A Bittersweet Farewell

I cannot describe this day in a more fitting way than to say it is bittersweet. In less than 5 short hours, I will be getting on my bus and heading to the Dublin airport. I know, I know-stop the pity party, right? Well, that’s why I say this day is bittersweet, rather than melancholy, although there is a bit of that. Today I got the slap in the face that I am leaving Ireland and going back to my “normal” life in Ohio. Bleghh-no, thank you. But today is also the day I realized that I am one of the luckiest people on earth. Although someone once said that all good things must come to an end, they didn’t mention that this doesn’t have to be an entirely negative thing.

Once I land in the Columbus airport I will already be thinking back on all of the unforgettable memories that I have made in the past six weeks. I’ve had more once-in-a lifetime opportunities in just the past month and a half alone than many people get a chance to have in their entire lifetime. No matter where I travel in the world, I will always be able to keep those memories. 

So, let’s take a quick look back at the past six weeks of my life in Ireland, shall we? Since I would rather focus on the wonderful things that I’ve done, rather than the fact that my time in Ireland is coming to an end, I want to think back to all of the fantastic things that have happened here! Although I could never write them all down in words, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. The “cliffnotes” version, if you will.

A few things I am taking with me:

The close bonds I have formed with some of the people on this trip

The new friends I have met along the way

The awesome blue fiddle given to me by a random drunken Irish man (thank you Paddy Davern!)

The images of Inishmore, Dublin, Galway, and even quaint little Letterkenny that will be ingrained in my mind forever

The nights of playing truth or dare and getting to know each other while playing four square with the disturbing/creepy Iggle Piggle ball that traumatized us all

The knowledge that the worlds best pizza can be found in Ireland, and at an Indian food restaurant… who knew?

A greater appreciation for Fanta soda. Sadly, it’s just not the same in America.

The habit of calling fries “chips” and saying “cheers” even when I don’t have a glass in hand.

An even greater appreciation for rain. It’s been my habitat for a month and a half!

A huge appreciation for Irish tradition, history, music, culture, and it’s people

The ability to find beauty even in little things, and to always be looking for it in everyone and everything I come across.

Way too many new cloths. Hey! The Irish have a great fashion sense.

A camera full of pictures

Countless stories to share with my friends back home

And an even greater desire to travel the world and experience as much as possible in my lifetime. If I can have the best times of my life in just six weeks in just one country, I can’t even imagine what I could do with more time and more destinations. The world is my playground, and I’m ready to run free!

No matter where I go or who I meet, though, Ireland will always hold a very special place in my heart. So, yes, I did cry when I woke up this morning and realized I’d be getting on that plane to Ohio tonight. But I am unbelievably happy to have shared the experiences that I did with such a wonderful group of people. I wouldn’t change a single second of it.

Rock on, Letterkenny! I’m taking a piece of you home with me.

Yours truly,

Brenna

xoxoxo

 

 

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I Want More of Inishmore! (how cheesy)

Inishmore. Prior to the 20th century, this beautiful island that is the largest of the Aran Islands, was more commonly known as “Aranmore”. The Irish word “Arainn” translates to “long ridge”, which is a pretty accurate description of the island. About half of the group and myself spent almost an entire day bicycling around basically the entire island. It definitely was a long trek, but more than worth it. 

We picked up our bikes from the bike rental just a few feet away from where we stepped off of our ferry, and began our adventure. Not being the most athletic human being, the constant slopes of the island were tiring after a while, but the scenery was so picturesque that I didn’t mind a bit. This place was like something I’ve only ever seen in movies (I will give ‘PS, I Love You’ credit for being visually captivating. The acting, not so much). Anyways, it was unreal. When I pictured Ireland before ever arriving here, Inishmore is what I envisioned. From the rolling green hills, stone walls, crashing waves against steep rocky slopes, and of course plenty of sheep and cows (ultra-friendly donkeys, too!), it was like a beautiful painting that came to life somehow.

By far, Inishmore is the most breathtaking place I’ve ever been to. Just around every corner was another hidden gem to explore. For example, we found an abandoned old stone church right by the water. It was weathered, missing a roof, and overgrown with trees and ivy inside, but the architecture of it was astounding. I felt as though I could almost feel a part of the history of this place just by looking at this crumbling remnant of the past. I really hope it’s around for many years to come so more wide-eyed travellers like myself can experience its beauty. I think it’s wonderful that pieces of this place’s past are left on display and no one has come through and built a drug store or McDonald’s in its place. I wish more of the world saw the value in this.

