Cobh (just outside of Cork) is a bit like the anti-Ellis Island of Ireland. It was one of the major departure points for Irish people fleeing the famine or other hardships and for political prisoners being deported to Australia. From the 1840s up through the mid 1900s, over 2.5 million Irish people left the country through the port of Cobh. The statue above represents Annie Moore and her two young brothers, famous for being the first people to be processed through Ellis Island in 1892.
Cobh’s other claim to fame is that it was the last port of call for the Titanic before it met with its tragic fate in the North Atlantic. (Word has it that the business pictured above has just gone under:) The picture below is of the last place where the Titanic’s passengers would have set foot on solid ground before getting onto the small boats that ferried them out to the big liner.
There is a good museum in Cobh that covers both the large scale immigration from Ireland and the history of the Titanic. One of the most interesting objects in the museum is this bottle that contained a note written by Jeremiah Burke who went down with the ship. The bottle originally held holy water, but was then emptied out and filled with a note that said “From Titanic, Goodbye all.” While it is not clear if this was a farewell note in a bottle from a dying man or just something he did as a lark as he was pulling out of port (the date could be 10 April when the ship pulled out of Cobh or 15 April when it went down)…I can understand why it freaked out the folks who later found it on an Irish beach.
While others crept to the cliff edge, I did my best archaeologist impression a safe distance away.
After our tour of Dun Aengus, we got back on our bikes and took the hillier “high road” back to the ferry.
Leslie and Isaac were a great team on the tandem bike, and it was one of the more beautiful rides I’ve ever taken. As you can tell from Isaac’s impression here, he thought it was pretty cool too.
We found a cozy pub for a post-ride drink…
And then went down to the pier to catch our ferry back to Galway.
The ferry was a bit choppy, causing Isaac and Kaitlin to vomit over the side.
Ok, not really…
As we were pulling out from the dock, I noticed the jet trails in the sky. Our Irish friend Rita noted that the west coast of Ireland is right on the flight path from Dublin to America. When she was young, growing up in rural county Mayo, she used to lay on the grass, look up at the jet trails, and imagine herself far away leading a very different life in America. When I see these jet trails they invoke in me no such longings to cross the ocean…we’re having too good a time here to want to leave. That said, I can imagine how someone who had spent their entire life on these islands would find compelling the prospect of exploring other, very different worlds.
Today we took a day trip to the Aran Islands, catching a bus at 9:30 which took us to a ferry which delivered us to the Aran Islands around 11:30. From there we rented bikes and rode about 5 miles to Dun Aengus, a 3500 year old fort built on the side of a 300 foot cliff. It has been raining, windy, and cold for the last several days so we were a bit nervous about the trip, but it turned out to be a sunny, dry, and calm day…the nicest weather for the past 5 months the bike rental guy told us. We boarded our bikes and took a leisurely ride out to Dun Aegnus, passing these genial goats along the way.
We then came upon a beautiful sandy beach, and even though it was about 45 degrees outside (and about 40 degrees in the ocean), Isaac and Kaitlin just couldn’t resist taking their shoes off and running into the water.
After a quick lunch, we took a 15 minute walk up to Dun Aengus. The view from up there was stunning.
Isaac once commented that in Ireland there’s “less padding” than in America. By that he meant that there are many public places where one can meet with serious misfortune if extreme caution is not observed. Dun Aengus is one of these unpadded places. There is a 300 foot cliff—complete with straight drop off into the ocean and certain death—that one can simply walk up to, and over if one chooses. No railing, no warning signs, no nothing. Given my acrophobic tendencies, I stayed a good five feet back from the edge, but other members of the party were more intrepid.
If the cliff wasn’t enough to keep out those pesky Vikings, then you’d think these razor sharp boulders, pointing out from the fort, would have done the trick. Unfortunately, it appears that several waves of invaders managed to get past these rows of defenses. And I suspect many an Aran Islander was thrown to his or her death off of these cliffs which they had backed themselves up against in the name of defense.
Last weekend I went with the students to Carraroe for a 4-day, intensive language school. We learned Irish, a language that (until last weekend) I really knew almost nothing about. Carraroe is in the gaeltacht, or a part of Ireland where people are bi-lingual, speaking Irish as their first language and English as a secondary language.
As you can tell from this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jD-_l5p3MzI), Irish sounds nothing at all like English. In fact, knowing English didn’t really help us learn Irish at all. We learned to engage in friendly banter and count to 100, but it’s clear that becoming fluent would take a very long time. All Irish school children learn the language from an early age, and almost all public signs are in both English and Irish. In the 1870s, Irish had almost disappeared as a language, but the cultural and political revival of the late nineteenth century created a renewed interest in all things distinctively Irish (and decidedly not British)—and thus began the language revival along with the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association which codified the rules for Gaelic football and hurling, two sports played almost exclusively in Ireland and well worth checking out on youtube if you’ve never seen them played.
Carraroe is a stunningly beautiful place. The region of Connemarra is known for its sublime landscapes of ancient hills, peat bogs, and rocky fields dotted with sheep, cows, and horses.
If I look a bit windswept in that last picture, it’s probably because I was standing on a wall about 1000 feet above the ocean with a 60 mph wind trying to knock me off my perch. Experiencing the cold, wet wind of a Connemarra January, I gained a new appreciation for why so many Irish people would want to migrate to warmer climes. Yet as you can see from the beauty of the land (and as we learned from the warm kindness of our hosts in Carraroe), it’s also apparent why so many of those migrants then found themselves wistfully dreaming about returning home.
Remember that awful song from the early 80s, Africa, by Toto? Last week I’m sitting in the unbelievably depressing office they gave me at NUI-Galway (window looking out onto a wall, uninhabited freezing cold building on the outskirts of campus with the charm of a prefab mobile classroom, etc.) and I hear Toto’s Africa blaring from the building next door. As soon as the pseudo-dramatic intro ends, my tormentor who turned up his radio when this song came on starts singing along at the top of his lungs, horribly off-key. The one redeeming quality of my office, it’s quiet isolation, had been totally submarined…so I had to take one for the team and find a nice quiet pub to read in. Hate when that happens.
Anyway, the next day Leslie and I go to Kai for the lovely lunch described in my last post. On the way out, what do I see in the window of the restaurant, but this album cover. I hadn’t thought about that song (or been forced to remember that song) in at least a decade, and now twice in two days it pops into my life uninvited. Is it telling me that I’m not in Kansas anymore? Does it mean that my hair is going to grow back in copious, 80’s hair-band quantities? Oh what could it mean? Toto, please give me another sign…preferably a visual one without musical accompaniment.
The theme of this entry is “settling in.” The picture is of Isaac doing his homework in his school uniform. Tuesday I walked him to school and witnessed a scene that almost made me cry with joy. I walked him into the large hall where all of the kids sit and wait in the morning. There are a series of benches that the kids sit on, and as soon as we walked in a group of boys on the first bench cried out “Hi Isaac.” The bench was full, but one boy immediately slid onto the floor and offered his seat to Isaac with a kind grin. It’s such a marvelous school…every day Isaac comes home full of happy stories about his day. Granted, some of them involve how dominant he is on the basketball court because none of his classmates have much experience with the game, but it goes beyond being the Shaq of the playground.
Now for my “settling in” story. Tonight Isaac and I encountered some tourists (he said derisively) who asked me for directions to a local restaurant. I was able to guide them expertly to their destination. Only nine days, but I’m feeling like a local already.