Final Reflections

Have been home for almost two months now, and for the most part have adjusted back to normal life (i.e., not spending my days eating appeltaart, going to museums, and sharing a bedroom with 8 strangers). I’m back into the swing of life as a student.

This blog is going to be put on a temporary hiatus, at least until I graduate (which should be within the next year, fingers crossed) and new adventures begin.

In the meantime, I will be busy planning and scheming. The travel bug has bitten hard, and the people I met, lessons I learned, and adventures I had this summer are not going to be far from my mind anytime soon.

Until then… adventure on, friends.

-Caelan

 

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Day 7: Back to Dublin

Our final day in Ireland sent us back to Dublin, where the adventure had begun just six days earlier.

We started out the morning at the Guinness Storehouse. As our tour guide said, in Ireland, it’s never too early for a pint!

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At the storehouse, we learned a bit about the history of Guinness, how the beer was made, and finally learned how to pour “the perfect pint” at the Guinness Academy. We drank our own pints up on the 360-degree-view Gravity Bar, which tops off the Storehouse.

My “perfect pint”:

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Views of the city from the Gravity Bar:

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After the Guinness Storehouse, we had some free time to explore the city. I set off solo to see one of the attractions I hadn’t had enough time for in my first day in Dublin: the Epic Ireland museum of emigration.

Epic Ireland is a fairly new establishment (it opened in 2016), and it took a very different and much more interactive approach than your typical museum. It did an interesting job of explaining the many reasons for and methods by which people have emigrated out of Ireland, often connected with times of conflict, famine, and/or severe economic issues. The museum also highlighted how the people who had left maintained their claim to their Irish roots. The population of Ireland today is about 6 million, but up to an estimated 80 million people around the world claim Irish heritage.

After Epic Ireland, I rejoined my tour group. We had a little down time at the hotel and then headed on to our final evening together, at the Merry Ploughboy Pub.

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The Merry Ploughboy was, hands down, one of my best times in Ireland. Our tour group took up an entire room, where we were treated to live Irish music, some amazing traditional Irish dancing, and delicious food to top it all off.

It was the perfect way to end our time in Ireland. That night, we all bid each other farewell. When I originally signed up for the trip, I wasn’t sure how it would go – travelling and rooming with complete strangers for a week – but at the end of it, I felt incredibly grateful that I’d had such good friends to spend the week with.

The next morning, I would wake up early, take a bus to the airport, and finally, after two months of adventuring, fly home to Canada. I only got to spend a very short week there, but the Emerald Isle, like the rest of my adventures that summer, is going to stay with me for a very long time.

 

My first sight of Canada again from the plane. I knew I was home, because all I could see were lakes:

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Day 6: Giant’s Causeway & Belfast

Day 6 was our second day in Northern Ireland, and we started out by driving to one of Ireland’s most northern points: the Giant’s Causeway.

Scenery walking along to the causeway:

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The causeway consists of around 40 000 interlocking, hexagonal stone columns.

Some of the columns pictured below (I really enjoyed watching the waves crash against and run over these ones):

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The scientific version is that the columns are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, but personally, I prefer the legend of Fionn MacCool when explaining how the columns came to be.

As the legend goes (according to the version I learned at the causeway’s visitor centre), Fionn MacCool was a giant who lived along the northern Ireland coast with his wife. One day, looking across the water to Scotland (which is only 20 kilometres away in some places), Fionn MacCool saw a rival Scottish giant. Intending to fight him, but unable to swim, Fionn MacCool built a bridge with the stones so that he could cross over (thus the name “giant’s causeway”). However, once he got over there, Fionn MacCool realized that the other giant was actually much bigger up close than he had thought. Fionn MacCool ran back to Ireland, where his giant wife helped disguise him as a baby. When the Scottish giant came over the causeway, looking to fight, he found the “baby”, and immediately fled in terror – believing that if the baby was that large, the father must be extraordinary. As the Scottish giant ran, he ripped up the causeway behind him.

It’s a fun story and there’s even another, similar rock formation on the Scotland side, giving some credence to the legend.

The rock formations aren’t all there is to look at, though – the Giant’s Causeway is surrounded by some of the most epically beautiful scenery that I saw. It was probably equally as beautiful as the Cliffs of Moher, but it had the added bonus of having far, far less people. Our group started out together exploring the rock formations, and then I went for a bit of a solo hike along the side of the cliffs, and along the top of them. Unfortunately my phone died midway, so I don’t have any views from the top, but in a way it was really nice – instead of focusing on capturing the moment, I got to just focus on the moment. Just me, the coast, the cool breeze, and the insane beauty that can exist in the world.

Some of my favourite shots from the causeway:

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View from path along the side of the cliffs:

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Some of the beautiful red rock visible in the picture. The “giant’s chimney” also visible, top right – supposedly the chimney for the giant’s house in the cliffs.

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After the Giant’s Causeway, we moved on to Belfast, still in Northern Ireland. One of the things Belfast is known for is building ships, including, quite notably, the Titanic. We started out here at the Titanic Experience, located on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built.

The front of the museum is built to the size and shape of the Titanic, giving you a real sense of how immense it was as you walk up. Inside, the experience took you  through the city of Belfast and its bustling economy at the time of the Titanic, the many ships they built, how the Titanic was built, and of course, how it sank. They also covered the stories and experiences of those on board, the aftermath of the disaster, and how teams eventually found and explored the wreck of the Titanic far below the ocean.

Setup of a first-class room aboard the Titanic:

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Looking out from the glass bow of the Titanic, at the yards where the ship was built:

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After the Titanic Experience, we enjoyed a short driving tour of the city, learning a bit about its history, and a little more about the Troubles from our Belfast guide.

