I took this past weekend as an opportunity to explore. Despite the fact that IES had planned a trip to visit a farm on Saturday, I took a trip to Galway for the second half of the week. If there's one thing you learn from this blog, please let it be this: At some point in your life, you should travel alone. If nothing else, you'll learn to handle a problem. Example? Within an hour of coming to Galway, I got lost trying to find the Salthill Promenade. I found a canal instead, where a woman helped to redirect me to my destination.
Another example? The following day, on a trip to the Aran Islands, I again found myself turned around. Despite having a map and following signs along the road, I couldn't seem to find my way to where I wanted to be. Turns out, I was looking at the map upside down; I didn't realize that until I made some new friends, though.
Hallie and Susan, a mother and daughter from Indiana, were kind enough to let me tag along as they made their trek around the island of Inismore. Together we made our way down unmarked pathways to the land of private property and majestic mountain goats, dragging our rented bicycles alongside us over rocks and grass.
We stumbled upon ancient churches, cemetaries, and ruins, taking the time to climb up inside and look around before returning to the road. If we were going to get lost, we weren't about to leave without having seen something! And so it was we found graves from as early as the nineteenth century, alongside those from as recently as 2012.
We even found ourselves greeted by a stray cat on our travels. While he wasn't exactly happy to see us at first, he warmed up to us eventually; Hallie and I were more than a little reluctant to leave him behind. I'm still hoping he found someone to take care of him!
We eventually made it back on course, visiting the oldest fort on the island. Standing right alongside some cliffs, this particular fort was a short hike away from the road and up to the top of a hill, over rough rocky steps and sand. The wind was fierce, and keeping my hair under control was a struggle, but it was worth every bit of our trouble for the view.
That brought a pleasant end to our hikes around Inismore, and I parted ways with Susan and Hallie after a small snack at a hotel near the pier. I returned to Galway ready for a full night of sleep. The next day, of course, was the bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher; along the way, I visited ruins of castles, churches, and graveyards alike.
The bus wound its way through County Clare, a rocky area where cows and sheep are herded even higher up on the hills, where seaweed has been brought out and cultivated over decades of farming. The land may not be exactly hospitable, but it is beautiful.
Along the way, too, we saw a number of "faerie forts" and shrines; these areas were created to serve as protection, either using or surrounding hawthorne trees. The legend has it that hawthornes symbolize healing, and leaving a ribbon or an offering at either the tree or a nearby holy well can bring health and good luck.
We even got the chance to stop off and see a "wedge tomb," the burial site for an unknown subject several hundred years ago. The tomb has been renovated due to cracks and damage in the stones, but it still retains its traditional and iconic shape; the rocks surround a tomb for a lost individual of a previous society.
Our trip reached its high point with the Cliffs of Moher. We only had two hours to enjoy the cliffs, so hiking along the entire line was impossible, but there was plenty of time to visit O'Brien's tower and climb to the top for a magnificent look at the cliffs themselves.
The drop is dramatic and terrifying, and huge gusts of wind make the edge feel even more dangerous. Even so, people muster up courage to get as close as they can to the edge for the best possible picture. Everyone from children to their grandparents were walking along the cliffs' edges, enjoying the view and the cool wind from off the water.
That marked the end of my Galway journey. I returned home just in time for a visit to Causey Farm, arranged by IES. Nine of the students in the program showed up for a day filled with animals, bogs, and soda bread. We started out pretty predictably; first we visited a few cows, and then we attempted to play with the sheep.
We met a family of donkeys, including a young newborn; all three were friendly, although the mother didn't seem to want us too close to her kid. We fed them grass and clovers. According to our tour guide, Paul, we had to keep our hands open; if we held them out as fists, we might lose our fingers.
We visited some horses, and spent some time with hens and roosters. The highlight of the trip was most definitely a litter of puppies, though, born just two weeks before we came to visit. There were four: Cookie, Frida, Gipetto, and Pepper. Just enough for our small group to fawn over.
After spending some time with the puppies, we moved on to learn how to make classic Irish soda bread. The whole group donned our aprons and made our way up to the kitchen. Paul put our skills to the test, tossing us our eggs and giving us a buttermilk taste test, but not before showing us how it was done.
While our soda bread cooked, we went to visit the farm's local bog, where we took the opportunity to jump in and play around in the mud like the grown adults we are. The trip ended with another visit to the puppies, and some tea and jam with our fresh soda bread. We made our way back to Dublin, and went our separate ways.
Sunday was an opportunity for a third and final adventure on my part. I started the morning by walking to Pearse Station, a location where I could grab the DART to Dún Laoghaire. This brought me through St. Stephen's Green just in time to catch a glimpse of a swan family I'd seen earlier in my trip. The babies are well on their way to growing up now, and look quite a bit bigger than they did the last time I saw them.
I arrived in Dún Laoghaire with plenty of time to explore before the Sunday Market. I walked around the town and took a trip around the pier, taking in the beautiful coastline as I walked.
I wasn't the only one who was out enjoying the day. The weather was beautiful, and more than just a handful of people were out along the side of the pier nearest to the water. Some rode sailboats in the Dublin Harbor, others fished off the rocks on the shore. The pier was busy and bright all morning long.
That didn't stop at the market, either. People's Park was packed full of families, everyone enjoying fresh pastries and coffee while they shopped the local produce. There was everything from books and clothing to fruit smoothies, from tapas to strawberries; the market was busy, the playground noisy, and the weather absolutely perfect.
In one weekend, I traveled around Ireland to three different locations. I didn't get a lot of sleep, but I saw plenty of amazing things, and I think that it might have been the greatest adventure so far. We've passed the halfway point in my trip, and I'm not any more prepared to go home than I was on the very first day. It feels like there's still a whole list of things to make my way through!
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<p>Hi! My name is Taylor Haggerty. I'm twenty years old and currently go to school in Bloomington, Indiana, for magazine design and poetry. This summer I'll be studying English and history in Dublin, Ireland!</p>