My heart is full coming home from our latest family adventure—Ireland & Scotland. Two years into the pandemic, we decided that it was time to travel across the pond once again. My Mom, Dad, Clinton and I were able to journey through Ireland and then we met up with Kevin in Scotland for one week (separate blog post to come).
Despite my Dad being stuck in Scotland due to contracting COVID, the trip was truly an incredible, family-bonding experience. And no worries, he is healthy and on his way home as I type! As with all hard experiences, resilience is required and it will be a story for years to come!
Wheels Up at 8am!
My Mom, Dad, Clinton and I myself took a bus tour through CIE tours covering the full perimeter of the republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. I was definitely hesitant of a guided tour at first as I’m used to doing my own thing. But, I tell you the amount of history, culture, art, scenery that we got to cover in the time that we had was truly unprecedented. The three course meals and hotels fit for a queen didn't hurt either!
Pride in Culture & Heritage
From the green hallways that greets you in the Dublin airport to the family stories and jokes from our tour guide to the random taxi cab driver that serenaded us with a beautiful ballad on the way back to the airport.... it was evident that people were proud of their roots and actively working to keep their traditions and heritage alive. As you drove through the country side, people also did their best to preserve the original stone houses on their property, modernizing for common day but preserving memories of the past. There were also even houses with the thatched roofs!
We happened to be traveling at the same time that Russia is threatening the sovereignty of Ukraine. It was evident that the Irish people truly empathized with the Ukrainians and it became even more clear as we dove into the Irish people’s fight for Independence. The Ukranian flag was hoisted side by side with the Irish flag, signs were posted in small businesses, BBC spoke of people opening their homes to refugees, college students in Galway wore yellow/blue eye shadow....support for Ukrainian refuges was evident. Only time will tell where this present day war will lead and how many innocent lives will be lost (on both sides). But better understanding Irish history, made me understand why the Irish people can relate so much to the Ukrainians. More to come on this!
A Patchwork of 40 Shades of Green
Driving the (really) narrow streets of Ireland, it is easy to see how Johnny Cash was inspired by the landscape of Ireland from the grazing sheep to the amazing geological features on the Irish shores. Our tour guide would often break into song belting out Danny Boy, The Rose of Tralee and my Wild Irish Rose as we whizzed past the beautiful landscapes. Sometimes, we were even greeted by rainbows!
Peat bogs are an accumulation of decayed vegetation over thousands of years. This type of ecosystem is very threatened as only 1% of their original extent now remain intact. It has been an invaluable source of energy for Ireland and has been burned for thousands of years for heat. P.S. Also, a great source of carbon capture!
Around 432 AD, St. Patrick was not native to Ireland. He was originally captured by Irish raiders at the age of 16. During this time, he became a shepherd and turned to spirituality/religion for support. After he escaped, he came back to Ireland on a missionary mission to incorporate Irish pagan culture into Christian lessons. For example, he superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol tied to Celtic paganism as they were tied to the cycles of the sun, onto a cross to form the Celtic cross.
We visited St. Kevin's, an important monastic site in Ireland founded in the 6th century. During these times, people would come to monasteries for spiritual guidance and education. People would come through the gateway and immediately be provided sanctuary. St. Kevin was rumored to meditate in a nearby lake for so long that birds nested in his hair and hands. We got a kick that St. Kevin's feast day was on my birthday, June 3rd.
We also visited the famous Blarney castle! The famous castle is the third structure erected on the land by the MacCarthy clan. We explored the ruins of the castle reading about the banquet hall, the gallows and even walking through a poison garden! We also kissed the famous Blarney stone, giving us the gift of the gab. I really enjoyed walking through the castle grounds and the rain held off the majority of the time!
Over 800 Years of English Involvement in Ireland
As most of medieval/monarchy history, it is super complex. But, I will try to recount as I can recall much as possible. In the 12th century, Anglo-Normans (Normans being groups of Vikings) gradually conquered and acquired land from the Irish people granting lands to Great Britain (Anglo or English descent). 1169, a Norman knight, Strongbow, married an Irish princess which effectively put the English in control of Waterford. The English King, Henry granted Strongbow a fiefdom, a part of feudalism in which constituents pay fees and properties to the man in charge. I wonder if this is why I NEVER saw the popular Strongbow cider being sold in any pubs????
Suppression of Freedoms
In any count, penal laws were introduced where conversion to the Protestant faith (i.e. English faith) was rewarded. If you were Catholic, you couldn’t practice your faith. If you had three sons and one converted to be protestant, he would automatically inherit all the land. If you were Catholic, you couldn't be educated which lead to many generations who were illiterate. The Ireland republic was the breadbasket for England exporting crops and resources for hundreds of years. (Northern Ireland was more industrialized working in the linen and ship building industries).
Famine or Genocide?
In fact the 1845-1850, potato famine could also be called a genocide. Yes, there was a blight on potatoes. But, there was food to eat. It’s just the English landlords controlled the river and the lands. Starving people could not fish and could not hunt. Other crops were exported off of the island. If the Irish were caught hunting/fishing, they were sent to the penal colonies in Australia. Over 1 million people died of starvation and disease often buried in mass graves. Others migrated...
Desperate, more than 1.5 million people set out in rightfully called "coffin ships" to head to the United States for a better life. These were meant to hold cargo and were plagued with dysentery. We got to visit one of these immigrant ships and imagine what it would be like to face such harsh conditions and an unknowing future. Actors recounted their experiences as first and second class passengers. I also got to take place in the festivities by being a WALL (reminiscent of my Shakespearean Midsummer Dream days). This became my name for many people throughout the trip.
When the Irish immigrated to the US, businesses posted signs that said "No Blacks and No Irish Need Apply." It wasn't until after WWII in the US that the "Fighting Irish" were treated as valuable members of society in the United States. This was mainly due to their willingness to sacrifice their lives for the US in WWII.
Emancipation & Northern Ireland
While Britain was fighting in WW1, there was momentum for Irish independence which resulted in the Easter Rising in Dublin. The rebellion was crushed and a peace treaty with Britain called for the partition of Ireland with the south becoming autonomous and the northern counties joining the UK.
During WWII, Ireland remained neutral and in 1949 the republic of Ireland Act severed the ties with Britain. Conflicts over Northern Ireland continued to escalate and claimed over 3000 lives.
It was interesting to see how some streets had poles painted the Irish flag colors (green, white orange). Green representing the roman Catholics, orange representing the Protestants and white representing the peace between the groups.
While streets directly parallel flew the UK flag and had poles painted red, white, blue. In both Derry and Belfast, you could still feel the tension as the killings from both sides were so recent. In fact depending on which side you are on, you say "Londonderry" or "Derry" as the city name.
Car bombs, pub shootings and killing of innocent people were common within these streets from the 1960s on. The Good Friday agreement to issue in peace just happened in 1998.
On a lighter note, I have to recount the delicious food that we had in Ireland! From the Irish breakfast to a fresh pint of Guinness, we enjoyed delicious three course meals everywhere we went. Also be sure to check out our foods around the world outlining our fav foods!
Honestly, we did so much during this leg of the trip that I can't capture everything! We saw the book of Kerry, long library room at Trinity college, a sheep dog demonstration (will detail that in the Scotland blog post), went to the Titanic museum, gathered holy water from a spot where ancient apparitions of Mother Mary appeared, clapped to Irish music at pubs and so much more! It was truly a wonderful, whirlwind. And, the Clint bird was always smiling and ready to go on the next adventure. Luckily, the adventure continued and we took off to Scotland to meet Kev. (blog post coming soon!)