This past week I had the pleasure of joining my fellow CIEE program students and our director, Martin, on a trip to the West of Ireland. Our goal was to experience a different side of Irish life as we are now well acquainted with the hustle and bustle of big city life in Dublin. We departed early Wednesday morning in a spacious coach bus (perfect for snoozing!). Our first stop was the Strokestown House in Co. Mayo. I was really excited to visit Co. mayo because this is where the Fitzgibbons (the Irish side of my family) is from. I was hoping to feel some kind of connection to the country as my relatives had been from there. The Strokestown House was basically a house that a wealthy family owned for hundreds of years. It was a large estate with many rooms and land surrounding it. The house was sold with all of the family artifacts and belongings still inside of it. The current owner of the house now has it open for tours as it serves historical significance to the land and gives information about the upper-class life. The house was very creepy and spooky. I really wanted to see ghosts in there or have a paranormal experience! Our guide walked us through the home room by room and discussed differences in lifestyles that this family held compared to the poor Irish families that farmed the surrounding land. The most interesting thing I found about this house was that the family hated seeing “the hep” and servants in the gardens or walking on the grounds that they built an underground tunnel for servants to use so they would not disturb the views of the landscape.
Our next stop was Tom Hennigan’s Heritage Farm. Tom was a lovely man who had lived on the homestead up until the 1970’s. This was a real example of rural farm life. Tom discussed how the Famine (Starvation, he called it) had affected his family and the families who lived like him in the rural countryside. He also talked extensively about Irish superstitions while building the family cottage. Did you know that many cottages have a horse’s skull buried below the floor and mummified cats int eh walls? I found these stories fascinating.
That night we stayed in Westport is a wonderful hotel! We got a three course dinner and then a bit of fun exploring some pubs in town.
The next morning we started off for Croagh Patrick, a place where many Catholics perform a pilgrimage up the side of a mountain. I did not feel particularly connected to this place as a place of religion but the scenery of the West coast of Ireland was breathtaking and I found myself getting a bit “national geographic” with my photography. Our next stop was along the Achill Islands. This place was AMAZING! So beautiful. In some ways it wasn’t a new sight for me as I have been spoiled with a lifetime of Oregon coastal views. We stopped a couple times along the sides of cliffs. Our final destination was to a deserted village on the island. Martin asked if we knew how to date a house (like tell how old it was), and I responded that you have to phone it’s parents and ask permission first, then take them out on a Friday night. Get it? Get it? Wow, I am hilarious. But seriously, some faerie spirits were alive and well in that deserted village. So were the sheep.
Westport for one more night. The CIEE crew all decided to go out for karaoke but were dismayed to find that the one “lip and disco” bar was closed on Thursday nights. So we opted for a different pub.
On our last morning together as a group we drove into the city of Galway. From there, some of us departed to go back to Dublin and some stayed in Galway to explore more.
I loved having the opportunity to travel west. It was nice to be out in nature for most of our 3 day journey and to see another side of life in Ireland.
Houses along the river in Galway.
Coastline on the Achill Islands
Tom Hennigan's cottage