Maddie in Ireland: One Month In (Part II)

I have returned, the Prodigal Writer, here to tell you about the next three of my January activities!

What’s on the menu today? How about a delicately roasted “My visit to the Aran Islands” with a fresh spring appetizer of “Classes I am taking” ? And no, I can’t recommend any wines to go with that.



My current university— National University of Ireland, Galway— has a very unusual way of registering for classes. At any college in the States, registering for class is a vicious, jungle-cat fight… Everyone is up four hours earlier than normal, poised to register for the limited number of spots in each class that was carefully chosen five months previously. At NUIG though, registration isn’t even open until two weeks after classes start. That means teachers start teaching without a roster and you just kind of show up to whichever class you’d like. Those two weeks of freedom are a bit of a double-edge sword- yes, you get to shop around and try out which classes you enjoy, but you also run the risk of missing important info from classes that you don’t go to immediately.

Once those two weeks, and the four weeks of open registration, were finished, I had settled on the following five classes:


Memory and Cognition

I mentioned previously that I am a Psychology & Criminal Justice double-major, so fittingly I am taking several psych classes. Memory and Cognition, taught by Prof. Gary Donohoe, Dr. Omar Mothersill, and Dr. Christopher Dwyer, examines the biological processes behind the various aspects of human memory and thought. Last week we studied <gulp> metacognition, meaning I spent two hours thinking about thinking about thinking… What I’m trying to say is that my class is essentially a Christopher Nolan movie that stars Leonardo DiCaprio.


Theories of Personality

Much less uh, mind-bending than Mem&Cog, Theories of Personality examines what constitutes a personality and where personalities may arise from according to a variety of different perspectives. Its an incredibly interesting class that forces you to reevaluate a lot of things you’ve always thought you’ve always known (as all good classes should). Bonus points for this class, I just got to write a paper about my favorite psychological figure, Carl Jung.


Embryology and Development

I am not a sciencey person. It’s not in my nature. I love research and enjoy neurobiology, but as a general rule, science is not ~my thing~. The only reason I signed up for this class is 100% because Richmond, in its quest to produce well-rounded, confident, and capable students, has a science gen-ed requirement. All of that being said, so far I love this class. We study the development of a human, week-by-week, from zygote to embryo to fetus. It is awesome and completely fascinating and I spend a lot of the class smiling, amazed at how physically incredible humans are.


Gaelic Peoples- Identity and Cultural Practices

Now we’re going to move on from the purely academic, relevant-to-my-majors classes and move on to the hey-I’m-in-Ireland-whaaaaaaat classes. Gaelic Peoples looks at the history of the variety of different people that have populated Ireland through the lens of archaeology. We examine historical buildings, writings, pottery, land formations, etc and this coming Saturday, will take a field trip to visit The Burren. The Burren, or Boireann, meaning ”great rock”, is a karst landscape in County Clare and contains the remnants of a prehistoric building that we will get to examine. Yay!


Celtic Mythology, Religion, and Folklore

Celtic Mythology, like Gaelic Peoples, explores the story of Ireland, however it takes a much less historically factual approach. Instead, we learn about the stories of the ancient Gales, we hear the tales mothers would tell their children, we learn about ancient wedding rituals, and how the practice of not moving your arms while step dancing originated. This class is just fun.


The Aran Islands

I like wild things. I like mountains and oceans and deserts and forests. I like things that are powerful and stormy and ancient and overgrown and green and way way way away from developed areas.

Wait, did I, did I just describe the Aran Islands? A powerful, stormy, ancient, overgrown, green island that has not just mountains and forests but also a desert and is very far from any major urban area? Woah! I guess I did. I guess the Aran Islands are pretty darn close to what I would consider the perfect place. Huh.

A few weekends ago, three of us got up at the crack of dawn, took a very long boat ride over very active waters, and disembarked on the island of Inishmore— also known as Árainn, Árainn Mhór, or Inis Mór— the largest of the three Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are known primarily for their sheep, the wool said sheep produce, and the incredible clothes they craft with said wool. A sweater made of Aran wool is just *mwah* perfecto. The Aran Islands are secondarily known for being staunchly loyal to their Irish culture. In Ireland about 40% of people have some degree of proficiency in the Irish language… On the Aran Islands 100% of the population is fluent in Irish and, in fact, really only use English to communicate with tourists.

