2007 – Age 22

My pilgrammage to Ireland for the Brian Boru Harp.

So of course, a most exciting thing happened right away in 2007–I was headed to Ireland! I remember being pretty scared about going, but my brother chimed in with words of encouragement: “I’m jealous like a motherfucker that you get to live in the motherland.”

It was absolutely the farthest I’d ever been from home before or since. I went to a college that was only two hours away from my home, and if I really needed help, I knew I could call my mom or dad and they’d be able to come. I never had to do that while I was in college, but it was nice knowing I could do that. Deciding to go to Ireland meant that I’d be 5,000 miles away from my parents if trouble should arise.

No trouble did, thankfully. Spoiler alert!

Before we all took off to Ireland, I was told that there would be one girl living in the same flat in the same program. Her name was Eden, and we became friends while we were there. She was even supposed to be on the exact same flight as I was, but it turned out that she had come down with some insane flu and had to postpone the flight. She didn’t make it in until a month later!

Upon arrival, there was quite a delay in posts on Facebook because I apparently struggled with being allowed to sign in on a University computer until my flatmates gave me the password to their wireless internet connection. Once connected, a flood of images and memories were posted!

We first landed in Belfast where we stayed for a few days while we went through some orientation classes. The program sponsors picked a five star rated place for us to stay for the few days while we were in Belfast. The kitchen had a washing machine in it! How funny!

A kitchen with a washing machine?

When I left Minnesota, it was cold and snowing, but Ireland had green grass and leaves on the bushes. It rained a lot and usually didn’t get below freezing. February 12 I’d reported, “Today the temperature was 40 degrees F.” Also… palm trees? They are obviously not a native species. Even though Ireland is above the 45th parallel, the climate is still warm enough for palm trees to survive. It’s not warm enough for them to bear fruit (coconuts) though.

After orientation, I was shipped to Londonderry… which the locals (depending on your politics) preferred to call “Derry”. I guess it was a little bit of a sore subject when England took over the North of Ireland and started attaching “London” to city names. Driving around the country you would find random roadsigns printed with Londonderry and the “London” part spray-painted over.

One interesting characteristic of Derry–it has a historic wall surrounding the city centre. Built in 1618, it’s the oldest, complete wall in existence. The wall is complete enough to accomodate pedestrains to walk all the way around it. The city itself has long since outgrown these walls–including the University that I was at. The Magee campus is outside the city.

Speaking of University, one remark I had made about the school: “Irish students go to college for 3 years–that’s equivalent to a 4 year degree for us! Irish students have 3 classes per semester–that’s equivalent to a full, 4 course load for us!! Irish students don’t show up for class, and they party all night long. They still graduate. Dude.” It seemed to me then that a lot of students at university were not working NEARLY as hard as I had been at American University.

About a month into my stay (February), our study-abroad program arranged for us to stay with an Irish family in Navan (NAH-ven) for a weekend. I stayed with a young couple with several children. I didn’t take many pictures that weekend, mostly because I was having some difficulty with my camera. They took us to a local soccer match, which was rainy and kind of cold. Afterward we all went to this really cute, cozy pub. We sat next to this little itty-bitty fireplace. The dad bought me a pint of Guinness after I had told him I don’t drink it very often. He was kind of a grump all day long, and then as soon as the beer was flowing, he was much happier. 🙂

Approaching Trim Castle, the outer wall

The next day dawned cold and foggy. Appropriate weather for visiting castles, of course. The family took us to visit Trim Castle which the city of Navan sprung up around. I was told that this was the oldest, most complete Norman castle in all of Europe (built in the 1100’s). It is massive, and really made an impression on me. I remember standing inside it’s empty shell looking straight up where floors used to be. I tried to fill it out in my head, and really see how it would have looked in it’s day. The imagination runs wild in settings like these. With the fog, and the smell of wet rock and moss everywhere, it’s positively romantic.

The castle.

The next highlight of my stay in Ireland was another program-arranged trip, this time to Dublin a month and a half in (March). These trips were really nice because the program paid for and planned everything–all we had to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. I took a LOT of pictures. The highlights were Christ Church, Guinness Brewery/Museum, Powerscourt mansion and gardens, and Glen da Lough… but the most important highlight and picture is below–of the Brian Boru Harp housed at Trinity College.

Brian Boru Harp

I had said that “THIS, people, was my pilgrammage. Believe it or not, this is one of the main reasons why I came to Ireland. This is the Brian Boru Harp that is depicted on the Irish coin and on every pint of Guinness. This harp is… hmm, 500 years old? It was stolen a couple of times before it was restored and placed here in the Trinity College. To my surprise, they actually strung it up with wire, put it in tune, and allowed a harper to play it!! Of course, the stress caused the soundboard to crack slightly and it has since been de-tuned. This picture you are looking at is contraband. There was no photography allowed in this area, but i did ask for permission. After a little teasing the supervisor said it would be ok.”

Enjoy one of my favorite versions of “Brian Boru’s March” performed by the Belfast Harp Orchestra:

Read more about the harp here.

Later I remarked that “I wish I had a euro for every time I saw a harp depicted anywhere. Then they said ‘but there’s a harp on the back of every Irish euro.’ I said, ‘my POINT exactly!!'” When I left Dublin, I declared that I wished to live in Ireland forever. Of all the countries on this earth, that’s one that I might still consider moving to.

