by Brittany Collins
A couple weeks ago, we had our first CIEE field trip. We ventured to the western portion of Ireland for three days, experiencing an area that we are not likely to have experienced on our own. Wandering off the tourist path and delving into the rich historical offerings, this was a very enjoyable educational opportunity.
Our first stop was Strokestown Park in County Roscommon. The Strokestown Park House is a Georgian Palladian mansion preserved with its original furnishings, owned by the Mahon family. Landlord Major Denis Mahon was assassinated in November 1847 at the height of the Great Famine. We went on a guided tour of the property. The family lived their until 1979, and the house was opened to the public in 1987. It is quite a step back into history.
|Worth tens of thousands of dollars|
|Invitation to Buckingham Palace|
|This dress was used in this award-winning movie
that was filmed in or based on this estate?
One of Laura's family names is Mahon, so there's a chance she was related to the owners of the estate. In class, we learned a lot about the apathetic landlords out of touch with the suffering of their tenant farmers, so seeing the life of luxury that these people enjoyed (it really feels like stepping back into the nineteenth century) left me with an eerie feeling.
Strokestown is also home to the Irish National Famine Museum, where we were able to see documents, propaganda, and other artifacts from the Famine days.
In learning about the Famine, I’d been wondering if Ireland had nonprofit organizations dedicated to preventing and fighting famine (even if the “Great Hunger” would not technically qualify as a famine). To my encouragement, I found two pictures side by side in the Famine Museum. The first was a drawing of a household in 1830s Ireland, and the second was a household in 1991 Eritrea. I really appreciated that they made those parallels in the museum.
|Left: Ireland famine 1830s
Right: Eritrea famine 1991
After Strokestown, we made our way to Tom Hennigan's Cottage and Hennigan's Heritage Centre in Killasser, County Mayo. This provided a great contrast to the estate we had just visited, as Tom Hennigan led us on a tour of the thatched cottage he grew up in and his family lived in until 1970. County Mayo was hardest hit by the famine, and we were able to experience the way of life in this area.
In this tiny house, there are three rooms. The seven Hennigan siblings, including Tom, slept in one room. His parents slept in a little cubby in the wall of the room that was a combined living room and kitchen. His grandmother had a whole room to herself—lucky lady! Tom’s stories about growing up in the house were quite fascinating and very eye-opening. Tom also showed us around the Hennigan’s Heritage Centre before we were graciously treated to tea and biscuits.
After quite the exhausting day, we made it to our hotel in Westport, the Mill Times Hotel.
After quite the exhausting day, we made it to our hotel in Westport. After enjoying a four-course dinner most of the group headed to Matt Molloy’s pub. Matt Molloy is the flutist of the award-winning traditional Irish music group The Chieftains. His son was bartending that weekend, and we were able to hold his dad’s Grammy awards! People in the back of the pub were gathered around playing some Irish music. Brendan brought his bodhrán drum and was able to join in!
On Thursday, we stopped at Croagh Patrick.
|Martin explaining to us what's going on|
Then we made our way to Achill Island.
|Laura and me|
The rugged, cliffy coastline was absolutely breathtaking.
Don treated us to lunch at Lavelle's Pub. In Western Ireland, the Irish language is more commonly used than it is anywhere else on the island. Typically, signs are written in Irish and English, but here, they were often only in Irish, which felt really weird.
|Veggie soup and egg sandwich at Lavelle's|
We then headed to the Deserted Village. It has 80 ruined single-room houses made of stone, and the stones weren't even stuck together with cement or anything. It was completely abandoned during the famine.
We made our way back to Westport, where Laura and I explored a bit and did some souvenir shopping. On Friday, we started driving towards Galway through the Doolough Valley in North Connemara, which was absolutely stunning
Western Ireland was beautifully picturesque. But it was also a somber trip, as the focus was on the Great Hunger/Famine—a period of history, although almost two centuries ago, that still can be felt there. We definitely would not have gone to these places on our own, but my time in Ireland is much enriched thanks to this trip.
Being in Western Ireland actually made me flash back to my month in the Dominican Republic a lot. Especially the visit to Tom Hennigan’s home. As soon as we stepped in, I was reminded of the small houses in the batey communities that we visited in the Dominican Republic. From the three-room layout to the Catholic symbols all over the walls. All the talk about how limited the opportunities that the Irish had during the Famine just brought me right back to thinking about the Haitians living in the DR. It’s crazy how recent such horrific history is for a developed country like Ireland. Seeing all the propaganda from that time about how the British didn’t want to give the Irish free handouts because they were lazy and undeserving just reminded me that those attitudes still exist in the world today and are the reason for the situation in many developing countries. People are not poor because they are lazy; people are poor because they lack basic opportunity.
We had to write an essay about whether the Famine was an attempt at genocide by neglect based on the London government’s reaction. In class, we were already learning about 1970s Ireland, so it was really helpful to go on this trip before it was due—definitely a good source of inspiration.
And I call the West the “real” Ireland because of the proliferation of green hills, sheep, the Irish language, etc. Even the somber tone (that is overshadowed by the kindness of the residents). This is the image of Ireland that most people have in their minds!