last Tuesday I made my way to the good old town of Blarney once again, full of interesting people, gorgeous landscapes, and a one of a kind musical atmosphere. This Tuesday though was not just spent at the Blarney Castle pub listening to Irish trad music and having a jolly old time. It was so much more.

This time, we went a lot earlier than we normally do so that we could see the castle, explore the grounds, and of course, kiss the Blarney Stone. Before going in, I was expecting to just see a castle and a few fields with the only attraction being kissing the Blarney Stone. Oh, how I was wrong.

The place was huge and full of exciting and gorgeous landscapes, gardens, houses, caves, castles, towers, and so much more. As we began exploring the massive grounds, we came across all of these different stone structures, some of them being remains of houses or remnants of sacrificial altars, some of them being witches’ kitchens and wishing steps.

The Wishing Steps are a set of crumbling stone steps. The legend goes that if you walk up and down the steps with your eyes closed, thinking only of one wish and nothing else, then your wish will come true within a year. I, being one of tradition and folklore, had to take my turn on these Wishing Steps. It was very difficult to go up and down without seeing because the steps are not the sturdiest and each step is a different length and width. But, I am proud to say that I thought of my wish and only my wish while walking the steps.

We wandered around a bit after that, finding ourselves climbing up rock hills, skipping across ancient bridges, and ducking through cave dungeons. We were enchanted by the sparkling rivers and glistening ponds littered with green and the eerie low hum of a thousand bees above us as we walked through forests in dead silence.

After a few hours of exploration, we finally came across the focal point of our journey, Blarney Castle, home of the Blarney Stone. We made our way through the castle, admiring its antiquity as we climbed the stone spiral staircase. When we reached the top, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the gorgeous Irish landscapes and the amazing view of the old battlefield just in front of the castle.

We walked in a circle around the top of the castle, marking our progress in the line to kiss the Blarney Stone by the square cutouts that used to house protectors and warriors, ready to fight any trespasser who came for a visit. As we got closer to the Blarney Stone, we realized the exact procedure of how we were to kiss it.

We watched as the crowd went before us, each person laying flat on the ground while a man helped them lean back into a grated hole. We watched as one by one their heads disappeared and their bodies slipped just a few inches closer to the ground hundreds of feet below. It looked as if they were losing their heads or sipping into oblivion, but each one somehow made their way back to the surface with huge smiles on their faces.

I couldn’t help but make the connection to a baptism as a I watched this old man lower each person’s head into a hole in the castle’s roof, each person coming up from kissing the stone with huge smiles on their faces and an unforgettable experience to share.

As we moved closer and closer to the stone, it was finally my turn. I sat down, laying flat, placed my hands on the bars behind me, and lowered my head and then my body lower and lower until I could see the blur of the green ground hundreds of feet below me. That was the moment I came face to face with a small dark stone, and I leaned forward and gave it a kiss for good luck. Only a few seconds later, I was being shimmied back to the surface, just having had an unforgettable experience.

After taking a few good pictures, we decided to head back down through the castle and spend a few more hours to explore because we still hadn’t seen everything yet. Not even close.

We made our way to the Blarney House and admired its grandeur, passing large gardens full of gorgeous plants and even more beautiful views of the Cork countryside. As we continued our survey of the grounds, snapping pictures every once in a while, we came back toward the castle where we discovered the Poison Garden and the old battle trenches, along with a few towers and pigeonries along the way. The Poison Garden was definitely something to see. All of the plants in that garden were poisonous, making for a very strange and eerie walk along the cobbled pathways that were laced with plants that could literally kill us.

Apart from the poisonous nature of the grounds, Blarney Castle and all of the surrounding land reminded me a lot of the Biltmore House back home, the castle of the South as I like to call it. Blarney held the same awe and beauty of the Biltmore but with a history from a few more centuries back in time.