Seriously though, harps were EVERYWHERE in Ireland. It amazed and thrilled me. …and frustrated me, because all this time, a harper was without a harp.

Not for much longer though. Two months into my stay (March), I was finally able to connect with the harp maker that had arranged to rent me a harp of his. I had called this guy while I was still in the U.S. to arrange cost and location, etc. I’m not sure why it took a full two months to get the harp, but I was overjoyed to get it. The harp maker lived in Mallow, which is near Cork, so I decided to combine my trip to get the harp with some of my own sightseeing down there. It took me nearly all day to travel there by train.

The harp that Brendan let me use was really nice. I wasn’t too impressed with the subtle “up-close” craftmanship, but the overall shape of it was beautiful, the sharping levers were awesome, and it’s sound was divine. I mentioned having harp blisters at some point on facebook, which is testament to 1) how long it had been since I’d played and 2) I think this harp was strung tighter than my own harp at home. Tighter tension usually means a sustaining and rich sound. I had fell in love with it. I remember returning home and playing my own harp and being really sad and disappointed with its sound. Since that time, I was obsessed with buying a new one, but my financial goals got in the way and I just never got around to it.

I had posted a list of my favorite tunes to play at one point.

  1. Blarney Pilgrim–G, Jig
  2. Basket of Turf–G, Jig
  3. Fig for a Kiss–G, Slip-Jig
  4. Dublin Streets–G, Slip-Jig
  5. Morrison’s Jig–D, Jig
  6. Musical Priest–D, Reel
  7. Trip to Sligo–C, Jig
  8. O Carolan’s Welcome–C, 3/4 time
  9. Brian Boru’s March–C, Jig/March
  10. Road to Lisdoonvarna–D, Jig
Playing Brendan’s Harp

I received my harp just DAYS before St. Patrick’s day. Coincidence? I think not. This was significant to me–as was the fact that my FAVORITE Irish band Altan was coming to perform in the town that I called HOME for St. Paddy’s day! Imagine the odds!! (Back story: I’ve purchased every single album of theirs since I first heard of them, and I had most of them by the time I’d visited Ireland.)

It’s worth noting that at this point I had been listening to the Irish for a while. I posted on facebook about the accents and slang I’d been hearing, like “the Irish use ‘like’ at the end of the sentence. For example, [Americans] might say ‘That’s like, the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!’ The Irish say ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, like.’ The Irish accent is definitely all it’s cracked up to be, and just like there’s a difference between Minnesota and Georgia, there’s also a difference between Cork, Belfast, Dublin…etc. Usually the more education a person has, the easier it is to understand them; they use less slang. And yes, they all say: Brilliant, Grand, Aye, Bullocks, “Feck”, Messing about, Bloody, Black Stuff (Guinness), “Craic” (Fun), Chipper (Fish and Chip shop), Crisps (Potato Chips), Hole in the Wall (ATM)”

By this point, I’d become accustomed to my surroundings and stopped posting regularly on facebook. Highlights yet to cover: a trip to belfast, my boyfriend visiting me for a week, and my parents picking me up and touring the country for two weeks. I may come back yet and fill in the details there! I still have a lot of pictures from the trip that are on facebook, but don’t feel like transferring them over right now.

Finally arrived back home in mid-June.

Pop Culture & News Touchpoints

Since I was studying typography this year in college I had stumbled across this piece featuring a scene/quote from Pulp Fiction and it was amazing to me. Even re-watching this several years later confirms that it is STILL perfectly done and has aged really well.

Ireland being on the mind, I found this Family Guy clip to be pretty funny. Still is. God I love that show.

In May, I had linked to several articles expressing skepticism about climate change. I don’t know whether it was a hot topic at the time, or maybe I was researching something for school–who knows.

Also in May, I made note of a favorite drink of mine which was Vanilla Coke and Vanilla vodka. I liked that a lot at the time. It’s crazy because I hardly drink those super sweet drinks anymore.

August 2, the 35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. I’m writing this over 10 years after that happened and it is amazing that it’s been that long already.

The old Dihydrogenmonoxide trick. mhmm.

Photo Album

A beautiful picture of my friend dancing.
A beautiful picture of my friend dancing.

Highlights not yet described

  • Spring: trip to Ireland, Dancing with the little tykes, St. Paddy’s day/Elaina (overnight guest)/Altan, Hostels, Spring Break, Busking, Belfast Trip, Jeremiah comes to visit, mom and dad come to visit
  • Summer: Played way too much runescape
  • Summer: Jeremiah’s crabfest. “Fony Floater” ship
  • Fall: Jeremiah’s Friends, Dennis and Myra, George and Cassie.
  • Fall: Scottish Dance, RSCDS, Failte Ball
  • Fall: Senior Year, living in pioneer hall (yes, still in the dorms, but it has its perks)
  • Halloween, epic party at Jamie’s place. “Did you know my mom was video taping when your boyfriend, Jerry, and the other guys were doing that dance? OMG it is so funny! I can’t wait for the party this year! You guys were so much fun too!”
  • Christmas, still managing to stay in touch with old high school friends. Met up over christmas break.

Featured Image Source: Battle of Clontarf

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