Day Nineteen: Final Reflections

On our final day, we had no planned excursions. Instead, we worked on our final presentations, which we initially presented at Paudie’s Bar at the Dingle Bay Hotel, but we had to move out due to a wedding. We made our way to Lord Baker’s Restaurant, where we finished our presentations and had a wonderful dinner. The presentations were all fascinating, and it ended up being a fascinating conclusion to the class.

My classmate Marie started by presenting about the place of architecture in Ireland, and how it reflects Irish culture at the time it was built. She talked about everything from the Gallarus Oratory to the Titanic museum, and it was really interesting to see Irish culture from such a unique perspective. Afterwards, Suzie talked about the Irish Gaelic language, and it’s origins. I knew about the Irish language before, but she really informed me on it’s relation to other Gaelic languages such as Welsh and Scottish.

Peter then talked about the psychology of people in Ireland, saying that people underwent such hardship that their psychological state is hard to diagnose. He said they were undergoing “Burnout” as a result, and said that people just want to move on, giving a hopeful view for the future. After I presented on the Irish elections, Austin talked about Irish food, and how it compares to American food culture. He gave a pretty good criticism of American food culture, which is pretty toxic when compared to Irish food culture.

Then, Kevie presented in the idea of Irish strength, and how, in every area we visited, she saw examples of Irish people enduring through oppression and natural challenges. It was a really interesting perspective on the major themes of the class, and does sum up the Irish character to a degree. Then, Josh compared the American Civil Rights movement to the Irish Civil Rights movement, and said he was surprised to see how remarkably similar they were. He pointed out several interesting differences between the two movements however, pointing it the brutality of the British government on Bloody Sunday, and the power of extremist groups like the IRA in comparison to groups like Malcolm X’s group.

The final presentation was done by Jazmin, who also talked about the Civil Rights movement, gave some interesting perspectives, as she did a good job at showing how her view of the Civil Rights movement changed over time. Prior to the class, she thought the conflict was incredibly black and white, but coming here allowed her to empathize with all sides, even if she vehemently disagrees with the oppressive side. All in all, today was a great day for reflection on what we, as a group, have learned this Maymester. Coming here allowed me to empathize with the Irish people, and I feel it’s easier to step in their shoes, which is important in understanding Ireland. Ireland has an incredibly rich and complex history, and it’s been a pleasure trying to make sense of it.

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Day Eighteen: To The Great Blasket Island

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The definite focus of the day was our trip to the Great Blasket Island, which certainly put what I learned about the Blasket Islands into context. It was a beautiful day, which was an extremely lucky occurrence, and we spent some time with our wonderful tour guide, learning the history of the town, and some time exploring, which mostly consisted of going down to the beach and looking at seals. It was an excellent experience from both a historical and natural perspective. After a few hours, we went back to the Blasket Centre, had a wonderful lunch, and reflected on our experience.

Here is a good resource for understanding how day to day life on the Blasket Islands worked. Based on this, it is clear that life on the Great Blasket Islands was an impoverished life. People subsisted on what was essentially the bare minimum necessary to survive. So much of they culture is centered on the fact that life was so hard, and I can see why, eventually, people would want to leave. Still, there were some pleasures to life on the Blasket Islands, as there was a large amount of music and stories. There wasn’t much conventional entertainment on the Islands, but the islanders made do. All in all, life on the Blasket Islands had huge upsides and huge downsides, and I can see both why people wanted to leave and why people wanted to stay.

I found this interesting article about Gearoid O Cathain, who was publicized as the “Loneliest Boy in the World” because he was the only child living on the Blasket Islands. It was interesting to see that he didn’t consider his life on the Islands lonely at all, and instead viewed oppositely. The community on the island was remarkably strong, likely because of the harsh conditions they live in. His recounting of culture shock on arriving in Dunquin is also interesting, and illustrates the experiences many islanders had, especially the ones going to America. Really, life in the Islands must have been brutal, but there is a bit of bitterness in leaving such a strong community.

