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Ireland - Page Text Content

BC: Poem Scanned money Song lyrics, jotted notes

FC: IRELAND Music, Folklore, and Tradition in Irish Cultural History May 2011 Lauren Spangler

1: FRIDAY, MAY 13, 2011 The Journey Bug I've caught the journey bug: the urge to travel the distance--between places (typical plane, train, automobile stuff) or even between people, different cultures, different perspectives of the world. The last statement may seem coated in rainbows and butterflies, but in a very real sense the space between two people is sometimes the hardest (and most rewarding) to cover. This summer, I'm headed to Ireland and France, with a little U.S. travel sprinkled in between. Journey Bug is a place for friends and family to check in and see where I am and what I'm up to. But beyond sharing my itinerary, Journey Bug will also be a place for reflection and sharing about the people I meet, the food I taste, and the adventures I have abroad. If I can figure out how to upload pictures, that may be a cherry on top. Sunday morning I'll board a plane and be in Ireland! (Well, let's be realistic... I'll board a plane, and 3 layovers, 19.5 hours, and 12 bags of airline peanuts later, I'll be in Ireland.) So stay tuned--next post will be from the Emerald Isle! | The first view out the car window leaving Shannon airport!

3: MONDAY, MAY 16, 2011 Please, Sir, may I have some Moher? Ireland is beautiful! I am in a cozy little room sipping tea next to a piping fire that is slowly heating up the cold walls. The sky is misty gray and outside it is cold, damp, and windy--only difference inside: there's no wind. But the weather is all part of the effect! Everywhere you look, you could frame the view and hang it on the wall. Green, green, green! Fresh and luscious, and when the wind blows, the soft, thick grass ripples; the trees and hedges by the coast are bent over from growing in the wind. The rolling hills are decorated with a patchwork of little stone walls, quaint little whitewashed houses nestled in between, cows and sheep dotting the hillside. We are in Lisdoonvarna, an itty bitty town about twenty minutes inland from the coast. The hostel we are staying in tonight is simple and tidy. And cold! Brrrrr! The heat comes on at 7:00 p.m., and until then the circle of us sitting around the fire is growing. We found another cure for the cold wind: hot, fresh vegetable soup! Served with a roll and butter--the most creamy, delicious, fresh butter I've ever tasted. Today's highlight: the Cliffs of Moher! They are incredible! Or shall I say...inconceivable? The sheer size of the rocky cliffs shooting up out of the ocean is stunning. Most surprising: how quiet it is. Peaceful. Everything here is peaceful. The white seagulls floating in the gray mist look tiny against the huge cliffs: they reminded me of the delicate little doves inside of sand dollars. I wish I could have stood there for much longer today, just soaking it in. Driving along the winding little road away from the Cliffs of Moher, I saw a local man walking alongside the road, squinting into the wind and hunching against the cold, with the same grimace I have when I'm in bad weather at home. He was so anxious to get wherever he was going, he didn't look at the incredible coutryside around him at all. And there I was, pasted to the car window, gawking ridiculously at every little Irish sheep. For a minute, I couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that he had grown up looking at this everyday. I wonder if he ever awestruck by the Cliffs of Moher like I was. I wonder what I look at everyday that he would be amazed by. Dr. Smith is cooking spaghetti for dinner, and a warm bed is calling my name--working on thirty hours on the go now, but I couldn't be happier! This place is magical.


7: FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2011 Vegetable Soup, Hostels, and Pubs...Oh, My! Toto, we're not in America anymore! Things here are SO different, and it has been such an adventure. Been here for five(ish?) days now, and some of us are dropping like flies from homesickness. Although there have been a couple of moments (dripping dry in cold hostel showers, mostly) when I've felt like clicking my heels three times... Mostly it feels like a fantastic adventure. The Irish landscape helps with the adventure feeling. I feel like we're trekking through a Tolkien daydream! As a cherry on top, the weather has been great. Lots of what the Irish call 'soft days': gentle mist over everything, but not a lot of rain. In true Ireland fashion, it's been incessantly chilly and damp, so I've been having a lot of fresh, hot vegetable soup--my new favorite. Along the way, I've kept my little red journal in my pocket, so the next few entries will be a couple thoughts I had from the last couple days. P.S. We're 6/7 hours ahead here, so I'm getting really good at counting backwards to imagine what everybody at home is up to. Hope you're getting all the love I'm sending your way!

