When people think of Ireland mos conjure images of rolling green hills, ancient stone castles, and sheep roaming the countryside. Living in Dublin has been a consistent contradiction to that stereotype, but I just returned from a field trip to the Western coast of Ireland where I got to see all of those heartwarming images.
Day 1: Strokestown House, The Famine Museum, & Hennigan's Heritage Center.
This was an amazing day to learn about the famine, because we got to see about life in rural Ireland from both sides of the spectrum. The first places we visited was Strokestown house, which was an estate owned by Major Denis Mahon and his immensely wealthy family. The estate has been maintained perfectly and kept historically accurate. We were lead through the various rooms of the extravagant home, and learned what life was like for the wealthy aristocracy of the day.
In complete contrast to the Strokestown house we visited the Heritage Center and the National Famine Museum. From these perspectives we learned what life was like for the majority of native Irish who lived in rural communities. The famine was caused by a disease called Blithe which infected the majority of the potato crop; this was so detrimental for the Irish because this crop sustained most rural communities who couldn't grow or keep any other crops. At our visit to the Heritage Center we met a man named Tom who invited us into his family cottage. In this little house he lived with his parents, grandmother, and siblings until the 1970's. From Tom's own person stories, and those he had collected from other locals, we learned about how Irish children were raised, how families worked together in the village, and about various superstitions and legends.
Day 2: Croagh Parick, Achill Island, & the Deserted Villages
Much more of our 2nd day in Western Ireland was conducted outside. First we went to Croagh Patrick where we saw he statue of St. Patrick. People throughout the country come to this mountain to partake in religious pilgrimages and local holidays. We hiked up a good part of the trail, and let me tell you it was a demanding trail. We also saw the National Famine Monument which depicted a "Coffin Ship"; his was a nickname for the ships that were full of Irish emigrants because so many often died on the ships from disease and hunger.
After visiting dear St. Patrick we hit the cliffs of Achill Island. These pictures don't do this scenery justice, and I'm not sure I have ever seen anything as beautiful. Even more amazing were that sheep roamed this entire cliff side, and were more brave than I was when it came to getting close to the edge. After Achill we visited sites of deserted villages: settlements that were abandoned when the famine began, because life just couldn't be sustained in that area.
Day 3: Dooega Valley & Galway
Our final day on the West Coast was pretty bief because we had a long day home, but we stopped at the most amazing scene in Dooega on our way to Galway. It may have been my favorite spot. We stopped and explored for a few hours in Galway. It looked like an awesome little city from what I saw, but to be honest we were all so exhausted we didn't get much further than a couple shops and a quick lunch spot. I'll just have to come back!