Continuing on, we saw seals, dolphins, jellyfish, magical unicorn-like donkeys, horses, cows, chickens, sheep… I was surprised by how many animals could live in this climate-especially the dolphins and jellyfish-two animals I definitely never expected to see in Ireland! It was like even the animals knew that Inishmore was one of the most beautiful places on earth and just decided to live there because of that.

Many things surprised me about this island, from the old buildings left standing even in their decay, to the diverse wildlife, to the fact that so much beauty can exist in one place. It was the untouched beauty of Inishmore that won my heart. I hope that when I come back again someday, it will have been left exactly how it is now-perfect.

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The ending point is another starting point. Wait! This will never end!!

Two more days left with everybody in the group. I am now sitting in the computer room in RCC, waitting for the second last screening, and ready to head to Dublin, again, to get my passport. When I go through people’s last blogs, I find that a lot people used my pictures!! Those are copyrighted, guys!! Just kiding! You guys can use those. I mean this last one should be really emotional, right?

The beginning of the trip, I’d never think that we all can get very close. After every time of group outting, we become closer and closer and eventually we become a big family. All start with the Karaoke night on Aran Islands. Because we have so many people, we won 100 euro!

 After we come back, we used the left over money to buy frozen pizza and had a pizza party in apartment 7.

We went out for Katie’s surprise Birthday party, who had no idea that everybody would go to Harry Potter movie. Actually I never watched Harry Potter before. Ok, I know, I didn’t know what I was doing 10 years ago. Anyway, we went to the Yellow Pepper and had that kind of surprised wrong cake for Katie.

Then thanks to Kara, we had an amazing pasta night! We set up the tables in the second floor, that was a really big place!

Finally we went to Dublin together, and had a great time with everybody!!

Honestly, I won’t cry, because I m just not kind of person, but I will feel really really sad when I leave. I feel like I get to know more American culture than the past 4 and half years. Everyone is super cool, super nice and super funny! This is the actually my first time to spend this much time with a group ever, and I had a really good time. I’ll always remember the opening doors in 2 apartments upstair, and we can just come in and go without knocking. I’ll always remember that we all together hang out together discussing all the life problems. I’ll always remember that we never happened to have a kick ball tournament even we call that every night and eventually become a 4-square something. I’ll always remember that one night we are all cold sit outside as a circle and talk about the truth of our lives. I’ll always remember that frustration at the night before the homework due. I’ll always remember that the dance night that no one in lower apartments would come. I’ll always remember that everyone just being very nice to each other. I’ll always remember in that year I was in Ireland with the family that has all the cool people. I’ll A lot things happened in this trip, but whether they are bad or good, it’ll always be the greatest memory I ever have in my life. I love you guys! We’ll definitely hang out back in Athens! I’ll never forget you guys! Good luck to your rest of trip! I love you!!!

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Puja Paradise

As part of the volunteering aspect of our program, I was faced with the challenge of deciding what events to volunteer at. All of the events sounded so foreign and intriguing to me: A parade on the streets of Letterkenny, local bands performing, strangely titled plays, and alas- “Puja”. I had no idea what this “Puja” thing was. All I knew was that it sounded like a character from ‘The Lion King’, or maybe some type of bizarre pudding. Either way, I was curious. So, I took the chance and put my name down on the list to volunteer at the event, with the only job description being something along the lines of “Keeping people away from cliffs”. I knew this would be an adventure of some sort. 

Nothing could have quite prepared me for the experience I actually had, though.

Jacob and I hopped in a car with a random woman who was also volunteering at the event and got ready for the long, scenic journey to Fort Dunree. We had a decent conversation with the woman who was driving us, and told her all about the local shenanigans we had recently found ourselves caught up in, all of which seemed to amuse her quite a bit. After a long drive to the Fort filled with beautiful views of rolling hills and sheep, and a soundtrack of non-stop Fallout Boy (Thanks to our driver. But actually, no thanks), we arrived in an area filled with majestic cliffs overlooking a gorgeous sea. I was already in heaven.