8: FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2011 Music Past Midnight I'm sitting in Spell's Pub in Ballaghaderreen sipping on a half-pint of Guinness while an accordion and timber flute player are playing traditional Irish tunes in the corner (what they call "trad music" here). Finally, the music matches the scene! The other restaurants and pubs have all been piping American pop songs. I'll tell ya, I can't get into the Irish-ness of my scone and tea with Lady Gaga drilling "ga-ga, ooh-la-la, ya-da, blah-blah-blah" in my ear! The traditional music matches this so much better, and it's a welcome fit. The accordion player invited us to play along (actually, he said "whip yer yolks up and get 'em jiggly," and it took me a moment to translate). Dr. Smith pulled out his banjo, and after awhile another timber flute, a harmonica, and a fiddle all joined in. A piano player named Phil (a woman, nicknamed Filthy Phil for all the dirty jokes she knows) walked in the pub and started playing in the middle of a tune. She wasn't that good, but it was still entertaining.

9: We stayed in a quaint little hostel in Ballycastle owned by an Irish couple named Donal and Janet Hughes who are 'jolly good,' to use an Irish term. Donal took us all down to a music session at Healy's, a pub in town. Donal plays button accordion, and he and Dr. Smith and Mariani set up in the front window. I got to sit right next to them (for the first bit), and Dr. Smith bought me a half-pint of Guinness. We asked Donal what other players we should save seats for, and he replied that there was and old man who used to come to every session, but he's "gone to the fields." He said it gently. I hope the trad music isn't dying with the old people. Over a couple hours, Healy's filled to the brim with people talking and drinking and passing the time. The one word to describe it: warm. Coming out of the cold, damp outside, the air is warm. The light is warm. The people are warm. A sip or two of Guinness adds to the warmth, too! The locals all know each other, because Ballycastle is tiny. Mave O'Brady, a lady who's only been living in the town a couple of months says "It takes getting used to. Around here, everybody knows the color of your knickers!" A big group of rowdy Scottish tourists came in drunk and riled up the whole pub. Before long, the place was booming with drunk Scots breaking their glasses on the floor and bellowing out of tune. It was too crowded and smelled like beer breath. We hightailed it pretty quickly. As one old local man said, "the session would turn out one way or the other...and it was the other." After leaving Healy's, Donal and Janet insisted we continue the session at their house. It was great! Like an old fashioned ceili, everyone sitting in the kitchen drinking Irish coffee, talking, and singing. I sang two songs: the lullaby, and a new one I learned here (makes a really great souvenir). There's something enchanting about sharing music and stories late at night, especially when it's so personal and intimate--nothing like a concert hall. We all sat in that kitchen for hours, and by the time we were going to bed the window was turning blue with sunrise (okay, the sun rises super early here...but it was still dramatically late at night!). This is what I'm here for!

10: FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2011 It's Not the Size, It's How You Use It Everything in Ireland is small! And often more efficient. The roads are smaller; the cars are smaller; the homes are smaller; the toilets are smaller (and cold! Brr!); the tables and chairs are smaller; the sodas are smaller (although the pints are not); the showers are MUCH smaller...I stopped by a local grocery store in Lisdoonvarna, and even the bell peppers and apples are smaller (probably not genetically enhanced). The volume level is smaller--Americans are always the loudest in the pub. (Well, other than Germans and drunk Scotsmen...) The environmental footprint is smaller. The space between people is smaller, both literally and figuratively. | The country is geographically smaller, of course. I don't think the Irish have any concept of how expansive the States are in comparison. At one music session, a man from County Sligo found out we were from Texas and asked "Is Texas far from Milwaukee, is it?" It isn't unusual for someone who has a relative in America to say something along the lines of "You're from the States, are you? Well, my cousin so-and-so lives in Philadelphia. Do you know him?" One of the most interesting things here is the energy efficiency. Maybe it's because of the "small-ness" that Irish energy usage per capita is minuscule compared to what we use in the U.S. I know when it's this cold at home I crank the heat in my dorm room, but here they just don another sweater. Gas is 1.59 (euros) per litre, which is WAY more expensive than in the States, so people drive smaller cars, or don't drive much at all. | I can't say I don't appreciate American luxury...I'm really looking forward to a warm toilet seat again! At the same time, it's great to experience a culture with a completely different concept of necessity.