After all was seen and frolicked through on the Blarney grounds, we all headed over to the Blarney Castle Hotel pub where we enjoyed the friendly Irish atmosphere and the beautiful and lively trad music that comes along with being in Blarney on a Tuesday night.

The Grounds

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Blarney Castle and Views from the Top

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The Old Battlefield

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Kissing the Blarney Stone

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The Wishing Steps

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Witches’ Kitchen

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Battle Trench Site

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Pigeonry

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Blarney House

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Finding My Flourish and Blotts

This past Sunday, my flatmate and I went on a little excursion through town. We went shopping in City Centre on Opera Lane, which is Cork’s version of America’s Rodeo Drive according to my professor. We went in all the mainstream stores, finding good deals and smiling at signs that said “Get more for your euro!” instead of the “Get more for your buck!” that we are so used to seeing in the States.

We also stumbled across a few bookstores on our journey, some with a mainstream feel like Barnes & Noble and Books a Million, but the others, the true gems, were the more rinky-dink ones we found.

The first one we came to was Connolly’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop run by a little old Irish man sitting on a stool behind his cash register. As soon as I walked in and saw stacks of books piled on the staircase, on the shelves, the floor, and just about everywhere else, I knew this bookshop would be a keeper. The song, “Somebody to Watch Over Me,” sang by Frank Sinatra, played on a record, its slightly scratchy sound reaching everyone’s ears throughout the tiny shop. The smell of old books just added to this perfect little place in the middle of Cork, as well as the posters of old poets, writers and actors that were up all around the shop.

I couldn’t believe how much this place reminded me of Flourish and Blotts from Harry Potter, and I really felt like I was on Diagon Alley while I was touching each book, going from title to title. I knew I had to find one before I left the store, so I began my search. I came across a few good ones, but I finally settled on “The Bodyguard,” a lesser-known 1970s novel about a future dystopian “Revolution” in Great Britain that spreads to all of Europe. I’m currently reading it and so far, I’m very happy with my choice.

We also found another bookshop called Vibes and Scribes, which was much larger, but still had piles of old and new books everywhere and that great old book smell. I found a few more here that I liked, including “The Time Keeper” by Mitch Albom, which I read in one day. It was a great and easy read, and it goes along perfectly with my folklore class at UCC, about using easily accessible materials to make and do more complicated things.

I know that I will definitely be paying Vibes and Scribes more visits while I’m here, but I have to say my Flourish and Blotts has to be Connolly’s. I will definitely be going there more often, discovering more obscure novels and enjoying the thrill of searching through the thousands of books in his little shop.

We then walked up the giant hill to the Shandon Bells, the landmark of Cork. The view from the bells was breathtaking and the atmosphere of the little town full of cafes and wine made it seem like a small French oasis. The only thing throwing off this facade was the thick Irish accent of our waiter at Four Liars Bistro.

Overall, it was a great afternoon of stumbling across some pretty wonderful things.

Connolly’s Bookshop

“Someone to Watch Over Me” by Frank Sinatra: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E07b0SbWWFc

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Vibes and Scribes

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Shandon Bells and the Town

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Potholes, Squibs and Other Tales

This past weekend my folklore class went on a field trip to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park to learn more about Irish culture and to really experience what Irish life was like back in the day. The folk park is a lot like colonial Williamsburg in the sense that the entire park is full of houses and fields made in the traditional way with workers that are dressed to mimic the times, making things like apple tart the old fashioned way, pulling potatoes, and tending to the fire.

While we were walking from house to house, listening to our professor relate things we had learned that week in class to things all around us like settle benches, dressers, and cattle posts, a few lessons really stood out.

One such lesson was about the origin of the word “pothole.” My professor was teaching us about how you can tell where a house was built and how wealthy the people were who lived there by looking at their floor. Floors with large slates as their base meant wealthier families lived there, while floors that were uneven and “blotchy” meant poorer people lived there.

He told us all about how when a new house was built with a “blotchy” floor, it started off soft and to pack it all in to complete the floor, people held housewarming parties. At these parties everyone danced to pack in the floor and smoosh everything down. There were dances made just for this purpose.