We continued our drive through winding country roads until eventually we reached the main attraction- although I still wasn’t entirely sure what the main attraction was yet. All I could see was a beautiful cliffside landscape with inflatable, lit up decorations and string lights sprinkled throughout the rolling hills. I didn’t know what was about to unfold before my curious eyes, but I was definitely ready for it. BRING IT ON!

As the giant blue gates opened up and the crowds of people rushed in, the magic began to happen. First, there was a huge parade of people on floats and sculptures wearing eccentric costumes unlike anything I had ever seen before. There were mystical fairies, men twirling fire, a woman with a lit up, moon-shaped hat walking on stilts, and a woman doing acrobatics in a lit up sphere suspended in the air. Pure magic. 

The parade of mythical creatures led us humans over to a small stone stage surrounded by large torches on all sides. As the show began, I felt a warm feeling inside that came less from the warmth of the large flame in front of me, and more from the pure feeling of euphoria that was rushing over me. The dark figures performing tricks with fire, the lively dancing of the woodland sprites, the larger -than- life sculptures that illuminated the night sky, and the energy of the crowd had my head spinning. My senses were completely overwhelmed. The fiery musk of incense that was wafting through the chaos was perfectly fitting for the nostalgic feeling of nights by an open fire surrounded by my closest friends. Take that feeling and multiply it by about 50, and you’ll have a vague idea of how completely wonderful this experience was.

A woman perched on top of a towering inflatable tent-like structure sang opera melodies that sounded like they were from some exotic, far-away land not yet discovered by humans.  I looked around me, took in the overwhelming array of beauty that stood in front of me, and felt as though there was nowhere on earth I would have rather been in that moment. 

Just when I thought I couldn’t handle any more of this obscure beauty, two of the characters in the show began running up a distant hill, torches in hand. They lit a path so the audience could see the giant cloth phoenix perched atop the hill. They came running down the hill with this bird, it’s fiery cloth feathers flowing in the wind. I was ecstatic. As they lit the metal bird sculptures on fire in the distance, I thought there was no way this breathtaking show could have come to an end more appropriately. I was wrong.

A huge crane nearby lifted a spectacular , multi-piece triangular lit-up  sculpture. When it drifted over our heads, high in the night sky and emitted it’s ethereal glow against the contrasting dark sky, words could not describe how peaceful I felt. There are moments in life where you have this feeling… you can’t explain why, but you suddenly feel like despite whatever your own problems may be, that everything is right with the world, just for a moment. Ladies and gentleman, this was one of those moments. I don’t consider myself a religious person, but this was one of the closest things to a religious experience I can imagine feeling. 

Puja wasn’t just a show, or a parade, or some sort of twisted circus. It was an experience I will never forget for as long as I live.

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Keep it Real Letterkenny O.o

So In approximately four and a half hours I will be heading out of Letterkenny for the last time.  Its pretty surreal, I must say.  Was it yesterday I was landing in Dublin a day late for the trip, freaking out about starting this Irish extravaganza on the wrong foot?

If I could go back I would book my flight on the wrong day again, because no wrong came from this trip.  I couldn’t have planned any part of it better and the parts that weren’t planned truly ended up being the best.  It appears a little disorganization isn’t the worst thing to possess within one’s lifestyle.

I learned the true value of letting the good times roll on this trip and roll they did.  In fact one of the best nights was when I turned on “You make my dreams” by Hall and Oates and found the entirety of our apartment complex breaking out into an impromptu dance party.  The spontaneity of the event lead to dancing to Beirut and finding genuine comfort in lying on the concrete slabs encompassing our apartments, which may not sound like the best of times to some, but to me the night was held to perfection.

The times rolled last weekend in Dublin as well as Ira, Brenna, and I took on the Irish angst and Spanish love that is found in a Morrissey crowd.

Dublin was a beautiful city.  It maintains so much of its original culture and architecture, but has still been infused with this modern feel that gives the city a perfect blend of the two.

The best times held in Dublin were spawned by this fusion as I smoked with my friends on the Becket Bridge, a modern styled bridge in the shape of harp, and held existentialist conversations as one should whilst in the presence of one Samuel Becket.

In all honesty I don’t know exactly where I’m taking this post.  I guess the only thing left to say is its been real Letterkenny, Ireland.  You play host to six weeks of what may very well be the strongest memories I will possess and a feeling that I don’t think I will hold in any other place in the world.  There truly is something beautiful about this country that you can’t explain, I don’t think its necessarily the people, the Guinness, and it most certainly isn’t the food.

