Good Craic and the Magic of Howth.
Dia duit, everyone!
That’s ‘hello’ in Irish, just in case you were wondering!
I know it’s been a little while since I posted anything but it really has been busy settling into life here at UCD. Classes started last Monday and since I don’t have anything on Fridays, I’ve officially survived my first two weeks of lectures. The class scene is a bit different here in Ireland than it is at home. I’m in class a lot less often than I am at home and there is more emphasis on independent study. It’s going to take a bit of adjustment when it comes to figuring out what I need to be doing for when, but I’m enjoying my classes for the most part so I think that I’ll be just fine! While it still kind of feels like I’m on a holiday (what we Americans would call a vacation) I’m starting to settle into my classes and getting myself a routine of studying. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of time for fun! I’ve made a great group of friends here and we’re having a lot of fun exploring the city and planning trips around Ireland together. Some of us even have classes together! On top of classes for school, some of my friends and I signed up for a free beginners Irish language class! It meets once a week and it’s very basic and laid back. I can tell it’s going to be a fun way to meet people and to pick up a little Irish Gaelic! Hopefully, but the end of the session, I’ll be able to have a simple conversation in Irish! Or at least read and understand some of the street signs.
As I’m sure most people are aware, there are some slight language differences between English in the States and English across the pond. There are the basics like ‘loo’ or ‘toilet’ for restroom and ‘lift’ for elevator, but one of the most prominent ones that I’ve heard (and been told about) is the term ‘craic’ (pronounced like crack). It is not uncommon to be walking across campus or through Dublin city and to hear someone ask “How’s the craic?” or “Did they have good craic?” Now, coming from a place where you don’t really want to associate with people discussing the merits of their crack, I would have been mighty confused had I not been informed about this particular term. In Ireland, if someone tells you “oh they have good craic there” they are not referring to a place where you can get drugs. Craic simply refers to a good time or good news. So don’t be alarmed if I come back to the US telling everyone all about the great craic I had during my semester abroad! I promise I’m not harboring a new drug habit, I’m just picking up slang from my immersion into the Irish culture!
On my first weekend in Dublin, my friends Susan, Kate and I went to Temple Bar and had a chance to meet up with some of the IFSA-Butler students from Trinity. Now, Temple Bar is a very interesting place. Not exactly the place to find authentic Irish pubs, but a lot of fun if you’re looking for lots of people, live music and a good drink! We went to a pub called Fitzsimons and it was jam packed with people, but once we found our friends from Trinity to crowd wasn’t too bad and we got to dance and sing along to some fun, live music by a band playing some good old fashioned cover songs. They threw in some traditional Irish music, but the likes of Adele and Mumford & Sons was in high demand. And, of course, The Proclaimers. Scottish rather than Irish, but it was still some good craic.
On Saturday, we went to the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral and spent some time wandering around and checking out all the incredible paintings, statues and stained glass windows. However, the highlight of the Cathedral would probably have to be the legendary petrified cat and rat. Apparently, way back when, the petrified remains of a cat chasing a rat was found inside one of the organ pipes and they have been on display in the crypt ever since! Maybe not the most important part of the church, but definitely the most unique!
One of the best things about being here at UCD is that they have a great program for international students! They host events for us and plan trips around Ireland that we can go on for free! Last Thursday, they took us to a pub called the Merry Ploughboys for a free drink and a great show of traditional Irish music and dancing! It was the first time I had really experienced live, traditional Irish music (a lot of drinking songs) and it was the first time I had ever seen any Irish dancing, unless you count the one time that I actually performed an Irish dance back in my days of being a dancer. But it could never have compared to what we saw. It was so much fun and the band was great. They had a great time getting everyone singing and clapping. And they were right, I will never forget the words of the chorus of Johnny Jump Up. IFSA-Butler actually took us to a similar event at a pub called Johnnie Fox’s and both nights have been so much fun! The bands and the Irish dancers were very different, but both were amazing! And since some of us knew some songs from last week at the Merry Ploughboys, we were calling out requests at Johnnie Fox’s and leading the singing and clapping. That was also some great craic!
But even with all the fun I’ve been having in Dublin, the best part of my experience so far would have to be my excursion out of the city to the Howth Peninsula. Howth is a small sea town, about 20 minutes north of the city and the one time home of W.B Yeats! Last weekend, a group of nine of us caught the train (under €5 round trip!) for a day trip to the magical town. Seriously, their website is www.howthismagic.com. And it was truly incredible! It was a little rainy when we got there, but nothing too torential so we decided to brave the wind and stroll out on the harbor a little bit. And when I say it was windy, I mean that it was the strongest wind that I had ever walked through. It was a struggle to move and even to see at points, but we stuck it out and got some great pictures as a result! After the harbor, we decided to check out the cliffs.
Now let me just say first that I knew there were cliffs in Howth. However, for some reason I didn’t think about the fact that we would actually be hiking the cliffs. Word of advice: Converse sneakers are under no circumstances a substitute for hiking boots. We originally planned to do the shortest trail since we weren’t all that prepared for a proper hike. The rain eventually let up and as we began to climb, the sun started to come out from behind the clouds, shedding light on the incredible view of Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea. It was absolutely breathtaking! We packed our lunches and found a good place to sit down and enjoy the view. After we ate, everyone was invigorated and we all thought “What the Howth?” We were already there so we might as well keep going and make the most of it. The signs told us that the longest trail (called the Bog of the Frogs) was only about an hour longer than the shortest one so we just went for it.
It turned out the the Bog of the Frogs was a 10k hike across half of the peninsula. Quite literally through a bog, at one point. We saw cliffs and fields and even came upon a beach. The wind kept picking up and it got fairly intense, but fortunately no one fell off a cliff and into the sea. It was really tough at some points, especially when every time we thought we were done, we turned the corner to find another steep hike up a hill. But all that trouble was outweighed by the sheer beauty of the place. By the end of the hike, we had overshot the time estimate by about 2 hours, making our total hiking time about 5 hours. We were grimy and exhausted, but proud that we had made it through! We did, however, dismiss our initial plan to have a drink back in the city and instead, once everyone had had a chance to freshen up, they came to our apartment for pajama and taco night! As exhausting as the hike was (and as sore as my legs and feet were the next day), the trip was totally worth it. Definitely the highlight of my time in Ireland so far!
We’re taking another day trip tomorrow, this time to Limerick! Fortunately, there’s a two hour bus ride so I can make a dent in my homework that I’ve been putting off during the week. Hopefully Limerick won’t be as physically taxing of a trip as Howth was so we have plenty of time and energy to explore another one of Ireland’s cities!