Monday, March 17, 2014

Abroad in Ireland: Dublin

A tale of one girl’s study abroad trip to Galway, Ireland. The university was just one part of it...

Happy St. Patty's Day! You can bet we were listening to this song a lot while in Galway:

And we might have enjoyed the movie P.S. I Love You a bit too much. Anyway.

GALWAY IS A  gorgeous, atmospheric city on the northwest coast of Ireland. The Docks teamed with fishing and sailboats against a backdrop of red, blue, and yellow buildings. Cobblestone paths interweaved past Lynch’s Castle, the colorful Eyre Square, and Galway Cathedral; old bridges overlooked rowing team practices on the River Corrib. Few cars roamed the streets, especially at night when foot traffic was heavy on route to a vibrant night life complete with famous pubs such as The King’s Head, the Quays, and Monroe’s Tavern—and smaller niches (The Cottage Bar in Salthill, Crane Bar on Sea Road) where aspiring musicians are welcome to join onstage bands. Both The Saw Doctors and Dolores and Sean Keane (De Dannan) hail from Galway, and the town hosts a variety of music festivals as well as a famous Arts Festival in July.


It had always been a dream of mine to study abroad during undergrad. National University of Galway (NUI Galway) caught my eye as set in a unique and smaller city than Dublin, so I figured I could get to know the area better. The university was certainly an English Major’s dream—seminars included in-depth looks at Jane Austen, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Y.B. Yeats, and John Milton. It felt different to be studying these authors closer or within their homeland for some of them, like a seminar I ended up taking and really enjoyed about Irish writer/playwright Tom Murphy. There was also a family connection to Ireland—my uncle, who first traveled there on a bike trip in the 70s, slept in old churchyards overgrown with ivy, formed fast friendships, and kept finding a reason to return ever since. The land was a stunning inventor of the word “green” and was written with dark, fascinating histories and the wry attitudes of the people who lived them. I applied to NUI Galway through Arcadia University here in the US, determined to make the financial situation work, and when I was accepted, I boarded a plane in August study for a semester in Galway.

I really should have picked the spring. I hear it rains slightly less then.


Galway has an airport, but the university program set up the orientation for its international students in Dublin. I arrived with giant roller suitcases in hand, and walked up and down the main riverside street several times before I found the group meeting hostel near the Temple Bar area/Trinity College (I remember the discouraging feeling of being lost, before I figured this was a pretty cool place to be lost in). Our Arcadia student body had been broken into groups of six who would each share rooms, get to know one another, and so have a familiar face to look forward to when we arrived at NUI Galway’s version of dorms—awesome, two-or-three story small houses with full kitchens and baths, all lined neatly up next to one another with the University a 15-20 minute walk down the street, and a Tesco supermarket nearby. Most of the students in the Arcadia group were from East Coast USA, but there were a few from California. So I was the sole Washington student representing—hell yes.


For breakfast, we enjoyed a marvelous spread of bacon, toast, fried egg and tomato, sautéed mushrooms—and the infamous white/black pudding (that might have remained untouched). The day was spent exploring the city. A tour bus dutifully shipped us around the various Dublin hotspots—we snapped pictures of the lovely Botanic Gardens, traipsed through the courtyards of Trinity College, locked ourselves up in Kilmainham Gaol, and peeked in on the Book of Kells. Later that evening we visited my first pub—somewhere in the Temple Bar district—where I discovered for the first time what all the fuss about Guinness was about, and then found another brew that more fuss should be about in the US—Bulmer’s Hard Cider. Crisp, refreshing, amazing. The pint glasses, too, all artfully engraved with Smithwicks or Murphy’s, added something extra—hell, even Bud Light tasted better when served in a stylish pint glass.

The cool thing about having can host events like this: Secret Castle of Magic celebrating Bram Stoker. Photo accredited to Trip Advisor (2014).
  The following morning on our third day in Ireland, all of us still pumped up with adrenaline, we boarded the bus for a three hour drive to the opposite coast (Citylink and Bus Éireann are major bus lines), where the ivy-clad stone courtyards of NUI Galway, like some unearthed Emerald City, were waiting.

To be continued…read Part II here.

Disclaimer: the above is presented as fiction, not fact.

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