There is also this article about Mike Cearney, one of the last surviving Blasket Islanders. In fact, he was instrumental in organizing the evacuation of the island, and very much viewed leaving as a necessity. Yet, he still has fond memories of his time living on the island. I feel that this reflects the experience of many islanders: many felt actual life in the island was horrible, simply due to living conditions. At the same time, as I realized in my class last semester, these conditions caused these people to form a remarkably tight knit community. It is because of this, I think, why so many Blasket Islanders didn’t want to leave despite the poor living conditions.

When I was exploring the Great Blasket Island, I asked to myself, “Why would anyone live here?”. It is a beautiful place, make no mistake, but it is also an extremely dangerous place. People lived in horrid conditions, extreme poverty, and dealt with high infant mortality rate. So, why would someone want to deal with that? Well, there are a number of reasons for that: for one, they didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. Moving was a difficult process, with little chance of success. Plus, the island has such a strong community that people didn’t want to leave. Really, it was only extreme conditions that forced them to leave, and I can certainly understand why they would resist leaving so heavily.

Day Seventeen: A Chat With Maria Simonds-Gooding

After our visit to the Blasket Center, we went up the road to the cottage and studio of Maria Simonds-Gooding, a local artist in Dunquin. She knew Judy quite well, and our discussion with her was fascinating. She really is an interesting and charismatic individual. Her art was great to look at, and it was especially interesting seeing the process she went through making her art. It was surprising to see just how in-depth, difficult, and sometimes very dangerous it was. I’m not normally an art person, but out visit to the studio of Maria Simonds-Gooding gave me an interesting perspective into the process.

Not only did our conversation with her give an interesting view on life as an artist, it have an interesting view on life in Ireland. One thing which really struck me was how Maria said that we were much less shy than most groups of Irish people she hosts. I normally think of Irish people as outgoing, but shyness does seem to be an issue here, simply because of culture. I also loved Maria’s talk about the “Black Saucepan” phenomenon, where foreigners visit the Dingle peninsula and fall in love with it. The Black Saucepan is a love potion, so the idea is that their visit was effectively a love potion acting between them and the region. I don’t think I’ve completely fallen in love with the region, though it is a great place, but Judy certainly has, and perhaps some of my fellow students as well. All in all, out talk with Maria Simonds-Gooding proved to be both a fascinating time, in terms of life as an Irish artist, and a fun time, simply because of how electric Maria is.

Day Seventeen: The Blasket Centre and the Islanders Evacuation to America

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The focus of today was the Blasket Centre, and the people of the Blasket Islands. When we arrived at the Blasket Centre, Michael de Mordha greeted us and showed us a brief video of the history and story of the Blasket Islands. Afterwards, he gave us a brief tour of the Blasket Centre and we set off to explore the Blasket Centre inside and out. The area around the Blasket Centre was beautiful, with great views and excellent weather. I knew about the story of the Blasket Islands prior to taking this class, thanks to Judy’s class last semester, but this allowed me to put what I learned in context.

The evacuation to to Springfield, Massachusetts is a subject which really interested me. This website presents an interesting, genealogical look into the migration. As we have discussed extensively, most if the migration occurred in the 20th century, separating it from most of the rest of Irish migration to America. Many Blasket Islanders wanted to leave for America because it simply was a more stable form of life, preferable to life on the Dingle peninsula, which is interesting considering the fact that I see so many Americans fall in love with the region and want to leave America for the Blasket Islands. It really shows how different people can long for different ways of life depending on who they are and how they live.

This site is a pretty interesting view of the emigration issue. The article focuses on the West Kerry Gathering last year. Not only does it present a unique anthropological perspective, it talks about the recent gathering of surviving Blasket Islanders, which is important. Despite the massive locational differences, and the fact that they lived together so long ago, these people continue to reunite. It really illustrates just how strong their community is, which is central to understanding the Blasket Islanders. Certainly, people left the Islands for good reason, but there was something truly special there.

Day Sixteen: The Irish Potato Famine and Dingle

During Afternoon Tea, one of the men talked about the poorhouse phenomenon in Ireland around the time of the Irish potato famine. Prior to the famine, the British government workers to make the conditions of the poorhouses as bad as possible, to prevent people from misusing them, at least, in the eyes of the British government. Of course, when the potato famine hit, this screwed over the Irish people, as the poorhouses could not handle the mass amount of poverty which was caused by the famine. Of course, there was a poorhouse in Dingle as well, as the town was hit hard by the potato famine, like the rest of the country.