A local elderly man named Tomás served as our tour guide and drove us— and two girls from Quebec that we befriended— around the island. He whipped along single-lane roads on massive rocky hills in an oversized white van, pointing out local landmarks, joking about his eyesight, and loudly recounting stories from his childhood (Like most inhabitants, Tomás has lived on the island his entire life). Eventually, Tomás declared there were too many sheep on the road (there were) and that we would have to continue by foot. We pulled over, he pointed with a pale hand to some cliffs, instructed us to follow those cliffs to Dun Aengus, and that if we were able to see sea spray we were not to go below the cliffs to the shore. He finished by saying that he would pick us up on the other side of that hill in four hours. It was not until he climbed into the van and slowly backing his way up through a herd of sheep, that we realized he had not specified on which hill exactly he was referring to.

Oh well. No time to waste.

The ground where Tomás had dropped us off was covered in large flat rocks, worn smooth by thousands of years of wind and rain, with hardy grasses pushing their way through the cracks. We walked across this rocky plain to the cliffs. They were massive and overlooked the Atlantic, giving you an incredible view of the ocean and in the distance, if you looked closely enough, a view of the mainland…………….buuuuut, if you stood with your back to the ocean and instead turned around, you would see something even better in the island itself. You could swear that no man had ever touched that land. It was just so untamed and ancient and wild it could make you cry. And it did. The sheer wildness of the windy, rocky island made me cry in fear and awe and joy and longing and a lot of other feelings I can’t put a name to. Poignant happiness, maybe?




On the cliffs we saw the sea spray, so naturally we ignored the man who had spent the last seventy years on these islands, and decided to descend the cliffs to the beach. It was a very difficult, very long, very slippery trek that often required you to move on all fours and I 100% sliced my hand open on a sharp rock, but it was worth it. We weren’t just seeing the sea spray down here, we were getting covered in it.


I know its hard to believe, but this rectangle, called The Wormhole, was carved out of the stone naturally.

I know its hard to believe, but this rectangle, called The Wormhole, was carved out of the stone naturally.


At this point we were about two hours in, so we decided to go back to the trail and make our way to Dun Aengus, a well preserved Bronze Age fort. We climbed back up the cliffs, couldn’t find the trail but figured we knew the general direction we were supposed to go, and set off. The weather really started to pick up, so climbing up the hill to Dun Aengus had us bent over, seeing how far forwards we could lean, supported by the wind, without falling over. After another 45 minutes or so of hiking/crawling we reached the base of the hill on which Dun Aengus was situated and began our ascent, hopping over fences, walking around cattle, yelling as loudly as we could (because we could), and generally feeling that what we were doing was exactly what studying abroad was about.

When we crested the hill we spent about 20 minutes examining the fort, built right on the edge of the highest cliff. From our vantage point we could actually see a small little village that had been blocked from view, the mysterious village that Tomás had promised to pick us up from. Collective sigh of relief. Tomás picked us up (right on time) and then drove us to “The Seven Churches”, a site where a church was built, broken down, and replaced with a  new church which then broke down and was replaced with a new church, and so on. While exploring the ruins we also got to explore the graveyards. I mentioned earlier that the inhabitants of the Aran Islands tend to live there their entire life, right? Well it was clearly reflected in the headstones. You could trace generations of families through the headstones.





Oh also did I mention a large black dog with no owner showed up in the graveyard?! I'm calling it, that dog was a Grimm.

Oh also did I mention a large black dog with no owner showed up in the graveyard?! I’m calling it, that dog was a Grimm.


We headed back with Tomás to the main street, bought some seafood chowder and hot chocolate, purchased some wool goods, and then made our way to the docks. We were all exhausted and to be honest, I can’t remember one bit of the boat ride back. I was asleep within seconds of sitting down.

That trip was a few weeks ago, but I think back to it a lot. Those islands really struck a chord within me… I’ve a pretty good suspicion I’ll be back there soon.



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