by Kayleigh Roach
So this past week I went on a Western Ireland excursion with my program. We left early Wednesday morning and set out to learn first hand about the potato famine (and I use the word famine loosely because I’ve be corrected by several people because there technically never was a “famine” in the true definition of the word). Anyways, our first stop was at Strokestown house which was a house where a well-to-do family of landlords lived for years in the 1600′s all the way up until the 1980′s when the final owner passed away. The house was super cool and had many old artifacts and paintings of people from the famine era in it. Strokestown is also the home to the National Famine Museum. It was interesting to see everything we had learned in class reaffirmed in real life with pictures and objects.
I’ll spare you all a ton of pictures of old stuff, but the toy room was pretty cool!
Our next stop was Tom Hennigan’s Heritage Farm in extremely rural County Mayo. Now I have seen bits and pieces of rural Ireland on our drives, but this was definitely the real deal. Tiny little cottages surrounded by farmland and donkeys…it was so quaint I didn’t want to leave. Now Tom’s family had lived in this cottage for hundreds of years and about 20 years ago he decided to turn it into a museum of sorts. He sat us down in the living room of the fully furnished cottage and told us all about how his family had lived their life there pointing things throughout the room and explaining them. My favorite part was when he pulled a box of cow femurs out from under the bed, explaining how when livestock died of diseases, they would cut off a leg and hang it in the house as a way of inoculating themselves against the disease (who needs vaccines?). After the tour of the house, he led us through another building that was full of artifacts ranging from blacksmith tools, to moonshine equipment, to clothing. It was amazing to me how knowledgeable Tom was, and it was a privilege to hear all of the information first hand. After the tour, we were given tea or coffee and scones. Sidenote: They LOVE their tea here. Seriously with every meal they try and serve you tea…it’s awesome!
A County Mayo flag (remeber the football) you gotta love the county pride out here!
That evening we arrived at our hotel, took naps, and got ready for dinner. We were served a 3 course dinner on a white table cloth, this place was so swanky! After living off potatoes, ham sandwiches, and pasta for 3 weeks, a gourmet meal was like a godsend. That evening we went out to check out the night life in Westport which has been voted one of the best “Tiny Towns” of Ireland for many years. We ended up with live music and an older crowd and quickly made friends with Elvis Presley. There was a very old man who was extremely friendly and was also convinced that he was Elvis. He had a fake license that he showed us, and even stole the microphone from the guitar player and insisted on singing an Elvis song (which thankfully didn’t last very long). People here are such characters, but Elvis is pretty close to the top of my list for strange acquaintances.
The next day we headed to Croagh Patrick, a mountain named after Saint Patrick which many people make a barefoot pilgrimage to the top of. We got to hike a small section of the path that was basically a rocky stream, it was good fun.
Croagh Patrick is the mountain on the right and in the front stands a statue of Saint Patrick holding a clover.
This monument is one of the few things in Ireland that openly recognizes the significant impact of the famine on the country.
Our next stop was Achill Island which is one of the prettiest places I’ve seen in Ireland yet.
We finished up the day with a stop at the deserted village, a place that was left behind during the famine, but still has remaining structures.
We finished the trip in Galway but that's for another day!!!