15: FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2011 A Feast for the Eyes I wish there was a way to describe this scenery. I'm not trying to be glib when I say it is impossible to capture the essence of a place in words. And even though a picture is worth a thousand words, a photograph can't do the job either (believe me, I'm trying!). I've been lucky enough to see a lot of beautiful places, and Ireland fits comfortably among the most breathtaking. Dr. Smith and Mariani apologize for the number of 'driving days' we have, but I love them. First of all, when you're in the car, you're out of the wind! But it's also a real treat to watch hours of Irish countryside through the window. The personality of the landscape changes in each county, like a beautiful woman changing into different dresses. One of my favorite things to see is the animals: cows grazing, sheep and their new lambs, mules and horses, chickens, ducks, dogs. For breakfast in Ballycastle, we had fresh eggs from Donal's chickens. Passing through a rocky mountain area, I thought I saw a bunch of white limestone rocks at the top of the crags--then I realized there were some (awfully brave) sheep munching on the grass on the side of the mountain! I've seen a real sheep dog, and it only made me like border collies even more. Driving north through County Sligo we passed mile after mile of pastures where little foals were asleep in the grass with their mothers standing over them--the most precious thing in the world. Today we travelled to Leenaune in Connemara, an itty bitty town that sits on the edge of a fjord between two towering mountains. To get to our hostel, which is almost a mile outside of town, we drove down a road surrounded by six-foot tall rhododendrons (a local called them "rosy-dendrons"). I can see why the Irish were so heartbroken to leave, and I understand why they wrote so many songs about how beautiful Ireland is.

20: SUNDAY, MAY 22, 2011 Half & Half We've reached the half way point: seven days passed, seven days left. Time kind of warps on a trip like this, probably a mix of jet lag and the sheer amount we're doing. It feels like we've only been here a couple days, but at the same time we've done enough to fill up a month! Hostel living is...efficient. I remember playing in the yard with Lindy pretending we were 'roughing it' in the wilderness with the bare necessities. This is a real-life version of that! The only difference is, instead of making dirt cakes we're actually making dinner. Actually, I can't complain about the food--yesterday we all chipped in on some groceries, and Rachel (our resident foodie) cooked up some hot potato soup. Hannah made strawberry shortcake, and we whipped our own fresh Irish cream. We're on the island of Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. We got here by ferry, and my stomach was thoroughly scrambled! It was worth the trip, though. In a moment I'm headed to a Gaelic church service, and later we're going hiking. It's still as beautiful as ever, and for the most part we're staying warm and dry. Other than being low on my hug quota, everything here is shipshape!

21: correct tilt allignment on photo for final copy!

22: MONDAY, MAY 23, 2011 I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride My Bike... Today we rented bicycles, and it was the best 8 I've spent so far! Five of us decided to tool around after homemade pancakes and church (a mass conducted purely in Gaelic--quite an experience). We took the road in front of our hostel that trims the coastline, and just started pedaling... | Hannah, Angela, me, and Zoe!

23: The weather couldn't have been more pleasant: bright sunshine pouring out of a blue, fluffy-clouded sky, and just the right amount of wind at our backs. The road took us through an older part of Inishmore where we saw roofless stone houses with tall plants peeping out of the windows. The hills were covered in old stone walls, crumbling in places, which used to delineate one family's field from another I think. A couple of the fields were sprouting green with lines of potatoes! All the while the coastline was running alongside us, and we watched the cold gray-blue water lapping at beach sand or splashing the rocks and misting our faces with ocean spray. We rode until the road ended in the ocean, and after snapping a few photos, we headed back. Once we'd reached the hostel, we perused a map and discovered we had ridden six miles altogether! After gobbling up a ham & cheese sandwich (with butter and mayonnaise, as is the Irish way) and scrubbing some hand-wash in the sink, it was time for the group trip to Dun Aonghasa (pronounced: dun 'AN-gus), a 2500 year old fort (some say religious site) perched atop 300-foot cliffs on the Western coast of Inishmore. Bike time again! On that trip, the weather gave us more of a challenge; the two miles out to the Dun Aonghasa base camp was mostly uphill and entirely against the wind. Panting, jelly-legged, and with sore cabooses from our earlier ride, we rolled in only a couple minutes late, almost envying the people who had decided to take the bus. It was a kilometer's hike from the base camp to Dun Aonghasa--and boy, was it worth it! Another extraordinary, ancient site with an absolutely incredible view! Over the course of the semester, Dr. Smith has used the analogy of a spiral in describing Irish culture as well as our journey learning about it. Today, standing triumphantly on the steps of Dun Aonghasa, he told us we had officially reached the center point toward which we had been travelling. Not only are we exactly at the center of our trip (almost to the hour, as we stood there), we were geographically as far from Shannon airport as we would travel, and we would now begin making our way back. We stood at the top of the cliffs looking into the West as the sun shone brilliantly across the sea and the wind rushed wildly through the ancient stone walls. As a memento, all ten of us sat in the grass in the shape of a spiral, holding hands, connected, and Dr. Smith took our picture (with my camera!). I didn't want to leave, but after awhile we climbed back down the rocky hill, hopped back on our bikes, and headed home. The wind was at our backs for the ride back, so we could drink in the countryside. We got home sore and tired, but the good type of tired when you feel full of oxygen. We washed up and went to dinner, where I ate an entire 10 oz. steak, listened to some good music, and shared a rhubarb crumble with custard. Now I'm cozy in bed finishing this journal entry, ready for a very good night's sleep. What a wonderful day.