I decided to do a bit of research on the potato famine and how it affected Dingle, and I found this site. Clearly, the potato famine affected Dingle severely. In fact, County Kerry was the county with the highest rate of emigration in Ireland, which was quite surprising. The potato famine hit every region of famine, especially areas with high levels of Irish culture, which is interesting, and damaged the strength of Irish culture, in turn strengthening the more British aspects of culture in the region. It really is surprising and troubling to see how heavily the potato famine affected a region where the primary industry was not potatoes.

I also found this site about the Dingle hospital during the potato famine. It does a really good job of showing just how horrible the conditions for poor people were during the potato famine. Throughout our time in Ireland, people gave referred to the potato famine as genocide committed by the British government, and stuff like this makes me agree. The British government intentionally gave areas like Dingle next to no aid for people affected most by the famine- the Irish poor- and in doing so, destroyed a culture. Dingle is a good smaller example of crimes committed by the British government in regards to Ireland as a whole.

 

Day Sixteen: The Farmers of Dingle Peninsula and Factory Farms

The focus of the day was in the men of Ventry and the Bibeanna women, residents of the area who had lived there for a long time. We began the day by watching several films by Brenda Ni Shuilleabhain about these people, then took a should to her home, where she treated us to afternoon tea with the men and women. The food was delicious and the talk was fascinating, and it ended up being an excellent learning experience. It was great seeing how the farmers of the Dingle peninsula viewed their history and the current political issues which affect them.

One subject of the movies which really resonated with me was the issue of the changing way of life of these farmers. I asked the farmers about the effect of globalization and factory farms on their way of life, and they gave some interesting viewpoints in the issue. According to this website, farmers must take a stand against the globalized food industry, and companies like Tesco. It certainly seems to be a big issue in Ireland, as it is in much of the rest of world. Personally, I think it’s an incredibly complex issue. Mass farming by companies like Tesco gets good to tons of people, but it is usually low quality food. Plus, it hurts people like the people we talked to, which is always bad. It is definitely an issue Ireland will have to deal with in the future.

I also found this article about the issue if factory fur farming in Ireland, which is somewhat related to the issue. Mass produced farming of food is clearly a major issue, but it appears to extend to fur as well, and this seems to be a huge social issue in modern Ireland. Like with mass food farming, mass fur farming mistreats animals, and smaller scale fur farmers. In the end, our talk with the farmers of Dingle peninsula illustrated the effects globalization is having on the region, and Ireland as a whole.

 

Day Fifteen: The History of Dingle

Getting into Dingle, I began to become intrigued in the history of the town. I had a decent idea of it from class, but nothing that went back too far. Obviously, now it’s a bustling fishing and tourism town, but what was it in the past, when the Blasket Islands were inhabited, and before then? Now, Dingle is the epitome of a modern small town, but it wasn’t always that way. How did the history of the town intersect with the other aspects of Irish history that I have learned? These were the questions I had when I began cyber sleuthing on the subject.

According to this page on the history of Dingle town, by the 1200s, the town was an important center of trade for the region. In 1569, the town was walled, like many other European and Irish cities. The town was relatively poor in the 16th century, but had an upsurge in trade in the 17th century. This, of course resulted in a growth in the town. By looking at archaeological records, it is clear that, over time, Dingle went from small trading village to bustling trading town.

This site has information on the broader history of the region as a whole, which certainly plays heavily into the history of Dingle town itself. According to the information here, the region was first settled all the way back into the Mesolithic era. Around the Stone Age, the first permanent settlers appear, often farmers. Monuments began being built in the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age it’s largely considered the Celtic Age, though records are pretty unclear. There are a relatively large number of early Christian monastic sites. Development in the region was damaged by the arrival of the Vikings in the 9th century, and in the 12th century the Christian sites were abandoned due to monastic changes in the Church. By the 13th century, the Normans had effectively Europeanized the country, including Dingle peninsula.

