Since leaving Sneem, we have done and seen so much in such a short time that suddenly Sneem feels a world away! I was sad to leave the village because it had started to feel like home for many of us. It was surprising that, after just a few days, I became so comfortable there and so attached to the place.
It has been interesting to see how these other places are different from what we’ve seen so far, but also how in some ways they are similar. Music, for example, has been a common element throughout the trip. A mix of traditional and contemporary sounds has been the soundtrack to this experience. Some of the songs we heard at Pub Night in Sneem were being played on the streets of Galway in a totally different but equally wonderful way. The abundance of live music in Galway nightlife speaks to this too, I think. As Maura Burns demonstrated for us, music is such an important part of culture, especially in terms of community. These musical experiences are meant to be shared.
While in Galway, we saw Famine, a play by Tom Murphy about the Irish potato blight in 1845-1847. The play is a great example of how history is being kept alive in a modern context. Similar to some of the poetry we have read, Famine creates a close-up snapshot of people’s lived experiences. I am reminded especially of Eavan Boland’s poems “The Science of Cartography is Limited,” which references the “famine roads,” and “Quarantine,” which tells the story of a couple who died of hunger in 1847. In all of these examples, the characters are not mythologized as heroes, or martyrs. Rather, we get glimpses of their stories and their experiences. These poems and the play are perfect examples of how history is made more meaningful through story.
Perhaps the only thing that can rival the human-made beauty of culture and community in Ireland is the natural beauty that kept unfolding as we travelled on. Travelling by bus, we got to see a variety of landscapes on our way to Killarney, Galway, and Dublin. Many times, the bus rides themselves were exciting because there was so much to see in between destinations. But of course, one of the most memorable scenes was at the Cliffs of Moher.
The unique beauty of Ireland was abundant even in the country’s most commercialized city. In Dublin, the historical and the modern coexist in interesting ways. We saw Kilmainham Jail, the Book of Kells and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, all of which held an incredible sense of the past that was somehow unexpected in a modern city. On our last night in Dublin, some of us went to a pub where we enjoyed a fantastic show of traditional Irish music (some of which had become familiar and sing-along-able at this point!) and dance. In this way, Dublin offers the best of both worlds – Irish tradition is still kept alive amid a bustling city full of chain restaurants and modern life.