24: The center of the spiral

28: MONDAY, MAY 23, 2011 Third Ferry's a Charm Good morning! We're still at the Kilronan Hostel on the Island of Inishmore, but we're up bright and early to catch an 8:15 ferry back to the mainland--usually the ferry doesn't leave until noon and 5:00, but since both trips yesterday were cancelled, they threw us a bone today. (Not totally selfless on their part, I think. They probably want the grumpy herd of tourists off their island a.s.a.p.!) The ferries were cancelled due to weather conditions. A raging storm swept over the island Sunday night and stirred the ocean into a choppy mess. Our room is on the top floor of the hostel, at the corner of the building, and I sleep on the top bunk nestled into the corner where the ceiling slants down with the roof line. Sunday night, the wind howled so furiously it shook my little corner, and the slashing rain drummed on the roof and the wall. With the floor creaking too, I shivered with nightmares under my covers all night long, hoping the roof wouldn't fly off in a heavy gust! In the morning we found out the storm really had been an impressively big one, with gale force winds worse than anything they'd seen all winter. I can barely imagine holding out against a storm like that in 'the good old days.' The frigid stone walls of a tiny house, with the wind whistling through the mortarless cracks; trying to keep the fire lit without using up all the peat; bringing the cow inside, pushing into its underbelly to keep warm. If it was a poor house unlucky enough to find itself at the bottom of a hill, the gathering rain would seep in and collect in cold, muddy puddles. One moment imagining that house makes our hostel seem like a king's fort! All the same, I'm ready to go to Galway today... The island seems to have gotten smaller the longer we've been here. Though I'm well-equipped bowls of delicious hot soup, the cold and damp are hard to chase off. It's the opposite of the warm, dry, sunshiny Southwest I'm used too. The longer I stay in the West of Ireland, the more I'm thinking living here would not be my first choice. Actually, the only thing I can really say is...the longer I stay in a hostel, the more I'm thinking living in a hostel would be the absolute pits. Headed to pop in some Dramamine and toast before the ferry. Stay tuned for an update from Galway!

31: TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2011 Ready, Set, Galway! Greetings from Galway, the biggest town we've hit yet. It's a bit of a relief to find civilization (especially after Inishmore Island's whopping population of 800). For once, it's heartwarming to push my way through a crowd! Galway seems like a tiny little European combo of NYC and Seattle. It's definitely got the city feel, with colorful shops and tourist traps next to alternative foods stores and neighborhood groceries. At the same time it's a medieval city, with pubs that have been standing for dozens of centuries, and with all the little cobbled streets leading down to the harbor. A very different feel than Lisdoonvarna or Leenaune--downright metropolitan in comparison. Shopping is the main digs here, which I enjoyed with some friends for most of the day. Dinner was at Kumar's, a fantastic Indian food place, and earlier in the day we ventured into Charlie Byrne's Bookshop. It's one of the neatest bookstores I've been into--full of that old book smell, which is 'just grand,' to use an Irish phrase. Stepping in the front door, the bookstore seems deceivingly small, but a maze of rooms with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves reveals itself the further in you go. Of course, President Obama's visit yesterday got the whole country clucking with excitement. He is very popular here, and the Irish are surprisingly in-the-know about world politics. (I'm embarassed to admit they're generally more informed about U.S. politics than I am.) Since his election, Obama has been a sort of political celebrity here; as one tabloid puts it, Ireland has "Obamania." In fact, walking down a Galway street this afternoon, we were amused to spot a huge poster plastered to the window of a fast-food joint advertising the one, the only... Obama Burger. Yikes! Galway has lots to do, but one of the more popular activities is pub hopping. I've made a variation on that theme and taken up bakery hopping. Today I sampled a chocolate-filled croissant and apple turnover, and tomorrow I'm determined to find the best strawberry tart in town. Meanwhile, the music is great, the company is great, and Ennis is the last stop before home.

33: The Trippers Top Row:Hannah Lilly, Amy Jenkins, (our tour guide), Benjamin McWilliams, Casey Joiner Bottom Row:me, Kristen Dillon, Angela Keebaugh, Zoe Carter, Rex Novak, Rachel Boyd | (Plus, of course, Dr. Smith and Professor Mariani!) | All ten of us participated in a Texas Tech University course titled "Music, Folklore, and Tradition in Irish Cultural History" during the Spring 2011 semester. The work paid off--this was one incredible field trip! | Referred to as "The Trippers," and "The Ten," this group of TTU students began the trip as classmates and ended it as good friends.

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Lauren Spangler
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  • Title: Ireland
  • May 2011
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  • Started: almost 7 years ago
  • Updated: almost 7 years ago