But while everyone was dancing, one person was always hunched over in one corner of the house with their hands wrist-deep in the mushy floor. Why, you may ask? They were building the “pothole.” There was always a hole in one corner of the house that was a shallow circle with three deeper holes around it, basically the imprint of a three-legged pot. The reason every household had these holes was because when they wanted to mash anything, like potatoes, the bottom of the pot wasn’t strong enough to take the mashing. So, they would put the pot into the hole so the ground would absorb the mashing instead of the pot, not breaking the pot.

And that’s where the term “pothole” comes from.

We also keep learning about the multifunctional nature of the Irish culture. Everything the made had more than one purpose, always. So, when we learned about the blacksmith’s house, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Evidently, the blacksmith’s house was the hub of the town — It was where teenagers would go to make out because it was the warmest place to go. It served as the dentist because that’s where the pliers were. It was where all surgeries took place because all of the tools were there and they could cauterize the wounds easily. It was everything, the hangout, the doctor, and of course, the blacksmith.

But our adventure didn’t stop at the houses. We went all over the park, petting animals, eating the most delicious apple tart, hopping over streams, and of course, climbing up the castle.

The Bunratty Castle was amazing. It was so cool to see the old cannons out front and then to walk in through a sort of drawbridge, but it was even cooler seeing the old artifacts in rooms throughout the castle, seeing the great hall all set up with tapestries and long tables, and getting to climb to the top of the castle on the smallest, most challenging stone steps ever made. The view from the top was amazing, the green countryside, the misty river, all seen through the old turrets where arrows were once placed to keep away enemies.

Being at the top just made me want to go back to my childhood and play dungeons and dragons with knights and princesses and exciting adventures. After we went to the top, we then traveled down the tiny spiral stone staircase to the dungeons, which was pretty cool to see.

On our journey to Bunratty, before the castle and the folk park, we made a few stops to see castle ruins and old abbeys that had long been abandoned. Seeing the ruins was amazing, but walking through them, on them and in them was even cooler. As we were exploring the stone sight, my professor gathered us together and told us about the abbey and the castle ruins we were poking around in.

As he explained the architecture, small holes in the walls that were meant to be there to hold scaffolding so if the castle ever needed to be repaired, they could simply stick some wood up there and fix it quickly. As he spoke, he began pointing at things with his large red umbrella, clicking it along the stone wall with every word. My Harry Potter mind couldn’t help but make the connection to Hagrid using his umbrella to open the gateway to Diagon Alley, especially when my professor was speaking in an Irish accent.

The Harry Potter references didn’t stop there though. After he was finished explaining the castle ruins, he then instructed all of us to climb over the stone wall by walking on these large stones that poked out of the wall like steps. We all climbed over and my 34-person class crammed into one of the towers nearby. The inside of the tower was full of square holes, and my professor started to explain that this was a pigeonry, just like an owlery at Hogwarts. He also explained that the people liked to keep squabs in the pigeonry, which are pigeons who never learned how to fly or didn’t have the ability to fly. My mind flew straight to “squibs” in Harry Potter, the wizards who come from magic, but can’t actually perform magic.

The Harry Potter references were everywhere and in a place like Ireland, you can’t blame me for making so many connections.

The coolest part about the field trip and my folklore class is the emphasis on living tradition rather than artifacts and material objects. My professor stresses the importance and vitality of living tradition every chance he gets, saying that the proper way to learn about a culture is through living traditions, visiting places like Bunratty, experiencing the food, inhaling the turf smoke, building currachs (traditional Irish boats) and just living through tradition. I’ve already learned so much along these lines and I can’t wait to learn more.

Bunratty Folk Park

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Bunratty Castle

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Top of the Castle

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Delicious Apple Tart

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Ruins

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My Professor and His Umbrella

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Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Irish Trad Music in Blarney

Categories: Ireland 2013 | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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