I think what it is, is that Ireland is such a raw display of Earth, a raw display of things you have to travel clear across America to see, or even to another country, yet its all crammed in one place.  An abundance of beauty packed into one spot, a sight that will leave my eyes sore when I head home to look at the farms of Columbiana and the lavish buildings composing Youngstown, Ohio.

Under 4 hours now until I depart. One Love Letterkenny.

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Food in Ireland, a review in pictures (because that’s how media students roll)

With everyone posting about observations on friends and family here I thought I might try something different and talk about a different sort of observation I’ve been making.  I should probably preface this with: I love food.  No seriously.  I love food.  I love eating, I love cooking, I love baking, I love trying new things, and I even love learning about food.  I’m that person that takes pictures of food they serve in restaurants.  I’ve even done it in the apartment here.

Irish bread and Irish jam. Yes please.

Mmmm~ Delicious

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m sure you can imagine my apprehension when I was reminded that Ireland is not exactly known for their gourmet cooking. But still, I was optimistic.  New food is new food after all.

First meal in Ireland…left a bit to be desired.  But still, who can judge from first impressions?  We’ll just blame the choice on jetlag or something.

Mmm, fish and chips

Honestly, I’m glad I didn’t give up hope right then and there.  After that day our luck with food was a lot better.  All it took was a little more exploring to find some really fantastic places.

Possibly my favorite place in Letterkenny

That had some really fantastic food.

No, that's not cheese soup. It's apple crumble with custard.

They may not have a ton of variety like some more cosmopolitan cities but what they do, they do well.

From the simple,

Pictured: Heaven on a bun. 100% Irish Beef cheeseburger.

To the fantastic (no, I’m not going to make a ‘simple to simply divine crack’, that’s too easy),

Breast of Free-range Irish Chicken stuffed with extra mature cheddar cheese & spring onion, duck fat roast potatoes, Dijon cream sauce. Yes please.

To the just plain strange.

Chicken tenders on pita? Okay the.

There are a lot of outside influences,

4th of July in Letterkenny. Yes, I got the kids meal. It was delicious and I got a toy.

and international restaurants and cafes.

Chocolate chip cloud meringues the size of my face in an Italian Cafe in Dublin

But they do what they love,

Theme cakes! In boxes!

And love what they do.

And who am I to mess with that?

 

 

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What Happened to Our Summer???

It’s here… The last week in Ireland. I can’t believe this is happening? Where did my summer go and how am I going to function without this group?!

So many people look back on life and think that the best parts are getting married, having kids, and all that other stuff. Those things are great and all but this trip will probably be one of the coolest things I will ever have done. In my opinion, it takes a lot of courage to pack up your life and travel out of your comfort zone to a new country with people you don’t know. While I was packing to leave Ohio I was really nervous and I wondered if this trip was going to be worth everything that I was leaving behind. Looking back I cannot believe that I felt that way! This trip has been one of the best experiences of my life!

For me it wasn’t just the fact that I was in Ireland that made this trip so great. It was the people I got to share it with. I have never met a group of people that were so different and mixed together so well. Before coming to Letterkenny I heard horror stories about study abroad trips gone wrong because the groups did not get along and all that nonsense. After living with everyone for six weeks, I can honestly say that I would love to hang out with any of them back in Athens. We all became a family while we were here. Granted a very dysfunctional one, but a family nonetheless. All of my favorite memories from this trip involve some one from the group!

I am so thankful that I got to have this experience. Even though this last week is stressful I still find myself amazed that I am in Ireland. Usually reminding myself of this fact makes me less stressed… The people and places I got to see while here were awesome! Our trips to Galway, the Aran Islands, Derry, and Dublin were such a blast and Letterkenny itself was always a good time! One of the things I will never forget about Ireland are how open and helpful the people are. I mean, besides the crazy lady we me in the Aran Islands I have not had a negative experience with anyone!

I am looking forward to heading back to the States though. There are a few things that I have missed like the sun, sarcasm that I can understand, condiments that I don’t have to pay for, and constantly warm water. Oh, and I guess my family and friends… haha just kidding. I miss them too! But once again, I am so happy that I took this opportunity! Loved the experience and the group that came!

Cheers!

Caitlin

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