Belfast driving tour:

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Even more mural art (lots of murals in Londonderry/Derry and in Belfast):

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The evening had us back at another pub (the pub life is going down as one of my favourite things about Ireland).

Pub for the evening – the Dirty Onion:

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We spent the night chatting and listening to bluegrass music. I also had my first ever pint of Guinness that night, and immediately wished I hadn’t waited so late into my trip to start drinking it.

Overall, the day perfectly encapsulated many of the best parts of Ireland: extraordinary scenery, fascinating history, and drinking & music at pubs.

And the next day, we would head on to Dublin, for our final night on the Emerald Isle…

 

 

Day 5: Londonderry/Derry

Day 5 saw us waving goodbye to Galway as we headed on our longest drive of the trip, a four hour ride to Londonderry/Derry.

To break up the drive a bit, our trip leader added in a couple of surprise stops along the way. First we got to stop at the cemetery where the famous Irish poet W. B. Yeats was buried. His grave is right by the mountain, Ben Bulben, which Yeats wrote a poem about. A line from that poem, “Under Ben Bulben,” is even quoted on his grave, tying it all neatly together.

Ben Bulben mountain:

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Yeats’ grave:

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From there, we made a stop for lunch in Donegal, where we had more fish and chips, and then continued on to cross the border from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland, where we would spend the next couple days.

Our first stop in Northern Ireland was Londonderry/Derry (it has a different name depending on who you’re talking with… and people will correct you). Our time in Londonderry/Derry started out with a walking tour of the city, during which we learned a lot about the fascinating, horrifying, and very recent history of the city and its divisions. In particular, we learned about a period of time in the city’s recent history known as “the Troubles”. Essentially, and this is a very oversimplified version of the conflict, the disputes have been between Irish nationalists (those who want the city to be a part of the Republic of Ireland) and unionists (those who want the city to maintain its ties to the United Kingdom). All too often, the conflict spread from between the two sides and civilians were harmed or killed.The city has been at peace in recent years, but evidence of the conflicts is still evident everywhere. The debate around the name of the city itself  is still ongoing (unionists want Londonderry, to signify its connection with London, and nationalists want Derry, for the opposite purpose). The consequences of the the Troubles, and the effect that they continue to have on people’s lives, is especially prevalent in the murals all around the city.

Some of the murals and remaining signage around the city – a unionist’s sign, declaring No Surrender from Londonderry side Loyalists:IMG_2390.JPG

An Irish nationalist sign, declaring a free Derry:

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“The Runner” mural, depicting youths running from a can of tear gas. The two small pictures at the bottom of the mural are young boys who died during the Troubles.

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The Irish nationalists also tended to be Catholic, whereas the unionists tended to be Protestant, and the so the two were often pitted against one another. Our tour guide, however, was a Buddhist – as he joked, the city is about 70% Catholic, 30% Protestant, and one Buddhist. This background seemed to give him a really interesting viewpoint on the issues, and throughout the walking tour, he covered both side’s arguments, validity, and his thoughts on how best to maintain the recent peace between the warring sides (his thoughts: the key to peace is education). This walking tour was definitely one of my favourite parts of the entire Ireland trip.

View of the city:

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We finished off the day in Londonderry/Derry with dinner and, randomly enough, bowling, before heading back to the hotel for the night.

Day 4: Aran Islands

Okay, so it’s been a little while since I got back. Life got crazy – turns out, you can’t just disappear from normal life for two months without having a little (or a lot) of catch-up to do once you return. Added into the madness was the fact that I spent three solid weeks going off the grid (no Internet), and then jumped straight back into life as a full-time student. But now, here we go… finally finishing off those last few blog posts!

Day 4 of the Ireland trip took us to the Aran Islands. This whole day was definitely a highlight of the trip.

We started out the day on the coach, driving further down the Wild Atlantic Way. From there we caught a ferry that took us the rest of the way out to the islands.

Ferry ride, leaving the mainland:

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The Aran Islands are located off the west coast, and we would spend our day on the largest of the islands, Inishmore.

Once we got off the ferry, at our guide’s recommendation, the majority of our group rented bikes for the day and pedalled off in pursuit of the sights at the other side of the island.

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I ended up pedalling with three other friends, and we started by going to the furtherest end of the island.

There, we paid a few euros and got to climb up steps to see the prehistoric fort of Dún Aonghasa. The fort is perched right on the edge of a very high cliff, which you could walk right to the edge of.

View of the fort from afar (on our way biking there):

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The fort up close:

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In addition to amazing cliffside views, you could also view the entire island from that vantage point (the entire island is only 31km2).

 

View of the entire island:

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Cliffside views to the left, from the fort:

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Me & the cliffside views to the right, from the fort:

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After the fort, we got ice creams at the local shop and then worked our way slowly back to the other end of the island. Along the way we stopped frequently, taking in the amazing views, a beach, Irish ponies grazing by the side of the road, and a seal colony.

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Seal colony (the little rolls lying on the beach):

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Picture of the many stone walls that were all over the island:

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Biking along (pic of my friend Charlotte):

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Back at the starting point, we ventured into the little section of restaurants on the island. There we found what were probably the best fish and chips I had on the whole trip (I suspected it was the Guinnesss-beer-batter that made them so especially delicious).

We finished the day at the beach, lying on the sand and wading into the ocean up to our ankles.

We got back on the last ferry of the night, and it began to rain literally two minutes after we boarded the boat. We spent the rest of the evening back in Galway, feeling thoroughly happy from our day of adventure and fresh air.