Dingle town was founded by the Fitzgerald and Rice families, with the intention of being the second largest port in the country. A wall was built around the town around 1607, and until the 1920s the town was controlled by Lord Ventry and his family. The potato famine hit the town hard, despite the fishing industry. After the Easter Rising, Dingle, along with County Kerry, joined the Republic of Ireland. Dingle is a small town, but Ireland is a small, yet important country, and Dingle has played a major part in much of that long history. In the coming days, it should be interesting to learn more about the history of this region, especially that if the Blasket Islands.

Day Fifteen: Dingle and the Irish Tourism Industry

Arriving in Dingle, I noticed the plethora of shops, restaurants, and accommodations targeted at tourists. These are wonderful places, certainly, but they’re targeted at tourists nonetheless. As I discussed in my previous blog, fishing is a major industry in the town, but getting into town, it became clear that tourism is a major industry. Throughout my time in Ireland, it has been clear that tourism is really important to the country’s economy, but it was interesting to see this in Dingle as well.

According to this website, one of the biggest areas of tourism in the town is actually food tourism. Failte Ireland, the Irish tourism board, has worked on making the region an inviting destination for food tourists. In my opinion, this is one of the best forms of tourism out there, as it allows for genuine cultural exchange between local and tourists. The benefits of focusing on food tourism expand beyond just tourism as well, as agriculture and food quality goes up for everyone in the region. Even so, food tourism isn’t the only area of tourism which is popular in the area, as historical and location tourism are popular as well, boosting the regional and Irish economy.

 

Day Fourteen: Dingle Harbour

In preparation for our time in Dingle next week, I did some research on Dingle Harbour, as Judy told me to. According to this government website, Dingle Harbour is located in Dingle Bay, which holds the Blasket Islands and Skellig Isles. The Barbour is a hub for fishing in the region, and if central to the regional economy. Both local and non-national boats dock there, and fish certain sea life depending on the time of year. People also start day cruises from the area. Really, it seems that Ireland is central to Dingle’s economy, and plays a big part in the Irish economy.

Here is another site which I found on the subject, this time told from the perspective of a fisherman who uses Dingle harbour. Fishers fish different fish in different regions of the harbour, which plays heavily into how the “fish product” in the economy flows. What fish are caught and put into the market depend on the time if year and the region of the bay which fishers use. All in all, it seems that Dingle Harbour is not only a beautiful location, it also is central to the fishing economy. In class, I thought that Dingle was a nice, but relatively unimportant town in the grand scheme of things. Doing this research showed me how wrong I was: it is one of the most important towns in the region, especially from an economic perspective.

Day Fourteen: The History of the Cliffs of Moher

We spent most of the day at the Cliffs of Moher, taking in the beautiful sites and and ancient ruins. It was a bit of a bus ride to get there, but it was worth it. I hiked all the way to Hag’s Head, which was a six mile walk, but that was worth it as well. It truly was a natural wonder, one you wouldn’t really see elsewhere in the world. It certainly was a popular tourist attraction, which can be seen both positively and negatively. On one hand, people should be able to see this, on the other hand, it felt overcrowded, and that can destroy the environment. Even so, my experience at the park was wonderful.

I decided to do some research on the history of the Cliffs of Moher, which there clearly was based on the ruins present at the park. Here is the official site’s page on the history of the park. The name of the park originates from a fort which stood there 2000 years ago, indicating that there is indeed a long human history to the park. Throughout its history, the park has been the center of a number of myths and legends, but it’s primary uses seem to be lookout, bird egg hunting, and tourism. The cliffs played a part in the destruction of the Spanish Armada, as ships were spotted by the British around the Aran islands from the cliffs, which eventually led to them finding out the terrible condition of the fleet.

The Cliffs were also used as a source of flagstone, and a number of mines opened up in the area in the 19th and early 20th century. With the advent of World War I, the mines closed down, but a few are open to this day. In regards to tourism, many people on “The Grand Tour” in the 16th and 18th centuries stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. Cornelius O’Brien, however, who turned it into a real tourist destination in the 19th century, building O’Brien’s tower as a point of interest. It was this that would turn the park into the tourist destination it is today. It really is clear that though the Cliffs of Moher are mostly known for their scientific and natural beauty, they have also played an important part in European history.